New Order in America: Post World War II
When World War 2 was coming to an end, the United States was in a far much better place economically than ever. However, there were still devastating effects that the world war had caused in the lives of Americans. Many Americans including both men and women had joined the military in order to help the country fight and many perished in the war. Industrialization had also kicked off especially industries that manufactured combats and most people had moved near war industries due to high demand of labor. Most of these factories located in the Atlantic, Pacific as well as the Gulf coasts and the migration led to sprouting of towns (Hooks, pg. 303-337). After the World War II it was almost as if America was beginning a new era that would be characterized by growth considering it had just undergone a great depression just a few years back. This paper looks at Americas new order especially between 1940s-1960s.
Building on the economic base just after the war ended was more affluent and easy in America that people could actually not believe it. There were several public policies that were passed that helped Americans especially those who had participated in the war. For example, the GI Bill of rights passed in 1944 was to give the veterans money so that they would be able to attend college, buy farms and also buy homes (Maier, pg. 607-633). The money was a form of compensation to the Americans who had sacrificed their lives in the war front and would help them have a better life. This was where the American Dream was coined, where many Americans were living better lives as they could now even own their homes. After the post war, America was an economical power house and most Americans were actually leaving better lives than Japan and Germany.
The US government had jumped from a great depression to an economic powerhouse as money had been spent during the war. After the war, the war manufacturers tried to convert war materials to consumer goods and the appliance and automobile sector also grew drastically. Many towns had already grown with buildings being constructed and between 1950s and 1960s, some Americans had retreated to live in the suburbs where they could enjoy the consumer economy and also try to search for normalcy. President Lyndon Johnson was also trying to come up with initiatives to help better the society. These initiatives were referred to as Great Society. Aim of these policies were to help reduce crime, end poverty, abolish inequality and help improve the environment. In 1964, during his speech he pointed out that the great society would be one of the largest social reform plan as he was also seeking reelection for a second term (Johnson).
An affluent society was created in America after the WW2 and although many would want to believe almost all American’s lived a good life this was not the case. Many Americans especially the whites had been lifted into the burgeoning middle class but there was also a lot of inequalities that arose. Women were still struggling to attain equal rights and be treated same way as the men (Locke). The poor people who were mostly the black were still struggling to get access to good school, health care as well as better paying jobs. Jim Craw on the other hand was creating laws that were promoting segregation of the colored people. This was another part of America that seemed to have been forgotten while the other part enjoyed the boost of the economy and its fruits.
After the war, the African Americans also became interested in being treated better, they came up with civil rights movements that would advocate for equality and ensure better treatment by the system. After the war many whites had gained employment while the blacks seemed forgotten. Philip Randolph who was the black labor leader threatened to march to Washington unless the blacks too were also given equal employment opportunities. In order to prevent this demonstration, President Roosevelt gave an executive order which prohibited discrimination of the blacks in defense industries. Committee of Fair Employment Practices was also established. They also championed for better treatment of their children especially the fact that schools were also racially segregated. The Brown vs Board was a notable ruling that allowed black children to be able to attend schools that were only meant for the whites. The blacks were also eventually allowed to vote with the clause of one being asked to do an exam before voting being removed (Hall, pg. 1233-1263). The “Journey of Reconciliation” was also created where George Houser led a movement of whites and black leaders on a march which challenged racial segregation in interstate buses.
In 1940-60s, new tension emerged, the cold war, which was a threat between the united states and the Soviet Union. There was political consensus regarding cold war and US received bipartisan support from most foreign US policies. Vietnam war however witnessed in the North of Vietnam led to more tension that would put America in bad light. The USA supported the anti-communist South by sending military guides to instruct and aid the South Vietnamese Army (Feis, pg. 82). The South was at war with the communist party Viet Cong which was established in the South. The fight led to the campaign of assassination spearheaded by the Viet Cong and it received tremendous support from the north in 1959. The Americans were afraid that if the communist party took over Vietnam then it was definitely going to spread to the proximate countries. During this period the cold war was also intensifying in the entire world and the USA toughened its policies against any of the communists and the Soviet Union allies and under the leadership of the then president Dwight D. Eisenhower the United States vowed to aid Ngo Dinh Diem and the anti-communist South.
In conclusion, World War II as a major boost to the American dream. Many Americans were able to leave the lives they wanted which was quite a comfortable life than their economic competitors including German and French. It was also during these period that major changes were initiated to ensure African Americans also felt as Americans. Laws were passed to ensure the racial segregation ended and African Americans too could enjoy the boost the war had impacted to American economy. Vietnam war and cold war was also an eye opener to devastating effects war could have that led to America reevaluating grounds on when they can launch attacks in foreign countries.
Feis, Herbert. From trust to terror: the onset of the cold war, 1945-1950. New York: Norton, 1970.
Hall, J.D., 2005. The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. Journal of American History, 91(4), pp.1233-1263.
Hooks, Gregory, and Leonard E. Bloomquist. “The legacy of World War II for regional growth and decline: The cumulative effects of wartime investments on US manufacturing, 1947–1972.” Social Forces 71.2 (1992): 303-337.
Locke, Joseph L., and Ben Wright, editors. The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open U.S History Textbook, Since. Vol. 2, STANFORD University Press, 2019
Maier, Charles S. “The politics of productivity: foundations of American international economic policy after World War II.” International Organization 31.4 (1977): 607-633.