Dear Dr. Spock

Letters about the Vietnam War to America's Favorite Baby Doctor

281 pages

23 illustrations

September, 2007

ISBN: 9780814727447

$27

Paper

Also available in

Subjects:

History

Author

Michael S. Foley is associate professor of history at the City University of New York's Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island. He is the author of Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War.

All books by Michael S. Foley

At the height of the Vietnam War, thousands of Americans wrote moving letters to Dr. Benjamin Spock, America’s pediatrician and a high-profile opponent of the war. Personal and heartfelt, thoughtful and volatile, these missives from Middle America provide an intriguing glimpse into the conflicts that took place over the dinner table as people wrestled with this divisive war and with their consciences.

Providing one of the first clear views of the home front during the war, Dear Dr. Spock collects the best of these letters and offers a window into the minds of ordinary Americans. They wrote to Spock because he was familiar, trustworthy, and controversial. His book Baby and Child Care was on the shelves of most homes, second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold. Starting in the 1960s, his activism in the antinuclear and antiwar movements drew mixed reactions from Americans—some puzzled, some supportive, some angry, and some desperate.

Most of the letters come from what Richard Nixon called the “silent majority”—white, middleclass, law-abiding citizens who the president thought supported the war to contain Communism. In fact, the letters reveal a complexity of reasoning and feeling that moves far beyond the opinion polls at the time. One mother of young children struggles to imagine how Vietnamese women could endure after their village was napalmed, while another chastises Spock for the “dark shadow” he had cast on the country and pledges to instill love of country in her sons.

What emerges is a portrait of articulate Americans struggling mightily to understand government policies in Vietnam and how those policies did or did not reflect their own sense of themselves and their country.

Reviews

  • “The letters collected contain an array of opinions about the war, of both the hawk and dove variety. The scores of letters in this collection both praise and vilify Dr. Spock for his antiwar activism.”

    The VVA Veteran

  • “From thousands of letters written to Dr. Benjamin Spock during the Vietnam War, Foley has carefully culled 218 missives from America’s silent majority. . . . Many may find the frustration, fear and grief expressed here newly relevant.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “These letters—with Michael S. Foley's astute and informed commentary—make clear why and how so many Americans trusted Benjamin Spock. The body politic sorely needs a Doctor Spock today.”

    —James Carroll, author of Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War

  • “Foley has discovered a unique source on the American home front during the Vietnam War, a perspective that moves us past the usual images of angry polarization. These powerful letters help us to consider how war-times induce people to look with new eyes at their nation and their government.”

    —David Farber, author of The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s

  • “Few documentary collections offer such an immediate connection to the years in which the Vietnam War was fought. Reading these letters now, when the U.S. is once again at war, is a profoundly moving experience.”

    —Marilyn B. Young, author of The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990