April 24, 2011
The history of the United States plays a huge role in how the nation, as well as the world, is today. Politics, social, and economic factors led our country to where it is now. The following paragraphs will explain how each of these factors has helped shape the world by covering the most important events from each decade beginning in 1950 and continuing until 2000. The topics covered will include the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, Vietnam War, recession (including the gap between wealthy and poor), and the country’s economic comeback. I will conclude this paper with how I believe the United States will change over the following decade. The 1950s – The Civil Rights Movement:
I believe the Civil Rights Movement was the most important historical event of the 1950s. The Civil Rights Movement changed the way many people in the United States viewed immigrants and people of other races. This movement forced the end of segregation, following the infamous Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, and the end of public discrimination after Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on a bus to allow a White man to sit down in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 (Davidson, et al. 2005). Included in the Civil Rights Movement were the works of Martin Luther King Jr., multiple presidents, including Truman, Eisenhower, and into the 1960s, Kennedy, as well as other Civil Rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall. Martin Luther King’s, I Have a Dream speech, opened many people’s eyes to the wrongs of racism among all races, and his promotion of civil disobedience allowed members of minority groups to speak their own minds about the situation without resorting to violence (Brunner, 2007). Truman and Eisenhower passed laws disallowing segregation in any public school, workplace, etc. While most Southern people were angry at these decisions, others were joyous that changes were finally being made to allow blacks and other minorities to have equal rights as White people. The 1960’s – The Space Race:
The most important event of the 1960s was the Space Race. The Space Race, during the Cold War, was Kennedy’s way of showing the Communist Soviet Union that the United States was not a country that another could push down easily by force. During his campaign for the presidency, John Fitzgerald Kennedy stated, “we are in a strategic space race with the Russians and we have been losing .... Control of space will be decided in the next decade. If the Soviets control space, they can control Earth, as in the past centuries the nations that controlled the seas dominated the continents." (The Space Race, para. 4) On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy affirmed that the United States would have a man on the moon before the end of the decade. At this time, no other country was able to make this dream a reality. President John F. Kennedy did not get to see his dream come to life because of his assassination, but on July 20, 1969, American Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon (Suter, 1994). The 1970s – Vietnam War:
The Vietnam was the most important event of the 1970s, if not of the entire history of the United States. Millions of armed forces, billions of dollars in war funding, and loss of over 50,000 American lives made Vietnam the deadliest and most expensive war the United States had ever endured. This war was so important because of the divide it created among people of the United States. Some accepted the war, while other protested it whole-heartedly. College students were the most adamant against the war because of the draft, and student unrest quickly ensued. The draft forced young men to join the Selective Service before they turned eighteen, and kept them on the list for two years, unless they planned to attend college. Many people did not believe the United States should be involved in the war with Southeast Asia, much less giving up resources needed at home. The Vietnam War also changed how people viewed each other, especially in regards to soldiers returning home who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These soldiers did not receive a warm welcome, and many with mental and physical disorders caused by the war were ignored or spoken poorly of by others (Adams, 2011). After the Vietnam War, the United States fell into a recession that carried on throughout the 1970s into the 1980s. Massive government spending for the war effort, funds sent overseas not returning, and strain on the nation’s industrial market forced the economy to plummet, promoted inflation, and wore down consumer confidence in the government’s ability to handle the country’s finances (Historycentral.com, n.d.) The 1980s – Reagan’s Budget Blunders:
President Ronald Reagan, a Republican from California, proposed a budget that he hoped would pull the country out of the recession created by the Vietnam War, but sadly, Congress did not follow the plan Reagan had set, and the country fell deeper into a recession that continued until the mid-1990s. Reaganomics, the term coined for Reagan’s economic plan, was based on his conservative views: religion, strong military, people providing for themselves, less government involvement in business, decreased government spending, and depleting inflation. Reagan’s plan was lucrative for some, but not so much for others (Adams, 2011).
With Reaganomics, the rich became richer, and the poor became poorer. Part of Reagan’s plan was to cut a healthy portion of funding to social programs that helped minorities and poor families, including food stamps, low-income housing, and Medicaid. This affected people who struggled with living in poverty, but Reagan’s theory was that if he took away the programs they depended upon, the people would learn to fend for themselves. The plan did not work well for everyone. In fact, homelessness rates rose to 1.2 million by the late 1980s, with most of these people being children and Vietnam veterans. According to Drier (2004), “In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.” (Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America, para 15).
Reagan’s military spending was an atrocity. In a mere five years, Reagan spent 1.5 billion dollars on military equipment and personnel (Davidson, et al, 2005). He wanted the United States to be the strongest military power in the world, so that the nation was always protected, no matter whom or what attacked it. Like Kennedy, Reagan never realized his dream. His frivolous military spending, Congress not wanting to follow his spending reduction proposals, and his indifference to poor people and minorities defeated him from reaching his goals as President. The 1990s – Clinton’s Economic Restructuring
President William (Bill) Clinton, a Democrat from Arkansas, became President of the United States in 1993. When he came into the Presidency, he found the country in turmoil. Lower class people were highly unhappy, while upper classes were thriving. He did not believe this was fair. The United States was supposed to be a nation where all were equal, but from his point of view, the people of his country were far from equal. In 1996, he instituted the Welfare Reform Act, also known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. This Act allowed impoverished families to receive welfare, but parents of dependent children could only receive benefits for up to two years before they had to be working or attending job training (Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, 2008). President Clinton enhanced the economy in an immense way. During Clinton’s time in office, the national debt disappeared, and reversed to an amazing surplus, he created over 15 million jobs, and unemployment was its lowest in 40 years (Schifferes, 2001). He strengthened the lower and working class people of the United States. He had a focus on education, but not just for children. He felt education could help adults to better themselves, and more easily provide for their families. He supported the earned income tax credit, which gave money back to working class citizens. The economic boom while Clinton was President was the longest in history, and while pushing lower class people to work by limiting the resources they were allowed to receive, he saved social security. Conclusion:
The next decade in the United States will be interesting. I believe the recession will continue, and very few jobs will be created because of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. I believe the national deficit will become higher, poverty and homelessness will increase, and lower class people will struggle to survive. I know I sound like a pessimist, but I am one of those lower class people. Things can change though, and a good President may enter the White House and fix what needs to be fixed, but Congress will always find fault in any bill put forth by any President, then it has to be revised again and again, until Congress believes it is worthy to be passed. I suppose I can somewhat blame myself, and any other American who did not vote, for the country being the way it is. Until I took this class, I did not realize how important voting really is to the well-being of the United States. I know from now on I will vote at each election, be it for local, state, or federal government. Only the citizens of this country can truly determine its outcome, by paying attention to campaign speeches and voting in elections. If we, as a people, do not care enough about our country to raise our voices when we are called to do it, then what have we been fighting for? Who, other than We the People, has more of a deciding factor in the fate of our great nation? No one and no one ever will. It is our responsibility to ensure our own economic growth, as well as our nation’s economic growth. It is up to us to push the economy higher, rather than allow it to sink lower. The United States depends on its people as much as its people depend on it, and when the people fail to provide a good leader for the country, they fail to provide a good leader for themselves. This can only be done by electing officials into office who care about the people and the country, and the only way to do that is to vote.
Brunner, B. (2007). Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmheroes1.html Davidson, et al. (2005). Nation of nations: A concise narrative of the American republic (4th ed.).Upper Saddle River, N.J. McGraw-Hill. 1960s
Antill, P. (2001). The space race. Retrieved from http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_spacerace.html Suter, J. (1994). United States history (2nd ed.). Paramus, N.J. Globe Fearon. 1970s
HistoryCentral.com. (n.d.). Vietnam War and the American eceonomy. Retrieved from http://www.historycentral.com/sixty/Economics/Vietnam.html 1980s
Dreier, P. (2004). Reagan’s legacy: Homelessness in America. Retrieved from http://www.nhi.org/online/issues/135/reagan.html 1990s
Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. (2008). Welfare reform act (1996). Retrieved from http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Th-W/Welfare-Reform-Act-1996.html Schifferes, S. (2001). Bill Clinton’s economic legacy. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1110165.stm