Social, Political and Economic Conditions of the 1950s

Introduction

The conclusion of the Second World War brought many changes to the world. In the United States, President Truman spearhead programs that would rehabilitate the society through economic policies that would help the citizens in the United States recover from the war. The trauma experienced by the Americans was unimaginable for their fear of bombs and war devices grew at the same time the government was also on constant alert by ideologies that differ from the Western version of democracy.

The United States continued to support wars of other democratic nations against communists thus domestic policies suffered for budgets were mostly allocated to national security and funding of wars. The growing racism of the 1950s contributed to the birth of civil rights groups where white youths protest to equalize the system. As the United States government aggressively supports foreign wars against communism, a chunk of the federal budget is allocated to national defense and security programs.

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Domestic programs suffer thus the American population suffer for the number of poor people increased during the 1950s to 1960s. America’s intervention in the Vietnam War cost constrains where a civil war almost broke out. The citizens grew weary and angry of the government’s decisions and actions to aid the French in controlling communist Vietnam. People suspected that the United States government’s ulterior motive in financially supporting the French in the war is because the former wanted to colonize the country.

American families lost allot of their family members in the Vietnam War. This paper aims to evaluate and analyze the social, political and economic conditions of the 1950s in the United States. It aims to provide an explanation by discussing factors that lead to the social upheaval of the 1960s. Chosen events after the World War II will be the subject of the study in order to fully understand the development of the American society in the 1960s.

Social Aspect

After the Second World War, Americans experienced a tremendous personal fear which was a result of bombs during the war (Henriksen). Government social programs resulted in large –scale suburban housing resulted in the more suburban than urban American in the 1960s. The fairly new suburban architecture after the war necessitated new social relations with the emphasis on immediate family more than extended family.

The American suburban life exaggerated the traditional male and female roles and relations. In the suburban identity there is a lack of traditional ethnic and religious diversity which are found in city life. In the 1950s femininity required conformity, passivity and deference especially in the suburbs. Suburbs were once described by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique as comfortable concentration camps (Friedan).

Suburban is ideally characterized in the form of domesticity, cooperation, conformity and family. Unfortunately in the 1950s, the new suburban life Americans enjoy is excludes African Americans. Racism grew more prominent. The United States was significantly richer and more conservative than any other time in history where the middle class grew but the population of the poor did not decrease.

The hypocrisy of inequality between the whites and colored in the United States drew many white youth into civil rights movements. The massive spread of racism even resulted in many states forbidding interracial marriages at the same time most communities have restrictive housing covenants.

Interstate Commerce Commission even ordered the desegregation of trains, buses, waiting rooms while the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of restaurants in 1958. Racism became a major issue in the 1950s. Racism and the US government’s constant participation in foreign wars gave rise to civil rights groups and protesters. Of all the social protest movements of the 1960’s, student movements would have the most affect on middle class Americans.

Political

In terms of political aspects, President Truman justified the use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save both American and Japanese lives for the use of such destructive device seized the war. In the 1950s racism became intrinsic in the US government and throughout its agencies.

The Truman Doctrine was produced after the war where the US pronounced its intentions to stop the spread of communism. The doctrine allowed the US to give monetary aid and military support to the Greek right during its civil war in 1946 – 49. Limited wars were also created which circumvent Congress and traditional Pentagon procurement system.

When the Cold War came money from social programs were diverted to national defense. In the 1950s the United States begun testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific namely in Bikini Atoll and on the mainland in Utah. The new nuclear world and anti-communist rhetoric which developed in the United States created national anxiety. In 1956, Eisenhower was reelected as president. He filled the cabinet with business leaders who determined the domestic policy of the United States.

The president’s conservative fiscal policy as well as his dynamic conservatism resulted in the increase of the average family income of Americans. During the Cold War the Americans help in funding the war expenses of the French in the Vietnam War. 80% of the expenditure was paid by the American government as of 1954 (Addington). Vietnam was divided into two parts namely the North which is controlled by the communists and the south which is controlled by the democratic French and Americans.

The United States was on the verge of civil war in 1968 because of the government’s intervention on the Vietnam War. The people were angry because about 14,650 Americans had been killed in 1968 alone – almost one-half of the 30,610 who had died since 1961 (Addington). Many Americans criticized the government for spending money on Asia when the said money could be spent at home developing new jobs and infrastructure as the poverty level in the United States had increased.

Economic

After the war FHA loans were provided to individuals and VA loans for war veterans. Social programs such as the Social Security subsidized housing program called “Levittowns” were offset by the Fed because of the insecurity the people felt towards bombs.

The FHA did not lend to African Americans despite the ruling of the Supreme Court. The blacks suffered because of the restrictive covenants where it resulted to higher costs of loans, poorer housing and worse schools for the ethnic group (Wolfe). Many Americans were forced into the cities to find work as federal subsidies to business and agriculture exacerbated problems for small farmers and business people.

During the 1950s, about 1.5 million people left Appalachia for cities. The poor educational system left Americans with few opportunities for apprenticeships which meant there were fewer skilled workers available. In 1953 to 1959, about 1.5 million blue collar jobs were lost. 11% of which were lost forever. Between 1956 and 1959, 30,000 meat packing jobs were lost.

Discussion

In the 1950s the suburban life was very prominent in the American society where the ideal life of every American was to live in the suburbs. The man was the breed winner of the family thus he was the decision maker. On the other hand femininity was best described as being passive. Women were expected to be submissive to their husbands and they were considered the homemaker. They did not need to work for the man would be the sole provider.

The American government had provided loans for the white families unfortunately there was racial discrimination thus African Americans did not enjoy such benefits. The rise of racism also gave rise to civil rights movements formed and led by white American youths who contradicted the way of life. These movements would later become prominent in the American society in the 1960s where mostly students would lead such groups.

Political leaders after the war were characterized by their alertness to new ideologies that may oppose the democratic way of thinking in the world. After the war the US government’s priority was to rebuild the American economy.

The federal government had devised programs which would recover the American economy through loans that would help in the construction of homes to citizens and war veterans and serve as capitals to start up businesses.

America’s fear of communism led to the government’s down fall in the 1960s when the government allocated most of its budget to national security and defense. The Vietnam War is an example of the government’s expensive aid to the French allies in winning the war. This expenditure angered the American public and almost cost a civil war to occur.

In terms of the American economy, the 1950s showed the height of America as a rich nation where the middle class grew but ironically the poor population remained the same. During this time the American government aided citizens in building their homes and businesses to stabilize the US economy.

White collared jobs were created but unfortunately blue collared ones decreased thus explaining the constant population of the poor in the United States. African Americans were not given the same benefits as their white counterparts. They were the ones who suffered the most for they had poor housing, bad education and their standard of livings have worsened during the 1950s.

Conclusion

The United State’s social upheaval in the 1960s was caused by racism in the 1950s where only the white population benefited from the government’s social programs. This led to civil rights groups which lobbied for the equal treatment of citizens. The same group gave rise to the popular student hippies in the 1960s that almost cost civil war because of the US government’s support in the Vietnam War.

In terms of the political sector, the US government’s constant intervention with other foreign nations’ concerns with regards to wars against communism led to the anger of US citizens in the 1960s because budgets were allocated to national security and defense as well as financial supports in wars. Such move greatly affected the US economy.

Works Cited

Addington, Larry. America’s War in Vietnam: A Short Narrative History, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000. Print.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1963. Print.

Henriksen, Margot. Dr. Stragelove’s America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age, Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, New York, United States of America: Random House Inc., 1968. Print.