Outline of American History - Chapter 11: Postwar America (2023)


The United States dominated global affairs in the years immediately after World War II. Victorious in that great fight, their homeland unharmed from the ravages of war, the nation confident in its mission inside and outside the country. American leaders wanted to maintain the democratic structure they had defended at enormous cost and to share in the benefits of prosperity as much as possible. For them, as for Time magazine editor Henry Luce, this was the "American Century."

For 20 years, most Americans held true to this confident attitude. They accepted the need for a strong stance against the Soviet Union in the Cold War that unfolded after 1945. They advocated the growth of governmental authority and accepted the outlines of the welfare state first formulated during the New Deal. They enjoyed postwar prosperity that led to new levels of prosperity in the United States.

But little by little, some Americans began to question the prevailing assumptions about American life. Challenges on several fronts shook the consensus. In the 1950s, African Americans began a crusade, later joined by other minorities and women, to gain greater participation in the American Dream. In the 1960s, politically active students protested the nation's role abroad, particularly in the destructive Vietnam War, and a youthful counterculture challenged the status quo of American values. Americans from many walks of life tried to rebalance the United States.


The Cold War was the most important political issue of the early postwar years. It arose out of longstanding disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1918, American troops participated in the Allied intervention in Russia on behalf of anti-Bolshevik forces. The United States did not officially recognize the Bolshevik regime until 1933. Even then, suspicions persisted. However, during World War II, the two countries found themselves allies and thus ignored their differences to counter the Nazi threat.

At the end of the war, the antagonisms reappeared. The United States wanted to share its ideas of freedom, equality, and democracy with other countries. While the rest of the world was in turmoil, dealing with civil wars and crumbling empires, the nation hoped to provide the stability to allow for a peaceful rebuilding. Unable to forget the specter of the Great Depression (1929-1940), the United States now promoted its familiar position of free trade and sought to remove trade barriers, both to create markets for American agricultural and industrial products and to ensure export capacity. of Western European countries. nations generate economic growth and rebuild their economies. Fewer trade barriers were believed to boost economic growth at home and abroad and strengthen stability among America's friends and allies.

The Soviet Union had its own agenda. The Russian historical tradition of centralized and autocratic government contrasted with the American emphasis on democracy. Marxist-Leninist ideology had been minimized during the war, but it still guided Soviet policy. Devastated by the battle that left 20 million Soviet citizens dead, the Soviet Union was determined to rebuild itself and protect itself from yet another terrible conflict. The Soviets were particularly concerned about another invasion of their territory from the west. Having repelled Hitler's push, they were determined to prevent another such attack. The Soviet Union now demanded "defensible" borders and regimes sympathetic to its goals in Eastern Europe. But the United States had declared the restoration of independence and self-government to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe as one of its war objectives.


Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as president before the end of the war. An unassuming man who had previously served as Missouri's Democratic Senator and then Vice President, Truman initially felt ill-equipped to govern the United States. Roosevelt had not trusted him with complex postwar affairs, and he had little previous experience in international affairs. "I'm not tall enough for this job," he told a former colleague.

But Truman was quick to respond to new challenges. Impulsively, he showed a willingness to make quick decisions on the problems he faced. A sign on his White House desk, since famous in American politics, read "The Buck Stops Here," reflecting his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. His decisions on how to respond to the Soviet Union had a major impact at the beginning of the Cold War.


The Cold War unfolded as disagreements over the shape of the postwar world created suspicion and mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. The first such conflict occurred in Poland. Moscow demanded a government under Soviet influence; Washington wanted a more independent, representative, Western-style government. The Yalta Conference of February 1945 had produced a far-reaching agreement open to different interpretations. Among its provisions was the promise of “free and unfettered” elections in Poland.

In his first meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Truman announced his intention to support Polish self-determination and lectured the Soviet diplomat on the need to implement the Yalta Accords. When Molotov protested, "I've never been talked to like that in my life," Truman retorted, "Follow your agreement and no one will talk to you like that." From that moment on, relations deteriorated.

In the final months of World War II, Soviet forces occupied all of Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow used its military power to support the efforts of the communist parties in Eastern Europe and to crush the democratic parties. Communist parties committed to Moscow rapidly expanded their power and influence throughout the region, culminating in the 1948 coup in Czechoslovakia.

Public declarations marked the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 Stalin declared that international peace was impossible "under the current capitalist development of the world economy." Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime Prime Minister, delivered a dramatic speech in Fulton, Missouri, as Truman sat at the podium during the speech. "From Stettin in the Baltic States to Trieste on the Adriatic," Churchill said, "an iron curtain has fallen over the continent." Britain and the United States, he explained, must work together to counter the Soviet threat.


Containment of the Soviet Union became American policy in the postwar years. George Kennan, a senior official at the US Embassy in Moscow, defined the new approach in a lengthy cable he sent to the State Department in 1946. He expanded his analysis upon his return home in an article published under the symbol "X " in the respected magazineExternal relationships. Kennan pointed to Russia's traditional sense of insecurity and argued that under no circumstances would the Soviet Union soften its stance.Lifestyle"that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disturbed." Moscow's pressure to expand its power must be checked by "a determined and vigilant suppression of Russian expansion tendencies...".

The first significant application of the containment doctrine took place in the eastern Mediterranean. Britain had backed Greece, where communist forces threatened the ruling monarchy with civil war, and Turkey, where the Soviet Union was pushing for territorial concessions and the right to build naval bases on the Bosphorus. In 1947 Britain informed the United States that it could no longer afford such aid. The US State Department quickly drew up a US aid plan. But support for a new intervention policy, Senate leaders such as Arthur Vandenberg said, would only come if Truman was willing to "scare the country to death."

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Truman was ready. In a statement that became known as the Truman Doctrine, he stated: "I believe that the policy of the United States should be to support free peoples who resist subjugation by armed minorities or external pressure." allocate $400 million in economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey, and the money was approved.

However, there was a price that Truman himself and American society paid for his victory. To win American support for the containment policy, Truman exaggerated the Soviet threat to the United States. His comments, in turn, unleashed a wave of hysterical anti-communism across the country and paved the way for the rise of McCarthyism.

Containment also called for extensive economic aid to help rebuild war-torn Western Europe. With many nations in the region economically and politically unstable, the United States feared that local communist parties led by Moscow would take advantage of their wartime resistance to the Nazis and rise to power. Something must be done, said Secretary of State George Marshall, because "the patient is sinking while the doctors think about it." Marshall was formerly the senior officer in the US Armed Forces and is credited with being the primary organizer of the US military victory in World War II. In mid-1947, Marshall urged the affected European nations to draw up a program "not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, despair, and chaos." The Soviets attended the first planning session and then left, rather than share economic data on their resources and problems, and submit to Western control over aid spending. The remaining 16 nations submitted a proposal that ultimately totaled $17 billion over four years. In early 1948, Congress voted in favor of the European economic boom, dubbed the "Marshall Plan," and widely regarded as one of the most successful US foreign policy initiatives in history.

Postwar Germany was divided into American, Soviet, British, and French occupation zones, with the former German capital of Berlin (divided into four zones) near the center of the Soviet zone. The United States, Great Britain, and France had discussed turning their zones into a single autonomous republic. But the Soviet Union opposed plans to unify Germany, and the four-power ministerial-level talks on Germany collapsed. When the Western powers announced their intention to found a consolidated federal state from their areas, Stalin reacted. On June 23, 1948, Soviet troops blockaded Berlin, cutting off road and rail access from the west.

American leaders feared that the loss of Berlin was only a prelude to the loss of Germany and later all of Europe. Thus, in a successful display of Western resolve known as the Berlin Airlift, Allied air forces took to the air and ferried supplies to Berlin. American, French and British planes delivered almost 2,250,000 tons of goods, including food and coal. Stalin lifted the blockade after 231 days and 277,264 flights.

Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe alarmed the West. The United States led efforts to establish a military alliance to complement economic containment efforts. In 1949, the United States and 11 other countries formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance based on the principle of collective security. An attack against one was to be considered an attack against all and repelled with reasonable force.

Over the next year, the United States clearly defined its defense objectives. The National Security Council (NSC) conducted a comprehensive review of US foreign and defense policy. The resulting document, known as NSC-68, marked a new direction in US security policy. Based on the premise that "the Soviet Union was fanatical about seizing control of all governments wherever possible," the document committed the United States to assisting allied nations anywhere in the world threatened by Soviet aggression rails. . In response to Soviet threats against Europe and the American, British, and French presence in West Berlin, the United States dramatically increased defense spending.


While the United States sought to prevent communist ideology from gaining more adherents in Europe, it was also responding to challenges elsewhere. In China, the Americans were concerned about the progress of Mao Zedong and his Communist Party. During World War II, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government and communist forces fought a civil war despite fighting the Japanese. Chiang had been an ally during the war, but even American support could not bolster a government that was hopelessly inefficient and corrupt. Mao's troops finally seized power in 1949, and when he announced that his new regime would support the Soviet Union against the "imperialist" United States, it seemed that communism, at least in Asia, was out of control.

The Korean War brought with it an armed conflict between the United States and China. The Allies had divided Korea along the 38th parallel after liberating it from Japan at the end of World War II. The Soviet Union accepted the Japanese surrender north of 38° latitude; The United States did the same in the South. Originally intended as a military convenience, the dividing line sharpened as Cold War tensions mounted. Both great powers established governments in their respective occupation zones and continued to support them even after their departure.

In June 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and attacked the south, invading Seoul. Truman, seeing the North Koreans as Soviet pawns in the global struggle, prepared the American forces and ordered General Douglas MacArthur to go to Korea. Meanwhile, the United States was able to obtain a UN resolution calling North Korea an aggressor. (The Soviet Union, which could have vetoed it if it had taken its seat on the Security Council, boycotted the United Nations to protest the decision not to admit the PRC.)

The war went back and forth. American and Korean forces were initially pushed south into an enclave around the city of Pusan. A daring amphibious landing at Inchon, the port city of Seoul, drove the North Koreans back; However, as the fighting neared the Chinese border, China went to war, sending massive forces across the Yalu River. The mostly American UN troops withdrew again amid bitter fighting and then slowly recovered and fought their way back to the 38th parallel.

When MacArthur violated the principle of civilian control of the military by attempting to orchestrate public support for the bombing of China and allowing an invasion of the mainland by Chiang Kai-Shek's Chinese nationalist forces, Truman accused him of subservience and removed him from office. his duties, replacing him with General Matthew Ridgeway. The stakes were high in the Cold War, but the government's efforts to fight a limited war caused frustration among many Americans who could not understand the need for restraint. Truman's popularity plummeted to a 24 percent approval rating, the lowest for any president since pollsters began measuring the president's popularity.

Armistice talks began in July 1951. The two sides finally reached an agreement in July 1953, during the first term of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman's successor.

Cold War fighting also broke out in the Middle East. The region, strategically important as an oil supplier, seemed vulnerable in 1946 when Soviet troops were unable to leave Iran as promised, even after British and American forces had already withdrawn. The United States called for a UN condemnation of Moscow's continued troop presence. As the United States watched Soviet tanks invade the region, Washington prepared for a direct encounter. Faced with the American determination, the Soviets withdrew their troops.

Two years later, the United States officially recognized the new State of Israel within 15 minutes of its proclamation, a decision Truman made, despite strong opposition from Marshall and the State Department. While maintaining close ties with Israel, the United States still sought to maintain the friendship of the Arab states with Israel.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became president in 1953, was different from his predecessor. As a war hero, he had a natural and homely personality that endeared him greatly. "I like Ike" was the ubiquitous campaign slogan at the time. In the postwar years, he served as Army Chief of Staff, President of Columbia University, and eventually Chief of NATO before seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Although he was an expert at getting people to work together, he tried to play a low-key public role.

Nonetheless, he shared a fundamental vision of American foreign policy with Truman. Eisenhower also saw communism as a monolithic force fighting for world domination. He believed that Moscow, under leaders like Stalin, was trying to stage a world revolution. In his first inaugural address, he declared: “The forces of good and evil are assembled, armed and at odds like few times in history. Freedom is opposed to slavery, lightness to darkness.

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In office, Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, argued that containment did not go far enough to stop Soviet expansion. Rather, a more aggressive liberation policy was needed to liberate the oppressed from communism. But despite all the rhetoric, when democratic rebellions broke out in areas under Soviet rule, such as Hungary in 1956, the United States held back while Soviet forces crushed them.

Eisenhower's fundamental commitment to containing communism remained intact, and to that end he increased American reliance on a nuclear shield. The Manhattan Project during World War II had created the first atomic bombs. In 1950 Truman had authorized the development of a new and more powerful hydrogen weapon. Now, in an effort to keep budget spending in check, Eisenhower has proposed a policy of "massive retaliation." The United States, according to this doctrine, was prepared to use nuclear weapons if the vital interests of the nation were attacked.

In practice, however, Eisenhower used US forces with great caution and resisted all suggestions to consider using nuclear weapons in Indochina, where the French were driven out by Vietnamese communist forces in 1954, or in Taiwan. , where the United States moved and promised to defend. the Chinese nationalist regime against the attacks of the People's Republic of China. In the Middle East, Eisenhower resisted the use of force when British and French forces occupied the Suez Canal and Israel invaded the Sinai in 1956 after Egypt nationalized the canal. Under intense American pressure, British, French, and Israeli forces withdrew from Egypt, which retained control of the canal.


The Cold War not only shaped the foreign policy of the United States, but also had profound effects on domestic politics. Americans had long feared radical subversion, and during the Red Scare of 1919-1920, the government had sought to eliminate perceived threats to American society. Even greater efforts were made after World War II to eradicate communism in the United States.

Foreign events and spy scandals added to the anti-communist hysteria of the time. In 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its own atomic bomb, shocking Americans who believed that the United States would be the target of a Soviet attack. In 1948, Whitaker Chambers, a former Soviet agent, accused Alger Hiss, who had been Assistant Secretary of State and Roosevelt's Yalta adviser, of being a communist spy. Hiss denied the charges, but was found guilty of perjury in 1950. Finally, in 1950, the government uncovered a British-American spy ring that was transmitting atomic bomb development material to the Soviet Union. The capture and trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for exposing nuclear secrets increased the perception of a local communist threat. Attorney General J. Howard McGrath stated that there are many American communists, each of whom carries "the seed of death for society."

When the Republicans won the midterm elections in 1946 and seemed ready to investigate subversive activities, the president instituted a Federal Employee Loyalty Program. Workers who were challenged due to past and present connections often had little chance to fight back.

Meanwhile, Congress launched its own loyalty program. In 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigated the motion picture industry to see if communist sentiments were reflected in popular movies. When some writers refused to testify, they were cited for contempt and jailed. In response, Hollywood capitulated, refusing to cast someone with a slightly questionable past.

But the most vigorous anti-communist warrior was Senator JosephR. McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican. He gained national attention in 1950 by claiming that he had a list of 205 known communists at the State Department. Although McCarthy later changed this number several times and was unable to substantiate any of his allegations, he had a public resonance.

McCarthy rose to power when the Republican Party gained control of the Senate in 1952. As committee chairman, he now had a forum for his crusade. Based on extensive press and television coverage, he continued to accuse senior officials of treason. Playing on his tough reputation, he often used vulgarity to characterize the "vile and capricious" objects of his attack.

But McCarthy went too far. Although polls showed half the public backed him, McCarthy did his best to defy the US Army when one of his aides was drafted. Television "in its early days" brought audiences to millions of homes. Many Americans saw McCarthy's brutal tactics for the first time, and as public support began to wane, the Senate finally condemned him for his behavior.

By then, however, McCarthy wielded enormous power in the United States. He offered scapegoats to those worried about the Korean standoff or communist gains. He stoked fears fueled by the Truman administration's own anti-communist efforts and legitimate tactics often used against the innocent. In short, McCarthy represented the worst domestic excesses of the Cold War.


As the Cold War raged in the decade and a half after World War II, the United States experienced phenomenal economic growth. The war brought a return to prosperity, and in the postwar period the United States consolidated its position as the richest country in the world. The gross national product, a measure of all goods and services produced in the United States, rose from about $200 billion in 1940 to $300 billion in 1950 to more than $500 billion in 1960. More and more Americans considered themselves part of middle class.

The growth came from several sources. The automobile industry was partly to blame, as the number of cars produced quadrupled annually between 1946 and 1955. A housing boom, spurred in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning soldiers, fueled the expansion. Increased defense spending as the Cold War intensified also played a role.

After 1945, America's big corporations got even bigger. There had been earlier waves of merger in the 1890s and the 1920s; another wave came in the 1950s. New conglomerates followed, companies with interests in a variety of industries. For example, International Telephone and Telegraph bought the Sheraton, Continental Baking, Hartford Fire Insurance, and Avis Rent-a-Car hotels, among others. Smaller franchises, such as McDonald's fast food restaurants, provided another pattern. Large companies also developed interests abroad, where labor costs were often lower.

Workers found that as industrial America changed, their own lives changed. Fewer workers produced goods; more services provided. By 1956, most had clerks and worked as business managers, teachers, salespeople, and clerks. Some companies offer a guaranteed annual salary, long-term employment contracts, and other benefits. With such changes, worker militancy was undermined and some class distinctions began to fade.

On the other hand, farmers faced hard times. Productivity gains led to agricultural consolidation as farming became big business. Family farms, in turn, found it difficult to survive and more and more farmers left the country.

Other Americans also moved. In the postwar period, the West and Southwest continued to grow, a trend that would continue until the end of the century. Sunbelt cities like Houston, Texas; Miami Florida; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, expanded rapidly. Los Angeles, California moved ahead of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the third-largest US business city. In 1963, California had more people than New York.

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An even more important form of the movement was to move Americans out of the inner cities and into new suburbs, where they hoped to find affordable housing for the larger families that the postwar baby boom had spawned. Developers like William J. Levitt built new communities, with houses that all looked the same, using mass production techniques. Levitt's houses were pre-fabricated or partially assembled in a factory rather than on the final site. The houses were modest, but Levitt's methods reduced costs and allowed the new owners to own at least a piece of the American Dream.

As the suburbs grew, businesses moved to the new areas. Large shopping malls with a wide variety of stores changed consumer behavior. The number of these centers increased from eight at the end of World War II to 3,840 in 1960. Easy parking and convenient night hours allowed customers to avoid shopping in the city altogether.

The new highways provided better access to the suburbs and their businesses. The Highway Act of 1956 appropriated $26 billion, the largest public works spending in US history, to build more than 40,000 miles of federal highways to connect all parts of the country.

Television also had a strong influence on social and economic patterns. It was developed in the 1930s and was only widely used after the war. In 1946, the country had fewer than 17,000 televisions. Three years later, consumers were buying 250,000 devices a month, and by 1960, three-quarters of all families owned at least one device. By the middle of the decade, the average family was watching television for four to five hours a day. Popular children's shows included.Hello Doody Timeythe mickey mouse club; older viewers preferred sitcoms likeI love Lucyyfather knows best. Americans of all ages have been subjected to increasingly sophisticated advertising for products supposedly necessary for living well.


"Fair Deal" was the name given to Harry Truman's domestic show. Building on Roosevelt's New Deal, Truman believed that the federal government should ensure economic opportunity and social stability, and he fought to achieve these goals in the face of stiff political opposition from conservative lawmakers determined to limit the role of government.

Truman's first priority in the immediate postwar period was the transition to a peacetime economy. The soldiers wanted to get home quickly, but when they arrived they faced competition for housing and jobs. The IG Bill, passed before the end of the war, helped ease soldiers' return to civilian life by providing them with benefits such as guaranteed loans for home purchases and financial aid for industrial training and college education.

Labor unrest was a major concern. When production ceased during the war, many workers were left without a job. Others wanted raises that they felt were long overdue. In 1946, 4.6 million workers went on strike, more than at any other time in American history. They challenged the automotive, steel and electronics industries. When they took over the railroads and soft coal mines, Truman intervened, but in doing so he alienated millions of working-class Americans.

By addressing issues of immediate concern, Truman also provided a broader agenda for action. Less than a week after the war ended, he presented a 21-point program to Congress that included protections against unfair labor practices, a higher minimum wage, increased unemployment benefits, and housing benefits. Over the next few months, he added more proposals for health insurance and nuclear energy legislation. But this scattered approach often left Truman's priorities unclear.

The Republicans quickly attacked. In the 1946 congressional elections, they asked, "Have you had enough?" and the voters answered yes. Republicans, who won majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928, were determined to reverse the liberal direction of the Roosevelt years.

Truman fought with Congress while cutting spending and lowering taxes. In 1948 he sought re-election, although polls suggested he had no chance. After a vigorous campaign, Truman captured the great upheaval in American politics, defeating Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York. Truman revived the old New Deal coalition, clinging to workers, farmers, and black voters, winning another term.

When Truman finally left office in 1953, his fair dealing was only a mixed success. In July 1948, he outlawed the federal government's hiring practices on the grounds of racial discrimination and ordered the end of segregation in the military. The minimum wage had increased and Social Security programs had been expanded. A housing program brought some profit but left many unmet needs. National health insurance and education assistance measures never made it through Congress. Truman's preoccupation with Cold War issues hampered his effectiveness at home, especially in the face of intense opposition.


Dwight Eisenhower accepted the basic framework of government accountability created by the New Deal, but sought to limit the role of the president. He called his approach "dynamic conservatism" or "modern republicanism," which he explained means "conservative on money, liberal on people." One critic responded that Eisenhower seemed to argue that he would "strongly recommend building many schools... but would not provide the money."

Eisenhower's top priority was to balance the budget after years of deficits. He wanted to cut spending, lower taxes, and preserve the value of the dollar. Republicans were willing to risk unemployment to keep inflation in check. Not wanting to stimulate the economy too much, they watched the country suffer three recessions in eight years.

In other areas, the government transferred control of offshore oil fields from the federal government to the states. He also favored the private development of energy sources over the public approach pioneered by the Democrats. In everything the Eisenhower administration did, his stance was pro-business.

Eisenhower's penchant for playing a modest role in the public eye often resulted in a legislative showdown. Despite this, he was active behind the scenes to promote his favorite shows. And he was one of the few presidents who left office with as much popularity as he arrived.


In the 1950s, a sense of unity permeated American society. Conformity was common, as both young and old followed the group's norms rather than acting on their own. Although men and women were forced to accept new employment patterns during World War II, traditional roles were reasserted after the war ended. Men were expected to be the breadwinners of the family; Women, even when they worked, assumed that their proper place was at home. Sociologist David Riesman has noted the importance of peer group expectations in his influential book The Lonely Crowd. He called this new society "otherwise" and claimed that such societies lead to both stability and conformity. Television contributed to the trend of homogenization by allowing young and old a shared experience that reflected accepted social patterns.

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But not all Americans conformed to such cultural norms. Several writers, members of the so-called "Beat Generation", rebelled against conventional values. They emphasized spontaneity and spirituality, placing intuition over reason, Eastern mysticism over institutionalized Western religion. The "Beats" did their best to challenge standards of respectability and shock the rest of the culture.

His literary work showed his sense of freedom. Jack Kerouac typed his bestseller On the Road on a 250-foot roll of paper. With no accepted punctuation or paragraph structure, the book glorified the possibilities of a free life. The poet Allen Ginsberg achieved similar fame for his poem Howl, a scathing critique of modern, mechanized civilization. When the police charged him with obscene and seized the published version, Ginsberg gained national recognition with a successful court case.

Musicians and artists also rebelled. Tennessee singer Elvis Presley popularized black music in the form of rock and roll, surprising serious Americans with his dovetail haircut and hip sway. Additionally, Elvis and other rock 'n' roll singers demonstrated that there was a white audience for black music, demonstrating the growing integration of American culture. Painters like Jackson Pollock set up easels and spread huge canvases on the floor, then applied paint, sand, and other materials in wild splashes of color. All of these artists and writers, regardless of medium, provided models for the broader and more deeply felt social revolution of the 1960s.


African Americans became increasingly restless in the postwar years. During the war they had challenged discrimination in the military and in the workforce, with limited success. Millions of blacks had left the farms of the South for the cities of the North in the hope of finding better jobs. Instead, they found crowded conditions in urban slums. Now black soldiers were coming home, determined to reject second-class citizenship, while other blacks began to argue that the time for racial equality had come.

Jackie Robinson raised the issue of race in 1947 when he broke baseball's color line and began playing in the major leagues. As a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he also often had trouble with his opponents and teammates. But a stellar first season led to his acceptance and paved the way for other black players now leaving the Negro leagues to which they were confined.

Government officials and many other Americans discovered the connection between racial problems and Cold War politics. As the leader of the free world, the United States sought support in Africa and Asia. Discrimination at home hampered efforts to make friends in other parts of the world.

Harry Truman supported the civil rights movement. He believed in political equality, if not social equality, and recognized the growing importance of elections in black cities. In 1946, when informed of the lynching and other forms of mob violence still practiced in the South, he appointed a Committee on Civil Rights to investigate racial and religious discrimination. The report, published the following year, documented the second-rate status of blacks in American life. He reiterated the need for the federal government to ensure the guaranteed rights of all citizens.

Truman responded by sending a 10-point civil rights program to Congress. When Southern Democrats left the party in 1948, angered by stronger civil rights stances, Truman issued an executive order banning federal job discrimination, mandated equal treatment in the armed forces, and appointed a committee to work to end military segregation. The last military restrictions ended during the Korean War.

Southern blacks enjoyed few if any civil and political rights. More than 1 million black soldiers fought in World War II, but those who came from the South could not vote. Blacks who tried to register faced the possibility of beatings, loss of jobs, loss of credit, or eviction from their land. Lynchings still occurred, and Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in streetcars, trains, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, recreational facilities, and workplaces.


Blacks took matters into their own hands. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was determined to overthrow established legal doctrine in the judicial processPlessy v. FergusonIn 1896, the segregation of black and white students in schools was constitutional if the facilities were "separate but equal." This decree was used for decades to sanction strict segregation in the South, where facilities were rarely, if ever, the same.

Blacks have achieved their goal of tipping overnice1954, when the Supreme Court, presided over by Eisenhower-appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren, issued its decisionBrown Gegen Board of EducationVerdict. The court unanimously declared that "separate institutions are inherently unequal" and ruled that the "separate but equal" doctrine could no longer be applied in public schools. A year later, the Supreme Court required local school boards to act "with all deliberate speed" to implement the decision.

Although Eisenhower understood the needs of the South, which was facing great upheaval, he moved quickly to ensure that the law was followed. He ordered the desegregation of schools in Washington, D.C. serve as a model for the rest of the country and tried to end discrimination in other areas as well.

He faced a serious crisis in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Short of implementing a desegregation plan that would require the enrollment of nine black students in a previously all-white high school, the governor declared violence imminent and dispatched members of the Arkansas National Guard to maintain security. peace, turning away black students. When a federal court ordered the troops to withdraw, students showed up at the school only to belligerent jeers. When the crowd turned hostile, the black students left.

Eisenhower responded by placing the National Guardsmen under federal command and recalling them to Little Rock. He was reluctant to do so because no federal troops had been deployed to protect black rights since Reconstruction ended, but he knew he had no choice. And so began desegregation with foot soldiers in classrooms to enforce the rule of law.

Another milestone in the civil rights movement occurred in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress who was also the secretary of the NAACP national association, climbed in front of a bus in an area reserved for whites by law and custom. When she was ordered to go to the back, she refused. The police came and arrested her for violating these statutes. Black leaders, expecting such an event, organized a boycott of the bus system. Martin Luther King Jr., a young minister of the Baptist church where blacks met, became the spokesman for the protest. "There comes a time," he said, "when people get tired of being trampled under the brutal feet of oppression." buses by 65 percent. About a year later, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses, like segregation in schools, was unconstitutional. The boycott ended. The civil rights movement had won an important victory and found in Martin Luther King Jr. its most powerful, thoughtful and eloquent leader.

African Americans also tried to secure their right to vote. Although the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed the right to vote, many states had found ways around the law, either through a poll tax or a literacy test. Eisenhower, in cooperation with Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, supported efforts by Congress to secure the vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first such measure in 82 years, represented a step forward by allowing federal intervention in cases where black people were denied the opportunity to vote. But loopholes remained, and activists successfully lobbied for the 1960 Civil Rights Act, which provided stricter penalties for vote disruption but still did not authorize federal officials to register black people.

The civil rights movement built on the efforts of black Americans themselves and gained momentum in the postwar years. Through the Supreme Court and Congress, civil rights advocates laid the foundation for an even broader movement in the 1960s.



What is the outline of American history? ›

An Outline of American History is one of the oldest continuing publications of the United States Information Agency (USIA). The first edition (1949-50) was produced under the editorship of Francis Whitney, first of the State Department Office of International Information and later of the U.S. Information Agency.

What happened in postwar America? ›

Following World War II, the United States began an economic boom that brought unparalleled prosperity to a majority of its citizens and raised Americans expectations, breeding a belief that most economic and social problems could be solved.

What was the most important issue in the postwar American society? ›

However, even though the postwar depression that people feared would occur never materialized, the country did face economic and social challenges. Inflation and labor unrest. The country's main economic concern in the immediate postwar years was inflation.

What happened during the postwar period? ›

Three important political events define the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1970: the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. These three events provide the overarching framework for a rich array of social and political changes that took place in America during that time.

How do you write an outline for a history essay? ›

An outline should start with your thesis statement. Beneath your thesis, note what your introduction will include (e.g. background information necessary to understand your thesis and supporting evidence). Then list your items of supporting evidence and contrary evidence.

How do you start an American history essay? ›

Write a Question — and Answer It: A strong history essay starts with a question. "Why did Rome fall?" "What caused the Protestant Reformation?" "What factors shaped the civil rights movement?" Your question can be broad, but work on narrowing it.

What postwar issues did America face? ›

Returning soldiers faced unemployment or took their old jobs away from women and minorities. Also, the cost of living had doubled. Farmers and factory workers suffered as wartime orders diminished. Many Americans responded to the stressful conditions by becoming fearful of outsiders.

What was a major postwar goal of the United States? ›

The United States hoped to share with other countries its conception of liberty, equality and democracy. With the rest of the world in turmoil, struggling with civil wars and disintegrating empires, the nation hoped to provide the stability to make peaceful reconstruction possible.

What postwar problems did Americans face? ›

did Americans face after World War II? Housing shortages, employment, readjustment to family life, rising inflation and lower wages, and shortages of goods.

What were some of the major changes to the postwar US? ›

An economic slowdown followed the end of the war as government contracts were cancelled, military equipment surpluses, and the region returned to a peacetime economy. By the 1950s, the economy had rebounded fueled, in part, by defense spending for the Cold War and "hot" Korean War.

What was an important cause of American prosperity during the post World War 11 period? ›

Driven by growing consumer demand, as well as the continuing expansion of the military-industrial complex as the Cold War ramped up, the United States reached new heights of prosperity in the years after World War II.

How did World War II change America? ›

The need for labor opened up new opportunities for women and African Americans and other minorities. Millions of Americans left home to take jobs in war plants that sprang up around the nation. Economic output skyrocketed. The war effort on the "Home Front" required sacrifices and cooperation.

What is postwar example? ›

post·​war ˈpōs(t)-ˌwär. : occurring or existing after a war. especially : occurring or existing after World War II.

What was a movement of change in the postwar United States? ›

The civil rights movement was proving that citizens could challenge authority and change "the system"; gains in voting rights and school integration inspired similar conviction in the anti-war, youth and women's movements.

What was the postwar policy? ›

The post-war consensus, sometimes called the post-war compromise, was the economic order and social model of which the major political parties in post-war Britain shared a consensus supporting view, from the end of World War II in 1945 to the late-1970s.

How do you start an outline example? ›

How do I write an outline?
  1. Identify your topic or thesis statement.
  2. Decide what points you would like to discuss during your paper.
  3. Put your points in logical, numerical order so that each point connects back to your main point.
  4. Write possible transitions between paragraphs.

What is outline format for a essay? ›

Revised on December 6, 2021. An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold.

What is the thesis statement? ›

The thesis statement is the sentence that states the main idea of a writing assignment and helps control the ideas within the paper. It is not merely a topic. It often reflects an opinion or judgment that a writer has made about a reading or personal experience.

How to start a conclusion? ›

Conclusions should always begin with a topic sentence. Restating the thesis from your introductory paragraph in the first sentence of your conclusion is an effective way to remind the reader of the main argument.

How to start a paragraph? ›

Good paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that briefly explains what the paragraph is about. Next come a few sentences for development and support, elaborating on the topic with more detail. Paragraphs end with a conclusion sentence that summarizes the topic or presents one final piece of support to wrap up.

What happened to the American economy during the postwar period? ›

As the Cold War unfolded in the decade and a half after World War II, the United States experienced phenomenal economic growth. The war brought the return of prosperity, and in the postwar period the United States consolidated its position as the world's richest country.

What impact did the Civil War have on postwar American economy? ›

The US Civil War is often credited with creating the “modern economy” through industrialization and through modern taxation, banking, and the use of paper currency.

How did World War 2 affect the economy of the United States? ›

The war brought full employment and a fairer distribution of income. Blacks and women entered the workforce for the first time. Wages increased; so did savings. The war brought the consolidation of union strength and far-reaching changes in agricultural life.

What had the biggest impact on post war prosperity in the US? ›

Following the end of World War II, the United States experienced vigorous economic growth that lasted until the 1970s as consumer demand fueled economic growth. The baby boom triggered booms in housing, consumption, and the labor force. Between 1940 and 1960, the nation's GDP jumped more than $300 million.

What was the postwar world? ›

The term usually refers to the short period after World War II (ended in 1945). A post-war period can become an interwar period or interbellum, when a war between the same parties resumes at a later date (such as the period between World War I and World War II).

What were the effects of the American war? ›

The Revolution opened new markets and new trade relationships. The Americans' victory also opened the western territories for invasion and settlement, which created new domestic markets. Americans began to create their own manufacturers, no longer content to reply on those in Britain.

What effects did the Cold War have on postwar America? ›

The Cold War affected domestic policy two ways: socially and economically. Socially, the intensive indoctrination of the American people led to a regression of social reforms. Economically, enormous growth spurred by industries related to war was aided by heavy government expansion.

What 3 effects did the war have on the US economy? ›

Public debt and levels of taxation increased during most conflicts; • Consumption as a percent of GDP decreased during most conflicts; • Investment as a percent of GDP decreased during most conflicts; • Inflation increased during or as a direct consequence of these conflicts.

What were the biggest changes in America as a result of the civil war? ›

The first three of these postwar amendments accomplished the most radical and rapid social and political change in American history: the abolition of slavery (13th) and the granting of equal citizenship (14th) and voting rights (15th) to former slaves, all within a period of five years.

What was life like in the US after World War II? ›

Life in the United States began to return to normal. Soldiers began to come home and find peacetime jobs. Industry stopped producing war equipment and began to produce goods that made peacetime life pleasant. The American economy was stronger than ever.

How did World War 11 contribute to the end of the Great Depression? ›

During the war, more than 12 million Americans were sent into the military, and a similar number toiled in defense-related jobs. Those war jobs seemingly took care of the 17 million unemployed in 1939. Most historians have therefore cited the massive spending during wartime as the event that ended the Great Depression.

What were three effects of the end of World War 11 on American society? ›

What were three effects of the end of WWII on American Society ? Many veterans used the GI Bill of Rights to get an education and buy homes. Suburbs grew and families began to move out of the cities. Many Americans bought cars and appliances and homes.

How did prosperity after World War II affect life in the US? ›

The unemployment rate after WWII remained around 3 to 5 percent. With more jobs and money, it became easier for people to start families once the war was over, and subsequently, 1946 was the start of the Baby Boom in the United States.

How did World War II change American society at home? ›

Food, gas and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives and planted “victory gardens.” To help build the armaments necessary to win the war, women and Blacks found employment as electricians, welders and riveters in defense plants.

How did culture change after ww2? ›

Because of World War II, we saw the roots of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, widespread college education, and health insurance benefits.

How did World War 2 affect people's lives? ›

Large amounts of physical capital were destroyed through six years of ground battles and bombing. Many individuals were forced to abandon or give up their property without compensation and to move on to new lands. Periods of hunger became more common even in relatively prosperous Western Europe.

What 3 things defined the post-war world? ›

Three things defined the post-Cold War world. The first was U.S. power. The second was the rise of China as the center of global industrial growth based on low wages. The third was the re-emergence of Europe as a massive, integrated economic power.

What was the US postwar period? ›

For the United States, 1945–1964 was a time of high economic growth and general prosperity. It was also a time of confrontation as the capitalist United States and its allies politically opposed the Soviet Union and other communist states; the Cold War had begun.

How long was the postwar period? ›

Unit: The postwar era (1945-1980)

What important things happened during the post war period? ›

Three important political events define the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1970: the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. These three events provide the overarching framework for a rich array of social and political changes that took place in America during that time.

What does postwar mean in history? ›

post-war (not comparable) Pertaining to a period of time immediately following the end of a war; where there is a cessation of conflict. After the most recent or significant war in a culture's history. After the end of World War II in 1945.

How was the postwar economy? ›

The private economy boomed as the government sector stopped buying munitions and hiring soldiers. Factories that had once made bombs now made toasters, and toaster sales were rising. On paper, measured GDP did drop after the war: It was 13 percent lower in 1947 than in 1944.

What topics are taught in American history? ›

Colonization, the different colonies, and colonial life. The Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary war, the constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Washington's presidency and the new political parties. The War of 1812 and the Monroe Doctrine.

What are the 5 themes of U.S. history? ›

US History: Themes
  • National Identity.
  • Work, Exchange, and Technology.
  • Migration and Settlement.
  • Politics and Power.
  • American in the World.
  • Geography and Environment.
  • Culture and Society.

What are the major theme of U.S. history? ›

Government, Law, and Politics. Health and Medicine. Immigration. Labor and Livelihood.

What is the most important part of American history? ›

The centrality of the Declaration of Independence (1776) to the developments of the 1770s is self-evident.

What is the most important piece of American history? ›

Declaration of Independence
  • It took Thomas Jefferson 17 days to write the Declaration of Independence.
  • On July 2, 1776, Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain.
  • On July 4, 1776, Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence, marking July 4 as Independence Day.
Jul 8, 2019

Is American history a hard class? ›

AP U.S. History is a challenging high school advanced placement course. The course covers centuries of material and requires sharp analysis skills. The AP U.S. History exam has a relatively low pass rate compared with those of other AP exams. Even though it's a difficult course, it can be rewarding for many students.

What are 3 very common themes? ›

10 common themes in writing
  • 1 Beauty.
  • 2 Good vs. evil.
  • 3 Coming-of-age.
  • 4 Loyalty.
  • 5 Betrayal.
  • 6 Life and death.
  • 7 Justice.
  • 8 Family.
Jun 29, 2022

What are the 5 C's of history? ›

In response, we developed an approach we call the "five C's of historical thinking." The concepts of change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, we believe, together describe the shared foundations of our discipline.

What are the 7 key themes of history? ›

The Seven Key Themes
  • Key Theme 1. Patterns of Population.
  • Key Theme 2. Economic Networks and Exchange.
  • Key Theme 3. Uses and Abuses of Power.
  • Key Theme 4. Haves and Have-Nots.
  • Key Theme 5. Expressing Identity.
  • Key Theme 6. Science, Technology, and the Environment.
  • Key Theme 7. Spiritual Life and Moral Codes.

What are the six common themes? ›

Six common themes in literature are:
  • Good vs. evil.
  • Love.
  • Redemption.
  • Courage and perseverance.
  • Coming of age.
  • Revenge.
Aug 20, 2021

What are examples of main themes? ›

A book's central theme can be anything the author chooses to focus on. Certainly, courage, death, friendship, revenge, and love are five themes that abound. Let's take a closer look at these common themes, as well as some interesting examples from popular works of fiction.

What are three things about US history? ›

Important dates:
  • Jamestown , the first permanent English settlement, was founded in 1607.
  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 .
  • The Constitution of the United States was written in 1787.
  • President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.

What grade level is American history? ›

In such cases the legislators generally intended that American history should be taught in the upper grades, that is VII and VIII. More recent laws on this subject have been quite generally directed at the high schools, and in application this has meant the two upper grades, XI or XII.

How do Beginners study history? ›

Tips To Prepare For History Board Exams
  1. Make Flashcards Of Key Terms, People And Dates. ...
  2. Read Out Loud As You Read The Text. ...
  3. Prepare Your Own Notes. ...
  4. Use Mnemonics To Memorize Facts. ...
  5. Connect Details To A Map Or Timeline To Find A Relation Between The Facts. ...
  6. Be Familiar With The Format Of Examination. ...
  7. Take Practice Tests.
Mar 5, 2018

Why is it important to study American history? ›

Studying history helps us understand and grapple with complex questions and dilemmas by examining how the past has shaped (and continues to shape) global, national, and local relationships between societies and people.


1. The American Revolution - OverSimplified (Part 1)
2. The French and Indian War Explained | History
3. The Cold War
(Heimler's History)
4. Civil Rights and the 1950s: Crash Course US History #39
5. European conquest of America - Summary on a Map
(Geo History)
6. Thomas Jefferson & His Democracy: Crash Course US History #10


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