The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1954 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1954

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Title Page | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964-1989 (Part 1) | 1964-1989 (Part 2) | 1964-1989 (Part 3)
Roy Cohn, Juan Perón
Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls,
Rock Around The Clock

While the Bikini Atoll played host to hydrogen bomb testing (later giving its name to a famous piece of beachwear), and Roger Bannister ran the first ever four-minute mile, Billy Joel's mind turned to new plastics, and music both popular and classical...

Roy Cohn

I bring out the worst in my enemies and that's how I get them to defeat themselves
Roy M. Cohn

Roy Marcus Cohn assumes an awkward place in history as the arrogant brutal genius lawyer that put the Rosenbergs in the electric chair and destroyed the lives of many others during the McCarthy communist witch-hunts. And perversely, Cohn's life, as a red-baiting homophobic anti-semite, was for the most part designed to conceal the fact that the man himself was a self-loathing Jewish homosexual.

Born on 20 February, 1927, Cohn's apple did not fall far from the tree, and by the time he was 20, an obnoxious precocious boy had followed the footsteps of his father into the legal profession. A rising star within the US Attorney's office, Cohn Junior soon got a taste for prosecuting communists and put his name in bright lights with unrelenting and enthusiastic pursuit of prosecution and the maximum penalty during the atomic espionage trial of husband and wife Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951. Proud of his achievement, Cohn enjoyed his burgeoning reputation as the face of evil, snarling during summation at one trial: 'Do you think I'm afraid of anyone? Look, I'm the legal executioner'.

With despotic FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover's endorsement, Cohn was subsequently to become Senator Joe McCarthy's right-hand man in the McCarthy witch-hunts, where his 'My scare value is high. My arena is controversy. My tough front is my biggest asset' aggression was used to great effect, sending many alleged Communists to the ducking-stool.

Roy Cohn however may have miscalculated in recruiting his best friend and probable lover, David Schine, to be his chief consultant. The pair were decloseted in 1952 by an article in the Las Vegas Sun. McCarthy, whose own sexuality was coming under increasing scrutiny, stood by Cohn but declined to endorse a libel suit against the paper, and the story, true or not but nevertheless damaging, stuck. Roy Cohn further allowed his emotions to cloud his professional judgement when in 1953 he tried to use the threat of McCarthyism to prevent Schine from being drafted to the United States army. The story when it broke more or less compromised McCarthy's investigation into the US military and having lost the support of President Dwight Eisenhower, the pair were discredited in December 1954.

Bitter and twisted, McCarthy lived only a handful more alcohol-filled years until his death in 1957. Roy Cohn however, driven harder and made of sterner stuff, rescued his career and survived in lavish style as a political power broker and friend to the rich, famous and fashionable, until 1986 when AIDS-induced complications claimed his life shortly after New York State had finally (at the third attempt) disbarred him from practicing law for unethical and unprofessional conduct.

Juan Perón

Juan Domingo Perón was born in Lobos, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, on October 8, 1895. The son of a wealthy rancher, he attended two military colleges between 1911 and 1929. In 1930 he took part in the military uprising against President Hipólito Irigoyen and became private secretary to the Minister of War, a post he held from 1930 to 1935. After this he taught at his former military college and travelled, first to Chile in the role of military attaché and then to Italy where he studied fascism.

He returned to Argentina in 1941, joining a group of other dissident officers who staged a coup d'état in 1943. Given the task of reforming the Department of Labour, he worked to lessen the power of the left-wing parties, changed laws and replaced the unions with specially created syndicates. By 1944 he had been made Minister of War and Vice President.

This newfound power was unpopular with the armed forces who forced him to resign in 1945 and threw him in prison. Strong support from his labour colleagues, a crisis within the government and his close relationship with the popular actress Mariá Eva Duarte soon secured his release. He married her soon after and she became a huge influence on his political life, styling herself as 'Evita'. Together they were the public face of a new political group, the Perónistas, who targeted the working classes or Los Descamisados1 and established a code called Justicialism. Hugely popular, he won a decisive election in February 1946 and became President of Argentina.

As President he tried to implement his grand plans for reform of the labour system and set out 'The Twenty Truths of the Perónist Justicialism' which included:

  • 1. True democracy is the system where the Government carries out the will of the people defending a single objective: the interests of the people.

  • 4. There is only one class of men for the Perónist cause: the workers.

  • 12. In the New Argentina the only privileged ones are the children.

  • 13. A Government without a doctrine is a body without a soul. That is why Perónism has established its own political, economic and social doctrines: Justicialism.

  • 20. The best of this land of ours is its people.

These high ideals were expensive and, by the time Evita died in 1952, his popularity was waning, he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church and the country was suffering from severe economic difficulties. This led to increasing unrest throughout the land culminating in a military coup in 1955 and Perón being sent into exile.

Although his exile lasted for 18 years he retained his popularity and influence over many of the workers. He returned to Argentina in 1973 and was, once more, elected President. He died, in office, the following year. To this day he is still considered a national hero by the working classes of Argentina and his Perónist Party is still a major force in the country. Accusations of corruption and cruelty by the Perónist ex-President, Carlos Menem, are currently being investigated by the government of the incumbent President, Néstor Kirchner, also a Perónist.


The great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was born in 1867, and died in 1957. Famous for his temper, he was dedicated to improving orchestral standards. His habit of conducting from memory rather than from the score set a fashion, though it was probably mainly due to his extreme short-sightedness. He made a large number of recordings, some of which are still regarded as classics. He was noted for the strong stand he took in the 1930s against fascism.

He first appeared in the opera house of La Scala in Milan in 1887, playing 2nd cello at the premiere of Verdi's Otello. He conducted there from 1898 to 1908, introducing modern ideas such as putting out the house lights during the performance. He returned in the twenties, and conducted the premiere of Puccini's opera Turandot. He refused to begin performances with the fascist anthem, and resigned in 1929. He returned to a warm welcome in 1946 for the re-opening of La Scala after war-time bomb damage, donating a large sum for the restoration.

Much of Toscanini's career was spent in the USA. He conducted at the New York Metropolitan Opera House from 1908 to 1915. As he got older, he conducted less opera, and more orchestral music. He was conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1926 to 1936. In 1939, when he was 70, NBC made him conductor of an orchestra for radio broadcasts, which reached a wide audience over the next 15 years. His last performance was at the age of 87, in 1954.


The story of Dacron® really begins with Dr Wallace Hume Carothers who led the research into basic organic chemistry. By 1930 he had synthesized the first polyester superpolymer which led to the invention of nylon.

Meanwhile, in the UK, ICI had made great strides with its development of polyester products and patented Terylene polyester. The firm for which Carothers worked, DuPont, purchased the US rights for this in 1945. By 1948 DuPont chemical engineers were using a production unit at their Seaford plant to develop 'Fiber V' - later to be patented in 1953 and renamed Dacron®. By 1954 it was hailed as a new wonder fabric.

Dacron® is actually Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and is an extremely versatile thermoplastic made by the condensation reaction of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. It was initially used for the production of synthetic textile fibre for clothing and advertised as 'non-iron' and 'drip dry', both valuable properties for a fabric to possess. It found fame in the medical world when, in 1953, Michael E DeBakey developed the Dacron® and Dacron®-velour artificial grafts for replacing diseased arteries, using his wife's sewing machine to make the first graft. His Dacron artificial arteries are now used throughout the world in the surgical treatment of diseased vessels.

Interesting/Amusing Uses of Dacron®

  • Air-Supported Structures for the construction trade

  • Aquarium nets

  • Bras for the fuller figure

  • Bow strings for archers

  • Climbing ropes for mountaineers

  • Clothing for all

  • Fishing Line for anglers

  • Gliders for the aeronautically inclined

  • Inflatables for air, land and sea

  • Modern Art construction

  • Sails for yachts and racing dinghies

  • Soft Tops for convertables such as Porsche and Alfa Romeo

  • Surgical grafts and sutures

  • Tyres

  • Toys and dolls (including Barbie)

  • Upholstery

Dien Bien Phu falls

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was a major turning point in the build-up to the Vietnamese War. The village of Dien Bien Phu was home to a large French encampment and was strategically pivotal, being at the bottom of a steep-sided river valley, which prevented access on two fronts.

What the French had not counted upon, though, was the Viet Minh's accuracy with Chinese artillery. After nearly two months of continuous shelling the French were forced to evacuate and promptly ended their involvement in the Vietnamese conflicts.

The victory for the Viet Minh, however, led to equally disastrous results. It was a direct contributing event to the drawing up of the Geneva accords, which temporarily split Vietnam into two halves. North and South were supposed to reach a compromise at the 1956 elections, but instead the political tension, abetted by the interventionist USA, increased to breaking point...

Rock Around The Clock

Put your glad rags on and join me, hon,
We'll have some fun when the clock strikes one...

'Rock Around The Clock' was written by Max Freedman and Jimmy De Knight and was recorded by Bill Haley and His Comets. When originally released in 1954 it didn't make much of an impact on the charts, but when it was re-released in 1955 after being featured in the film Blackboard Jungle, it spent eight straight weeks at number one in the Billboard top 1002.

'Rock Around the Clock' is often cited as being the first 'rock 'n roll' hit, although this is inaccurate. Bill Haley and His Comets achieved international success just the year before with 'Shake, Rattle and Roll', a song sometimes credited with inspiring DJ Alan Freed to coin the phrase 'rock and roll'3. Though 'Rock Around the Clock' may not have been the first rock and roll hit, it was a chart topper before most people knew who Elvis Presley was, and it predated the Beatles and the Stones by nearly a decade. The song was the second best-selling record of all time, second to Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas', until Elton John's Princess Diana tribute version of 'Candle in the Wind' knocked it down to number three in 1997.

We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight!
1Spanish for 'shirtless ones'.2And a total of five weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart in 1955 and 1956.3Although it is disputed that the phrase was prompted by Wild Bill Moore's 'We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll'.

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