Chapter 36

American Zenith

1952-1963

 

Affluence and Its Anxieties

The invention of the transistor in 1948 sparked a revolution in electronics, especially in computers.  Computer giant International Business Machines (IBM) grew tremendously. 

Aerospace industries grew in the 1950s, in large part due to Eisenhower's SAC and to an expanding passenger airline business.

In 1956, the number of "white-collar" (no manual labor) workers exceeded the number of "blue-collar" (manual labor) workers. As a result, union memberships declined. 

White-collar jobs opened up opportunities for women. The majority of clerical and service jobs created after 1950 were filled by women. Women's new dual role as a worker and a homemaker raised questions about family life and about traditional definitions of gender roles.

Feminist Betty Friedan published in 1963 The Feminine Mystique, helping to launch the modern women's movement.  The book discussed the widespread unhappiness of women who were housewives.

 

Consumer Culture in the Fifties

The innovations of the credit card, fast-food, and new forms of recreation highlighted the emerging lifestyle of leisure and affluence.  In 1946, there were only 6 TV stations, but there were 146 by 1956. "Televangelists" like Baptist Billy Graham used the TV to spread Christianity. 

As the population moved west, sports teams also moved west.  Popular music was transformed during the 1950s.  Elvis Presley created a new style known as rock and roll.

Traditionalists were critical of Presley and many of the social movements during the 1950s. 

 

The Advent of Eisenhower

Lacking public support for Truman, the Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson for the election of 1952 and the Republicans nominated Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was already well-liked by the public. Richard M. Nixon was chosen for vice-president to satisfy the anticommunist wing of the Republican Party. During this election, TV became a popular medium for campaigning.

During the campaign, Nixon went on TV to defend himself against corruption allegations "Checkers speech".

Eisenhower won the election of 1952 by a large majority.

President Eisenhower attempted to end the Korean War.  In July 1953, after Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons, an armistice was signed, ending the Korean War.  Despite the Korean War, Korea remained divided at the 38th Parallel.

Eisenhower's leadership style of sincerity, fairness, and optimism helped to comfort the nation after the war.

 

Desegregating the South

All aspects of life of black life in the South were governed by the Jim Crow laws.  Blacks were segregated from whites, economically inferior, and politically powerless. Gunnar Myrdal exposed the contradiction between America's professed belief that all men are created equal and its terrible treatment of black citizens in his book, An American Dilemma (1944).

In Sweatt v. Painter (1950), the Supreme Court ruled that separate professional schools for blacks failed to meet the test of equality.

In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Her arrest sparked a yearlong black boycott of the city buses (Montgomery bus boycott) and served notice throughout the South that blacks would no longer submit to segregation.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to prominence during the bus boycott.

 

Seeds of the Civil Rights Revolution

Hearing of the lynching of black war veterans in 1946, President Harry Truman ended segregation in federal civil service and ordered "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces in 1948.

After Congress and new President Eisenhower ignored the racial issues, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren stepped up to address civil rights for African Americans.

In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unequal and, thus, unconstitutional.  The decision reversed the previous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Southern states opposed the ruling. Congressmen from these states signed the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" in 1956, pledging their unyielding resistance to desegregation.

President Eisenhower did not support integration because he shied away from social issues. In September 1957, Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, used the National Guard to prevent 9 black students from enrolling in Little Rock's Central High School.  Confronted with a direct challenge to federal authority, Eisenhower sent troops to escort the children to their classes.

In 1957, Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction Days.  It set up a permanent Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of civil rights and it authorized federal injunctions to protect voting rights.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.  It sought to mobilize the power of black churches on behalf of black rights. 

On February 1, 1960, 4 black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina demanded service at a whites-only lunch counter.  Within a week, the sit-in reached 1,000 students, spreading a wave of wade-ins, lie-ins, and pray-ins across the South demanding equal rights.  In April 1960, southern black students formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to give more focus to their efforts.



Eisenhower Republicanism at Home

When dealing with people, President Eisenhower was liberal, but when dealing with the economy and the government, he was conservative.  He strived to balance the federal budget and to guard America from socialism.

In 1954, giving in to the Mexican government's worries that illegal Mexican immigration to the United States would undercut the bracero program of legally imported farmworkers, President Eisenhower deported a million illegal immigrants in Operation Wetback.

Eisenhower tried to revert to the policy of assimilating Native American tribes into American culture,but his plan was dropped in 1961 after most tribes refused to comply.

Eisenhower wanted to cancel New Deal programs, but he lacked pulic support to do so. He supported the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which created thousands of miles of federally-funded highways.

Eisenhower only managed to balance the budget 3 times while in office (8 years). In 1959, he incurred the biggest peacetime deficit in the history of the United States.

 

A "New Look" in Foreign Policy

In 1954, secretary of state John Foster Dulles proposed a policy of boldness in which a fleet of superbombers would be built and equipped with nuclear bombs (called the Strategic Air Command, or SAC). This would allow the U.S. to threaten countries such as the Soviet Union and China with nuclear weapons.

At the Geneva summit conference in 1955, President Eisenhower attempted to make peace with the new Soviet Union dictator, Nikita Khrushchev, following Stalin's death.  Peace negotiations were rejected.

 

The Vietnam Nightmare

In the early 1950s, nationalist movements tried to throw the French out of Vietnam. Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh became increasingly communist while America became increasingly anticommunist. 

After the nationalists won at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a peace was called. Vietnam was divided at the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh was given the north, while a pro-Western government, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, was given the south. The Vietnamese nationalists were promised a nationwide election two years after the peace accords, but this never happened because it looked the communists would win.

 

Cold War Crises in Europe and the Middle East

In 1955, West Germany was let into NATO.  Also in 1955, the Eastern European countries and the Soviets signed the Warsaw Pact. This was a communist military union to counteract NATO. 

In May 1955, the Soviets ended the occupation of Austria.  In 1956, Hungary rose up against the Soviets attempting to win their independence.  When their request for aid from the United States was denied, they were slaughtered by the Soviet forces.  America's nuclear weapon was too big of a weapon to use on such a relatively small crisis.

In 1953, in an effort to secure Iranian oil for Western countries, the CIA created a coup that installed Mohammed Reza Pahlevi as the dictator of Iran.

President Nasser of Egypt sought funds from the West and the Soviets to build a dam on the Nile River. After the Americans learned of Egypt's involvement with the Soviets, the Americans withdrew their monetary offer. As a result, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which was owned by the French and British.  In October of 1956, the French and British attacked Egypt, starting the Suez Crisis.  The two countries were forced to retreat after America refused to provide them with oil.

Eisenhower Doctrine: a 1957 pledge of U.S. military and economic aid to Middle Eastern nations threatened by communist aggression. 

In 1960, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela joined together to form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

 

Round Two for Ike

President Eisenhower decidedly beat his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson, and he was reelected in the election of 1956.

Fraud and corruption in American labor unions caused the president to take an interest in passing labor laws. In 1959, President Eisenhower passed the Landrum-Griffin Act.  It was designed to hold labor leaders more accountable for financial illegalities.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched the Sputnik I satellite into space.  In November, they launched the satellite Sputnik II, carrying a dog.  The two satellites gave credibility to Soviet claims that superior industrial production is achieved through communism.

In response, President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The technological advances in the Soviet Union made Americans think that the educational system of the Soviet Union was better than the United State's system. In 1958, the National Defense and Education Act (NDEA) gave $887 million in loans to college students and in grants to improve teaching sciences and languages.

 

The Continuing Cold War

Due to environmental concerns, the Soviet Union and the United States suspended nuclear tests in March and October 1958, respectively.

In July 1958, Lebanon called for aid under the Eisenhower Doctrine as communism threatened to take over the country.  In 1959, Soviet dictator Khrushchev appeared before the U.N. General Assembly and called for complete disarmament.  In 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down in Russia, ending the possibility of an quick peaceful resolution.


Cuba's Castroism Spells Communism

Latin Americans began to show dissent towards America as the United States seemed to neglect Latin America's economic needs in favor of Europe's.  They also despised constant American intervention. In 1954, for example, the CIA led a coup that overthrew a leftist government in Guatemala.

Fidel Castro led a coup that overthrew the American-supported government of Cuba in 1959. Castro became militarily and economically allied with the Soviet Union; it had become a military satellite for the Soviet Union. 

In August 1960, Congress authorized $500 million to prevent communism from spreading in Latin America.

 

Kennedy Challenges Nixon for the Presidency

The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon to run for president and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for vice president in the election of 1960.  The Democrats nominated John F. Kennedy to run for president and Lyndon B. Johnson for vice president.

John F. Kennedy's Catholicism irritated the Protestant people in the Bible Belt South. 

Kennedy said that the Soviets, with their nuclear bombs and Sputniks, had gained on America's prestige and power.  Nixon was forced to defend the existing administration (Republican) and claim that America's prestige had not slipped.

Television played a key role in the presidential election as Kennedy's personal appeal attracted many people.  Kennedy won the election of 1961, gaining support from workers, Catholics, and African Americans.

America was economically prosperous during the Eisenhower years.  Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959.  As a Republican president, Eisenhower had helped integrate the reforms of the Democratic New Deal and Fair Deal programs into American life.

 

A Cultural Renaissance

New York became the art capital of the world after WWII.

Jackson Pollock helped develop abstract expressionism in the 1940s and 1950s.

American architecture also progressed after WWII. Many skyscrapers were created in a modernist or "International Style."

Pre-war realist, Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea (1952).  John Steinbeck, another pre-war writer, wrote graphic portrayals of American society.  Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961) discussed the antics and anguish of American airmen in the wartime Mediterranean.

The problems created by the new mobility and affluence of American life were explored by John Updike and John Cheever Louis Auchincloss wrote about upper-class New Yorkers.  Gore Vidal wrote a series of historical novels.

Poetry and playwrights also flourished during the postwar era. 

 

New Cultural Voices

Books by black authors made best-seller lists. Led by William Faulkner, the South also had a literary renaissance.

 

Kennedy's "New Frontier" Spirit

President Kennedy was the youngest president to take office. He assembled one of the youngest cabinets, which included his brother Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, who planned to reform the priorities of the FBI. 

Kennedy's pushed his "New Frontier" plans, which included trying to fix unemployment and inflation and keeping wages high for workers. This plan inspired patriotism. Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, an army of idealistic and mostly youthful volunteers to bring American skills to underdeveloped countries.

Southern Democrats and Republicans despised the president's New Frontier plan.  Kennedy had campaigned on the theme of revitalizing the economy after the recessions of the Eisenhower years.  To do this, the president tried to curb inflation.  In 1962, he negotiated a noninflationary wage agreement with the steel industry.  When the steel industry announced significant price increases, promoting inflation, President Kennedy lambasted the steel industry's executives. This caused the industry to lower its prices. 

Kennedy stimulated the economy by cutting taxes and putting more money directly into private hands (instead of spending more government money).  Kennedy also proposed a multibillion-dollar plan to land an American on the moon (Apollo Program).

 

Foreign Flare-ups and "Flexible Response"

In August 1961, the Soviets began to construct the Berlin Wall, which was designed to stop the large population drain from East Germany to West Germany through Berlin.

Western Europe was prospering after the Marshall Plan aid and the growth of the European Economic Community (EEC) (also known as Common Market). The EEC was the free-trade area that evolved into the European Union. Kennedy secured passage of the Trade Expansion Act in 1962, authorizing tariff cuts of up to 50% to promote trade between America and the Common Market countries.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pushed the strategy of "flexible response". This was the idea that America would deploy military options around the world that could match the necessities of the crisis at hand.  President Kennedy increased spending on the Special Forces.

The doctrine of "flexible response" lowered the level at which diplomacy would give way to troops. It provided a way for a progressively and increasing use of force (ex: Vietnam).

 

Cuban Confrontations

In 1961, President Kennedy signed the Alliance for Progress, which was essentially the Marshall Plan for Latin America. Its primary goal was to help the Latin American countries close the gap between the rich and the poor, thus quieting communist politicians. Results were disappointing as America's money did not impact Latin America's social problems.

On April 17, 1961, 1,200 American-supported Cuban exiles landed at Cuba's Bay of Pigs. This was an attempt by America to overthrow the Castro regime. President Kennedy was against the direct intervention of the overthrow of Castro, so he did not provide sufficient support for the exiles. Hence, the invasion failed after the exiles were forced to surrender. 

Continued American attempt to overthrow Castro caused Castro to further support the Soviets. In October 1962, it was discovered that the Soviets were secretly installing nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Kennedy ordered a naval "quarantine" of Cuba and demanded immediate removal of the weapons.  For a week, Americans waited while Soviet ships approached the patrol line established by the U.S. Navy off the island of Cuba. On October 28, Khrushchev agreed to a compromise in which he would pull the missiles out of Cuba.  The Americans also agreed to end the quarantine and not invade the island. This ended the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In late 1963, a pact prohibiting trial nuclear explosions in the atmosphere was signed. 

In June 1963, President Kennedy gave a speecin which he encouraged Americans to abandon the negative views of the Soviet Union.  He tried to lay the foundations for a realistic policy of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union.

 

The Struggle for Civil Rights

During his campaign, JFK had gained the black vote by stating that he would pass civil rights legislation, but he was slow to pass legislation during his presidency (he didn't want to lose support from southern Congressmen).

In 1960, groups of Freedom Riders in the South tried to end segregation in facilities serving interstate bus passengers. When southern officials did nothing to stop violence that had erupted at these protests, federal marshals were dispatched to protect the freedom riders.

For the most part, the Kennedy family and the King family (Martin Luther King, Jr.) had a good relationship.

The Voter Education Project sought to register the South's historically disfranchised blacks.

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched a campaign against discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated big city in America.  Civil rights marchers were repelled by police with attack dogs and high-pressure water hoses.  In shock, President Kennedy delivered a speech to the nation on June 11, 1963 in which he dedicated himself to finding a solution to the racial problems.

In August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. led 200,000 black and white demonstrators on a peaceful "March on Washington" in support of the proposed new civil rights legislation.

 

The Killing of Kennedy

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed as he was riding in an open limousine in Dallas, Texas.  The alleged gunman was Lee Harvey Oswald.  Oswald was shot and killed by self-appointed avenger, Jack RubyVice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office, retaining most of Kennedy's cabinet.  Kennedy was praised more for his ideals than what he had actually achieved.

 



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