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 primary reason that the Cold War began was the differing ideologies between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States had a solid grasp on Capitalism and planned on other countries converting to the same economic policy that they were under. The United States' belief was that individuals should be paid based upon their own individual production while the Communists believed that everyone should be equal no matter what their output is. This differing in economic policies is the most important reason the Cold War got out of control and became such a concern. This can be attributed to Harry Truman's 'Containment Policy'. This policy, one of the most important policies in the United States' history, was the plan to keep Communism 'contained' in just the country of the Soviet Union .The United States has continued to carry out this policy for years and is still in effect to this date. In the short run, it succeeded in containing Communism from spreading out from the Soviet Union, as no other countries were influenced to embark on communism in their own given country.

    After the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, the Soviet Union was furious. They were considerably neutral countries before this, but when the United States dropped the bombs, the Soviet Union was unhappy because of the fact that the United States had gone behind their back and secretly developed the bomb. This caused the Soviet Union to begin work on their own atomic bomb. This put the Soviet Union far behind in the arms race that developed before the Cold War, because after this happened the United States began work on their own new bomb, the hydrogen bomb. The increasing of weaponry and arms continued to feign strength throughout the pre-Cold War and during the Cold War. Even though the numbers of arms that both countries claimed to have were, for the most part, over exaggerations, the United States and Soviet Union still had an overwhelmingly and unnecessarily large amount of weapons and bombs.

    With the development of new technology for both the United States and the USSR, the space race became much more important. The USSR needed to show more strength in their battle for superiority against the United States, and in October of 1957 they accomplished that by launching the Sputnik I satellite. This left the United States feeling inadequate compared to the Soviet Union. To combat this, the United States sent their own satellite into space a year. In what ended up being a battle that the United States won in 1969, this was after the Cold War, when they put a man on the moon, until then it was an ongoing neck and neck race for superiority.

    After the United States ended up winning the Cold War and the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States became the only world superpower and still is today. The United States became a much hated nation in the eyes of many countries because of this. Even though another superpower is building in the country of China, it seems that the world is turning away from the superpowers that it once had. There used to be four or five superpowers at a given time in the past 100 or so years, but now there is only one and it is the United States. Although the Soviet Union did collapse, it is still building and emerging as a decent country. The United States, on the other hand, has become without a doubt, the world's most powerful and dominating country. Even with the economic crisis that the United States is in right now, it could be said that the United States will be the only superpower in existence for another decade; China is almost to the point of a superpower. The Cold War proved to be one of the most important issues in the recent history. The two largest superpowers of its time went into a war without fighting, yet only one country survived.























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


    To a great many Americans who lived through them, the years 1953 to 1963 were an especially pleasant time in this country’s history. Millions enjoyed peace, opportunity, and prosperity under Eisenhower and Kennedy. Journalist Alan Ehrenhalt has called stability and confidence the major themes of this period. He observed in 1995, “If you visit middle-class American suburbs today, and talk to the elderly women who have lived out their adult years in these places, they do not tell you how constricted and demeaning their lives in the 1950s were. They tell you those were the best years they can remember.” In general, however, historians have been critical of this period. Cold War tensions were dangerous and McCarthyism roamed the land. Minorities continued to suffer from discrimination. Some women chafed at the “full-time mother” stereotype that reigned. The gap between rich and poor remained large. Many intellectuals derided the conformity and respect for authority that most Americans appeared to relish. The emphasis upon large families, religion, and what most considered wholesome values have particularly irritated those who prefer the very different outlook of the explosive era that was to follow.

    The postwar emphasis on earlier marriages and larger families continued throughout his period. And advances in nutrition and medicine kept people alive longer; the number of people over age 75 jumped from 2.6 million in 1940 to 5.5 million in 1960. The population of the United States climbed from 150.6 million to 179.3 million during the 1950s. The number of households grew from 37.5 million in 1945 to nearly 53 million in 1960. [16, p.56].

    Increasingly, people moved into the West and Southwest. The population of the Pacific states increased by 110 percent from 1940 to 1960, and by 1963 California was the most populous state. Cities such as Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta grew at a phenomenal pace. Florida’s population soared from 2.7 million in 1950 to 4.9 million in 1960. Air conditioning and massive government spending on interstate highways (over $100 billion starting in 1956) accelerated the emigration.

    The gross national product climbed from $213.6 million in 1945 to $503.7 million in 1960. Unemployment was in the 5-percent range in the 1950s and inflation was about 3 percent or less a year. Between 1945 and 1960, precipitate disposable income went from $500 to $1,845 for every man, woman, and child. By the mid-1950s, almost 60 percent of the American people enjoyed a “middle class” standard of living, compared with 31 percent in 1928. By 1960 the great majority of families owned their own automobile, television set, and washing machine. The population of the suburbs soared 47 percent in the 1950s.

    Still, there was no redistribution of wealth after the war. In 1960 between one-fifth and one-fourth of the American people could not survive on their earned income. The bottom 20 percent owned less than half of 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 1958, 30 percent of industrial workers earned under $3,000 a year.

    Government spending, spurred on by military expenditures during the Korean War, contributed significantly to the economic boom. In 1962, federal, state, and local government expenditure s amounted to about $170 billion, or almost one-third of the total Gross National Product. One in ten working Americans was employed by government in 1965.

    Big government aided the rise of huge corporations. As early as 1941, 45 percent of all defense contracts were going to just six corporations. By 1960 approximately five hundred corporations accounted for two-thirds of all industrial production. By 1967, two hundred firms owned 60 percent of all corporate assets in the United States.

    “Automation” was widely discussed at the time. Labor-saving devices increased productivity while decreasing the need for factory workers. In 1956 America became a “postindustrial society” when white-collar workers out numbered blue-collar workers for the first time. Union membership slumped, and to maximize their strength, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged in 1955 to create the AFL-CIO. Job requirements grew increasingly technical, specialized, and service related.

    During these years, Americans celebrated the family. The popular image, often drawn by Norman Rockwell (the most popular American artist of the century) on Saturday Evening Post covers and seen on television in such popular programs as “Father Knows Best,” included the bread-winning father, the domestic-minded mother, and three or four happy children living in a single-family home in the suburbs. Family members experienced “togetherness,” sharing activities at home and in the community, and taking trips in the large station wagons that were symbols of the “good life” for the middle-class suburban family. Drive-in movies (more than 4,000 of them at their peak in 1958) attracted millions of car-borne families.

    While families enjoyed the abundance of postwar life, they also tended to heed a set of traditional moral standards that stressed religious faith, integrity, and personal responsibility. Many children experienced the parental kindness and consideration taught in Dr. Benjamin Spock’s 1946 best-seller “Baby and Child Care”.

    Still, the number of mothers with children who worked outside the home climbed from 4.1 million in 1948 to 7.5 million in 1958. (This labor was less for “personal fulfillment” than the need for extra family income.) Illegitimate births by white and black mothers climbed significantly in this period. The birth control pill, first available in 1960, paved the way for a revolution in the lives of women.

    By the mid-1950s, two-thirds of all American homes owned at least one television set. The “boob toob” altered American culture. Many nightclubs, dance halls, and skating rinks closed attendance at movies and lectures plummeted, music lessons and schoolwork went undone. Millions enjoyed the antics of comedian Milton Berle (“Mr. Television”), the variety show hosted by journalist Ed Sullivan, and such favorites as “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” “I Love Lucy,” “The  Honeymooners,” “I Remember Mama,” and “Your Show of Shows.” Professional wrestling and baseball’s world series attracted huge audiences. Network news became the primary source of information for a large percentage of the population. With the de but of TV dinners in 1954, families could watch even while eating.

    Television programs, like movies, were severely censured. This policy was enforced by the three networks that dominated the industry, and they had the widespread backing of religious and civic organizations. When rock-and-roller Elvis Presley made his debut in 1956, cameras filmed him from the waist up, shielding audiences from his swaying pelvis. Violence levels in westerns and crime programs were restrained. Profanity was prohibited. The emphasis during these years was on whole some entertainment for the whole family.

   There were strict rules even for television advertising: no American flags, no toilets in cleaning ads, no athlete’s foot commercials during the dinner hour.

    At first, viewers could find thoughtful plays and serious music on television, interrupted by a minimum of commercials. That soon changed as advertisers realized the massive sales potential of television and programmers catered increasingly to popular taste. 

    In a moving State of the Union address, Johnson called for dramatic and path-breaking legislation. Throughout 1965, prodded by the president, Congress delivered. The first item on the agenda was Medicare, which provided health care for most people age 65 and older. It was funded by an increase in Social Security taxes. Medicaid was a program that used federal, state, and local funds to provide medical and dental care for low-income Americans. Both programs were bitterly opposed by the American Medical Association and conservatives concerned about the growth of the welfare state.

    Education was another top priority for the president, and the Elementary and Seondary Education Act of 1965 provided over a billion dollars in federal aid to help students in both public and parochial schools. President Johnson was personally responsible for forging a landmark solution to widespread objections against federal aid to education, especially Catholic education.

    Despite three civil rights acts and the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution (outlawing poll taxes as a device to keep blacks from voting), only some two million of the South’s five million African Americans were registered to vote in 1965. Racism remained at the heart of the problem. This was illustrated in 1964 when two young white men from New York City and a local black man were murdered in Mississippi for their involvement in encouraging black vote r registration. A Boston minister was later murdered in Selma, Alabama (where 97 percent of the registered voters were white), for engaging in the same activity. The whole nation watched on television as Martin Luther King, Jr., and his followers were beaten up while on a march between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to protest discrimination at the ballot box. [20, p.54].

    On March 15, 1965, President Johnson gave a forceful speech before a joint session of Congress, calling for an equal right to vote for all Americans. Congress responded slowly in the face of strong southern resistance, but leaders of both parties, aided by the arm-twisting chief executive, produced another landmark bill. On August 6 Johnson signed the Voter Rights Act, giving the attorney general of the United States authority to appoint federal registrars to register voters in districts where there was a historic pattern of discrimination. The elections of 1966 were the first in which most African Americans could vote.

    Congress produced a torrent of additional legislation. The Immigration Act of 1965, for example, dropped the ethnic restrictions in force since 1924 and based admission largely on job skills, education, and family tie s with American citizens. Two new cabinet departments-Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development-were created. Almost $3 billion was authorized for urban renewal. More than $1 billion went to fund projects in economically depressed Appalachia. The Head Start program to help disadvantaged preschoolers began with a budget of $96 million. There was legislation to combat air and water pollution, beautify highways, help the elderly, protect consumers, combat disease, supplement  rent for low-income families, aid financially strapped college  students, and promote the arts and humanities.

    In 1965 and 1966, the “fabulous Eighty-ninth” Congress tackled more social problems than any of its predecessors. When Lyndon B. Johnson left office, there were 435 federal domestic social programs, 390 more than when Eisenhower departed.

   Conservatives railed against the “nanny state” and expressed fears about the financial costs of huge federal programs. (Medicaid costs would swell from $770 million in 1966 to $6.6 billion in 1975; the food stamp budget would grow from $30 million in 1964 to $1 billion in 1975; Head Start costs would more than quadruple between 1965 and 1975.) At the time, however, these cries were largely in vain. The reforms were popular and a booming economy seemed able to fund them indefinitely. The Great Society ranked Johnson with FDR and Wilson as one of the nation’s greatest reform presidents.

    Like almost all of his Washington contemporaries, Johnson was a Cold Warrior. He was firmly anticommunist and believed in the containment policy and the domino theory. Moreover, Johnson, like Kennedy, had a macho self-image and would not shrink from using force if challenged. When it seemed in early 1965 that communists were launching an effort to seize power in the Dominican Republic, LBJ sent in marines and army paratroops. The military intervention proved successful and democracy was restored. Action in the Dominican Republic encouraged the president to rely on the military to stop the Reds.

    Americans were increasingly on the move in the 1960s. More than 30,000 miles of the interstate highway system were in place by the end of the decade, enabling millions to move about the country as never before. As automobile and truck travel soared, railroads fell increasingly into disuse. More Americans than ever enjoyed air travel. The Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 set records for speed and comfort. The Boeing 747, the largest commercial plane in the world, with a range of 6,000 miles and seating 374 passengers, made its first flight on February 9, 1969. The supersonic Concorde was tested that same year. On September 26, 1973, it flew from Washington, D.C., to Paris in a remarkable three hours and thirty-three minutes.

     Medical innovations and improvements enhanced the quality and length of life. The media were filled with stories of organ and corneal transplants, coronary bypass surgery, the pacemaker to regulate heartbeats, new uses for laser technology, and new drugs to treat a wide assortment of ailments. Still, modern medicine was hard pressed to understand and combat the Hong Kong flu, which killed 34,000 Americans in 1968-69.

   Cigarette smoking, criticized by scientists since the 1950s, was declared by the U.S. surgeon general in 1964 to be a major cause of sickness and death. In 1966 Congress required manufacturers to put a health warning on each pack.

    In 1965 consumer activist Ralph Nader became famous for his book “Unsafe at any Speed”, a call for safety regulations for automobiles. In the next more than three decades, Nader would found dozens of consumer advocacy groups aimed at such industries as broadcasting and health care.

    In the 1960s computer technology began to be widely used by newspapers, scholars, corporations, government agencies, and others interested in the rapid acquisition and analysis of data. The xerox machine for photo-copying documents became an indispensable office tool.

    Popular culture evolved during this period in ways that shocked millions of Americans. Many young women wore miniskirts (several inches above the knee), used birth control devices and pills, and rejected the sexual restraint long associated with femininity. Men and women increasingly abandoned formal dress, manners, and language. Rebellion was fashionable, and “doing your own thing” became a national standard, especially among the young.

     Much of this conduct reflected trends in the media. Movie censorship was dropped in 1968, resulting in an explosion of violence, sex, and profanity in mainstream films. Easy Rider (1969) glorified two long-haired motorcycle riders who peddled heroin and engaged in casual sex. Theaters specializing in hard-core pornography multiplied rapidly all across the nation.

     Rock music began to dominate the media, and performers routinely used four-letter words and promoted drug use, defiance, and alienation to attract audiences, particularly the young. The most popular rock group, however, was much less controversial. The Beatles, a quartet from the slums of Liverpool, England, made their national television debut in 1964 and quickly took the Western world by storm. Beatle John Lennon boasted in 1966, “We’re more popular than Jesus now,” and many agreed. [13, p.3].

        Classical music continued to appeal, largely to the educated and affluent. Symphonies existed in large and small cities all across the nation and many larger cities could boast of having a local opera and ballet company as well. In 1966 the Metropolitan Opera House in New York opened its magnificent new building. College and university music, theater, and art programs continued to emphasize what had traditionally been considered the best of the fine arts.



2.2. Nixon`s America


Richard Nixon, age 56, had long been a controversial politician. Admirers praised him for his high intelligence, determination, and energy. Born in southern California of middle-class Quaker parents, he excelled in his studies and graduated from Duke University Law School. He served in the navy during World War II and went into politics in 1946. In the House he became known nationally for his role in the Alger Hiss case. He won a Senate seat in 1950 and was vice president during the Eisenhower administrations. He lost the presidential election in 1960 and lost again two years later when running for the governorship of California. But his drive and ambition were such that he snared the GOP nomination in 1968.

    Millions admired Nixon for his advocacy of traditional values and patriotism. He seemed willing and able to re store peace at home and abroad and halt what many saw as a calamitous decline in the nation’s morals.

    Nixon’s detractors said he was ruthless and unprincipled, often calling him “Tricky Dick.” There was a case for this. In his congressional and presidential campaigning, Nixon used irresponsible “soft on the Reds” smears against opponents. In 1952, Eisenhower came close to kicking him off the ticket for accepting irregular campaign funding. Nixon was a close friend and ally of Joe McCarthy until Eisenhower turned against the Wisconsin senator.

    In private Nixon puzzled many, including those who knew him well. At times, like LBJ, he seemed personally insecure and filled with self-pity. He was given to angry denunciations of the liberal media, the Eastern political establishment, and assorted minorities. He could be secretive, devious, and ill tempered. His language was often peppered with four-letter words. At other times, however, Nixon appeared self-confident, charming, and high-minded. Evangelist Billy Graham, courted by the president, saw only the pious manifestation of Nixon and was later shocked to learn that there was another side to the man.

    Without hobbies, Nixon devoted himself entirely to politics and the presidency. He was determined to be a moderately conservative, productive, and popular chief executive. But the obstacles facing Nixon were formidable. His electoral mandate was extremely thin. A Democratic Congress would check any meaningful changes in the welfare state. And he could count on intense opposition from the counterculture and its supporters. During the inaugural parade to the White House, Nixon’s limousine was attacked by a mob of young people and antiwar demonstrators.

    More interested in foreign affairs, Nixon turned over much of his domestic policy to loyal aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. His chief White House adviser on domestic affairs was Harvard professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom Michael Barone has described as “a font of liberalized as.”

    Among the achievements of Nixon’s first term was the policy of revenue sharing, an effort to decrease the power of the federal government and give more authority to state, county, and city authorities. National Railroad Passenger Corporation AMTRAK was created to relieve railroads of money-losing passenger trains. The Post Office Department, long an inefficient and often corrupt servant of the spoils system, became a government-owned corporation. In 1971, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Nixon named an effective administrator, William Ruckelshaus. Walter Hickel, the secretary of the interior, encouraged the many efforts by Congress to clean up the nation’s air and water. With Nixon’s backing, a constitutional amendment was ratified in 1971 lowering the nation’s voting age to 18.

    Despite an unsuccessful effort to reform the nation’s welfare system, the president seemed willing to go along with liberal proposals to expand federal benefits. Congress passed, and Nixon signed, legislation increasing funding for Social Security, public housing, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs. Between 1968 and 1974 the number of people on food stamps grew from 2.4 million to 13.5 million. [14, p.102].

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