The early postwar era was characterized by an ensuing cold war with capitalism, communism, democracy, and totalitarians being at the core of the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. From 1945, both these regions were determined to acquire significant influence around the world, which formed a foundation for conflict (Shi, 2019). Notably, the substandard wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union had buckled in 1945. Moreover, with the successful abolition of German Nazism, the relationship between both nations was characterized by fierce rivalry, and even in the simplest matters; the realization of a consensus or understanding proved a difficult task. Some of the areas that fueled the friction between the two included human rights, individual liberties, democratic elections, and religious freedom. For instance, the disintegration of Nazism was followed by the USSR’s imposition of military control and a communist political system on the countries of Eastern Europe, particularly those it had freed from Nazi control as explained by Shi (2019). These actions did not sit well with both Churchill and Truman who were keen on overcoming such practices and ensuring the victim nations acquired democratic governments. Such rifts between the USSR and the United States followed the period between 1945 leading to the 1950s.
The United States always maintained somewhat of an independent position based on its self-perception of a power that would influence and lead developments around the world, especially in assisting the less powerful nations. President Harry Truman claimed that the most paramount matter following the war was the decision between tyranny and freedom. Consequently, Shi (2019) explains suspicion towards each other and the increased efforts to acquire influence over ‘nonaligned’ countries contributed to the further distancing between the United States and the Soviet Union. The power vacuums left in Europe and Asia influence an international contest over influence and control with both nations deeming themselves capable of leading the war. An additional highlight of the early postwar era was the prevalence of anti-colonial liberation movements that were against conforming to the suggested global empires (Shi, 2019). Similarly, the advent of the People’s Republic of Communist China in 1949 influenced further complications to international politics and the dynamics surrounding the cold war.
The instability characterizing the early postwar world and the global tensions influenced both domestic politics and foreign relations. The United States had a growing concern over internal security, which led to the formulation of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the National Security Act of 1947 according to Shi (2019). As elaborated by Truman, the United States’ role to influence freedom around the world made the country a target for their rivals hence the need to instill advanced measures and infrastructure to bolster internal security. Still, the fear over internal security led to the formulation of the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council. More so, the increased talks of atomic weapons also contribute to the tension with leaders such as Truman acknowledging the need for such preparations given the possibility of subsequent warfare (Shi, 2019). On the other hand, affluence and consumer culture were also among the key concerns in domestic policies. Primarily, the postwar era in the United States was characterized by substantial economic growth. The American economy had not only survived the great depression but also entailed an impressive rise in the spending power of Americans. The growth in jobs, wages, and the lack of consumer goods during the war influenced increased spending during this period. Resolutely, the early postwar era was definitive to the United States as it instituted national, regional, and international legacies that would see it develop into a world-leading power.
However, while the issue of production had been resolved, the impact of the affluent society and the increased production of goods by profit-seeking organizations prompted a developing belief that America was becoming too conformist. Americans were accused of falling play to bureaucratic structures that were robbing citizens of their spontaneity and individuality. These criticisms were valid. First, the increased production motivated profit-seeking corporations to stimulate the desires of consumers through marketing, which in turn made them think that their desires were being met according to Shin (2019). Second, the success realized after a long time of economic hardship and war did not only encourage consumption of goods but also formed a foundation for mass production. Consequently, unknown to most Americans, the country quickly turned into a materialist society with more people becoming other-directed instead of relishing individualism. Consuming goods and interacting with other people based on comparable activities were the key highlights that making it hard for Americans to thrive in spontaneity and individuality (Shi, 2019). Nonetheless, the early postwar era has always been imperative to the United States given a range of connected historical influences led to the apparent uniformity in the subsequent American cultures.
Question 3: 1960s – The Decade of Protest
The 1960s are considered as a ‘decade of protest’ primarily due to the extraordinary social turbulence and liberal activism that took place then. Key events alluding to tragic assassinations, painful trauma, youth rebellion, cultural conflict, civil rights, and civil unrest all contributed to the reference. Notably, Shi (2019) states that the most significant developments in domestic life during the 1960s took place in civil rights. After the election of JFK, racial segregation continued to be firm throughout the South. Similar to his predecessors Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, President Kennedy acknowledges the issue of racial equality but never promoted it until he experienced external force. JFK and his closest adviser eventually succumbed to the growing pressure and decided to support the civil rights movement. However, the promise to do so came with conditions and the application of unorthodox approaches. For instance, JFK appoint a special presidential assistant for civil rights and told them to ensure progress in what he considered as the nonsense of racial discrimination (Shi, 2019). Moreover, he advised on the utilization of minimum civil rights legislation and the use of maximum executive action, which prompted a substantial backlash. Nonetheless, the decision to support civil rights movements was largely influenced by African American activists and groups focused on ending the need to counter racial injustice.
The rise of activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. acted as the foundation for civil rights and influenced the demonstrations and protests aimed at countering racial injustices. Martin Luther King Jr was labeled an inspirational example of resilience and dignity as indicated by Shi (2019). Consequently, through people such as King Jr., the African American community showed unity in confronting brutality and oppression, which subsequently altered the dynamics of political power and social change. Physical protests and demonstrations were also a common occurrence during the 1960s thus contributing to the decade’s reference. For instance, the civil rights movement acquired impetus when four African American college students entered an all-white restaurant, sat down, and ordered coffee and doughnuts. Similarly, after President Kennedy presented the civil rights bill and it was blocked by southern Democrats; it sparked increased uproar among African American leaders. However, the comprehensive reaction showed unity in protest with more than 250,000 Americans, both black and white marching down in Washington as they demanded equality (Shi, 2019). Historical evidence depicts the march as the largest political demonstration in American history.
Still, the ‘decade of protest’ label was also influenced by the assassinations, subsequent trauma, and participation of the United States in foreign activities such as the war in Vietnam. The 1960s show the assassination of some of the significant leaders including John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy (Shi, 2019). Even so, the death of these important figures did not affect the idealistic commitment to improving the quality of life among Americans. For instance, the successor of Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson instated a war on poverty with his energy and legislative savvy contributing to a plethora of programs that addressed multiple social issues that had been ignored for decades. Most issues raised by JFK, King Jr., and X were addressed as Johnson made civil rights for people of color, equality for women, medical insurance, and aid to the poor national concerns.
On the other hand, the expanding involvement of the United States in Vietnam, particularly its role in the war, prompted national outrage with Americans showing solidarity in their advocacy for the cessation of the association between the two countries. The Vietnam War (1964-973) contributed to division among Americans as young idealists instigated a rebellious countercultural movement as highlighted by Shi (2019). Multiple Americans were killed with tens of thousands being jail or leaving the US to avoid being sent to participate in the war. The emotional stress fueled opposition as college campuses became centers of opposition with the primary argument being that the US had no right to act as the intervener in other countries’ civil wars. Still, others were concerned with how the war negatively affected the US economy, especially with the government’s willingness to raise taxes to pay for the war (Shi, 2019). The unleashed cycle of inflation and relative materialism that characterized US society during the time prompted antiwar protests.
Resolutely, the successes of the Civil Rights and the antiwar protests in the 1960s acted as a firm foundation for the emergence of other protests. The energy from young idealists and other widely involved groups encourage different communities to utilize comparable approaches to address multiple overdue social reforms as indicated by Shi (2019). For instance, the Women’s Liberation Movement proved to be the biggest outgrowth of the Civil Rights and antiwar protests. The women in the movement advocated against gender discrimination informal settings including the employment market and education. Still, they pushed for more control of their roles in the family and the collective process of reproduction. Similarly, the Gay Liberation Movement also acquire inspiration from the Civil Rights and antiwar protests. The prevalence of the ‘Gay Power’ phrase and the Stonewall Riot took place in the 1970s and aimed at influencing the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category in civil rights statutes (Shi, 2019). Assertively, the protest over the war and support of the Civil Rights Movement was imperative in strengthening a range of other movements in American history.
Shi, D. E. (2019). America: A narrative history, Vol.2. WW Norton & Company.
Course Lectures and Notes
- Dwight D. Eisenhower from Farewell Address (1961)
- Martin Luther King Jr. from Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)
- Abbey Lincoln from Who Will Revere the Black Woman? (1966)
- Malcolm X from “The Black Revolution” Speeches (1964)
- Stockely Carmichael from Black Power (1966)
- The Struggle for Freedom and Justice: African-Americans and the Push for Civil Rights, 1954-1972
- Through the Picture Window: Image and Reality in the Early Postwar Era, 1945-1963
- What does it mean to be a ‘Good Citizen’? Popular Protests and Conservative Reactions, 1965-1975