Of all the turning-point years our world has experienced in the past century or so, one stands out above all others: 1946.
I was only a Missouri toddler back then, so I’d never given the matter much thought — until I recently read a 3-year-old book that I highly recommend. Written by Victor Sebestyen, its title is “1946: The Making of the Modern World.”
We tend to think of that year as the time when blessed peace finally descended on a world torn apart by the bloodiest and most destructive war in human history. But the end of World War II also plunged countless countries around the globe into states of profound turmoil, the effects of which are still with us today.
(Although the victorious United States was blessedly spared deadly postwar chaos, the impact of the conflict and the adjustment to its aftermath were still being deeply felt all the way down here in Moore County.)
“This was the year that laid the foundation of the modern world,” Sebestyen writes. “It was the start of the Cold War, of a global fragmentation along ideological lines, and of Europe being split … Israel would not come into being for two years, but 1946 was the year the decisions were made to create a Jewish homeland.
“It was the year independent India was born as the world’s most populous democracy, that old Britain as a great imperial power began to die. All the old European empires were fading. It was the year the Chinese Communists launched their final push for victory in a civil war that led to the re-emergence of China as a great power.”
And so on. 1946 was the year when fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman declared in a landmark speech that “an iron curtain has descended” across Europe. In 32 (relatively brief) chapters, the book touches on a wide range of specific postwar crises ranging from “Austerity Britain” to “‘This Chinese Cesspit’” to “A Greek Tragedy” to “The Bloodbath to Calcutta” to “The Big Freeze,” which tells about the worst cold spell in 50 years that descended on Europe — as if it hadn’t already suffered enough.
It’s a good book. But after finishing it, I felt compelled to pursue a common practice in the newspaper trade known as “localization.” That’s why I soon found myself in the Southern Pines Public Library, unshelving a battered old bound volume labeled “Pilot, 1946.”
And sure enough: It was impossible to leaf through any of those wrinkled, yellowed, often torn pages without finding a reference — often many references — to the local effects of the war and its end. But for our purposes, let’s confine our attention to just the first page of that year’s first edition: Friday, Jan. 4, 1946.
First, the lead story: It reports that the Office of Price Administration had just announced in Washington that all rent controls had been removed from hotels and rooming houses in the Southern Pines area.
“Officials of the agency explain the removal of rent ceilings in this area on the basis of an expected reduction in the demand for accommodation,” the article explains. “Due to the cessation of military activities in this vicinity and the closing of Camp Mackall, it is confidently anticipated that the many Army families now occupying quarters in and about Southern Pines will soon be returning to their homes or to new stations.”
Another prominent headline announces: “Sergeant James Pate Home After Four Years of Service.” We learn that he had “seen action at fighter bases in the Pacific,” and a photo shows him posing in well-pressed khakis, with a helmet tilted dashingly on his head.
It’s not all good news. Consider these words, from a story about the “urgent work here” for which Red Cross volunteers are sought:
“With the conclusion of the war a few short months ago, citizens tend now to forget the continued need of those in this country and abroad who are still suffering from the conflict,” stressed Mrs. William J. Kennedy, director of the Moore County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The director emphasizes that “the hospitals throughout the country are filled with veterans of World War II for whom, through the Red Cross and other agencies, volunteer workers may do much.”
Little promos at the upper corners of the page urge readers to “keep faith with us by buying war bonds,” because “these boys need you.”
Nor did Moore County escape that cold spell.
“The annual midwinter horse show took place at Pinehurst on New Year’s Day under real midwinter conditions,” says a front-page column by someone writing under the name “E.O. Hippus,” who adds: “No snow on the ground, but plenty of icicles in toes and fingers, to judge by the pinched expressions on faces and the humped backs of gay souls among the four-legged participants.”
The Pilot itself had been through a rough period. Famed local author (and Weymouth estate owner) James Boyd had taken over as publisher of the paper in 1941 but died in 1944. His widow, Katharine Boyd, still plugged away as managing editor. Overall, though, the mood reflected in these pages seems to be one of weary optimism, as if in this little corner of the world — if not in much of the rest of it — things have taken some kind of turn toward better days.
Consider this opinion, expressed at the bottom of that front page:
“Properties are changing hands these days in what may be the beginning of an upswing in the resort business in these parts. Particularly encouraging in these transactions, however, is the fact that while attracted here by the resort features of the place — the pleasant atmosphere, fine winter climate, sports facilities — most of the newcomers are people who plan to make their permanent homes here.”
You probably know some of them — or their descendants — today.
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.