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Chapter 13 Introductory Essay: 1945-1960

Written by: Patrick Allitt, Emory University

By the end of this section, you will:

  • Explain the context for societal change from 1945 to 1960
  • Explain the extent to which the events of the period from 1945 to 1960 reshaped national identity


World War II ended in 1945. The United States and the Soviet Union had cooperated to defeat Nazi Germany, but they mistrusted each other. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, believed the Americans had waited too long before launching the D-Day invasion of France in 1944, leaving his people to bear the full brunt of the German war machine. It was true that Soviet casualties were more than 20 million, whereas American casualties in all theaters of war were fewer than half a million.

On the other hand, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, who had become president after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, believed Stalin had betrayed a promise made to Roosevelt at the Yalta summit in February 1945. That promise was to permit all the nations of Europe to become independent and self-governing at the war’s end. Instead, Stalin installed Soviet puppet governments in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, the parts of Europe his armies had recaptured from the Nazis.

These tensions between the two countries set the stage for the Cold War that came to dominate foreign and domestic policy during the postwar era. The world’s two superpowers turned from allies into ideological and strategic enemies as they struggled to protect and spread their systems around the world, while at the same time developing arsenals of nuclear weapons that could destroy it. Domestically, the United States emerged from the war as the world’s unchallenged economic powerhouse and enjoyed great prosperity from pent-up consumer demand and industrial dominance. Americans generally supported preserving the New Deal welfare state and the postwar anti-communist crusade. While millions of white middle-class Americans moved to settle down in the suburbs, African Americans had fought a war against racism abroad and were prepared to challenge it at home.

The Truman Doctrine and the Cold War

Journalists nicknamed the deteriorating relationship between the two great powers a “cold war,” and the name stuck. In the short run, America possessed the great advantage of being the only possessor of nuclear weapons as a result of the Manhattan Project. It had used two of them against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in the Far East, with destructive power so fearsome it deterred Soviet aggression. But after nearly four years of war, Truman was reluctant to risk a future conflict. Instead, with congressional support, he pledged to keep American forces in Europe to prevent any more Soviet advances. This was the “Truman Doctrine,” a dramatic contrast with the American decision after World War I to withdraw from European affairs. (See the Harry S. Truman, “Truman Doctrine” Address, March 1947  Primary Source.)

Presidential portrait of Harry Truman.

President Harry Truman pictured here in his official presidential portrait pledged to counter Soviet geopolitical expansion with his “Truman Doctrine.”

The National Security Act, passed by Congress in 1947, reorganized the relationship between the military forces and the government. It created the National Security Council (NSC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the office of Secretary of Defense. The Air Force, previously a branch of the U.S. Army, now became independent, a reflection of its new importance in an era of nuclear weapons. Eventually, NSC-68, a secret memorandum from 1950, was used to authorize large increases in American military strength and aid to its allies, aiming to ensure a high degree of readiness for war against the Soviet Union.

What made the Soviet Union tick? George Kennan, an American diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow who knew the Soviets as well as anyone in American government, wrote an influential article titled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” Originally sent from Moscow as a long telegram, it was later published in the journal Foreign Affairs under the byline “X” and impressed nearly all senior American policy makers in Washington, DC. The Soviets, said Kennan, believed capitalism and communism could not coexist and that they would be perpetually at war until one was destroyed. According to Kennan, the Soviets believed communism was destined to dominate the world. They were disciplined and patient, however, and understood “the logic of force.” Therefore, said Kennan, the United States must be equally patient, keeping watch everywhere to “contain” the threat.

Containment became the guiding principle of U.S. anti-Soviet policy, under which the United States deployed military, economic, and cultural resources to halt Soviet expansion. In 1948, the United States gave more than $12 billion to Western Europe to relieve suffering and help rebuild and integrate the economies through the Marshall Plan. The Europeans would thus not turn to communism in their desperation and America would promote mutual prosperity through trade. The Berlin crisis of 1948–1949 was the policy’s first great test. (See the George Kennan (“Mr. X”), “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” July 1947 Primary Source.)

Berlin, jointly occupied by the major powers, lay inside Soviet-dominated East Germany, but access roads led to it from the West. In June 1948, Soviet forces cut these roads, hoping the Americans would permit the whole of Berlin to fall into the Soviet sphere rather than risk war. Truman and his advisors, recognizing the symbolic importance of Berlin but reluctant to fire the first shot, responded by having supplies flown into West Berlin, using aircraft that had dropped bombs on Berlin just three years earlier. Grateful Berliners called them the “raisin bombers” in tribute to one of the foods they brought.

After 11 months, recognizing their plan had failed, the Soviets relented. West Berlin remained part of West Germany, making the first test of containment a success. On the other hand, the United States was powerless to prevent a complete Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, whose government had shown some elements of independence from Moscow’s direction. (See The Berlin Airlift Narrative.)

Alarm about the Czech situation hastened the American decision to begin re-arming West Germany, where an imperfect and incomplete process of “de-Nazification” had taken place. The United States also supervised the creation in 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance of Western nations to forestall Soviet aggression in central Europe. The U.S. government also continued research on and development of new and more powerful nuclear weapons. Americans were dismayed to learn, in 1949, that the Soviets had successfully tested an atomic bomb of their own, greatly facilitated by information provided by Soviet spies. Europe and much of the world were divided between the world’s two superpowers and their allies.

Secretary of State Dean Acheson sits at a desk on a stage signing the North Atlantic Treaty. Three men stand around him behind the desk. They face a crowd sitting in pews.

U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson along with the foreign ministers of Canada and 10 European nations gathered to sign the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4 1949 founding NATO.

Postwar Uncertainty

The postwar years were politically volatile ones all over the world, due to widespread decolonization. Britain, though allied with the United States during World War II, had been weakened by the conflict and could no longer dominate its remote colonies. The British Empire was shrinking drastically, and this made the Truman Doctrine all the more necessary. In 1947, an economically desperate Britain reluctantly granted India and Pakistan the independence their citizens had sought for years. Britain’s African colonies gained independence in the 1950s and early 1960s. The United States and the Soviet Union each struggled to win over the former British colonies to their own ideological side of the Cold War. (See the Who Was Responsible for Starting the Cold War? Point-Counterpoint and Winston Churchill, “Sinews of Peace,” March 1946 Primary Source.)

Israel came into existence on May 14, 1948, on land that had been a British-controlled mandate since the end of World War I. The Zionist movement, founded in the 1890s by Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodore Herzl, had encouraged European Jews to immigrate to Palestine. There, they would buy land, become farmers, and eventually create a Jewish state. Tens of thousands, indeed, had migrated there and prospered between 1900 and 1945. Widespread sympathy for the Jews, six million of whom had been exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust, prompted the new United Nations to authorize the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. From the very beginning, these two states were at war, with all the neighboring Arab states uniting to threaten Israel’s survival. President Truman supported Israel, however, and in the ensuing decades, most American politicians, and virtually all the American Jewish population, supported and strengthened it.

In 1949, a decades-long era of chaos, conquest, and revolution in China ended with the triumph of Mao Zedong, leader of a Communist army. Against him, America had backed Chiang Kai-Shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader, whose defeated forces fled to the offshore island of Taiwan. American anti-communist politicians in Washington, DC, pointed to the growing “red” (Communist) areas of the map as evidence that communism was winning the struggle for the world. Domestically, Truman and the Democrats endured charges that they had “lost” China to communism.

War in Korea

Korea, one of the many parts of Asia that Japan had conquered in the earlier twentieth century but then lost in 1945, was now partitioned into a pro-Communist North and an anti-Communist South. In June 1950, the Truman administration was taken by surprise when North Korea attacked the South, overpowering its army and forcing the survivors back into a small area of the country’s southeast, the Pusan perimeter. Truman and his advisors quickly concluded they should apply the containment principle to Asia and procured a resolution of support from the United Nations, which was unanimous because the Soviet representatives were not present in the Security Council during the vote. See the Truman Intervenes in Korea Decision Point.)

A group of soldiers gather around a large cannon-like gun.

U.S. troops were sent to Korea shortly after Truman’s decision to apply containment to the region. Pictured is a U.S. gun crew near the Kum River in July 1950.

An American invasion force led by General Douglas MacArthur thus made a daring counterattack, landing at Inchon, near Seoul on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, on September 15, 1950. At once, this attack turned the tables in the war, forcing the North Koreans into retreat. Rather than simply restore the old boundary, however, MacArthur’s force advanced deep into North Korea, ultimately approaching the Chinese border. At this point, in October 1950, Mao Zedong sent tens of thousands of Chinese Communist soldiers into the conflict on the side of North Korea. They turned the tide of the war once again, forcing the American forces to fall back in disarray.

After a brutal winter of hard fighting in Korea, the front lines stabilized around the 38th parallel. MacArthur, already a hero of World War II in the Pacific, had burnished his reputation at Inchon. In April 1951, however, he crossed the line in civil-military relations that bars soldiers from dabbling in politics by publicly criticizing one of President Truman’s strategic decisions not to expand the war against the Chinese. MacArthur was so popular in America, he had come to think the rules no longer applied to him, but they did. Truman fired him with no hesitation, replacing him with the equally competent but less egotistical General Matthew Ridgway. The war dragged on in a stalemate. Only in 1953, after the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a truce declared between the two Koreas. It has held uneasily ever since. (See The Korean War and The Battle of Chosin Reservoir Narrative.)

Prosperity and the Baby Boom

The late 1940s and early 1950s were paradoxical. They were years of great geopolitical stress, danger, and upheaval, yet they were also a time of prosperity and opportunity for millions of ordinary American citizens. Far more babies were born each year than in the 1930s, resulting in the large “baby boom” generation. Millions of new houses were built to meet a need accumulated over the long years of the Great Depression and the war. Suburbs expanded around every city, creating far better and less-crowded living conditions than ever before. Levittown housing developments were just one example of the planned communities with mass-produced homes across the country that made homeownership within the reach of many, though mostly white families, thanks to cheap loans for returning veterans (See the Levittown Videos, 1947–1957 Primary Source). Wages and living standards increased, and more American consumers found they could afford their own homes, cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, and even television sets—TV was then a new and exciting technology. The entire nation breathed a sigh of relief on discovering that peace did not bring a return of depression-era conditions and widespread unemployment. (See The Sound of the Suburbs Lesson.)

An American family sits in a living room around a television.

Television became a staple in U.S. households during the 1940s and 1950s.

Full employment during the war years had strengthened trade unions, but for patriotic reasons, nearly all industrial workers had cooperated with their employers. Now that the war was over, a rash of strikes for better pay and working conditions broke out. In 1945, Truman expanded presidential power by seizing coal mines, arguing it was in the national interest because coal supplied electricity. He then forced the United Mine Workers to end their strike the following year.

Although coal miners won their demands, the power of organized labor waned over the next few decades. Republican members of Congress, whose party had triumphed in the 1946 mid-term elections, passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, aiming to curb the power of unions by banning the closed shop, allowing states to protect the right to work outside the union, setting regulations to limit labor strikes and excluding supporters of the Communist Party and other social radicals from their leadership. Truman vetoed the act, but Congress overrode the veto. In 1952, Truman attempted to again seize a key industry and forestall a strike among steelworkers. However, the Supreme Court decided in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) that Truman lacked the constitutional authority to seize private property, and steelworkers won significant concessions.

Watch this BRI AP U.S. History Exam Study Guide about the Post-WWII Boom: Transition to a Consumer Economy to explore the post-World War II economic boom in the United States and its impacts on society.

Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare

Fear of communism, not only abroad but at home, was one of the postwar era’s great obsessions. Ever since the Russian Revolution of 1917, a small and dedicated American Communist Party had aimed to overthrow capitalism and create a Communist America. Briefly popular during the crisis of the Great Depression and again when Stalin was an American ally in World War II, the party shrank during the early Cold War years. Rising politicians like the young California congressman Richard Nixon nevertheless discovered that anti-Communism was a useful issue for gaining visibility. Nixon helped win publicity for the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), whose hearings urged former communists to expose their old comrades in the name of national security, especially in government and Hollywood. In 1947, President Truman issued Executive Order No. 9835, establishing loyalty boards investigating the communist sympathies of 2.5 million federal employees. (See The Postwar Red Scare and the Cold War Spy Cases Narratives.)

The most unscrupulous anti-communist was Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI), who used fear of communism as a powerful political issue during the early Cold War. He made reckless allegations that the government was riddled with communists and their sympathizers, even including Secretary of State George Marshall. Intimidating all critics by accusing them of being part of a great communist conspiracy, McCarthy finally overplayed his hand in publicly televised hearings by accusing the U.S. Army of knowingly harboring communists among its senior officers. The Senate censured him in December 1954, after which his influence evaporated, but for four years, he had been one of the most important figures in American political life. Although he was correct that the Soviets had spies in the U.S. government, McCarthy created a climate of fear and ruined the lives of innocent people for his own political gain during what became known as the “Second Red Scare.” (See the McCarthyism DBQ Lesson.)

Joseph McCarthy turns to talk to Roy Cohn who sits next to him.

Senator Joseph McCarthy (left) is pictured with his lawyer Roy Cohn during the 1950s McCarthy-Army clash.

Be sure to check out this BRI Homework Help video about The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy to learn more about Joseph McCarthy and his battle against communists in the U.S. government.

Several highly publicized spy cases commanded national attention. Klaus Fuchs and other scientists with detailed knowledge of the Manhattan Project were caught passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. In 1950, Alger Hiss was prosecuted for perjury before Congress and accused of sharing State Department documents with the Soviets. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for espionage in 1951 and executed two years later. Julius was convicted of running a spy ring associated with selling atomic secrets to the Russians, though the case against Ethel’s direct involvement was thinner.

From Truman to Eisenhower

After the 1946 midterm election, in which Republicans won a majority in the House and the Senate, the Democratic President Truman struggled to advance his domestic program, called the Fair Deal in an echo of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. For instance, Truman was the first American president to propose a system of universal health care, but the Republican Congress voted it down because they opposed the cost and regulations associated with the government program and called it “socialized medicine.” Truman did succeed in other areas. He was able to encourage Congress to pass the Employment Act of 1946, committing the government to ensuring full employment. By executive order, he desegregated the American armed forces and commissioned a report on African American civil rights. He thus played an important role in helping advance the early growth of the civil rights movement.

Truman seemed certain to lose his re-election bid in 1948. The Republicans had an attractive candidate in Thomas Dewey, and Truman’s own Democratic Party was splintering three ways. Former Vice President Henry Wallace led a Progressive breakaway, advocating a less confrontational approach to the Cold War. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina senator, led the southern “Dixiecrat” breakaway by opposing any breach in racial segregation. The Chicago Daily Tribune was so sure Dewey would win that it prematurely printed its front page with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” One of the most famous photographs in the history of American journalism shows Truman, who had upset the pollsters by winning, holding a copy of this newspaper aloft and grinning broadly.

Truman smiling holds up a newspaper with a headline that reads

President Truman is pictured here holding the Chicago Daily Tribune with its inaccurate 1948 headline.

Four years later, exhausted by Korea and the fierce stresses of the early Cold War, Truman declined to run for another term. Both parties hoped to attract the popular Supreme Allied commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to be their candidate. He accepted the Republicans’ invitation, defeated Adlai Stevenson in November 1952, and won against the same rival again in 1956.

Rather than roll back the New Deal, which had greatly increased the size and reach of the federal government since 1933, Eisenhower accepted most of it as a permanent part of the system, in line with his philosophy of “Modern Republicanism.” He worked with Congress to balance the budget but signed bills for the expansion of Social Security and unemployment benefits, a national highway system, federal aid to education, and the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In foreign policy, he recognized that for the foreseeable future, the Cold War was here to stay and that each side’s possession of nuclear weapons deterred an attack by the other. The two sides’ nuclear arsenals escalated during the 1950s, soon reaching a condition known as “mutually assured destruction,” which carried the ominous acronym MAD and would supposedly prevent a nuclear war.

At the same time, Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles supported the “New Look” foreign policy, which increased reliance on nuclear weapons rather than the more flexible but costly buildup of conventional armed forces. Despite the Cold War consensus about containment, Eisenhower did not send troops when the Vietnamese defeated the French in Vietnam; when mainland China bombed the Taiwanese islands of Quemoy and Matsu; when the British, French, and Egypt fought over the Suez Canal in 1956; or when the Soviets cracked down on Hungary. Instead, Eisenhower assumed financial responsibility for the French war effort in Vietnam and sent hundreds of military advisers there over the next several years. (See the Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, January 1961 Primary Source.)

Birth of the Civil Rights Movement

Encouraged by early signs of a change in national racial policy and by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), African American organizations intensified their efforts to challenge southern segregation. Martin Luther King Jr., then a spellbinding young preacher in Montgomery, Alabama, led a Montgomery bus boycott that began in December 1955. Inspired by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a city bus, African Americans refused to ride Montgomery’s buses unless the company abandoned its policy of forcing them to ride at the back and to give up their seats to whites when the bus was crowded. After a year, the boycott succeeded. King went on to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which practiced nonviolent resistance as a tactic, attracting press attention, embarrassing the agents of segregation, and promoting racial integration. (See the Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Narrative and the Rosa Parks’s Account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Radio Interview), April 1956 Primary Source.)

In 1957, Congress passed the first federal protection of civil rights since Reconstruction and empowered the federal government to protect black voting rights. However, the bill was watered down and did not lead to significant change. In August, black students tried to attend high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, but were blocked by National Guard troops. Over the next few weeks, angry crowds assembled and threatened these students. President Eisenhower decided to send in federal troops to protect the nine black students. In the postwar era, African Americans won some victories in the fight for equality, but many southern whites began a campaign of massive resistance to that goal.

Check out this BRI Homework Help video about Brown v. Board of Education to learn more about the details of the case.

Thus, the pace of school desegregation across the south remained very slow. White southerners in Congress promised massive resistance to the policy. When it came to the point, however, only one county, Prince Edward County, Virginia, actually closed down its public schools rather than permit them to be desegregated. Other districts, gradually and reluctantly, eventually undertook integration, but widespread discrimination persisted, especially in the South.

Mexican Americans, like African Americans, suffered from racial discrimination. Under the bracero program, inaugurated during the 1940s, Mexicans were permitted to enter the United States temporarily to work, mainly as farm laborers in the western states, but they too were treated by whites as second-class citizens. They were guest workers, and the program was not intended to put them on a path to U.S. citizenship. (See The Little Rock Nine Narrative.)

A crowd of Mexican workers fill a courtyard.

Pictured are Mexican workers waiting to gain legal employment and enter the United States as part of the “bracero” program begun in the 1940s.

The Space Race

The desegregation of schools was only one aspect of public concern about education in the 1950s. The Soviet Union launched an artificial orbiting satellite, “Sputnik,” in 1957 and ignited the “Space Race.” Most Americans were horrified, understanding that a rocket able to carry a satellite into space could also carry a warhead to the United States. Congress reacted by passing the National Defense Education Act in August 1958, devoting $1 billion of federal funds to education in science, engineering, and technology in the hope of improving the nation’s scientific talent pool.

NASA had been created earlier that same year to coordinate programs related to rocketry and space travel. NASA managed to catch up with the Soviet space program in the ensuing years and later triumphed by placing the first person on the moon in 1969. Better space rockets meant better military missiles. NASA programs also stimulated useful technological discoveries in materials, navigation, and computers. (See the Sputnik and NASA Narrative and the Was Federal Spending on the Space Race Justified? Point-Counterpoint.)

Another major initiative, also defense related, of the Eisenhower years was the decision to build the interstate highway system. As a young officer just after World War I, Eisenhower had been part of an Army truck convoy that attempted to cross the United States. Terrible roads meant that the convoy took 62 days, with many breakdowns and 21 injuries to the soldiers, an experience Eisenhower never forgot. He had also been impressed by the high quality of Germany’s autobahns near the war’s end. A comprehensive national system across the United States would permit military convoys to move quickly and efficiently. Commerce, the trucking industry, and tourism would benefit too, a belief borne out over the next 35 years while the system was built; it was declared finished in 1992. See The National Highway Act Narrative and the Nam Paik, Electronic Superhighway, 1995 Primary Source.)

New Roles for Women

American women, especially in the large and growing middle class, were in a paradoxical situation in the 1950s. In one sense, they were the most materially privileged generation of women in world history, wealthier than any predecessors. More had gained college education than ever before, and millions were marrying young, raising their children with advice from Dr. Spock’s best-selling Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946), and enjoying labor-saving domestic devices and modern conveniences like washing machines, toasters, and electric ovens. Affluence meant many middle-class women were driving cars of their own. This 1950s advertisement for Ford automobiles persuaded women to become a “two Ford family.” At the same time, however, some suffered various forms of depression and anxiety, seeking counseling, often medicating themselves, and feeling a lack of purpose in their lives.

This situation was noticed by Betty Friedan, a popular journalist in the 1950s whose book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, helped ignite the new feminist movement. Its principal claim was that in America in the 1950s, women lacked fulfilling careers of their own, and material abundance was no substitute. (See the Dr. Benjamin Spock and the Baby Boom Narrative.) A feminist movement emerged in the 1960s and 1970s seeking greater equality. In the postwar period, however, not all women shared the same experiences. Millions of working-class and poor women of all races continued to work in factories, retail, domestic, or offices as they had before and during the war. Whether married or single, these women generally did not share in the postwar affluence enjoyed by middle-class, mostly white, women who were in the vanguard of the feminist movement for equal rights for women.

By 1960, the United States was, without question, in a superior position to its great rival the Soviet Union—richer, stronger, healthier, better fed, much freer, and much more powerful. Nevertheless Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned against the dangers of an overdeveloped “military-industrial complex,” in which American traditions of democracy, decentralization, and civilian control would be swallowed up by the demands of the defense industry and a large, governmental national security apparatus. He had no easy remedies to offer and remained acutely aware that the Cold War continued to threaten the future of the world.

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1946, George Kennan sends the Long Telegram from Moscow. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine is announced, and the first Levittown house is sold; an aerial photograph of Levittown, Pennsylvania, shows many rows of similar houses. In 1948, the Berlin Airlift begins; a photograph shows Berlin residents, watching as a plane above them prepares to land with needed supplies. In 1950, North Korean troops cross the thirty-eighth parallel. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president; a photograph of Eisenhower is shown. In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for espionage; a photograph of the Rosenbergs behind a metal gate is shown. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education, and Bill Haley and His Comets record “Rock Around the Clock”. In 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott begins; a photograph of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. is shown. In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School integrates, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) launches Sputnik; a photograph of American soldiers on the street with the Little Rock Nine outside of the school is shown, and a photograph of a replica of Sputnik is shown.

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1946 George Kennan sends the Long Telegram from Moscow. In 1947 the Truman Doctrine is announced and the first Levittown house is sold; an aerial photograph of Levittown Pennsylvania shows many rows of similar houses. In 1948 the Berlin Airlift begins; a photograph shows Berlin residents watching as a plane above them prepares to land with needed supplies. In 1950 North Korean troops cross the thirty-eighth parallel. In 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president; a photograph of Eisenhower is shown. In 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for espionage; a photograph of the Rosenbergs behind a metal gate is shown. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education and Bill Haley and His Comets record

Timeline of events in the postwar period from 1945 to 1960.

Additional Chapter Resources

Review Questions

1. The major deterrent to Soviet aggression in Europe immediately after World War II was

  1. that the Soviets lost 20 million people during the war
  2. the Truman Doctrine
  3. the United States’ possession of atomic power
  4. the presence of U.S. troops in western Europe after World War II was over

2. Why did the United States maintain large armed forces in Europe after World War II?

  1. To stop renewed German aggression
  2. To halt Soviet aggression despite the wartime alliance
  3. To help the British relinquish their empire
  4. To maintain high levels of employment at home

3. The memorandum NSC-68 authorized

  1. the formation of the CIA
  2. the creation of the Department of Defense
  3. increases in the size of U.S. military forces
  4. the formation of an independent air force

4. The United States’ first successful application of its policy of containment occurred in

  1. Prague Czechoslovakia
  2. Moscow U.S.S.R.
  3. Berlin Germany
  4. Bombay India

5. During the late 1940s the Truman Administration supported all the following countries except

  1. Israel
  2. Republic of Korea
  3. Japan
  4. People’s Republic of China

6. When North Korea invaded South Korea the Truman Administration resolved to apply which strategy?

  1. The Truman Doctrine
  2. Containment
  3. A plan similar to the Berlin Airlift
  4. The bracero program

7. Events in which European country led the United States to allow the re-arming of West Germany?

  1. Hungary
  2. East Germany
  3. Czechoslovakia
  4. Austria

8. The Taft-Hartley Act was most likely passed as a result of

  1. fear of labor involvement in radical politics and activities
  2. concern that strong labor unions could rekindle a depression
  3. fear that labor would restrict the freedom of workers
  4. desire to make the labor strike illegal

9. Why was it reasonable to expect Truman to lose the presidential election of 1948?

  1. McCarthyism was creating widespread dislike of the Democratic Party.
  2. Truman had been unable to win the Korean War.
  3. The Democratic Party split into three rival branches including one dedicated to racial segregation.
  4. The Democrats had controlled Congress since 1933.

10. Why were many middle-class women dissatisfied with their lives in the 1950s?

  1. They were excluded from most career opportunities.
  2. The cost of living was too high.
  3. Fear of losing their traditional roles caused them constant anxiety.
  4. They opposed the early civil rights movement.

11. All the following were Cold War based initiatives by the Eisenhower Administration except

  1. the creation of NASA
  2. the National Defense Highway Act
  3. the National Defense Education Act
  4. the Taft-Hartley Act

12. Anti-communist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy overplayed his advantage in the Red Scare when he

  1. claimed members of the president’s Cabinet were known communists
  2. charged Martin Luther King Jr. with being a communist
  3. asserted the U.S. Army knowingly protected known communists in its leadership
  4. hinted that President Eisenhower could be a communist

13. As a presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower recognized the significance of all the following except

  1. the success of some New Deal programs
  2. the Cold War’s impact on U.S. foreign policy
  3. racial integration
  4. mutually assured destruction (MAD)

14. Which of the following statements most accurately describes the United States’ foreign policy during 1945-1960?

  1. The United States distanced itself from the global free-market economy.
  2. The United States based its foreign policy on unilateral decision-making.
  3. The Cold War was based on military policy only.
  4. The United States formed military alliances in reaction to the Soviet Union’s aggression.

15. Betty Friedan gained prominence by

  1. supporting women’s traditional role at home
  2. promoting the child-rearing ideas of Dr. Benjamin Spock
  3. researching and writing about the unfulfilling domestic role of educated women
  4. encouraging more women to attend college

16. Before leaving the office of the presidency Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation of the danger of

  1. falling behind in the space race
  2. having fewer nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union
  3. allowing the growth of the military-industrial complex
  4. overlooking communists within the federal government

Free Response Questions

  1. Explain President Harry Truman’s reaction to the Taft-Hartley Act.
  2. Describe President Truman’s role in advancing civil rights.
  3. Describe Dwight D. Eisenhower’s reaction to the New Deal programs still in existence when he was elected president.
  4. Explain the main reason for the United States’ military participation in Korea.

AP Practice Questions

Truman stands on a rug labeled Civil Rights. A crazy-looking woman “Miss Democracy stands off the rug looks angrily at Truman and says You mean you'd rather be right than president?

Political cartoon by Clifford Berryman regarding civil rights and the 1948 election.

Refer to the image provided.

1. The main topic of public debate at the time this political cartoon was published was the

  1. deployment of U.S. troops in Korea
  2. dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan
  3. Red Scare
  4. integration of the U.S. military

2. Which of the following groups would most likely support the sentiments expressed in the political cartoon?

  1. Progressives who argued for prohibition
  2. William Lloyd Garrison and like-minded abolitionists
  3. Antebellum reformers in favor of free public education
  4. Members of the America First Committee

“It would be an unspeakable tragedy if these countries which have struggled so long against overwhelming odds should lose that victory for which they sacrificed so much. Collapse of free institutions and loss of independence would be disastrous not only for them but for the world. Discouragement and possibly failure would quickly be the lot of neighboring peoples striving to maintain their freedom and independence.

Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East.

We must take immediate and resolute action. I therefore ask the Congress to provide authority for assistance to Greece and Turkey in the amount of $400 0 000 for the period ending June 30 1948.”

President Harry S. Truman The Truman Doctrine Speech March 12 1947

Refer to the excerpt provided.

3. President Truman’s speech was most likely intended to increase the public’s awareness of

  1. rising tensions over oil reserves in the Middle East
  2. the Cold War and the struggle against Communism in Europe
  3. the United States’ need for access to the Black Sea
  4. the need to rebuild Europe after World War II

4. The immediate outcome of the event described in the excerpt was that

  1. the United States unilaterally rebuilt Europe
  2. worldwide freedom of the seas was guaranteed for all nations
  3. the United States’ foreign policy of containment was successfully implemented
  4. Europe was not as vital to U.S. interests as initially believed

5. Based on the ideas in the excerpt which of the following observations of U.S. foreign policy in the post World War II years is true?

  1. The United States was making a major shift in foreign policy from its stance after World War I.
  2. More people opposed the idea of U.S. involvement in world affairs.
  3. A majority believed that U.S. foreign policy was being dictated by the United Nations.
  4. The United States needed to reassert the “Good Neighbor Policy” but with a focus on Europe.

“Women especially educated women such as you have a unique opportunity to influence us man and boy and to play a direct part in the unfolding drama of our free society. But I am told that nowadays the young wife or mother is short of time for the subtle arts that things are not what they used to be; that once immersed in the very pressing and particular problems of domesticity many women feel frustrated and far apart from the great issues and stirring debates for which their education has given them understanding and relish. . . . There is often a sense of contraction of closing horizons and lost opportunities. They had hoped to play their part in the crisis of the age. . . .

The point is that . . . women “never had it so good” as you do. And in spite of the difficulties of domesticity you have a way to participate actively in the crisis in addition to keeping yourself and those about you straight on the difference between means and ends mind and spirit reason and emotion . . .

In modern America the home is not the boundary of a woman’s life. . . . But even more important is the fact surely that what you have learned and can learn will fit you for the primary task of making homes and whole human beings in whom the rational values of freedom tolerance charity and free inquiry can take root.”

Adlai Stevenson “A Purpose for Modern Women” from his Commencement Address at Smith College 1955

Refer to the excerpt provided.

6. Which of the following best mirrors the sentiments expressed by Adlai Stevenson in the provided excerpt?

  1. Women should be prepared to return to a more traditional role in society.
  2. The ideals espoused by Republican Motherhood should be upheld.
  3. The United States would not have won World War II if women had not worked in factories.
  4. Women had the opportunity to influence the next generation of citizens.

7. The reference that “many women feel frustrated and far apart from the great issues and stirring debates for which their education has given them understanding and relish” is a reference to the ideas espoused by

  1. Rosa Parks
  2. Martin Luther King Jr.
  3. Betty Friedan
  4. Dr. Benjamin Spock

Primary Sources

Eisenhower Dwight D. “Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation.”

Eisenhower Dwight D. “Interstate Highway System.” Eisenhower proposes the interstate highway system to Congress.

“‘Enemies from Within’: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s Accusations of Disloyalty.” McCarthy’s speech in Wheeling West Virginia.

Friedan Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W. W. Norton 1963.

Hamilton Shane and Sarah Phillips. Kitchen Debate and Cold War Consumer Politics: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books 2014.

Kennan George F. American Diplomacy. New York: Signet/Penguin Publishing 1952.

King Martin Luther Jr. “(1955) Martin Luther King Jr. ‘The Montgomery Bus Boycott.'”

King Martin Luther Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers 1958.

MacLean Nancy. American Women’s Movement 1945-2000: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books 2009.

Marshall George C. “The ‘Marshall Plan’ speech at Harvard University 5 June 1947.”

Martin Waldo E. Jr. Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books 1998.

Schrecker Ellen W. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books 2016.

Story Ronald and Bruce Laurie. Rise of Conservatism in America 1945-2000: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books 2008.

Truman Harry. “A Report to the National Security Council – NSC 68 April 12 1950.”

Truman Harry. “The Fateful Hour (1947)” speech.

Suggested Resources

Ambrose Stephen and Douglas Brinkley. Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938.Ninth ed. New York: Penguin 2010.

Branch Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster 1988.

Brands H.W. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945. New York: Penguin 2010.

Brands H.W. The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. New York: Anchor 2016.

Cadbury Deborah. Space Race: The Epic Battle Between American and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space.New York: Harper 2007.

Cohen Lizabeth A. A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Vintage 2003.

Coontz Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books 2016.

Dallek Robert. Harry S. Truman. New York: Times Books 2008.

Diggins John Patrick. The Proud Decades: America in War and Peace 1941-1960. New York: W. W. Norton 1989.

Fried Richard. Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1991.

Gaddis John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin 2005.

Halberstam David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion 2007.

Hitchcock William I. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s.New York: Simon and Schuster 2018.

Johnson Paul. Eisenhower: A Life. New York: Penguin 2015.

Lewis Tom. Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways Transforming American Life. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press 2013.

May Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic 2008.

McCullough David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster 1993.

Patterson James T. Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974.Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996.

Whitfield Stephen J. The Culture of the Cold War. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press 1996.

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