War and Diplomacy: WWII transformed the U.S. more fundamentally that any conflict since the Civil War. It revolutionized American foreign policy by causing the nation’s leaders to realize that he U.S. must commit itself to playing a leading role in postwar collective security efforts to avoid a repeat of the events that led up to the war; it expanded the role of the federal government in myriad ways; it ended the Depression’ and it changed the role of women and other minority groups, fueling postwar demands for greater rights among groups that helped to maintain the nation’s freedom during wartime.
Economic Transformations: WWII succeeded where the New Deal failed – in ending the Depression. Federal spending increased more than tenfold between 1939 and 1945; at the same time, Americans saved money due to the shortage of consumer goods, helping to spark a massive postwar boom. The war also spurred economic growth in the West, where federal military and infrastructural spending helped to transform the region’s economy. The war led to unprecedented government spending on research and development, which produced a host of new innovations, with both military and civilian applications. Increased taxation, including the first federal withholding taxes, helped to finance the costly war effort
American Diversity: The struggle against the Nazi ideas of racial superiority forced the U.S. to grapple with the issue of racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. The U.S. placed over 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps in the name of protecting national security, a controversial decision that evoked little popular opposition at the time. Despite this action, the federal government and the American people largely came to see the nation’s ethnic diversity as a source of its strength, a major difference from WWI, when government efforts to promote national unity helped spark anti-foreign hysteria. African Americans, the nation’s most prominent racial minority, demanded a greater role in the war effort and an end to discrimination in defense industries; their military efforts helped lead to the desegregation of the armed forces soon after the war’s end.
Culture: Despite the natural anxiety caused by the war, the conflict also demonstrated the resilience of American culture and society. Americans came to believe that they were fighting to uphold the ideals of democracy and material prosperity. They looked forward to a postwar age in which mass consumption would be the order of the day. Families were strained as a result of the demands of military services, as working women often lacked access to child care. Marriage rates increased significantly during the war, as did births (a preview of the postwar “baby boom”).
EXAM TIPS: A central theme from this period is the connection between WWII and the later Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR. As you read this chapter and the next, keep in mind the degree to which the wartime actions of FDR and Stalin influenced the postwar relationship between the two nations. Most DBQs contain at least one visual source, if not more. During wartime, political cartoons and propaganda posters often play a role in shaping public opinion. Remember to use captions and titles, along with symbols contained within the visual sources, to help you to determine the author’s point of view and motivation. Once you have done that, you can use the source more easily and effectively to support your argument. Chapter 29 – The Cold War
War and Diplomacy: Although the U.S. experienced relatively little in the way of armed conflict in the immediate post-WWII period, the nation faced a series of tense crises with the USSR between 1945 and 1950. The two wartime allies had vastly different conceptions of the shape of the postwar world, and each perceived the other’s actions through a lens of distrust and suspicion. The U.S. gradually developed a policy of containment in an effort to prevent the expansion of Soviet power. By the end of the 1940s, communism had spread to China and other parts of Asia. Between 1950 and 1953, the U.S. fought a costly and inconclusive war in Korea, the first armed conflict of the Cold War.
Globalization: The expansion of the containment policy, as well as the process of helping to rebuild war-torn Western Europe and Japan, transformed America’s relationship with the rest of the world. The U.S. developed a substantial aid program to Western Europe in the form of the Marshall Plan and occupied Japan from 1945 until the 1950s. American foreign policy became heavily focused on preserving democracies throughout Europe and Asia (and later to other parts of the world) in an effort to develop reliable allies in the anticommunist struggle. At the same time, the U.S. sought to promote a liberal world economic order based on free trade in an effort both to maintain foreign markets and prevent the spread of economic autarchy, which American policymakers saw as having been central to the eventual outbreak of WWII.
Politics and Citizenship: America’s activist foreign policy required extensive domestic mobilization and significantly increased the power of the national state. Although President Truman had sought to keep defense spending limited in the early years of the Cold War, by 1950 American leaders believed it was necessary to undertake a major increase in defense spending to combat the Soviet threat. The nation’s intelligence, military, and diplomatic institutions were all reorganized to give the president greater power and authority to conduct foreign policy.
Culture: The Cold War had profound effects on virtually all aspects of American culture. Most apparent was the pervasive fear of communism that gripped much of the American public and eventually found form in the anticommunist crusade known as McCarthyism (although the phenomenon went much deeper than the Wisconsin Senator and his followers). Long accustomed to living relatively isolated from any direct threats to the nation’s security, Americans had to become accustomed to a series of threats ranging from internal subversion and espionage to the potential threat of nuclear war (even if it would be years before the USSR had an effective capability for attacking American soil).
EXAM TIPS: In the years following WWII, historians studying the early Cold War tended to blame the aggressiveness of the USSR and Stalin’s appetite for more territory for the breakdown of the wartime Grand Alliance. Starting in the early 1960s, many so-called “New Left” historians looked to American economic expansionism, especially a desire to maintain free trade and open markets, as the major contributor to Cold War tensions. In the 1970s and beyond, so-called “post-war revisionist” historians noted that the Cold War was largely the result of misunderstanding between the two nations and that it was impossible to single out one for blame. This cycle of “orthodoxy,” “revisionism,” and “post-revisionism” can often be applied to historiographical trends with other periods as well.
Scholars have often divided America’s leaders into two camps with regard to foreign policy: “realists” (those who believe that foreign policy should be based purely on considerations of nation power and promotion of the nation interest) and “idealists” (those who argue that American foreign policy should be based on the promotion of larger principles such as democracy and self-determination). TR and Woodrow Wilson are often cited as classic examples of realism and idealism, respectively. Some historians (George Kennan was among the most notable) have argued that American foreign policy during the early Cold War was based too heavily on idealistic promotion of abstract principles and not enough on rational calculations of the nation interests, leading the U.S. to undertake heavy commitments that unnecessarily drained the nation’s resources. Three essential documents for studying the Cold War are President Truman’s speech of March 1947, known as the “Truman Doctrine” speech; the article “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in the journal Foreign Affairs in July 1947 under the pseudonym “X” (later revealed to be State Department official George Kennan); and the 1950 document NSC-68, which brought about a major shift in American Cold War strategy. Chapter 30 – The Affluent Society
Economics Transformation: The most notable characteristic of the 1950s was the economic boom fueled by the growing availability of consumer goods. Despite the sometimes conservative rhetoric of the Eisenhower administration, most governmental leaders came to accept the principle that the federal government had a responsibility to promote economic prosperity through its spending and taxation policies. The Cold War helped to fuel federal spending on science, technology, and transportation, all of which had a significant impact on the American economy and society.
Culture: The postwar period witnessed important changes in American culture, especially the growth of the middle class. The wide availability of consumer goods and new media such as television helped to create a society that valued economic prosperity and mass consumption. Popular images of the decade emphasize the widespread sense of conformity. As the decade progressed, however, many intellectuals came to see the society as sterile and unimaginative. Furthermore, a new youth culture emerged, demonstrating an increasing sense of alienation with America’s middle-class culture and helping to lay the groundwork for the more widespread protests of the 1960s.
Demographic Change: Postwar prosperity helped to create a new generation of “baby boomers,” as the end of the Depression and WWII made Americans more willing to start families. Inexpensive housing and dissatisfaction with urban life led to the proliferation of suburbs, while the American West grew significantly from government spending and internal migrations. Cities became increasingly populated by African Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups, who faced significant poverty even as the country as a whole prospered.
American Diversity: While white, middle-class virtue seemed to dominate the American landscape, African Americans and other groups began to struggle to achieve a greater voice in American society. The Supreme Court’ decision to end segregation in schools brought civil rights into the forefront of the national consciousness, while African-American activists began a long battle against segregation with protests in Montgomery, Alabama, and elsewhere efforts that made civil rights an issue that Americans found increasingly difficult to ignore by the end of the decade.
War and Diplomacy: The Eisenhower administration faced growing challenges outside of Europe, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Although Eisenhower sought to limit American defense spending and its foreign commitments, the Cold War had spread to most corners of the globe by the time Eisenhower left office in 1960. The Cold War had unfortunate domestic ramifications, as Senator Joseph McCarthy, capitalized on popular fears in an effort to uncover communist influence in the government and other arenas of American life.
EXAM TIPS: The ability to analyze presidential leadership is crucial to understanding many different periods in American history, and the 1950s are no exception. President Eisenhower, like the decade during which he served as president, was long considered a passive president who was more interested in playing golf than in running the country. More recent historians, however, have emphasized his behind-the-scenes leadership and argue that his apparent lack of activity reflected a more philosophical belief that the nation needed stable, calm leadership – especially during a time of global crisis – and a restrained use of federal power after two decades of Democratic activism, rather than laziness.
An important skill for the AP Exam is to be able to differentiate between popular perceptions of a particular period and the more nuanced view that frequently emerges as scholarship develops. Both the 1920s and the 1950s, for example, are often considered decades of prosperity, cultural conformity, and conservatism in popular imagination. Below the surface, however, significant sources of protest existed in each decade. Many of the protest movements that emerged full-blown during the 1960s had significant roots during the 1950s.