Americans in the 20th century

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The United States of America (commonly abbreviated to the United States, the U.S., the USA, America, and the States) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.

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1.1. Living standards of America in the first half of the 20th century 6

1.2. Foreign policy of the USA. The Great Depression 13


2.1. The “Best Years” of the 20th century 27

2.2. Nixon`s America 34

2.3. The close of the century 44



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    The widely acknowledged spokesman for blacks in 1900 was Booker T. Washington, founder and president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In a much-heralded speech of 1895 that came to be known as the Atlanta Compromise, Washington promised white leaders of the North and South that blacks would accept their social and political inferiority. All they wanted, he said, was the opportunity to advance economically to the fullest extent of their skills. Throughout his career, in speeches, articles, and in his popular book “Up from slavery”, Washington preached the gospel of success, stressed practical education, and emphasized the importance of material prosperity. He would tell a group of white educators in 1912, “We are trying to instill into the Negro mind that if education does not make the Negro humble, simple, and of service to the community, then it will not be encouraged.” [2, p. 33].

    Most African Americans, it seems, looked up to Washington as a personal model of the self-made man and accepted his teachings as the only option open to them in an age of rampant racism. One perceptive scholar has referred to the period 1877 to 1901 as “the nadir” in the modern life of American blacks.

       By 1900 Native Americans were a defeated, impoverished, and largely dependent people. The ever-increasing expansion of white settlers and railroads into Indian territory, and the slaughter of the Great Plains buffalo, nearly complete by 1870, had gravely weakened their traditional culture. After more than two hundred pitched battles and countless skirmishes against whites, Indian resistance ended in 1890. At Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in one of the great tragedies of the Gilded Age, United States Army troops massacred two hundred Dakota men, women, and children.

    The Dawes Act of 1887 had broken up reservations into individually owned allotments in the hope of transforming Native Americans into self-sustaining farmers. The attempt soon proved futile, and most of the land wound up in the hands of white speculators. Efforts to educate American Indians in the ways of whites were largely unsuccessful. Government policy in the nineteenth century, much of which was well intentioned, had clearly failed to solve what was generally called the “Indian problem.”

        About 100,000 people of Mexican birth lived in California and the South west by 1900. They were scorned for their culture, religion, and language, exploited by employers eager for cheap labor, and shunted into slums.



1.2. Foreign policy of the USA. The Great Depression.


    The Progressive movement is an umbrella term to cover a number of reform efforts, from all across the nation that began to come together about 1900, in a period of prosperity and rising expectations. The progressives lacked a single economic policy; they disagreed among themselves about political reforms, cultural issues such as prohibition, and racial equality; and they proposed a variety of plans and panaceas. Some reformers had self-interest in mind, while others were concerned primarily with the general good. Several were committed to efficiency and order, and sought to place experts in positions of authority. [14, p.102].

    The progressives were united, however, in their desire to document and right the wrongs caused by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Like virtually all Americans, they also agreed about the inherent goodness of capitalism, private property, democracy, and individual freedom. The progressives were greatly influenced by Protestant Christianity, and they saw most problems as moral problems. They believed that “practical idealism” and “applied Christianity” could remake America. They believed in the power of environment to shape lives and in the ability of men and women to create a just, democratic, happy, and sensible society. Most reformers were willing to use the power of government-at all levels-to accomplish their ends.

    From the Gilded Age until America’s entrance into the First World War, people from various classes, ethnic origins, occupations, and sections of the country attempted to restrain the power of big business, bolster national morality, democratize politics, and help the underdog by laying the foundations of the welfare state. Their extremely fruitful activities would alter the pattern of American life and reverberate throughout the rest of the century, directly influencing the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society, and beyond.

    Roosevelt was only 50 when he left office on March 4, 1909. He believed that a president should serve only two terms, and he had announced in 1904 that he would not seek reelection. During his last two years in the White House he had sponsored several far-reaching reform measures, including federal income and inheritance taxes, stricter railroad regulation, and downward revision of the tariff. The proposals alienated Congress and drove a deep wedge within the GOP between conservatives, headed by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island and congressman Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, and progressive “insurgents,” led by Senator La Follette and Congressman George W. Norris of Nebraska. It would take a highly skilled chief executive to heal the wounds left by Roosevelt and get on with the business of expanding progressive legislation. The task fell to Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Fifty-one-year-old Taft was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, whose father had served as President Grant’s secretary of war and attorney general. Following graduation from Yale Law School and admission to the Ohio bar, Taft had been a state judge, solicitor general of the United States, a United States circuit judge, and civil governor of the Philippines. In 1904 Roosevelt chose him to be secretary of war, and he became a sort of executive assistant to the president and general trouble shooter. He was highly regarded in Washington as an affable and intelligent gentleman, an effective administrator, and a loyal supporter of the Square Deal. His antilabor record as a judge also elevated him in the eyes of conservatives.

    For some two decades, a wide variety of progressives had been hard at work altering the intellectual and moral foundations of the nation and influencing the course of virtually every American institution. The sixteenth through nineteenth amendments to the Constitution-the income tax, the direct election of senators, prohibition, and women’s right to vote-illustrate the significance of the reform movement. If  the progressive  measures  as a whole seem to us modest (women’s rights), naive  (prohibition), and incomplete (race  relations), it is wise to place the movement in its historical context, recalling how far the nation  had traveled since  Mark Twain was cursing the  Gilded Age in  his novel of 1873. Reform had occurred in conjunction with dramatic advances in science and technology, the growth of urbanization, the acceleration of educational levels, and increasing socioeconomic mobility. Few lamented this often profound change. To be modern, even intellectually respectable, one was expected to have absorbed at least a good measure of the progressive spirit. It was no accident that all three major presidential candidates in 1912 were progressives. But American reform movements do not last long, especially when the nation is faced with the threat of war. The energy and passion required to clean up slums, fight corruption in government, and create legislation to ensure the safety of medicine and food are greatly dissipated by one of history’s most common features: the call to arms. [2, p. 36].

   In August 1914, Americans were stunned to learn that almost all of Europe was at war. Two great coalitions, the Allies (chiefly Great Britain, France, and Russia) and the Central Powers (mainly Germany and Austria-Hungary) had been competing for power and prestige since the late nineteenth century but had always managed to resolve their differences peaceably. Indeed, many people thought that war had become a barbaric relic of the past, and that peace and progress would be the hallmarks of the twentieth century. Instead, the first general European war since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 was at hand. And before it was over thirty sovereign states would become involved, four empires would be overthrown, and seven new nations would be born. Some 30 million lives-half of them noncombatant-would be lost in this unprecedented slaughter. On the western front during that first awful summer the German drive toward Paris was stopped at the first Battle of the Marne. Thereafter, the war settled down into a relatively static and agonizing war of attrition. Trenches were dug across northern France and Belgium from Switzerland to the English Channel, some 470 miles away. During the next four years they became the graves of an entire generation of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans. Americans were shocked by reports of the carnage; as many men died at the ancient fortress city of Verdun in 1916 as on all the battlefields of the American Civil War combined.

    The United States was unprepared for its entrance into the First World War. In April 1917, the American Army numbered only 300,000 including all the National Guard units that could be federalized for national service. The Army's arsenal of war supplies was non-existent and its incursion into Mexico the previous year pointed out the severe deficiencies in its military structure including training, organization, and supply.

    When the European continent erupted in conflict in 1914, President Wilson declared America's neutrality. He proposed an even-handed approach towards all the belligerents that was to be maintained in both "thought A woman worker in a munitions plant, 1918 and deed." The President steadfastly maintained his hope of a peaceful solution to the conflict despite the protestations of those (including former president Roosevelt) convinced that events in Europe would inevitably draw America into the war. In 1916, Wilson campaigned for reelection on a peace platform with the slogan "He kept us out of war."

     Events in Europe altered Wilson's outlook. Germany's campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, the loss of American lives on the high seas, the sinking of the Lusitania and other ships and the prospect that Germany would not change her policies compelled a reluctant Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917. Things were not going well for the Allies at the time. Russia erupted in revolution in March 1917 and would soon be out of the war altogether. Italy suffered a major defeat when the Austrians captured over 275,000 soldiers in the Battle of Caporetto forcing the British and French to divert troops from the Western Front to keep Italy in the war. The situation remained stagnate on the Western Front - and worse. Mutiny spread throughout the French Army raising the fear that her armed forces may collapse from within. In Britain, the German submarine campaign was so successful that predictions foresaw Britain's collapse within a matter of months.

    The Allies looked to America for salvation with the expectation that the industrial strength of the United States would replenish the supply of war material necessary for victory. In most cases these expectations were unrealistic. For example, the US built no more than 800 airplanes prior to 1917, and yet the French premier called on the US to immediately produce 2,000 airplanes per "Black Jack" Pershingmonth. Additionally, the Allies expected the United States to provide an unlimited supply of manpower they could absorb into their beleaguered divisions.

    Wilson selected General John J. Pershing (called "Black Jack" after he commanded the famous 10th cavalry in the 1890s) to head the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing left for Europe with a mandate from Wilson to cooperate with Allied forces under the following proviso - "that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces the identity of which must be preserved." In other words, there would be no wholesale melding of American soldiers into the British and French armies as the Allied commanders hoped. The United States would fight under its own flag and its own leadership. This proved to be a bone of contention among the Allies for the rest of the war. [15, p.65].

    America's buildup was slow - Pershing called for a million men, Congress replied it could muster 420,000 by spring 1918. The anticipated cornucopia of military supplies from America never materilaized. For the most part the doughboys fought with equipment supplied by the Allies (including the distinctive helmet provided by the British). American troops saw their first action in May 1918 in fighting alone the Marne River. In September, a  gun crew in action during the Battle of Belleau Wood, June 1918 Pershing ordered an all-out attack in the Saint-Mihiel area of Eastern France. Casualties were high but the attack forced a German retreat that (combined with other Allied offensives along the Western Front) put the entire German army on the run. In early October, the Americans pushed through the Argonne Forest. The German High Command began to crack in the face of the persistent Allied onslaught. General Ludendorff was forced to resign and flee to Sweden, mutiny reared its ugly head among the Kaiser's naval units, and the Kaiser himself abdicated on November 9. On November 11, Germany signed an armistice ending the war.

     Pershing had thrown almost 1.2 million Americans into the battle. Casualties numbered 117,000. With the war over, Americans wished to forget Europe's troubles and return to "the good old days." Congress rejected Wilson's call for participation in the League of Nations. The nation turned inward again. This complacency remained unchallenged until Hitler's grab for European domination some 20 years later.

    The war persuaded many Americans to abandon all forms of the idealism that had been expanding for more than a generation. They rejected not only lofty-sounding foreign entanglements but the spirit of progressivism itself. While not all reform activity was spurned, the rhetoric of laissez faire was again in style. A new America was dawning, a nation of huge cities, massive industries, exciting inventions, and sweeping changes in traditional social and moral standards. People were eager to get in on the prosperity and fun they thought was within everyone’s grasp.

    At the beginning of the roaring twenties, the United States was converting from wartime to peacetime economy. When weapons for World War I were no longer needed, there was a temporary stall in the economy. After a few years, the country prospered. In this decade, America became the richest nation on Earth and a culture of consumerism was born.

    It was the time of the $5 workday, good worker pay for those days. People spent money for better roads, tourism, and holiday resorts. Real estate booms, most notably in Florida, sent land prices soaring. [26, p.32].

   On October 24, 1929, “Black Thursday,” prices on the New York Stock Exchange dropped sharply. Investors were shaken by the sudden and unprecedented decline, even after six powerful banks took steps to stabilize the market and President Hoover gave assurances that all was well. On October 29 panic selling drove prices to drastically low levels, and the public soon realized that the market had crashed. The dreams of millions in all walks of life were shattered. The tragedy soon reached the markets in Western Europe and throughout the world. The stock market crash triggered the Great Depression of the 1930s. Investments declined, businesses failed, stores and factories closed, banks collapsed, unemployment soared-from 5 million in 1930 to 13 million in 1932. One laborer later recalled seeing a thousand men outside a sugar refinery “fight like a pack of Alaskan dogs” for three or four jobs. People lost their homes and savings, panhandlers roamed the streets, the jobless slept on park benches, hospitals treated people who passed out due to hunger, soup kitchens and bread lines were commonplace. “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” was a top song of 1932–33. In Chicago, one observer reported, “We saw a crowd of some fifty men fighting over a barrel of garbage which had been set outside the back door of a restaurant. American citizens fighting for scraps of food like animals!” Another remembered seeing “thousands of men, rolled up in their overcoats, just on the pavement” under the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Cynicism and despair accompanied the hard times. The Roaring Twenties were ancient history.

     While experts continue to debate about the precise causes of the cataclysm, several major weaknesses in the economy appear to have contributed significantly. Unequal income distribution, for one thing, limited the number of customers for the products pouring out of the nation’s factories. While individual prosperity increased significantly during the decade, in 1929 5 percent of the population received 26.1 percent of the income. Wages and salaries did not keep pace with the sharp rise in industrial productivity, corporate profits, and dividends. The corporate structure, moreover, contained serious deficiencies. The holding-company device enabled unscrupulous businesspeople to create corporate pyramids of little actual value and reap huge profits with investors’ money. By the beginning of 1929, twenty-one of the nation’s ninety-seven largest corporations were holding companies. Investment trusts, designed to assist investors with expert knowledge, were often operated by people interested solely in their own gain. Banking practices were often irresponsible, and failures were common. In the first six months of 1929, 346 banks closed their doors. The federal government chose to look the other way and to continue to assure the public that all was well. An unfavorable balance of trade was also a factor. With World War I the United States had become a creditor nation. During the 1920s Americans sold more to the war-torn European nations than they purchased. A high U.S. tariff intensified the imbalance. Moreover, the United States was determined to collect its war debts from the Allies. European and Latin American governments borrowed funds from American investors to meet her international obligations. With the stock market crash, the subsequent drying up of American loans, and the appearance of an even higher tariff, war debts went into default and American exports fell. This increased the distress of the nation’s farmers, already suffering from the effects of unrestrained overproduction.

    The depression altered the lives of most Americans in many ways. On all socioeconomic levels, and in all corners of the nation, people scrambled to cope with the economic realities. And as they adjusted, new values, visions, heroes, fashions, and fads quickly followed. Family life was profoundly affected by the hard times. Marriages were delayed, birth rates dropped, contraceptive sales soared, and divorce rates were down. Much of the cynicism and flippancy about sex faded, and marriage and the family seemed to be taken more seriously than in the previous decade. But this did not reflect a return to Victorian morals. One national magazine poll of 1936 reported 63 percent of men and women favoring the teaching and practice of birth control.

   On December 7, 1941, while German armies were freezing before Moscow, Japan suddenly pushed the United States into the struggle by attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later Hitler declared war on the United States. President Roosevelt called on Congress for immediate and massive expansion of the armed forces. Twenty years of neglect and indifference, however, could not be overcome in a few days.

    Helpless as American garrisons in the Pacific fell to the Japanese in the spring of 1942, military leaders in Washington worked feverishly to create a headquarters that could direct a distant war effort and to turn the fledgling ground and air units into viable, balanced fighting forces. In early 1942 the Joint Chiefs of Staff emerged as a committee of the nation's military leaders to advise the President and to coordinate strategy with the British. In March the War Department General Staff was reorganized and the Army divided into three major commands: the Air Forces, Ground Forces, and Service Forces. Thirty-seven Army divisions were in some state of training, but only one was fully trained, equipped, and deployable by January 1942. Army planners of the time estimated that victory would require an Army of nearly 9 million men, organized into 215 combat divisions, estimates that proved accurate regarding overall manpower but too ambitious for the 90 divisions that eventually were established and supported on far-flung battlefields.

    Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, head of Army Ground Forces and an ardent advocate of mobile war, oversaw the development of armored and airborne divisions. He directed the restructuring of existing organizations as well, turning the old World War I "square" division based on four infantry regiments into a lighter, more maneuverable triangular division with three infantry regiments. A serious and continuing shortage of Allied shipping space placed absolute limits on the size and capabilities of Army units. New tables of organization stressed leanness and mobility, sometimes at the expense of fighting power and endurance. Billeting, training areas, and equipment were all in short supply.

    American industry had to support the nation's Allies as well as its own military expansion. Britain needed large amounts of munitions and equipment; and lend-lease aid, including tens of thousands of trucks and other vehicles and equipment, played an important part in mechanizing the Soviet Army. Amphibious warfare required large numbers of landing craft and support vessels, yet to be built.

    The first U.S. troops arrived in the British Isles in January 1942, but nearly a year passed before they went into action against the Axis. Meanwhile, air power provided virtually the only means for the Allies to strike at Germany. The Royal Air Force began its air offensive against Germany in May 1942, and on 4 July the first American crews participated in air raids against the Continent.

    In early 1942 British and American leaders reaffirmed the priority of the European theater. General Marshall argued for an immediate buildup of American forces in Great Britain, a possible diversionary attack on the Continent in the fall, and a definite full-scale invasion in 1943. The British greeted this program with caution. Remembering the enormous casualties of World War I, they preferred to strike at German power in the Mediterranean, rather than risk a direct confrontation in haste. Although acknowledging the eventual necessity for an invasion of France, they hoped to defer it until much later. Instead, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill suggested Anglo-American landings in North Africa, bringing the French armies in France's colonies there back into the war on the side of the Allies and aiding the British in their fight against the Italians and the forces of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Months of lively debate followed, but ultimately President Roosevelt directed General Marshall to plan and carry out amphibious landings on the coast of North Africa before the end of 1942.

    The United States emerged from the war with global military commitments that included the occupation of Germany and Japan and the oversight of Allied interests in liberated areas. Almost 13 million Americans were in uniform at the end of the war; over 8 million of them were soldiers. But the impulse was strong to follow the patterns of the past and dismantle this force. Families pressed the government to "bring the boys home," and soldiers overseas demanded the acceleration of the separation process. American monopoly of the atomic bomb seemed to furnish all the power that American security interests needed. Some air power advocates even argued that the bomb made armies and navies obsolete. [9, p.89].

    President Roosevelt had died in April 1945, on the eve of victory. The new President, Harry S. Truman, and his advisers tried to resist the political pressures for hasty demobilization. Truman wanted to retain a postwar Army of 1.5 million, a Navy of 600,000, and an Air Force of 400,000. But neither Congress nor the American public was willing to sustain such a force. Within five months of V-J Day, 8.5 million servicemen and women had been mustered out, and in June of the following year only two full Army divisions were available for deployment in an emergency. By 1947 the Army numbered a mere 700,000 sixth in size among the armies of the world.

    Yet too much had changed for the Army to return to its small and insular prewar status. Millions of veterans now remembered their service with pride. The beginning of the Cold War, especially the Berlin blockade of 1948, dramatically emphasized the need to remain strong. The Army had become too deeply intertwined with American life and security to be reduced again to a constabulary force. Moreover, the time was not far off when new conflicts would demonstrate the limits of atomic power and prove that ground forces were as necessary as they had been in the past.

   The Cold War began because of a clash between two world superpowers, the United States and the USSR. These two countries were in a battle for superiority but this battle never once led to a 'hot' war as the United States and the USSR never actually fired at each other. The main reason there was such an initial clash between these superpowers is that each country had completely different ideologies. The USSR functioned in a Communist fashion and the United States operated with Capitalism. The Containment Policy came about because of these different ideologies and played a major role in the conflict between these two superpowers. Both of these countries were competing blow for blow and both of the countries strengthened their development in technology and weaponry with the space race and arms race. All of these events led up to the development of a Cold War between these two powers because each country wanted to be the superior and there was no want to compromise. They were both so adamant to the fact that their side was greater than the other and this thought led up to the start of the Cold War.

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