World War and the Sexual Revolution

There is an article over at First Things touching just the issue of the origins of the revolting sexual revolt. The origin of the sexual revolution, so the argument is made, is the social breakdown ushered in by World War Two.

Because of its scope and intensity, World War II shattered an existing moral consensus, creating a socially unstable situation in which “ordinary” morality was jettisoned. People lived very intensely and with the knowledge that everything, including life itself, was transient. The typical American serviceman in World War II had four sex partners, not counting prostitutes. Venereal disease rates for U.S. servicemen in Europe and Australia reached epidemic proportions that eventually required the military to license and regulate brothels. As Kipling wrote, “Single men in barracks don’t grow into plaster saints”.

While soldiers were fornicating their way across Europe and women on the home front were in contact with men on the war assembly lines, the number of “Dear John” letters received at the front and in the POW cages constituted a real threat to morale. One received in 1944 by a POW in Stalag Luft VII read: “Dear John, I hope you are open-minded, because I just had a baby. His father is a wonderful guy, and he has enclosed some cigars for you”. Of course, most men and women were not promiscuous during the war—just as most men and women today are not—but enough were to have a lasting impact.

After the war, everything was supposed to return to normal, but of course, it did not, and many trends conspired to ensure that they would not, including unprecedented prosperity, social and physical mobility—which broke down traditional ties of family and community, a burning resentment of authority among servicemen and a more relaxed attitude toward sex, growing out of the wartime experience.

My comment: Most servicemen serviced four French girls while humping through the blood-splattered mud of Normandy Beach? Go, Joe!

So maybe, as with most sins, the young teens of ’68 were stirred by envy. They could not save the world, as their fathers did, and they could not service four nubile Euro-damsels grateful to escape Nazi captors.

Your Dad Punched Nazis IN THE FACE

Your Dad Rescued Damsels, and Europe, in Distress

Your Dad Invented the A-Bomb, Flew Aircraft, Blew Nazis to Bits

Your Dad Saved America

Your Dad Saved Europe. And Shot Nazis IN THE FACE.
After a Long Day of Shooting Nazis IN THE FACE,
Your Dad Serviced Lonely yet Nubile French Damsels.
How could you NOT be Jealous?

So the jealous young, unable to match their fathers, turned to Timothy Leary and Rachel Carson to find some crusade of their own to save the world. Hopefully, a crusade not requiring any sacrifice or physical bravery on their part, or any Manhattan-Project level of intellectual effort. (But since they could not invent an atomic power, for example, they could try to make sure it was never used.)

And they rejected, out of envy, the moral strictures that prevented them from playing the wolf toward young women, who were reduced to the role, in the sixties, of bunnies with furball tails.

The resentment toward authority that prevailed after World War Two was one of the factors, or so I have read, which led to the defeat of Churchill after the war, and the election of Attlee and the Labour government. For those of you who do not recognize the name, Attlee played the role in England after the Second World War that Saruman played in the Shire after the War of the Ring — except, in real life, there were no bold hobbit veterans to oppose the ‘Gatherers’ and ‘Sharers.’

Conservatives are often accused of romanticizing the 1950’s. Perhaps so, but if so, the Conservative heart is misplaced: in the 1950’s the intellectuals had already won the only victory on the only battlefield that really counts, which is the battlefield of the mind, the capture of the heart and soul.

If the above article is true, this suggests that the soul of the West had already been captured by the spirit of the postcapitalist, postliberty, and postchristian 1960’s — and the reluctance of the West to abandon its outward forms of liberty and Christianity long after the once-solid tree had succumbed to termite-ridden rottenness in its heart was the source of the main complaint (often, the only complaint)made by the Left toward hypocrisy.

Perhaps their complaint has the shadow of justice behind it? The 1950’s were hypocritical, not because all previous ages of mankind had adopted a hypocritical philosophy which only just then was being overturned, but rather because the 1950’s had abandoned the faith that bloomed in the West since AD 50, and merely had not brought its brain to agree with the darkness and selfishness already in its collective heart.


  1. Comment by Stephen J. (genesiscount):

    First and most important question: Who is that lovely young singer in the final image?

    Second question: I wonder if it might not make more sense — if we are attributing the sexual revolution to a loss of Western faith in traditional society as an adequate matrix to achieve a sense of worth, purpose and fulfillment — to go back even earlier than WW2; namely WW1, the ’20s and the Depression. (Not coincidentally, 1930 was also, if I recall correctly, when the Anglican Church first sanctioned birth control as acceptable for married couples.)

    If I had to pick a time when 19th-century optimism shattered into 20th-century cynicism, the period between 1918 (ending a war that to most appeared to accomplish nothing except millions dead with the Spanish flu epidemic) to 1938 (the failure of rational state diplomacy to contain irrational political actors) would be it.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “First and most important question: Who is that lovely young singer in the final image?”

      Alizee, who is so attractive that she might as well be the Monica Bellucci of France.

      “I wonder if it might not make more sense […] to go back even earlier than WW2; namely WW1, the ’20s and the Depression.”

      Certainly. The ideas that became the accepted intellectual norm in the 1950’s first were planted by intellectuals in the 1930’s and 1920’s, perhaps as a perverse reaction against the Victorians of the 1890’s; but a lineage can be traced earlier, to Marx and Rousseau. Nothing comes from nothing. But some tipping point was reached when, in the minds of men, to be selfish and self-destructive was no longer scorned.

      • Comment by Stephen J. (genesiscount):

        “But some tipping point was reached when, in the minds of men, to be selfish and self-destructive was no longer scorned.”

        In all fairness, I think that being selfish and self-destructive is still scorned in most minds, on a certain contemptuous “Well he was weak” level if nothing else.

        The terrible deception that has been worked upon us is a clever and careful disconnection of consequences from causes; if the physical and social cost of promiscuity (to both others and ourselves) can be mitigated and distanced through technology, the spiritual cost — to which human beings have always been much better at closing their eyes anyway — can be much more effectively downplayed.

        This is especially true when backed by the conviction that you’re being denied joy by the (apparently) arbitrary and senseless reasons of cranky old men who (seem to) believe that the obstacles faced by one generation should not be transcended by the next. As Tom Sawyer proved, the best way to get people to do anything is to convince them their ability to do so is an entitled right they’ve been done out of or may lose at any moment.

  2. Comment by Noah Doyle:

    the young teens of ‘68 were stirred by envy. They could not save the world, as their fathers did

    Sure they did, but some of them decided to be on the other side.

  3. Comment by Noah Doyle:

    They could not save the world, as their fathers did

    Sure they could, it was just a lot harder.

    Some, howver, chose the other side.

  4. Comment by Noah Doyle:

    They could not save the world, as their fathers did

    Sure they could, it was just a lot harder.

    • Comment by Noah Doyle:

      On reconsideration, I should amend that from ‘a lot harder’ to ‘a very different war’.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I wonder that you give the credit for winning the Cold War to the Children of the Greatest Generation rather than to them. Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul were not Baby Boomers.

      The main difficulty of the Cold War, in my opinion, originated with the widespread support for communism among intellectuals and their young and stupid epigones, in the form of the so-called Peace Moment. Add also the treasonous sabotage a young and ill-formed and ill-informed mass media did on turning the public against the war in Vietnam.

      • Comment by Mary:


        Any glance at the sixties turns up so much pro-Marxist views if not actual Marxism.

      • Comment by Noah Doyle:

        I should have been clearer. They had an opportunity to save the world, but so many of them chose not to. I would give credit to the Boomers where it was due – those who fought against Communism in Vietnam and elsewhere, be it with rifle, vote, pamphlet or speech.

        (My original post had a few more image links exemplifying those who did not fight (at least not on the side of Christendom/the Free World)- ‘American’ marchers with Communist flags, pro-VietCong rallies, Bill Ayers – but the combox here doesn’t like more than one hyperlink per post…and I forgot to update with more comments…)

  5. Comment by bethyada:

    Off topic.

    Mr Wright, I have a questions if you would be so kind?

    I have been reading your blog for some time over at LiveJournal, only recently becoming aware of this WordPress site (though I note it dates from 2003). I have not previously commented (as I have previously mentioned to your lovely wife) because OpenID is disabled.

    My question is are you intending to transition over to this site, or at least “mirror” LiveJournal here? The reason for my enquiry is that I would prefer to subscribe to rss feed from here than LJ but I would not wish to miss your insightful thoughts which would result if you posted only a subset here.


    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I do mean to transition at some point. The date is misleading: I only opened up the wordpress site this fortnight (the date comes from legacy data I migrated). My intent is to maintain both sites, and merely use the Livejournal as a feeder, posting the title and first paragraph there, pointing to articles posted in full here.

  6. Comment by Foxfier:

    *blink* Hey, the last lady is the Night Elf Dance lady!

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