Axia College of University of Phoenix
HIS 135 The American Experience Since 1945
24 August 2008
The Most Significant Events in the Latter Half of the 20th Century
During the latter half of the 20th century, the United States changed greatly in the arenas of politics, economics, and social make up. Following World War II, in just 50 years, the US saw periods of great economic growth, a population explosion, a polarizing effect in US and world politics, and the emergence of the United States as the dominating world super power. This paper will look at some of the more significant events and people from each of the five decades from 1950 to the year 2000. In addition, it will conclude with a look at the next ten years, with some pontification of what is to come.
1950’s – America Enters the Cold War
The most significant defining event of the 1950’s would have to be the Cold War. Prior to World War II, Europe and the former Soviet Union held dominate positions in the world, each carrying different government philosophies, and methods of promoting those philosophies. With the help of the United States, Germany was stopped not once, but twice at world-domination and communism became the new feared vehicle for world expansion. With the economies of Western Europe struggling and the United States flourishing, a developing Cold War between US Democracy and Soviet Communism began and would last for 40 years.
The Cold War, which grew out of President Truman’s policy of containment in the late 1940s, dominated the political scene in the United States. The Cold War was part of Truman’s response in supporting South Korea with US troops during the Korean War. With the Korean War coming to an end in 1953, President Eisenhower continued the fight against the spread of Communism. The fight was evidenced through Eisenhower’s doctrine of liberation and in the US development and testing of atomic weapons, and the methods capable of delivering them. In addition, Eisenhower and then Secretary of Defense John Foster Dulles maintained a willingness to use these new weapons of mass destruction, and even threatened to do so on more than one occasion.
Here at home, the communist threat existed as well. Through a relatively small communist political party, and as Exploring America: History, Literature, and Faith clearly states, “it was not against the law to be a Communist” (Notgrass, 2002, p. 530). Nevertheless, it was unpopular to be a Communist and during the early 1950s, a popular trend in proving patriotism emerged, with the loyalty oath. Many government agencies and private businesses required employees to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States. In the US Congress, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R) of Wisconsin set out on a glorified witch-hunt, to eliminate communist sympathizers from the United States government and other areas of influence. What may have begun with good intentions, in the end, served only to ruin individuals’ lives and expanded the fears of many Americans. The McCarthy hearings or “McCarthyism” as it became known to be, were infamous, and received criticism from many. Through the proceedings, Senator McCarthy became one of the most powerful men in American politics and even affected the decision making of both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. (Moes, 2001)
1960’s – The Battle for Civil Rights
In the 1960’s, the Cold War remained alive and well, but in this decade, the battle for civil rights made a larger impression on the political and social landscape. Although slavery officially ended in 1865, inequality and segregation amongst the races quickly crept back in to everyday life, in addition to racism and prejudice, which was regularly passed from one generation to the next. In the 1950’s, several landmark Supreme Court decisions began to break...