The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1952 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1952

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Eisenhower, Vaccine
England's got a new Queen
Marciano, Liberace
Santayana Good-bye

Apart from annoying thousands of Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish with the second line, Billy Joel chose to remember some of the more unusual events of the year 1952. Tension between the Russians and Japanese was ignored, as were the war reparations and the first jet-fuelled passenger flight. All in favour of a boxer and a flamboyant pianist. There's no accounting for taste...


Dwight David Eisenhower was born on 14 October, 1890 in Denison, Texas. The family followed a strict form of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. However, Dwight was never known as a church member in his adult life. The family relocated to Abilene, Kansas shortly after Dwight was born. Always struggling to make ends meet, his father worked in a number of positions, eventually taking a position in the local creamery. After graduating from high school, Dwight joined his father working in the creamery to help support his older brother's college expenses. Dwight realised that the government would pay for his education if he was accepted at one of the military academies. After passing the entry examination at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, he was rejected for being too old. Dwight then switched to the Army College at West Point.

Military Career

After graduating from West Point, Dwight started on his military career. He met and married Mamie Geneva Doud at his first post in San Antonio, Texas. Although he regularly requested a combat position in World War I, he was determined that his organisational skills would be be too valuable for the army to waste, and consequently spent the war in the US training new recruits. In World War II he was finally given his chance as the American Commander in North Africa and Italy. He was recalled to England to serve as Supreme Allied Commander for the D-Day invasion and the advance into Germany. After the war he spent a short time as President of Columbia University until he was asked to serve as commander of the newly formed NATO forces in Europe. It was there he was approached by the Republican political party to run for President of the US. His campaign slogan 'I Like Ike' made the 5-star General more human to the American voters.

First Term

After defeating Adlai E Stevenson in the 1952 elections, Eisenhower became the 34th President of the US on 20 January, 1953. One of his first efforts in office was to stop the fighting in Korea. This resulted in a cease-fire agreement rather than a formal end to hostilities. Over half a century later the border between North and South Korea is still guarded by armed troops. The Cold War that had developed between the US and the Soviet Union was not as easily solved. The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 resulted in a lessening of tension for a brief period.

On the home front the US was faced with a large debt from both fighting the World War and the rebuilding of war-ravaged Europe. A massive investigation was carried out by Congress on the basis that secret Communist sympathizers had penetrated the government and entertainment industry. In 1954 the US Supreme Court declared racial segregation in the schools was prohibited by the US Constitution.

In September 1955, Eisenhower suffered a serious heart attack. He recovered enough to declare his intention to run for a second term in February 1956. In spite of lingering questions about his health and his Vice-President's qualifications to succeed him in office Eisenhower was re-elected. Once again his primary opponent had been Stevenson.

Second Term

The Cold War once more began to threaten world peace. Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, began once more to challenge the security of the west. In 1959 Fidel Castro declared friendly relations between his new government in Cuba and the Soviets. The Soviet union was now poised only 90 miles from the US city of Key West, Florida.

As the federal courts began enforcing the Supreme Court's's ruling on racial integration local authorities began defy the rulings. In 1957 he sent federal troops to Little Rock High School in Arkansas to force the integration of the students. Eisenhower was prevented from seeking another term by the XXII amendment to the US Constitution.

After the Presidency

Dwight and Mamie retired to their farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He remained an active advisor to his successors until he had another heart attack in 1965. He never recovered fully and he passed away on 28 March, 1969.


Polio has killed many people in its time and even the lives of the rich and famous (such as Franklin D Roosevelt) have not been immune to it. Roosevelt was one of many who fought against the virus until he could take no more: never giving up on his dream to be President.

What does the Virus do?

The virus, which has flu-like symptoms, takes hold on the lives of the young on the most part, killing off the nervous cells and invading the nervous system. It causes muscle wasting and paralysis and has been known to kill completely unsuspecting victims.

How was America Affected?

The virus took America by storm during the 1900s and although a complete cure has never been developed, the scientist Jonas Salk did come up with a vaccine for it in the year 1952. America wasn't the only country affected; sadly, the vaccine reacted badly to other viruses in the third world leaving many people paralysed from the vaccine itself.

The Future?

It would be wonderful to say that the vaccine that Jonas Salk created will wipe out the contraction of the virus forever, but sadly it may well still be around for years to come. The polio virus, like all others, is subject to mutations that may render it immune to the vaccine. Polio has the potential to be a world threat once again.

England's Got A New Queen

Born third-in-line to the throne on 21 April, 1926, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was the eldest daughter of the then Duke and Duchess of York. The family commuted between Royal residences in London, eventually settling at the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park in 1932. Both Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret Rose, were educated at home. Upon the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, in 1936 she became the heir presumptive and her father assumed the role of George VI.

During WWII she became a subaltern in the ATS1 and qualified as a driver. During this time she also started taking on more royal duties including broadcasting to the children of Britain and the Commonwealth in 1940 and accompaning the King and Queen on many of their tours.

After the war she travelled extensively. Her first tour abroad was to South Africa in 1947 during which she celebrated her twenty-first birthday and gave a broadcast address dedicating herself to the service of the Commonwealth.

Shortly after this she married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, son of Prince Andrew of Greece and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria. Their first son, Charles, was born in 1948 and their daughter, Anne, in 1950. When her father became ill in 1952 she took his place for an official visit to Australia and New Zealand. She and Prince Philip were only on the first part of this proposed tour, in Kenya, when news filtered through that George VI had died. England had a new Queen, Elizabeth II.


What would be better than walking down any street in any city and knowing you're a champion?

In the recorded history of professional boxing there has only been one undefeated world champion in ANY weight class - Rocky Marciano, World Heavyweight Champion from September 1952 until retiring in April 1956.

Born Rocco Marchegiano in Brockton, Massachusetts on 1 September, 1923, the infant Rocky almost died from pneumonia at 18 months of age - but even then his remarkable stamina was evident as he recovered completely. While growing up Rocky gained a reputation as a scrapper and troublemaker, but this was overtaken by his athletic success at high school. A centre and linebacker on the football team and also catcher for the baseball team, he began a lifelong habit of training to the limit which was to pay great dividends in his later career.

After leaving school to seek employment in order to bring in money to help the family finances, he eventually found a position in the local shoe industry as a 'last puller' - a job which pumped up his arms and increased upper body strength. Drafted into the US army just as the war was ending, Marciano volunteered to represent his unit as a boxer and was quite successful, reaching the final of the AAU National Championship2.

Returning to Brockton after leaving the army, Rocky had a try-out for the Chicago Cubs baseball team, but although his batting was excellent, his relatively weak throwing arm let him down. Back in Brockton again, Marciano embarked on a fierce training regime to ready him for a shot at Professional Boxing. And what a shot he had! His first 16 Pro fights were won with knock-outs, and after an undefeated record of 42 wins3, he was ready to challenge for the World Championship.

On 23 September, 1952, before 40,379 spectators in Philidelphia's Municipal Stadium, Rocky Marciano climbed into the ring to face Jersey Joe Walcott in what many have called 'the greatest title fight of all time'. The more experienced champion started in great style, knocking Marciano to the canvas for the first time of his career - but the challenger wouldn't even rest for a full count and came back up after three seconds and there followed 12 rounds of pure aggression from two determined fighters. Using his experience to the full, Walcott built up a commanding points lead on the judges' scorecards and had only to last out to the end of the fight to retain his title. But in the 13th round, Walcott was caught against the ropes and Marciano unleashed his 'Susie Q', the devastating punch that had won him so many bouts - in Walcott's own words; 'Soon as it landed, the lights went out!'

On 27 April, 1956, after six successful defences of the World Heavyweight Championship and with no serious contender to his title in sight, Rocky Marciano announced his retirement from Boxing. On 31 August, 1969 he boarded a small single-engined Cessna aircraft in Chicago to fly to Des Moines for a ringside appearance at a boxing match there. The plane crashed two miles South of the airfield killing all three occupants.

This man was one of the greatest champions ever. He refused to accept defeat. And nobody beat him.
Sonny Liston


Wladziu Valentino Liberace was born in Milwaukee in 1919. Despite coming from a poor family he managed to take classical piano lessons and, at age 11, started making concert appearances. During the Depression he played piano in speakeasies to make money for his family.

By 1940 he had moved to New York and was earning a meagre living playing in smalltime night clubs. His talent and charm soon saw him move up into the world of the hotel clubs. Then he struck lucky. He performed in the casinos of Las Vegas in the late 1940s and, as the town grew, so did his career. He used this popularity to springboard into the world of television and, by the very early 50s, hosted his own variety show. He mixed his fancy piano playing with chatter to the audience (including to his mother, Frances, who always attended), soft shoe and conversations with his brother, George, the show's band leader. This show became wildly successful and was carried by more stations than I Love Lucy.

Having found superstar status, he proceeded to live in an extravagant way. He bought many expensive mansions and remodelled them to suit his fancy - including the installation of a piano-shaped pool in one of his backyards. He filled the houses with antiques, ornate pianos and glitzy furniture.

At the onset of his career Liberace had only sported a white tuxedo but, in the early 50s, he added a gold lamé jacket to his wardrobe, hoping that it would catch the stage lights. This simple upgrade led to more and more extravagent costumes until he was spending tens of thousands of dollars every year on bigger, flashier, and more opulent costumes which he paired with outrageous rings.

For me to wear a simple tuxedo on stage would be like asking Marlene Dietrich to wear a house dress.

The spending wasn't only confined to his clothes, though. He covered his pianos with mirrors and huge, gold candelabras. He employed show girls, singers, jugglers, full orchestras, water fountains, light shows and the odd elephant or two and often started his show flying in on a wire.

You can't take anything for granted as an entertainer... you have to be surprising, find new things to make the audience stand up and take notice.

His style of music delighted his fans and enraged the purists. His repertoire was based on an unique mix of classical, boogie woogie, movie themes, cocktail jazz, and sentimental ballads and he kept his audience satisfied by being able to play almost any request. Anything he considered too long to hold the attention was drastically cut - many popular classical pieces lost 10 or more minutes as he 'took out the boring parts'. This cavalier attitude won him many enemies, especially among the male music critics of the day:

Liberace is... [a] deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love... the biggest sentimental vomit of all time.
British Tabloid, 1956

Liberace's famous response to this was:

I cried all the way to the bank.

which, in later years, was amended to:

Remember that bank I used to cry all the way to? (Pause, smile, wink.) I bought it.

Santayana Good-bye

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.

George Santayana is widely regarded to be one of America's greatest philosophers, even though he was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1863. He emigrated to America in 1872, to Massachusetts where he remained for forty years before returning to Europe, yet he always maintained his Spanish citizenship and never became an American citizen. During his lifetime he was also to be known as a poet, a novelist and a literary critic.

After graduating from Harvard in 1886, Santayana returned to the school in 1889 and joined the philosophy department. He taught until 1912 when an inheritance made it possible for him to travel; he lived in England and France before settling in Italy, never to return to the United States again. Criticised for not leaving Italy prior to the outbreak of World War II, he spent the remainder of his life in a convent of English nuns until his death in September 1952.

It takes a wonderful brain and exquisite senses to produce a few stupid ideas.

Santayana was considered somewhat ahead of his time in his philosophies, promoting ideas like naturalism or multiculturalism decades before they occupied popular thought. His ideas were largely shaped by his Hispanic heritage and his feelings of being an outsider in America despite his many years spent there. He felt that all ideals have a basis in nature, and that many 'rational beliefs' held by humans are the result of 'animal faith'; a compulsion and need to believe certain things. It is also from this idea of 'animal faith' that he developed thoughts on scepticism and the need to cast doubt on some things that humans are compelled to believe.

History played an important part in Santayana's ideas as well; The Life of Reason described his take on the role that reason plays in activities of the human spirit based in the philosophy of history. In the same volume he gave birth to the timeless truism and threat of many a history teacher since, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

Another philosophy is the distinction between the existence and essence of being. Santayana felt that existence is more to do with materialism while essence is something of a driving force, the idea of how we experience situations and why we do the things we do. He also held that the human spirit was enriched by thought, but that thought did not constitute reality, just ideas of reality.

Sanity is a madness put to good use.
1Auxiliary Territorial Service2Which he lost, breaking a knuckle on his left hand with the force of his punching.3Including 37 KOs.

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