The Cold War Begins
Postwar Economic Anxieties
During the 1930s, unemployment and insecurity had pushed up the suicide rate and decreased the marriage rate. The population growth was also declining as couples had economic troubles.
In the initial postwar years, the economy struggled; prices elevated 33% from 1946-1947 after the wartime price controls were removed. An epidemic of strikes swept over the country in 1946.
In 1947, the Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman's veto. It outlawed the "closed" (all-union) shop, made unions liable for damages that resulted from jurisdictional disputes among themselves, and required union leaders to take a noncommunist oath. Taft-Hartley was just one of several obstacles that slowed the growth of organized labor in the years following WWII.
The CIO's "Operation Dixie," aimed at unionizing southern textile workers and steelworkers, failed in 1948 to overcome lingering fears of racial mixing.
Congress passed the Employment Act in 1946 to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power. It also created a 3-member Council of Economic Advisers to provide the president with the data and the recommendations to make that policy a reality.
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill of Rights or the GI Bill, made generous provisions for sending the former solders to school. By raising educational levels and stimulating the construction industry, the GI Bill powerfully nurtured the long-lived economic expansion that took hold in the late 1940s.
The Long Economic Boom, 1950-1970
In the 1950s, the American economy entered a twenty-year period of tremendous growth. During the 1950s and 1960s, national income nearly doubled, giving Americans about 40% of the planet's wealth. The post-World War II era transformed the lives of a majority of citizens and molded the agenda of politics and society for at least two generations. Prosperity underwrote social mobility; it paved the war for the success of the civil rights movement; it funded new welfare programs; and it gave Americans the confidence to exercise unprecedented international leadership in the Cold War era.
The size of the middle class doubled from pre-Great Depression days, including 60% of the population by the mid 1950s.
The majority of new jobs created in the postwar era went to women, as the service sector of the economy dramatically outgrew the old industrial and manufacturing sectors.
The Roots of Postwar Economy
The economic upturn of 1950 was fueled by massive appropriations for the Korean War and defense spending. The military budget helped jumpstart high-technology industries such as aerospace, plastics, and electronics. Cheap energy also fueled the economic boom. American and European companies controlled the flow of abundant petroleum from the expanses of the Middle East, and they kept prices low.
Gains in productivity were enhanced the rising educational level for the work force. By 1970, nearly 90% of the school-age population was enrolled in educational institutions.
The work force shifted out of agriculture, which was achieving higher productivity gains as a result of new, more efficient farming equipment.
The Smiling Sunbelt
In the 30 years after WWII, an average of 30 million people changed residence every year. Families especially felt the strain, as distance divided them.
The "Sunbelt", a 15-state area stretching from Virginia through Florida and Texas to Arizona and California, increased it population at a rate nearly double than that of the old industrial zones of the Northeast (the "Frostbelt"). In the 1950s, California alone accounted for 1/5 of the nation's population. The modern pioneers came in search of jobs, better climate, and lower taxes. The large amount of federal dollars being given to the Sunbelt states accounted for much of the Sunbelt's prosperity. The industry region of the Ohio Valley (the "Rustbelt") was especially hit hard as a result of the loss in funds and population.
The Rush to the Suburbs
In all regions, America's modern white migrants moved from the city to the new suburbs. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) made home-loan guarantees, making it more economically attractive to own a home in the suburbs rather than to rent an apartment in the city.
"White flight" to the suburbs and the migration of blacks from the South left the inner cities, especially those in the Northeast and Midwest, to become poverty-stricken. The FHA often refused blacks home mortgages for private home purchases, thus limiting black mobility out of the inner cities.
The Postwar Baby Boom
In the decade and a half after 1945, the birth rate in the United States exploded as the "baby boom" took place. More than 50 million babies were born by the end of the 1950s. By 1973, the birth rates had dropped below the point necessary to maintain existing population figures.
Truman: The "Gutty" Man from Missouri
The first president without a college education in many years, President Harry S Truman was known as "average man's average man." He had down-home authenticity, few pretensions, rock-solid probity, and the political ability called "moxie" - the ability to face difficulty with courage.
Yalta: Bargain or Betrayal?
February 1945, the Big Three (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin) met in Yalta to discuss the war's end. Final plans were laid for smashing the German lines and shackling the beaten Axis enemy. Stalin agreed that Poland, with revised boundaries, should have a representative government based on free elections-a pledge he soon broke. Bulgaria and Romania were likewise to have free elections-a pledge also broken. The Big Three also announced plans for fashioning a new international peacekeeping organization-the United Nations.
The most controversial decision concerned the Far East. With the atomic bomb not yet tested, Washington analysts expected high American casualties in the assault on Japan. Roosevelt felt that Stalin should enter the Asian war, pin down Japanese troops in Manchuria and Korea, and lighten American losses. But with Soviet casualties already extremely high, Stalin needed incentive to join in the Far East. Stalin agreed to attack Japan within 3 months after the collapse of Germany. In return, the Soviets were promised the southern half of Sakhalin Island, lost by Russia to Japan in 1905, and Japan's Kurile Islands. The Soviet Union was also granted control over the railroads of China's Manchuria and special privileges in the two key seaports of that area, Dairen and Port Arthur. These concessions gave Stalin control over vital industrial centers of America's weakening Chinese ally.
The United States and the Soviet Union
The United States terminated vital lend lease aid to a battered USSR in 1945 and ignored Moscow's plea for a $6 billion reconstruction loan-while approving a similar loan of $3.75 billion to Britain in 1946.
Different visions of the postwar world separated the two superpowers. Stalin aimed above all to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union. He made it clear from the outset of the war that he was determined to have friendly governments along the Soviet western border. By maintaining a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe, the USSR could protect itself and consolidate its revolutionary base as the world's leading communist country.
These spheres of influence contradicted President FDR's Wilsonian dream of an "open world," decolonized, demilitarized, and democratized.
Unaccustomed to their great-power roles, the Soviet Union and the United States provoked each other into a tense, 40-year standoff known as the Cold War.
Shaping the Postwar World
In 1944, the Western Allies met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire and established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to encourage world trade by regulating currency exchange rates. They also founded the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) to promote economic growth in war-ravaged and underdeveloped areas. Unlike after WWI, the United States took the lead in creating the important international bodies and supplied most of their funding after WWII. The Soviets declined to participate.
The United Nations Conference opened on April 25, 1945. Meeting at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, representatives from 50 nations made the United Nations charter. It included the Security Council, dominated by the Big Five powers (the United States, Britain, the USSR, France, and China), each of whom had the right of veto, and the Assembly, which could be controlled by smaller countries. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the document on July 28, 1945.
Through such arms as the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), and WHO (World Health Organization), the U.N. brought benefits to people around the world.
In 1946, Bernard Baruch called for a U.N. agency, free from the great-power veto, with worldwide authority over atomic energy, weapons, and research. The plan quickly fell apart as neither the United States nor the Soviet Union wanted to give up their nuclear weapons.
The Problem of Germany
At Nuremberg, Germany from 1945-1946, Nazi leaders were tried and punished for war crimes. Punishments included hangings and long jail times.
Beyond the Nuremberg Trials, the Allies could agree little about postwar Germany. At first, Americans wanted to dismantle German factories and reduce the country to nothing. The Soviets, denied of American economic assistance, were determined to rebuild their nation through reparations from Germany. Eventually, Americans realized that a flourishing German economy was indispensable to the recovery of Europe. The Soviets refused to realize this.
At the end of the war, Austria and Germany had been divided into 4 military occupation zones, each assigned to one of the Big Four powers (France, Britain, America, and the USSR).
As the USSR spread communism to its Eastern zone in Germany and the Western Allies promoted the idea of a reunited Germany, Germany became divided. West Germany eventually became an independent country, and East Germany became bound the Soviet Union as an independent "satellite" state, shutoff from the Western world by the "iron curtain" of the Soviet Union.
Berlin, still occupied by the Four Big powers, was completely surrounded by the Soviet Occupation Zone. In 1948, following controversies over German currency reform and four-power control, the Soviet Union attempted to starve the Allies out of Berlin by cutting off all rail and highway access to the city. In May 1949, after America had flown in many supplies, the blockade was lifted.
In 1949, the governments of East and West Germany were established.
Crystallizing the War
In 1946, Stalin, seeking oil concessions, broke an agreement to remove his troops from Iran's northernmost province. He used the troops to aid a rebel movement. When Truman protested, Stalin backed down.
In 1947, George F. Kennan formulated the "containment doctrine." This concept stated that Russia, whether tsarist or communist, was relentlessly expansionary. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union was also cautious, and the flow of Soviet power could be stemmed by firm and vigilant containment.
President Truman embraced the policy in 1947 when he stated that Britain could no longer bear the financial and military burden of defending Greece against communist pressures. If Greece fell, Turkey and the rest of the eastern Mediterranean would collapse to the Soviet Union.
On March 12, 1947, President Truman came before Congress and requested support for the Truman Doctrine. He declared that it must be the policy of the United States to aid any country that was resisting communist aggression.
In 1947, France, Italy, and Germany were all suffering from the hunger and economic chaos caused in that year. Secretary of State George C. Marshall invited the Europeans to get together and work out a joint plan for their economic recovery. If they did so, then the United States would provide substantial financial assistance. Marshall offered the same aid to the Soviet Union and its allies, but the Soviets refused it. Although quite expensive, legislators passed the plan after realizing that the United States had to get Europe back on its feet. Within a few years, Europe's economy was flourishing. The Marshall Plan led to the eventual creation of the European Community (EC).
Access to Middle Eastern oil was crucial to the European recovery program and to the health of the U.S. economy. Despite threats from the Arab nations to cut off the supply of oil, President Truman officially recognized the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.
America Begins to Rearm
The Cold War, the struggle to contain Soviet communism, was not a war, yet it was not a peace.
In 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act, creating the Department of Defense. The department was headed by a new cabinet officer, the secretary of defense. Under the secretary were the civilian secretaries of the navy, the army, and the air force. The uniformed heads of each service were brought together as the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The National Security Act also established the National Security Council (NSC) to advise the president on security matters and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to coordinate the government's foreign fact-gathering.
In 1948, the United States joined the European pact, called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). American participation strengthened the policy of containing the Soviet Union and provided a framework for the reintegration of Germany into the European family. The pact pledged each signed nation to regard an attack on one as an attack on all. The Senate passed the treaty on July 21, 1949.
The NATO pact marked a dramatic departure from American diplomatic convention, a gigantic boost for European unification, and a significant step in the militarization of the Cold War.
Reconstruction and Revolution in Asia
General Douglas MacArthur took control of the democratization of Japan. The Japanese people cooperated to an astonishing degree; they saw that good behavior and the adoption of democracy would speed the end of the occupation. In 1946, a MacArthur-dictated constitution was adopted. It renounced militarism and introduced western-style democratic government.
From 1946-1948, top Japanese "war criminals" were tried in Tokyo.
Although there was much success in Japan, China was another story. In late 1949, the Chinese Nationalist government of Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi was forced to flee the country to the island of Formosa (Taiwan) when the communists, led by Mao Zedong, swept over the country. The collapse of Nationalist China was a depressing loss for America and its allies in the Cold War as ¼ of the world's population fell to communism.
In September 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb, 3 years before experts thought possible. To stay one step ahead, Truman ordered the development of the H-bomb (Hydrogen Bomb). The first H-bomb was exploded in 1952. The Soviets exploded their first H-bomb in 1953, and the nuclear arms race entered a dangerously competitive cycle.
Feeling Out Alleged Communists
In 1947, President Truman launched the Loyalty Review Board to investigate the possibility of communist spies in the government.
In 1949, 11 communists were sent to prison for violating the Smith Act of 1940 (first peacetime antisedition law since 1798) in advocating the overthrow of the American government. The ruling was upheld in Dennis v. United States (1951).
In 1938, the House of Representatives established the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to investigate "subversion." In 1948, Congressman Richard M. Nixon led the hunt for and eventual conviction of Alger Hiss, a prominent ex-New Dealer and a distinguished member of the "eastern establishment." Americans began to join in on the hunt for communist spies of who were thought to riddle America.
In 1950, Truman vetoed the McCarran Internal Security Bill, which authorized the president to arrest and detain suspicious people during an "internal security emergency." Congress overrode Truman's veto and passed the bill.
In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death for stealing American atomic bomb plans and selling them to the Soviet Union. They were the only people in history to be sentenced to death for espionage.
Democratic Divisions in 1948
In 1948, the Republicans chose Thomas E. Dewey to run for president. After war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower chose not to run for the presidency, the Democrats chose Truman. Truman's nomination split the Democratic Party. Southern Democrats met and nominated Governor J. Strom Thurmond. The new Progressive party nominated Henry A. Wallace. Expected to lose, but not ready to give up, Truman traveled the country, giving energetic speeches. On Election Day, Truman, although not winning the popular vote, beat Dewey and was reelected as president. Truman's victory came from the votes of farmers, workers, and blacks.
President Truman called for a "bold new program" ("Point Four"). The plan was to lend U.S. money and technical aid to underdeveloped lands to help them help themselves. He wanted to spend millions to keep underprivileged people from becoming communists.
At home, Truman outlined a "Fair Deal" program in 1949. It called for improved housing, full employment, a higher minimum wage, better farm price supports, new TVAs, and an extension of Social Security. The only major successes came in raising the minimum wage, providing for public housing in the Housing Act of 1949, and extending old-age insurance to many more beneficiaries in the Social Security Act of 1950.
The Korean Volcano Erupts (1950)
When Japan collapsed in 1945, Korea had been divided up into two sections: the Soviets controlled the north above the 38th parallel and the United States controlled south of that line.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army invaded South Korea. President Truman's National Security Council had recommended NSC-68, calling for the quadrupling of the United States' defense spending. Truman ordered a massive military buildup, well beyond what was necessary for the Korean War.
NSC-68 was a key document of the Cold War because it not only marked a major step in the militarization of American foreign policy, but it reflected the sense of almost limitless possibility that encompassed postwar American society.
On June 25, 1950, President Truman obtained from the United Nations Security Council a unanimous condemnation of North Korea as an aggressor. (The Soviet Union was not present at the meeting.) Without Congress's approval, Truman ordered American air and naval units to be sent to support South Korea.
The Military Seesaw in Korea
On September 15, 1950, General MacArthur succeeded in pushing the North Koreans past the 38th parallel. On November 1950, though, hordes of communist Chinese "volunteers" attacked the U.N. forces, pushing them back to the 38th parallel.
Due to General MacArthur's insubordination and disagreement with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about increasing the size of the war, President Truman was forced to remove MacArthur from command on April 11, 1951.
In July 1951, truce discussions dragged out over the issue of prisoner exchange.