The end of World War II marked a time when the United States went through several significant changes. Even though some harmed certain populations, most of the changes were positive and for the betterment of American society. The government introduced several programs, agencies, and policies in that sense. The millions of men and women who entered defense and military services during World War II would later provide a skilled labor force for building the American economic base.
The cold war period after World War II was the building block for the phenomenal economic expansion experienced. The war did not only present experience but also prosperity to the people something that made the US position herself as the wealthiest country in the world. Gross Domestic Product had moved from $200 billion in 1940 to over $300 in 1980. Thus, even as World War II ended, Americans knew that the country was already transformed. However, they never knew how much they had transformed their country or for how long. The question of how far the war had influenced the turning point of American history is quite complicated but significant. This paper examines how the period after World War II shaped America’s cultural, political, economic and social history.
Following the events that shaped World War II, the US emerged as one of the major superpowers alongside the Soviet Union. The approval of the Senate for the US to participate in the United Nations marked a turning point from the isolation and independent tradition to a more involving state in the international system. One of the most crucial steps in this direction was the decision to reverse the long-standing policy that never allowed for any military alliance.
The Soviet Union responded by forming the Warsaw Pact that was made up of communist states. In 1949, tensions were high as the Soviets launched their fast nuclear weapon thus escalating the risk of starting another war. However, because of the risk of assured mutual destruction, both superpowers never opted for war. It was notable in the war fought in Vietnam and Korea in which the two powers never confronted each other directly (McAlister and Melani, pg 133)
Impact on US Domestic Policies
In the US, the Cold War brought with it concerns over communist influence with the expansion of the Soviet Union. The stand that America took in response to this is what led her to the Cold War. Even though the war with Russia was not physical, it still had an adverse impact on society and policy directions. The magnified fear of nuclear war leads to a fearful society in America. The Cold War had presented a society where individuals are against one another.
To some extent, it made the US a divided nation caused by the fear of imminent war. The Russians had developed weapons with capabilities of wiping the entire world with just a press of a button. People were trembling with the fear of sound war. Some even started building bomb shelters in their homesteads (Jones, Landon Y, pg102). During this time, America employed numerous several strategies to limit the spread of communism ideologies abroad.
One of the first major policy to be enacted was Truman’s Containment policy. The policy contained numerous strategies that countered the moves made by the Soviet Union to expand its influence and communism ideology into Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, and Korea. Towards the start of 1969 was marked with Détente period, which meant the easing of strained relations between the two powers. This period saw the enactment of crucial détente treaties. The Warsaw Pact sent a request to the West to hold a security summit and cooperation with Europe. As a result, it opened doors for the ever since discussions that have been successful in limiting nuclear capabilities of the two powers.
Social and Cultural Impact
Amid all the fears and tension during the cold war, America went through various transformations one of which was a mass migration of people from countryside’s to the suburbs. With the thought of having better lives, the migration led to a rebirth of various religions associated with urban lives in the suburbs. There was a significant impact considering that less than 45% of Americans belonged to specific churches before World War 11. The post-war period also saw improvement in the insurance of employees and their families against accidents and illnesses. Some of the major insurance programs included the Blue Cross and the Blue Shield.
By 1959, more than two-thirds of the workforce covered by Social Security and provided with individual pension plans. With more people even from cities opting for family-centered suburban lifestyles, the suburban prospered not only because of the effects of post-World War 11 but also because of the introduction of single-family housing plan with a low down mortgage payment scheme. It led to opportunities for investors like William Levitt to come up with mass production means of constructing thousands of houses across the Long Islands.
Post War Economy
With the unfolding of the Cold war, America experienced a rapidly expanding economy. Firstly, the automobile industry had its share in accelerating economic growth. The number of automobiles produced annually more than tripled in the period between 1946 and 1957. Affordable housing mortgage schemes also contributed as the returning servicemen settled more quickly (Jones, Landon Y, pg102). Workers also found their livelihoods changing as industrial America revolutionized. The changing economy made more service providers than workers producing goods. By 1957, a majority of the American workforce held white collar jobs.
America’s economy after the post-war expanded at a rate of 3.5% annually (Tanzi and Vito, 97). It meant the growth of GDP that made it possible to increase the average income of families substantially. This economic expansion also meant that millions of white-collar job and factory workers grew into the middle class. The period between 1946 and 1980 witnessed a significant increase in paid leisure time for workers working overtime.
Majority of the workforce also had access to paid vacations and leisure activities by their organizations. Regarding education, the US emerged with the highest number of young people graduating from high schools and universities. It caused a significant impact on America’s economy making it the epicenter and world’s most advanced levels of science, medicine, and engineering (Wood and Linda, pg 70).
The Post World War 11 and the period into the Cold War marked significant social, economic, political and cultural changes that shaped the United States of today. The US underwent unprecedented economic prosperity characterized by an expanding workforce in the office and manufacturing sectors. New houses and new highways together created easy access to the suburbs a reason why they developed rapidly. The number of centers grew from eight in 1945 to more than 3,840 in 1970. But it should be noted, with the US economic expansion, not every group benefited. Groups such as the Latin Americans and Black Americans never received exponential benefits from the expanding GDP.
Jones, Landon Y. “Great expectations: America and the baby boom generation.” (1980).
McAlister, Melani. Epic encounters: Culture, media, and US interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000. Vol. 6. Univ of California Press, 2001.
Tanzi, Vito. “The underground economy in the United States: annual estimates, 1930-80.” Staff Papers 30.2 (1983): 283-305.
Wood, Linda Sargent. A More Perfect Union: Holistic Worldviews and the Transformation of American Culture after World War II. Oxford University Press, 2012.