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History of American Life in The Early Postwar Era

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When the United States of America entered World War II, there were significant changes experienced in every aspect of American lives. A good number of both men and women joined the military due to the labor demands of war industries. This kind of demand lead to movements of Americans to the parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts where the military plants were situated. World war II ended in September 1945. When it ended, the United States was in a better economic state than any other country in the whole world despite the high number of casualties of war. Faced with the feeling of success above Germany and Japan in the year 1945, Americans developed optimism and confidence. For her, the period between 1945 and the 1950s was a time of high economic growth and general developments after the war. The growth of the American Economy became so fast that it surprised many. Public policy an example of which is the GI Bill of Rights of 1944, provided money for the heroes of war to have a college education, buy homes and even acquire farms.

Thousands of young American military men had spent years away from their wives and girlfriends. On the reunion, marriage rates hiked in the post-war era. With the war over and the promise of American prosperity all over the world, many couples felt this was the right time to begin a family, and an unusually high number of children were born. This trend was called the ‘baby boom’. This lasted between 1946-1964. In many ways, the early postwar era was a socially conservative time. Gender roles for men and women were more often than not traditional and very clearly defined. When World War II ended, many women who had worked in factories during the war returned to the home and the domestic way of life. The feminism so characteristic of the 1920s to early 1940s was noticeably lacking throughout the 1950s.

Despite this growth in economic prosperity being felt across the country, not all Americans took part in it. Many felt this prosperity was geared toward the white Americans and others were excluded in what they referred to as the American dream. As a result, such groups as African Americans, Hispano Americans, and American women became more active with an attempt to take their full freedom and civil rights and guaranteed place in the society by the declaration of independence during the postwar era. African Americans united and organized. Further laws were passed that made discrimination illegal and provided federal oversight to guarantee voting rights.

It was also a time during which the capitalist United States and its political allies opposed the Soviet Union and other communist countries. This kind of confrontation between the two teams resulted in a new form of international tension which gave birth to the Cold War. By the time the Soviet Union successfully exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, the Cold War was well underway. The Red Scare, sometimes called the Era of McCarthyism or just McCarthyism, was a period of time roughly between 1947-1954 when many Americans experienced heightened fear over the potential spread of communism. Of particular concern was the prospect of communist infiltration within the United States. What was fearful most was the communism that ran throughout America immediately after the war. It caused effects in numerous cultural life. Patriotism and religious feelings were rampant that Americans sought to get protection from ‘godless’ communism. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy was at forefront of the Red Scare. His fame was as a result of his crusade against communism and for making unsupported allegations of communist activity. Throughout the Red Scare, many Americans were wrongly accused. For almost two fearful decades this hostility between the two groups dominated mankind to some extent threatening the planet’s balance. However, in the recent past, its significance is not felt. With the old issues being resolved and the emergence of new conflicts and contestants, there is a natural call developed during the cold war which has taken over causing conflicts between Russia and America. In the next twenty years from 1945, there was a wide political consensus concerning the Cold War and Anti-Communism. There was immense support for most of the US foreign policy initiatives. The Cold War broke down beyond repair in the year 1968 when the United States intervened militarily in Vietnam in the mid-1960s.

In conclusion, critics that Americans were falling prey to bureaucratic structures that were robbing citizens of their spontaneity and individuality were biased rather it brought some social, cultural, and economic benefits. During the early postwar, Americans were faced with several challenges in trying to adapt to the effects of war.

When World War II ended, many African American soldiers returned home optimistic that their country would appreciate their loyalty and sacrifice. In the 1950s, when change did not come as quickly as hoped, their determination to change prejudices led to protests and to the emergence of the civil rights movement. During the period from the end of World War II until the late 1960s, often referred to as America’s “Second Reconstruction,” the nation began to correct civil and human rights abuses that had shown dominance in American society for a century. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement of 1955-1972, conventional strategies employed to abolish discrimination against American blacks included efforts at law courts by traditional organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). These efforts had been the hallmarks of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1896 to 1954. However, by 1955, due to the policy of ‘Massive Resistance’ displayed by the intransigent proponents of racial segregation and voter suppression, conscientious private citizens became dismayed at slow approaches to effectuate desegregation by governmental authorities. In response, civil rights devotees adopted a dual strategy of direct action combined with nonviolent resistance, employing acts of civil disobedience.

The authorities such as the federal, state, and local levels typically had to respond with immediate action in order to end the crisis scenarios. And the outcomes were increasingly deemed as favorable to the protesters and their cause. Some of the different forms of civil disobedience employed included boycotts, as practiced by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, ‘sit-ins,’ and protest marches. These events were successful because it forced the legal courts to act by hearing their cases.

School desegregation

In the postwar years, the NAACP’s legal strategy for civil rights continued to succeed. Led by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenged and overturned many forms of discrimination, but their main aim was equal educational opportunities. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on five cases that challenged school segregation, and in May 1954 issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that stated that racially segregated education was unconstitutional.

By 1955, however, white opposition in the South had grown into massive resistance, a strategy to persuade all whites to resist compliance with the desegregation orders. It was believed that if enough people refused to cooperate with the federal court order, it could not be enforced. Tactics included firing school employees who showed a willingness to seek integration, closing public schools rather than desegregating, and boycotting all public education that was integrated.

Virtually no schools in the South were desegregated in the first years after the Brown decision. Frequently schools were desegregated only in theory because racially segregated neighborhoods led to segregated schools. To overcome this problem, some school districts in the 1970s tried busing students to schools outside of their neighborhoods.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Despite the threats and violence, the struggle quickly moved beyond school desegregation to challenge segregation in other areas. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a member of the Montgomery, Alabama, branch of the NAACP, was told to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person. When Parks refused to move, she was arrested. The local NAACP, led by Edgar D. Nixon, recognized that the arrest of Parks might rally local blacks to protest segregated buses. It lasted for more than a year and dramatized to the American public the determination of blacks in the South to end segregation. A federal court ordered Montgomery’s buses desegregated in November 1956, and the boycott ended in triumph.

A young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that directed the boycott. The protest made King a national figure. His eloquent appeals to Christian brotherhood and American idealism created a positive impression on people both inside and outside the South. King became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) when it was founded in 1957. SCLC wanted to complement the NAACP’s legal strategy by encouraging the use of nonviolent, direct action to protest segregation. These activities included marches, demonstrations, and boycotts. The violent white response to black direct action eventually forced the federal government to confront the issues of injustice and racism in the South.

In addition to his large following among blacks, King had a powerful appeal to liberal Northerners that helped him influence national public opinion. His advocacy of nonviolence attracted supporters among peace activists. He forged alliances in the American Jewish community and developed strong ties to the ministers of wealthy, influential Protestant congregations in Northern cities. King often preached to those congregations, where he raised funds for SCLC. From the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in longhand a letter. It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. In his letter, he outlined the difference between “unjust law” and “just law” that a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God while an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. 

By the early 1960s, a man named Malcolm X had become a symbol of the black power movement that was sweeping the nation. Malcolm X was a powerful and charismatic speaker, and his criticisms of white society and the mainstream civil rights movement gained national attention for the Nation of Islam. In Malcolm’s view, African Americans may have been victims in the past, but they did not have to allow racism to victimize them in the present. His ideas have influenced African Americans to take pride in their own culture and to believe in their ability to make their way in the world. Malcolm X’s ideas influenced a new generation of militant African American leaders who also preached black power, black nationalism, and economic self-sufficiency. The revolutionary arguments of Malcolm X thus resounded strongly with an already existent movement of Dr. King. 

The Civil Rights Bills of 1957 and 1960

In 1956, partly at the initiative of advocacy groups such as the NAACP, proposals by Eisenhower’s Justice Department under the leadership of Attorney General Herbert Brownell and the growing presidential ambitions of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, a civil rights bill began to move through Congress. Southern opponents, realizing that some kind of legislation was imminent, slowed and weakened reform through the amendment process. The House passed the measure by a wide margin, 279 to 97, though southern opponents managed to excise voting protections from the original language. Representatives Powell and Diggs argued passionately on the House Floor for a strong bill. In the Senate, Paul H. Douglas of Illinois and Minority Leader William F. Knowland of California circumvented Eastland’s Judiciary Committee and got the bill onto the floor for debate. On August 29, the Senate approved the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

The act established a two-year U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (CCR) and created a civil rights division in the Justice Department, but its powers to enforce voting laws and punish the disfranchisement of black voters were feeble, as the commission noted in 1959. A year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1960 which was again significantly weakened by southern opponents, extended the life of the CCR and stipulated that voting and registration records in federal elections must be preserved.

Analysis

After the Second World War, there was a change in the economic status of many countries. It was to dire surprise that the United States was thriving economically despite the imminent economic downturn in the whole world. This can be attributed to good economic policies that provided money for the heroes of war that helped in improving their lives. As a matter of fact, the money that was given to the people was a way to get money into the economy and as such achieved tremendous prosperity.

The high number of kids that were born in the State was a good source of labor and ready market in the years that followed. In most countries where there has been a population increase, economic growth is directly proportional. There is normally a tendency to have urbanization in such a kind of demographic trend. It can be said that the USA also greatly benefited from this.

References

  1. Schlesinger, A. (1967). Origins of the Cold War. Foreign Affairs, 46(1), 22-52.
  2. King Jr, M. L. (1992). Letter from Birmingham jail. UC Davis L. Rev., 26, 835.
  3. King Jr, M. L. (2002). Letter from Birmingham city jail. In Civil disobedience in focus (pp. 74-90). Routledge.
  4. Tyner, J. A. (2004). Territoriality, social justice and gendered revolutions in the speeches of Malcolm X. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29(3), 330-343.
  5. Wolk, A. (1971). The presidency and black civil rights: Eisenhower to Nixon. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
  6. King, M. E. (1987). Freedom song: A personal story of the 1960s civil rights movement (p. 437). New York: Morrow.
  7. Mettler, S. (2005). The creation of the GI Bill of Rights of 1944: Melding social and participatory citizenship ideals. Journal of Policy History, 17(4), 345-374.
  8. Eckstein, O., & Sinai, A. (1986). The mechanisms of the business cycle in the postwar era. In The American business cycle: Continuity and change (pp. 39-122). University of Chicago Press.
  9. Roof, W. C., & Greer, B. (1993). A generation of seekers: The spiritual journeys of the baby boom generation (p. 30). San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.

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History of American Life in the Early Postwar Era. (2022, May 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/history-of-american-life-in-the-early-postwar-era/
“History of American Life in the Early Postwar Era.” GradesFixer, 17 May 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/history-of-american-life-in-the-early-postwar-era/
History of American Life in the Early Postwar Era. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/history-of-american-life-in-the-early-postwar-era/> [Accessed 29 Jun. 2022].
History of American Life in the Early Postwar Era [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 17 [cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/history-of-american-life-in-the-early-postwar-era/
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