Over the past 50 years there has been a constant series of events that have significantly changed the future of America. This course specifically focused on the American Experience since 1945. Topics such as the Cold War, McCarthyism, Civil Rights and the Vietnam War all put in to place a chain of events that have made our country what it is today. This paper will review a few of the social, economic and political events between 1950 through 1990 that had a powerful impact on the American people and their decade. 1950’s Cold War Ideology, McCarthyism and Eisenhower’s politics Cold War ideology crystallized after the end of World War II.
During this war the US had alliances with Britain and Russia. Postwar the US was slowly able to rebuild their economy while Europe continued to struggle. Prior to the war Europe had been a dominant force. As a result of their troubled Western European economy, a power struggle was started between the US and Russia known as the Cold War. Communism movement began and Americans become suspicious of the Soviets. The Americans adopted an anti communism theme that carried over to many doctrines and in hopes of containment. (Brown 2001) As a result of the rising concerns of communism mass suspicion spread.
Many people were accused of communism with little to no proof. President Truman began what was known as the Truman Doctrine which enforced loyalty against communism which later opened to the door for McCarthyism. McCarthyism, named after a former U. S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, is a termed used to describe anti-communism era of the 50’s. During this time, McCarthyism created a wealth of problems for the government and caused many social issues. When Senator McCarthy claimed to be able to identify “Communist in the State Department” (Davidson et al. 2005) it caused fear and hysteria towards anything foreign or liberal. There was never any real basis on most of his claims but it gained him recognition politically. As a result many people were arrested or labeled supporters of communism. This was a vulnerable time for the country and many began to question loyalties. Unfair accusations were handed out and leaving suspicion among the American people as well is ill feeling towards others for the little reason. Americans believed that they were being patriotic and protecting Americanism.
Eisenhower initiated several pragmatic measures in order to manage the economy. In 1956, President Eisenhower implemented the Interstate Highway Act. This act was an approved 20 year plan to build a highway system. Building a highway was initially intended to create a better evacuation solution in case of nuclear attacks. (Brown 2001) Not only did the highway create a solution for better traffic patterns but it also had a large impact on the economy. More people began to move to the suburbs and a highways system made the commute easier. There was also further distance to travel which increased automobile sales.
Along the highway there were many new opportunities for people to open businesses such as shopping centers, drive in movies, gas stations and fast food places. Eisenhower also signed the St Lawrence Seaway Act that opened up the Great Lakes to allow shipping between the US and Canada. 1960’s- Kennedy’s New Frontier, Civil Rights, and the Hippie Subculture The 1960’s marked an era of change and a social revolution for many people in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement was in full force, man first walked on the moon, there was also the devastation regarding the assassinations of both Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr and President John F. Kennedy. There was the development of a counter culture that brought about the Hippie subculture. The Anti-War movement which began after the Cold War in the 1950’s continued on until the late 1960’s. The movement became the focus of many university and college campuses as a protest to the Vietnam War and “The Draft. ” For the new frontier, President Kennedy had hoped to reduce unemployment. The way that he tried to accomplish this was by increasing government spending. This would allow the government to fund businesses therefore creating more jobs.
He also pushed for an ease in anti trust restrictions as well as grant investment credits and tax breaks. (Murphy 2007) All these policies were supposed to benefit new businesses. This would allow them to not only create jobs but offer a decent salary. The end product did result in more jobs however there was the expectation that higher wages would be paid out. The Civil Rights Movement was a result of the struggles Minorities faced during a time when black laborers were unable to find work due to the national level of minimum wage being raised.
Many employers where reserving jobs with higher wages to whites thus forcing many black people out of work. (Davison et al. , 2005) There were many events that created the frame work for the civil rights move moment. Thurgood Marshall and Gus Garcia catapulted the civil rights movement by volunteering to be the legal voice of Black and Mexican-American people. Brave people such as Rosa Parks, little Ruby, and the women who constructed the bus boycott all took a stand but Thurgood Marshall and Gus Garcia were able to translate these frustrations in a court of law to get legally protected results.
Even though the Civil Rights movement was underway, there was still political unrest, and a clear generation shift. Many people were set in the mind frame of free thinking and sought to challenge the rules. The war put a many things in perspective for people. The draft affected almost every household in one form or another and people began to put the war in to perspective. The Hippie subculture believed that it was wrong and fought politically for change. 1970’s Nixon’s Policies of Engagement, Anti-War Movement and the end of the Vietnam War Nixon’s polices of engagement were slightly different from the policies of the Cold War.
He recognized that post war the US no longer held complete dominance in the world. His actions in the beginning were less forceful and more about building allies. (Richelman 1999) The Cold War strategy involved threats of nuclear warfare which forced many enemies to comply out of fear. Nixon’s strategy was more about negotiation for example post both the Cold War and Vietnam War relationships between the US, China and the Soviet Union were severely damaged. Nixon decided to mend the gap by opening up a diplomatic relationship with China.
The Soviets recognized that China was more powerful than they were thus making the Soviets more willing to reconcile with the US. Nixon’s whole plan was to ease tension by negotiation because he believed that this approach was far more effective then forceful threats. This policy is referred to as the “detente” or “peace with honor”. Student unrest played significant part in the political culture of the 1970’s. During an antiwar demonstration on the Kent State University Campus in 1970, students gathered to protest the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia.
The Ohio state Governor at the time, James Rhodes, summoned the US National Guard to the Kent campus with the goal of ending the demonstration and asking the students to disburse. The students would not comply and as a result of bad judgment, US National Guard began fire in to a crowd of unarmed demonstrators killing four students and leaving nine injured. (Davidson et al. , 2005) This incident at Kent State became the fuel of the antiwar movement of the 1970’s. . The rising casualty rates and feelings of unrest began to turn many Americans publically against the war.
The result was the gradual withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam by 1975. Post war American struggled with the after affects of the war. As a result of the emotional strain of Vietnam, many soldiers suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PSTD (Tull 2008) and had to undergo psychological treatments once they returned home. Veterans were also treated as if they were the enemy by antiwar activists. (Sitikoff 1999) Veterans also suffered from social pressures and economical difficulties that left some homeless or institutionalized. 1980’s Reaganomics, Recession and Technology
Regan’s economic policies were referred to as Reaganomics. The goals of Reaganomics was to “reduce the growth of government spending, reduce marginal tax rates on income from labor and capital, reduce government regulation of the economy, control the money supply to reduce inflation. ” (Niskanen 1988) The result would lower inflation and as well as the percentage of unemployment. The hope was that by bringing down the tax rate more goods would be bought and sold thus benefiting the economy. The Reagan administration didn’t focus on changes that affected health, safety, and the environment.
He was able to eliminate price controls on oil and natural gas, cable TV, long-distance telephone service, interstate bus service, and ocean shipping. Reagan endorsed the reduction in money growth initiated by the Federal Reserve in late 1979 which resulted in the 1982 recession and a large reduction in inflation and interest rates. Overall there was a big increase in the economic status during the Reagan presidency. The nation experienced a deep recession throughout 1982. Many businesses were forced into bankruptcies; a rate that rose 50 percent over the previous year.
Farmers were having hard times as well. According to the US State Department, agricultural exports declined, crop prices fell, and interest rates rose. One cause would be the rapidly growing economies in Asia. Japan, in particular, began to emerge as an economic powerhouse with emphasis on building major corporations. American consumption of goods produced by other countries rose. Gross national product (GNP) fell by 2. 5 percent in 1982, as the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent. Major firms like General Electric released workers. the rise in oil prices raised farm costs, and any farmers had difficulty maintaining their livelihood. (Pfouts 2006) By 1983, inflation had eased, the economy had begun to rebound and the United States was able to sustain a period of economic growth. By 1984, the US had entered one of the longest extensions of economic sustainment since World War ll. Japan agreed to a voluntary quota on its car exports to the United States. Overall spending increased in response to the federal tax cut and the stock market climbed. The 1980’s marked the beginning of technology and technology in many ways.
The World Wide Web became more widely used by the public. For the first time, many Americans began using personal computers in their homes, offices, and schools. There was also the introduction of cell phones and computerized video games. In addition, there were significant advances in medical research to included heart and cancer treatments as well as genetics research. 1990 and Beyond Event for the 1950’s until the present play a part if what decisions are made. Many of the most serious political, social and economic events of their time have become reflections of the past.
The struggles of the Cold War are now only tight in text books to those who are too young to have experienced it. The Civil Rights movement is still a battle being fought everyday. Nixon and the Watergate scandal are often referenced in political jokes. The Hippies over time have lost their recognition for being political activists and are now views as a group of under the influence, wayward free thinkers. My prediction is that history will continue to repeat itself. During the Clinton years, we experienced an economic stability similar to that of the 1950’s.
The events surrounding the war in Iraq have often been compared to that of Vietnam. The new era of buying organic products and thinking green lightly hints toward the Hippies. Technology continues to take innovation to another level. Lastly, the rising cost of fuel has caused a serious recession to that of the 1980’s. It’s hard to predict what the future will revel but perhaps our nation can learn from the events of the past, so that we do not repeat bad decisions and have the courage duplicate the good ones. References Bexte, M. (2002) “The Vietnam War Protests. ” Retrieved May 11, 2008 from website: http://www. ssortment. com/all/vietnamwarprot_rlcz. htm Davidson, Gianapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff. Nations of Nations: A Concise Narrative of the American Republic. The Vietnam Era (4) 886-914. Tull, M. (2008) Chronic PSTD in Vietnam War Veterans. Retrieved May 11, 2008 from website: http://ptsd. about. com/od/ptsdandthemilitary/a/Vietnamlongterm. htm Sitikoff, H (1999) Postwar Impact of Vietnam. Retrieved May 11, 2008 from website: http://www. english. uiuc. edu/maps/vietnam/postwar. htm Niskanen, W (1988) Reaganomics. Retrieved May 22, 2008 from website: http://www. econlib. org/library/Enc/Reaganomics. tml Brown, P (2001) “Ideas & Trends; Armageddon Again: Fear in the 50’s and Now. ” Retrieved April 27, 2oo8 from website: http://query. nytimes. com/gst/fullpage. html? res=9902E5D61E3EF930A15751C1A9679C8B63===all Murphy, A (2007) Comparing Kennedy’s New Frontier with Johnson’s Great Society. Retrieved June 7, 2008 from website: http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/468439/comparing_kennedys_new_frontier_with. html? cat=37 Richelman, J (1999) China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement. Retrieved June 7, 2008 from website: http://www. gwu. edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB19/