Cold War Dads: Fathers and the National Security State


(Application form)


My project comprises a double biography/memoir investigating two Cold War dads—mine and my husbands’: one (Samuel Joshia Rabinowitz) an engineer in charge of ARPA’s Project Defender; the other (Joseph Milton Bernstein) a blacklisted editor and translator investigated by the FBI as a communist spy. This is an examination of two men on the periphery of history whose lives took on emblematic status during the 1950s and 1960s, but whose stories must be viewed through the lens of the 1930s and 1940s and the powerful impacts of the Communist Party and World War II, on the one hand, and City College of New York and Yale University, on the other, on two sons of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. I uncover strains of both personal and national security secrets hidden in the DNA of family lore.  In many ways, the CPUSA (which in the 1930s was 40% Jewish) and City College’s Engineering school (then also overwhelmingly Jewish) served as key institutional vehicles of assimilation for immigrants and their children. WWII cemented this process of American belonging for Jews who could simultaneously fight for their country and against Nazism. Using oral history, unpublished journals and memoirs, public records (including declassified materials from the VENONA Project, the FBI  and the Department of Defense), popular culture and published histories of the Cold War, I search among the myriad bits of memories, facts, fantasies and affects that contributed to the voids in collective knowledge—of our fathers’ lives, but also more broadly of the government programs for which they worked (SJR) or that had them under surveillance (JMB) during the era of potential nuclear war. This is story of what is mostly NOT known: how and why families during the Cold War kept secrets in the service of safety and security—understood very differently in private and for the state.

Paula Rabinowitz (bio) 

Paula Rabinowitz is Professor Emerita of English at the University of Minnesota. Her monograph, American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street, (Princeton University Press, 2014) won the 2015 DeLong Prize for Book History. In 2015, she published two co-edited volumes: Lineages of the Literary Left: Essays in Honor of Alan M. Wald, with Howard Brick and Robbie Lieberman; and Red Love across the Pacific: Political and Sexual Revolutions of the Twentieth Century, with Ruth Barraclough and Heather Bowen-Struyk. She is co-editor with Cristina Giorcelli of the four-volume series on clothing and identity: Habits of Being (University of Minnesota Press): Accessorizing the Body (1) and Exchanging Clothes (2); Fashioning the Nineteenth Century (3) and Extravagances (4). Her earlier books include They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary (Verso, 1994) and Black&White and Noir: America’s Pulp Modernism (Columbia, 2002). Her many essays consider the interlocking roles of cinema, photography, labour, gender, literature, space and objects in the formation of twentieth-century American modernisms. She has been the recipient of a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, and two Distinguished Fulbright Professorships in Rome and Shanghai. Currently, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literature.