If politics makes for strange bedfellows (which seems especially apt in our current electoral cycle), then ANB updates can also make for strange juxtapositions of individuals from entirely different fields or walks of life. Our April update, which includes more than fifty new entries, is no exception, putting spies (Judith Coplon) and Puerto Rican nationalists (Lolita Lebrón) alongside photographers (Gordon Parks) and dancers (Katherine Dunham). Religious leaders such as Oral Roberts share the stage with politicians like Ed Koch (something that probably would not have happened in real life). Anthropologist Cora DuBois and sociologist Alice Rossi rub elbows with popular culture icons Whitney Houston and James Brown. Civil rights pioneer Fred Shuttlesworth discusses etiquette with Pauline Philips (“Dear Abby”). And so it goes.
This update contains three individuals who so dominated their respective fields – and by extension, twentieth-century U.S. history -- that it is tempting to create an imaginary dinner party to put them all at the same table. George Kennan's diplomatic career gave him a front-row seat on the emergence of the Cold War, whose course he influenced through coining the phrase “containment” to deal with the Soviet Union. Milton Friedman and the “Chicago School of Economics” he led have dominated the field since at least the 1950s, focusing on the importance of free markets and monetary policy as key factors in economic life. Adrienne Rich drew on her experiences as a woman, a Jew, and a lesbian to craft poetry and prose that spoke to the radically new artistic sensibilities reshaping cultural expression from the 1960s on, challenging her readers to dive deeper into the wreck in search of meaning.
So what might George Kennan, Milton Friedman, and Adrienne Rich have talked about? It surely would have been a wide-ranging discussion, but hopefully they would have steered clear of politics, given their fundamental disagreements. Not all the different from the muddle that many Americans find themselves in today as they try to make sense of the news.