A Meaning For Utah’s Postwar Experience

Thomas G. Alexander
Utah, the Right Place

The two and half decades following World War II were a time of tension, contradiction, and creativity. Buffeted by McCarthyism, distrust, and right-wing ideology, politics shifted from liberal to conservative to moderate. Perhaps Arthur Watkins and Calvin Rampton best characterize the central tendencies. Although Watkins allowed ideology to rule his judgment during the consideration of termination, his self-sacrifice during the McCarthy investigation, his efforts to secure water for Utah’s growth, and his willingness to compromise to do what he thought best for Utah and for America best characterize his achievement. A politician, friend of the arts, and champion of Utah development, Rampton was the consummate compromiser. Able to work as well with Republicans as with Democrats, he set Utah’s government on a middle road without antagonizing a sizable portion of the electorate. Rampton helped give a more public face to the arts. Nothing reveals his political savvy better than his sage advice about securing funding for the Utah Symphony to present school concerts.

Utahns can also look back with pride on the accomplishments of women. Reva Beck Bosone and Juanita Brooks, though from radically different backgrounds, contributed a diversity, color, and interest to Utah’s culture. Both women suffered unjust vilification and abuse at the hands of people unable to appreciate their contributions. Bosone bridged the Mormon and Catholic cultures, achieving success in politics to the benefit of both. Brooks reminded Utah’s people—who often failed to appreciate her contribution—of the darker side of culture. In the most profound sense, she cautioned that each of us, no matter how pure our motives, carried strands of inhuman violence in the DNA of a greater good. In the wake of her warning, personal violence burst on the scene with LeBaron and the Laffertys. Moreover, public violence inflicted torment on the bodies of the innocent, including the family of Claudia Boshell Peterson, and of animals such as those belonging to the Bullochs. Brooks tried to teach us a lesson each age must learn.

With all its complexity, the decades after World War II exhibited extraordinary creativity in the performing arts. Any state blessed with the talents of Maurice Abravanel, William Christensen, and Fred Adams encases itself in a solid armor against the blows of those Philistines who belittle the arts and humanities as of little consequence. Moreover, in contrast with the lesson about violence that Juanita Brooks taught, the lessons about philanthropy taught by such people as Obert C. and Grace Tanner, Glenn Walker Wallace, and Wendell Ashton have facilitated our appreciation of the finer side of humanity.

In spite of the problems of the age, Utah’s minorities began to achieve a degree of parity previously unthinkable. The Utes and Paiutes began to rebuild their sense of pride as they offered educational opportunities to their children and planned economic growth under the cycles of poverty and deprivation their peoples had so long experienced. African Americans and Latinos began to achieve legal, if not personal, equality with the majority Nordic culture.