From the WW II onwards

Course: The United States of America: History and Political System
Book: From the WW II onwards
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Date: Piatok, 7 október 2022, 10:14 AM



Postwar challenges

President Truman tried to check the spread of socialist and communist movements by giving aid to anti-socialist regimes. The policy became known as the Truman Doctrine, as the President outlined these intentions with his request for monetary aid for Greece and Turkey. Both countries were about to be taken over by Soviet-backed guerrilla movements. Truman decided to act and in 1947, he asked Congress for $400 million to send to these two nations in the form of military and economic assistance. Within two years the communist threat had passed, and both nations were comfortably in the western sphere of influence.

The U.S.A started to influence the affairs of Europe more than ever before. In the time, when Europe was suffering after the war, the United States came with the Marshall Plan. It was an offer to all European countries needing help in their recovery and reconstruction introduced in 1947. The plan was announced by George Marshall, the Secretary of State. To avoid antagonizing the Soviet Union, Marshall announced that the purpose of sending aid to Western Europe was humanitarian, and even offered aid to the communist states in the east. Congress approved the request of $12 billion over four years to be sent to Europe. Alltogether, eighteen countries joined the American scheme and the plan became the basis of their economies. Countries, which were under the Soviet influence, refused the help.

The world trying to recover from one war almost immediately began another, the Cold War of economic as well as diplomatic struggles. Winston Churchill's 1946 speech to Westminster University in Missouri contained the first reference to the communism of Eastern Europe as an iron curtain which had descended across the continent. In 1949, the West European countries together with the United States and Canada formed a military organization called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a system of collective defence.

Korean War (1950-1953)

In Asia, however, it was not that easy to check spreading of communism. American troops established a presence in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, but as the Soviets sent troops into Korea, they began cutting roads and communications at the 38th parallel. Soon, two separate governments emerged, as Korea began to resemble the divided Germany. In the elections, the South elected Syngman Rhee as president, but the Soviet-backed North was ruled by Kim Il Sung. After the United States withdrew its forces from the peninsula, Northern Korean armed forces crossed the 38th parallel in 1950. Truman hoped to build a broad coalition against the aggressors from the North by asking support from the United Nations. Of course, the Soviet Union could have vetoed any proposed action by the UN´s Security Council. But the Soviets were just boycotting the Security Council for refusing to admit Red China into the United Nations and as a result, the Council voted to repel the attack of North Korea. Northern troops were taken by surprise and quickly pushed back far beyond the 38th Parallel up to the Yalu River, which borders China. The commander of the UN forces was Douglas MacArthur who saw an opportunity to create a complete indivisible Korea. However, over 400,000 Chinese soldiers soon flooded across the Yalu River. In 1949, Mao Tse-tung had established a communist dictatorship in China, and the Chinese now tried to aide the communists in northern Korea. American troops were once again forced below the 38th Parallel. General MacArthur´s intention was to escalate the war and bomb the Chinese mainland and blockade their coast. Truman disagreed as he feared the conflict could lead to World War III, especially if the nuclear-armed Soviet Union would assist China. Meanwhile, the war evolved into a stalemate, with the front line corresponding more or less to the 38th Parallel. Ceasefire negotiations followed for two more years, when finally, in 1953, an armistice was signed at Panmunjom. North Korea remained under communist control, and South Korea remained under the control of USA.

1950´s: American dream

In the 1950s the United States experienced considerable economic growth with an increase in manufacturing and home construction. The country was both socially and politically conservative and highly materialistic in nature. Automobiles once again rolled off the factories of the Big Three: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. The construction of thousands of miles of high-speed roads made living farther from work a possibility. Families that had delayed having additional children for years no longer waited, and the nation enjoyed a postwar baby boom. For millions of Americans in the 1950s, the American Dream became a reality. Within their reach was the chance to have a house on their own land, a car, a dog, and 2-3 kids.

Cold War continues: CIA and McCarthyism

The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was formed after World War II to monitor the potential threat of communist countries and to monitor espionage activities around the globe. In addition to gathering information on Soviet plans and maneuvers, the CIA also involved itself in covert operations designed to prevent communist dictators from rising to power, as for example in Iran, the first such instance, when Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was replaced by the American-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Similarly, when Jacobo Arbenz came to power in Guatemala and promised to relieve the farmers by redistributing land held by the American-owned United Fruit Company, a CIA-backed band of mercenaries overthrew him and established a military dictatorship.

Fear of communism intensified in the U.S.A after Alger Hiss, a high-ranking State Department official was convicted on espionage charges. Republican senator from Wisconsin Joseph R. McCarthy took advantage of the national paranoia by proclaiming that communist spies were omnipresent and that he was America's only salvation. His speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, started the era of McCarthyism. He proclaimed that he was aware of 205 members of the Communist Party who worked for the United States Department of State. In the 1950s, thousands of Americans who worked in the government, served in the army, worked in the movie industry, or came from various walks of life had to answer before a congressional panel the question, whether they are or have ever been a member of the Communist party.

McCarthy went even for questioning the loyalty of George Marshall and his accusations went on into 1954, when the Wisconsin senator focused on the United States Army and for eight weeks, in televised hearings, he interrogated army officials, including many decorated war heroes. The army then went on the attack, questioning McCarthy's methods and credibility. Fed up, McCarthy's colleagues censured him for dishonoring the Senate, and the hearings came to a close. Plagued with poor health and alcoholism, McCarthy himself died three years later. Books were pulled from library shelves, including Robin Hood, which was deemed communist-like for suggesting stealing from the rich to give to the poor. No politician could consider opening trade with China or withdrawing from Southeast Asia without being branded a communist. Although McCarthyism was dead by the mid-1950s, its effects lasted for decades.

The end of the Korean War in 1953 did not bring an end to global hostilities, but it saw Cold War continue even more frenzied. As the British and French Empires slowly got used to independence movements, a new Third World emerged. This became the major battleground of the Cold War as the United States and the Soviet Union struggled to bring new nations into their respective orbits. The United States's recognition of Israel in 1948 created a strong new ally, but created many enemies. Arab nations, enraged by American support for the new Jewish state, found support in the Soviet Union. When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to strengthen ties with the Soviet bloc, the United States refused to help Nasser construct the all-important Aswan Dam. Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal, which provoked British, French, and Israeli armies to invade Egypt. With Soviet influence growing in the oil-rich region, President Dwight Eisenhower issued the Eisenhower Doctrine, which pledged American support to any government fighting communist rebellions in the Middle East. Making good on that promise, he sent over 5,000 marines to Lebanon to put a stop to an anti-Western takeover.

Senate Resolution 301/1954: Censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy 

Resolved, That the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, failed to cooperate with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in clearing up matters referred to that subcommittee which concerned his conduct as a Senator and affected the honor of the Senate and, instead, repeatedly abused the subcommittee and its members who were trying to carry out assigned duties, thereby obstructing the constitutional processes of the Senate, and that this conduct of the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, is contrary to senatorial traditions and is hereby condemned.

Sec 2. The Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, in writing to the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Censure Charges (Mr. Watkins) after the Select Committee had issued its report and before the report was presented to the Senate charging three members of the Select Committee with "deliberate deception" and "fraud" for failure to disqualify themselves; in stating to the press on November 4, 1954, that the special Senate session that was to begin November 8, 1954, was a "lynch-party"; in repeatedly describing this special Senate session as a "lynch bee" in a nationwide television and radio show on November 7, 1954; in stating to the public press on November 13, 1954, that the chairman of the Select Committee (Mr. Watkins) was guilty of "the most unusual, most cowardly things I've ever heard of" and stating further: "I expected he would be afraid to answer the questions, but didn't think he'd be stupid enough to make a public statement"; and in characterizing the said committee as the "unwitting handmaiden," "involuntary agent" and "attorneys-in-fact" of the Communist Party and in charging that the said committee in writing its report "imitated Communist methods -- that it distorted, misrepresented, and omitted in its effort to manufacture a plausible rationalization" in support of its recommendations to the Senate, which characterizations and charges were contained in a statement released to the press and inserted in the Congressional Record of November 10, 1954, acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct the constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity; and such conduct is hereby condemned.


Civil rights movements and the sit-ins

Although the Civil War brought an official end to slavery in the United States, it did not abolish the social barriers. The United States operated for long time under an apartheid-like system of real white supremacy. Legal equality did not bring economic equality and social acceptance. Only in the 1950s a peaceful equality movement began under the unofficial leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A wave of marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides swept the American South and parts of the North, but there was no greater unity in the movement.

Right in the beginning of the 1960s, a new tactic was added to the peaceful activists' strategy. In 1960, four African American college students walked up to a whites-only lunch counter at the local Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked for coffee. When service was refused, the students sat patiently. Despite threats and intimidation, the students sat quietly and waited to be served. The civil rights sit-in was born.

The instructions were simple: sit quietly and wait to be served. Often the participants would be threatened by local customers. Sometimes they would be pelted with food or ketchup. Angry onlookers tried to provoke fights that never came. In the event of a physical attack, the student would curl up into a ball on the floor and take the punishment. Sit-in organizers believed that if the violence were only on the part of the white community, the world would see the righteousness of their cause. Before the end of the school year, over 1500 black demonstrators were arrested. But their sacrifice brought results. Slowly, but surely, restaurants throughout the South began to abandon their policies of segregation. The initial sit-ins were a start to future sit-ins at lunch counters, wade-ins at segregated swimming pools, and pray-ins at white-only churches. African American leaders set a new, ambitious goal: a federal law banning racial discrimination in all public accommodations and in employment.

In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy indicated he would support such a measure, and thousands marched on Washington to support the bill. Blacks and whites sang We Shall Overcome and listened to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his I Have a Dream speech. However, attention had to be paid to vote system as well. Many African Americans had been robbed of the right to vote since southern states enacted discriminatory poll taxes and literacy tests. The 24th Amendment banned the Poll Tax in 1964 and the Voting Rights.

Act of 1965 banned the literacy test. However, as the 1960s progressed, a radical wing of the movement grew stronger. The Black Power movement rejected the policy of nonviolence at all costs. Race-related violence began to spread across the country. Beginning in 1964, a series of long, hot summers of rioting plagued urban centers. As youths of the counterculture celebrated the famed Summer of Love in 1967, serious racial upheaval took place in more than 150 American cities. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 touched off a wave of violence in 125 more urban centers.

Hope and optimism gave way to alienation and despair as the 1970s began. Many realized that although changing racist laws was actually relatively simple, changing racist attitudes was a much more difficult task.

One of the milestone documents was the Supreme Court decision in the civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (17 May, 1954), saying that separating children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional. It signaled the end of legalized racial segregation in schools, overruling the separate but equal principle set forth in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was the longest war in United States history: promises to the people of South Vietnam to keep communist forces from overtaking them reached back into the Truman Administration. Eisenhower placed military advisers and CIA operatives in Vietnam, and John F. Kennedy sent American soldiers to Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson ordered the first real combat by American troops, and Richard Nixon concluded the war.

In 1941, a nationalist movement in Vietnam was formed and led by Ho Chi Minh. Ho was educated in the West, where he became a disciple of Marxist thought. Ho was resistant to colonial powers in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), he resented and resisted the French supremacy and had successfully won the hearts and minds of the majority of the Vietnamese people. The USA supported France against Ho Chi Minh from 1940s till its own military involment. The action of Americans was evoked mainly by the fear of domino theory, where after Vietnam communism could spread also in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Americans were not willing to allow so. In 1945-54 Vietnam was in war with France (supported by the USA) and after the French left, the country was divided by buffer zone at the 17th parallel into communist North (with Hanoi as the capital city and with new band of guerillas called Viet Cong created by Ho Chi Minh) and South (with the capital of Saigon) supported by Americans and led by unpopular Ngo Dinh Diem. 1964- 68 were the years of escalation of the conflict. North Vietnam boats fired on U.S. navy in Tonkin gulf. President Johnson got support in Congress to take all necessary measures. In the war there were only a few major ground battles, since mostly it was a guerilla war with the Viet Cong. Napalm was introduced to remove the jungle cover utilized by the Viet Cong and more bombs rained down on Vietnam than the Allies used on the Axis powers during the whole of World War II. Often unable to see the enemy through the dense growth of Vietnam's jungles, the U.S. military sprayed a chemical herbicide known as Agent Orange in an attempt to destroy the trees. Currently, debate rages on whether or not exposure to this compound is responsible for disease and disability in many Vietnam veterans. One of the most confounding problems faced by U.S. military personnel in Vietnam was identifying the enemy. The same Vietnamese peasant who waved hello in the daytime might be a Viet Cong guerrilla fighter by night.

One factor that influenced the failure of the United States in Vietnam was lack of public support. However, it lacked support only by the end of the war. Early initiatives made under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy received broad support. Only two members of the United States Congress voted against granting Johnson broad authority to wage the war in Vietnam, and most Americans supported this measure as well. The antiwar movement in 1965 was small, and news of its activities was buried in the inner pages of newspapers, if there was any mention at all. However, in the late 1960s opposition against the war grew much stronger (average age of an American soldier dying in Vietnam was 19, compared to the age of 21 when young Americans where legally allowed to vote and drink alcohol; this influenced the law and the 26th Ammendment changed the suffrage to 18 years). Americans understood that immediate withdrawal would be a defeat, so in 1969 president Nixon introduced a plan later known as Vietnamization, which ment gradual withdrawal from Vietnam. In 1973 Paris Peace Treaty was signed among North and South Vietnam, the USA and Viet Cong and in 1976 Vietnam united as Vietnam Socialist Republic. Neighboring Cambodia and Laos also became communist dictatorships.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, democratic senator from Massachusetts, was a new type of presidential election candidate. At the age of 43 he could become the youngest person ever to be elected President. Kennedy was also Roman Catholic, and no Catholic had ever been elected President before. John F. Kennedy's youthful good looks helped him win the White House in 1960 and introduce an era of American politics remembered as Camelot. In his inauguration speech, he challenged his fellow citizens to ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. The youthful president and his wife Jackie drew parallels to the magical time of King Arthur. His New Frontier program asked the nation´s talented and fortunate to work to eliminate poverty and injustice at home, while projecting confidence overseas.

The newest challenge was space. In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked Americans by launching Sputnik, the first satellite to be placed in orbit. Congress responded by creating NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) under President Eisenhower. When Kennedy took office, the issue fell farther behind. The Soviets had already placed a dog in space, and in Kennedy's first year, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the earth. Kennedy challenged the American people and government to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Congress responded enthusiastically by appropriating billions of dollars for the effort. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon.

Kennedy's greatest foreign policy failure and greatest foreign policy success both involved Cuba. In 1961, CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, hoping to begin a popular uprising that would deprive Fidel Castro of power. When the revolution failed to occur, Castro's troops moved in. The exiles believed air support would come from the United States, but Kennedy refused. Many of the rebels were shot, and the rest were arrested. The incident was an embarrassment to the United States and a great victory for Fidel Castro.

Although Congress blocked many of his programs, his confidence was infectious, and the shock of his untimely death on November 22, 1963, was nothing less than devastating. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder, but was killed himself two days later. In his abbreviated Presidency, Kennedy failed to accomplish all he wanted domestically, nevertheless his proposals concerning medicare, federal support for education, and wilderness protection all became part of Lyndon Johnson's policy.

His Great Society plan declared a war on poverty that produced a glut of legislation. Welfare benefits were increased, health care costs were defrayed, and funds were allotted for cleaning the air and water, rebuilding cities, and subsidizing the arts and humanities.

Social movements

Apart from activists for civil rights of African Americans, other groups of people who felt marginalized by the American mainstream culture began to raise demands of their own. Mainly, it was the feminist movement that has influenced the culture not only in the U.S.A, but globally. It emerged in the 1960s, a swinging era of ethnic activists, anti-Vietnam protesters and hippies. The image of a typical 1950s housewife has completely changed. With few exceptions, until the feminist movement cried for a reform, women were excluded from the highest paying jobs, earning only a fraction of the wages of their male counterparts. Even more crucial became the call for legality and availability of birth control options like the contraception pill. Eventually, the right to obtain a safe, legal abortion became a new milestone.

Other relevant voices calling for change were coming from the economicaly weak milieu of Latino Americans and Native Americans. By the end of the decade, gay Americans started demanding equality as well and efforts to save the planet from environmental destruction, toxic emissions, deadly pesticides, and fears of nuclear holocaust brought many concerned Americans together in the earth awareness movement. This time green activists went beyond conservation of resources to demand regulation of economic activities that could hurt the nation's environment.

R. Nixon and Watergate scandal

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested after breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The burglars were not ordinary thieves: they carried wiretaps to install on telephones and they carried cameras to photograph documents. Four of the five criminals were anti-Castro Cubans who had been previously hired by the CIA. The fifth was James McCord, the security adviser for President Nixon's campaign staff. The group was labelled as the plumber unit. The Watergate scandal escalated after it became clear that Nixon´s administration actively hindered investigation of the matter. It was later proved that Nixon knew about it and that he lied about the case at the Congress hearing, which ultimately led to forced resignation of the President in 1974. He was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Nevertheless, his successor, Gerald Ford, promptly awarded Nixon a full and complete pardon for any crimes he may have committed while in office. Watergate was the worst political scandal in United States history and forced a president to resign before facing certain impeachment. Details of illegal, unethical, and immoral acts by members of the White House staff covered the nation's newspapers.

The USA at the turn of the centuries

In 1981, faith in the American economy and government hit rock bottom. Looking for a change and the promise of better future, voters decided for Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan came up with several solutions. Government has become too big and needs to be trimmed down. Taxes are high and need to be cut to stimulate growth and investment. Military spending should be increased to fix the degenerating state of the American war machine. Morality and character need to be reemphasized in American life. Reagan's election brought a dramatic change to the federal government. No president, Republican or Democrat, had attempted to reduce the size of the federal government since Franklin Roosevelt initiated his New Deal. In an effort to wind down the Cold War, Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been promoting Glasnost (Openness), at home. The Cold War came to an end in 1991.

George H.W. Bush was the victor in the elections in 1988 and presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the communist regimes, ending the Cold War. In 1991, Bush organized a broad coalition of 34 nations led by the United States against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Bush also sent American soldiers to Panama to remove General Manuel Noriega. The United States later operated as well during the conflicts of former Yugoslavia (1992-96), Somalia (1992-95), Haiti (1994-95), and many others. Americans began to think of themselves as peacekeepers of the world.

The Election of 1992 brought Bill Clinton to the White House. He could have made use of the prosperous era, but was politically discredited by the Monica Lewinsky and other scandals. The resulting impeachment by the House of Representatives was followed by a vote for acquittal in the Senate, thus leaving Clinton to finish out his term of office. The 1990s saw the longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history, ending in 2001. Originating in U.S. defense networks, the Internet spread to international academic networks, and then to the public in the 1990s, greatly impacting the global economy, society, and culture.

The Election of 2000 (George W. Bush Jr. versus Al Gore) was hotly contested due to voting irregularities and required the involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court to select the President - George W. Bush Jr. With the coming of the new millenium, the United States was greeted on September 11, 2001, by the worst attack by a foreign country on American soil. The terrorist group Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City and lesser damage to the Pentagon, killing nearly 3000 people. George W. Bush responded by launching the War on Terror including the invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).

Corporations increased outsourcing jobs to elevate profits. Influence of labor unions on political and economic policy continued to decline. The middle class slowly began to disappear. Barack Obama, the first African American president, was elected in 2008 amid the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Among the leading topics of his presidential campaign were the Iraq war (Obama was strongly against the intervention in Iraq), lowering money supplies for army, lowering taxes and mainly healthcare system transformation: he wanted the healthcare to be available for all Americans. Barack Obama was in 2009 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; nevertheless, he was often criticized for being unexperienced in politics.