Exactly forty years ago, in the first issue of COMMENTARY (November 1945), its founding editor, the late Elliot E. Cohen, wrote an introductory statement outlining the problems with which the new magazine would necessarily be concerned. The year 1945, Cohen said, “marks an epoch in world history.” World War II had just ended, “yet we stand troubled and hesitant before the glorious era of peace which we have awaited so long. . . .”
For one thing, there was the question of whether the “giant's strength, in production, in cooperation, in planning, in courage” which the United States had demonstrated in winning the war could be “mustered as greatly and as wisely for the arts of peaceful living. . . .” In addition, there was the “ultimate challenge” posed by the explosion only a few weeks earlier of the atomic bomb. And as if the destructive power of the bomb were not enough, there was “a force that, in the political and social scene, can wreak destruction comparable to the atomic bomb itself.” This power was embodied in “the kind of thinking and feeling” that had led to the “colossal latter-day massacre of innocents, whether Jews or other ‘minorities,’” and that (as subsequent issues of COMMENTARY would make clear) had not disappeared with the destruction of Nazism in Germany but remained alive and well in the form of Soviet totalitarianism.
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