America has experienced social, political and economic events that have greatly shaped this nation and impacted its people in the decades following World War II. The purpose of this paper is to identify which events, during each decade from the 1950s through the 1990s, had the greatest impact on the American people. Undeniably, most political and social events also had an economic influence on the citizens of America. Certain events were so profound and, occasionally shocking, that they remain quite present even to generations not born at the time of their occurrence. The impact of these events will be discussed throughout this paper analyzing the most profound events for each post World War II decade. A. The 1950s - A New Leader, Political Movement and a Fear of Communism
World War II left much of the world in dire political and economic straits. This, coupled with the fear of a nuclear holocaust, the spread of communism and the unknown, created a political environment full of fear that was ripe for the rise of McCarthyism.
As troops returned from World War II, the United States enjoyed unprecedented power and President Truman initiated a number of actions to protect against the spread of communism. He specifically was involved in the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine and NATO. These efforts kept stronger alliances among non-communist nations (even though some were open to communist nations’ participation) and facilitated economic resurgence by many European nations crippled by the war.
Despite these efforts, communism spread and fears related to it swelled. Fears of espionage related to the Manhattan project were confirmed and in 1949 the United States identified Russia’s ability to use an atomic bomb. “By1950 anticommunism had created a climate of fear, where irrational hysteria overwhelmed legitimate concerns.” (Davidson, J. (Ed.). 2006, p. 815).
Senator McCarthy exploited these fears to his political gain. His speeches impacted the general population and the lives and political thinking of most Americans. His play on fear led to broad generalizations concerning the communists and many political leaders were labeled as “commies”. (Navasky, Victor 1980, p.1). Perhaps its impact can be best seen as explained in our reading where a traditional Midwestern state banned Robin Hood from the library because it glorifies the notion of robbing the rich to give to the poor.
Fear and the quest for power have played a pivotal role in history. Fear of foreign powers and poverty were instrumental in the rise of McCarthyism. Wealth, strength and knowledge brought the United States back from this way of thinking; scars intact. B. The 1960s - The Vietnam War Tears the Country In Two
At the conclusion of the Vietnam War the United States was a country divided, both politically and socially. Gone was the idea of assimilation and blind loyalty but rather a question of America’s goals, and motives. It seemed everyone, from the government to the citizens, had a strong conviction regarding this controversial war. This division led to conflicts in every aspect of the lives of Americans.
Social unrest within the United States was at an all time high. Opposition to the war led to many protests against the government, leading to violence and political protests. People were looking to establish their identities by opposing the culture, and the war; the United States was in great turmoil.
The social unrest from the students and baby boomers during the era of the Vietnam War led to low morale and a strong resentment from the soldiers both to the war, and United States government. (Tull, Matthew 2009, p.1). Racial discrimination was also a focal point regarding the Vietnam War, warranting outcries from minorities regarding inequality.
The budget soared as a direct result of the war, and inflation soared from two to four percent. This war led to a floundering economy, and eventually a long recession; Johnson’s goal to safeguard liberal dreams died, along with the liberal movement. Americans were required to recognize they were about to enter a life with restrictions.
It is obvious that the Vietnam War was a difficult time to be an American. Violent protests, an unwinnable war, conflict within the government, inflation, and division among the United States citizens led to disagreements all around. While the Vietnam War was a single event, it undeniable was such an all encompassing event that impacted all aspects of America. C. The 1970s – A Scandal Still Referenced Today: Watergate
In 1972 five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. The break-in would later prove to be closely linked to the White House and to the president himself. (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2007, pp. 5). Many factors led to Richard Nixon’s involvement with the Watergate Scandal in 1972. The president had insecurities from lack of citizen support, making him second guess the possibility of re-election. The men, who committed the crime itself, were tied to the White House. The Nixon campaign was already plagued by his abuse of presidential power (singling out political enemies for harassment) and most likely could not bear any negative exposure. All of these motives created a basis for the reasoning behind Nixon’s involvement with the Watergate Scandal. President Nixon established many new economic policies in his first term in hope of bettering American life. Though meaning well, his intentions for the most part backfired and made him the target of negative viewpoints, which gave him little optimism in securing the votes in the upcoming presidential election. After the break-in at Watergate, it was insinuated that the men involved were also involved with the White House.
The men who committed the break-in at Watergate in 1972, though not immediately linked, were associated with the U.S. government. Knowing this and the damage it could deal Richard Nixon most likely saw no choice but covering up the act and relieving any suspicion that the U.S. government was involved. In 1973, the burglars and two men who worked in the White House plead guilty to involvement with the incident. The men were later questioned about their relationship with the White House and any order they may have received involved with the Watergate scandal. Many others associated with the crime and the White House were later prosecuted and resigned.
To say Richard Nixon was apprehensive of the negative effect that Watergate would have on his campaign is an understatement. The insecurities deriving from Nixon’s failed endeavors during his first term as president possibly led to an idea that any negative publicity could bring his status down and lower his chances at another term. The president’s somewhat aggressive dealings with political and personal enemies could not have gotten him any good recognition, and to save his political career from shame he wanted to avoid scandal at any cost. All of these reasons factored into his involvement and Nixon’s concealment of the Watergate scandal of 1972 and its impact on the American people through today. D. The 1980s – Reagan Reintroduces Trickle-Down Economics
President Reagan focused on economic issues upon entering office. “Reaganomics” was a supply-side economic theory serving as the foundation for his economic plans. The thrust of the plan actually was responsive to the negatives that existed. Specifically, he thought that the economy was struggling, at least in part, due to excessive taxation. Reacting to the Carter years, Reaganomics believed the excessive taxation stifled growth and capital investment. In short, his plan was to implement massive tax cuts to stimulate economic investments. The thought was that the growth and increased investments would “trickle down” to the working class. To counteract the loss of revenue from these cuts Reagan proposed cutting government spending. The thought, however was greater, with the hope that the economic growth spurred by the initial cuts would, ultimately result in more taxes being collected.
Empirically, arguments regarding the success of Reaganomics go both ways. However, I believe that genuine arguments support its success. For instance, there was a drastic decrease in inflation. “Inflation averaged 12.5 percent when Reagan entered office, was reduced to 4.4 percent when he left.” (Reaganomics Debate, n.d.) Inflation had been referred to as the silent thief and a huge drain on the consumer.
Another area where the economy struggled, pre-Reagan, was high interest rates. Interest rates fell six points over the first few years the plan was in effect. Of course, making money “cheaper” can facilitate a cash infusion and help growth. To me the result can be seen where there was a stark decrease in unemployment. Specifically, “Eight million new jobs were created as unemployment fell.” (Reaganomics Debate, n.d.)
While there are critics of Reaganomics, the approach makes sense and the United States saw the benefits of the policies. Growth and prosperity were spurred by Reaganomics and this political policy is still referenced today. E. The 1990s - E-Commerce Grows the Economy and Shrinks the World
E-commerce blossomed in the 1990s. While only minimally referenced in our readings, I consider the advancements in our technologies as having the biggest impact on the citizens of America during the 1990s. “After 1995 business on the Web, or e-commerce, grew rapidly as more and more people went ‘online.’” (Davidson, J. 2006, p. 986). The numbers relating to jobs are revealing. “In 1998 e-commerce alone generated some 482,000 jobs. Whereas in 1965 businesses committed just three percent of their spending to high technology, they committed forty-five percent in 1996.” (Davidson, J. 2006, p. 986). This type of growth created entire new areas of education, labor needs, economic growth, entrepreneurs and investments.
In addition to these changes the technological advancements relating to e-commerce “shrunk” the world and help world-wide shopping from a home computer. (Grotto, Troy, 2006, p.2). Without a doubt, the impact of the internet on the people of America was felt across the country during the 1990s. F. A Look Into the Future
Change is necessary in the future. We all have seen the recent economic struggles in the employment arena and the housing markets. We have seen the stock markets tumble and then level off. The future likely holds increased efforts at jump starting the economy. The efforts have been there in the form of economic bailouts for corporations and stimulus checks to America’s citizens, but more has to be done; real change is needed. Either the government is going to have to get involved and create some programs that will have a lasting change much the same way it did during the great depression or it is going to have to cut taxes for the working class so that there is an increase in political spending.
To me, there is a genuine need to put aside political affiliations and agenda and come up with real resolutions for the good of all America. Politicians have to quit playing on the fears of their constituents. They must work together for all Americans. This need related to issues beyond purely economic ones. For instance, America is at war in two countries. What America will do in the world’s political arena must be considered. Once again change is needed. The current wars seem beyond the bounds of normalcy. It is difficult to understand what we are currently fighting for. Because of the lack of clarity and support from other nations, I see the United States being less involved in future wars without support from other nations.
We have seen tremendous and amazing events transpire in every decade since the conclusion of World War II. We will continue to see such events as we struggle with political, social and economic ordeals and challenges.
Bator, Francis M. (n.d.). Reply to Roundtable on Francis M. Bator’s “No Good Choices: LBJ
and the Vietnam/Great Society Connection. Retrieved November 15, 2009 from
Grotto, Troy. (2006). The Origins of Ecommerce. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from
Reaganomics Debate. (n.d.). Did Reaganomics Improve the Economy? Retrieved November
15, 2009, from
Loveday, V., & Ryan, J. (2009). Watergate. Watergate, 1. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from
Navasky, Victor Navasky. (1980).The Social Costs. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from,
http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/navasky-social-costs.html The Columbia Encyclopedia. (2007). The Watergate Break-in. Retrieved November 15, 2009,
Tull, Matthew, Ph.D., (July 22, 2009).Rates of PTSD in Veterans. Retrieved November 15,