Tuesday, April 13, 2010

De snelheid van leven

Life speeds up. It's a loose translation, but I think it's appropriate. The title of Chapter 14 comes from reflection on contemporary writing by journalist H. J. A. Hofland. He wrote about how the pace of life was getting faster and how cars and phones were much more widely used.

The chapter concentrates on political and cultural issues in the 1950s.

It opens in 1953. In February, it started raining, and great floods followed. Once again, the Dutch elite was not up to the challenge. The fall of authority happens again and again in this book. It does not fall as a result of rebellion, but rather, as a result of its own ineptitude. In this case, Geert Mak writes of Dutch people pulling together across all sorts of societal boundaries and helping each other. By contrast, the political class was caught flat-footed, wondering what to do.

There was more military action, as Indonesia sought to annex New Guinea, part of which had also been under Dutch control.

Also, the Cold War got more intense. Mak writes that politically, the high point of tension was in 1956, the year of the Hungarian uprising. After Kruschev's denouncing Stalin, other Communists thought they might go a different way. Imre Nagy had several non-Communists in his cabinet. Nagy and thousands of others were killed. The last broadcasts of Hungarian radio reminded some Dutch people of the German occupation. One can only wonder if Communism might still be viable in Europe if experimentation and adaptation had been allowed. One important Russian in Budapest was Ambassador Yuri Andropov, who would go on to mentor Gorbachev.

The other important political event of 1956 was the Suez crisis, which Mak calls a 19th Century action.

The subject of reparations was a painful one for the Mak family. Governments went back and forth about how much should be paid to those working in the camps. It was a bitter experience. Catrinus Mak was finally paid 7500 Guilders in 1981, when he was dying in the hospital.

Culturally, Geert Mak writes of his whole world being Reformed. I am surprised he found it so repressive. Here in the US, one assumes that all Europeans belonged to their respective national churches. He found some relief in a world portrayed as neutral, where nobody was Catholic or Reformed or anything else. This world was in Donald Duck comics.

Though technology was on the march, radio remained king. Catrinus Mak exercised to the radio, and he was listening to it for news of the Cuban Missle Crisis in 1962. The coming of stereo to the Netherlands was fascinating. Here in the US, it was on FM, whose bandwidth was allotted and moved around before finally settling in the area formerly allotted to TV channel 1. In the Netherlands, stereo came through AM. In 1952, a concert was broadcast. One channel was on Hilversum 1, while the other was on Hilversum 2.

Emigration was also a big issue at this time. Some left because of the elite's ineptitude, while others left due to the Cold War. It was said that the occupying Germans were somewhat Christian, while the Russians were completely godless. Emigrants left mainly for Canada, the US and South Africa.

Culturally, Mak says that the 19th Century finally ended.

1956 was a big year for youth rebellion. Elvis broke, and the movie Rock Around the Clock was important. In the US, it was seen as so much fluff. Mak also writes of cigarettes and existentialism as having been strong currents in young life. Even with a background in advertising, it amazes me how the tobacco companies appealed both to rebellious youth and their elders during the Fifties and Sixties.

During the Fifties, the Mak siblings got married, and his grandparents died. He writes of the weddings and funerals. During that time, standards of living went up, and the food at special occasions got better.

The chapter ends with Geert Mak and his parents standing by the Westersingel in their pajamas and coats looking up at the stars in November 1957, looking for Sputnik.

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