Post-World War II America
World War II was coming to a close. The United States had played a large part in the war by assisting in the victory of the Allies over the Axis Powers from the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor until the Japanese surrender in the summer of 1945. The U.S. had, at first, expressed the intent to remain neutral in the war- When the WWII first began with Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, America portrayed itself as having little interest in becoming a warring nation anytime soon.iIt wasn’t until American blood was spilt that the U.S. government became willing to spill more in self-defense. When the Japanese launched the anticipated, but surprisingly brutal Kamikaze attacks on American naval bases in the Pacific, including Pearl Harbor of Hawaii, President of the U.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t need any more persuasion than that to end the U.S.’s neutrality in the war.iiOn December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he declared war on Japan with Congress’s approval, saying, “No matter how long it may take us… the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”iiiWith full steam ahead, America was ready to conquer its adversaries.Immediately, the U.S. put enormous amounts of effort into the war- not just industrially and nationally but also on the normal citizen’s scale. Rations became standard among citizens and good work ethic and motivation were exalted as essential values for the success and survival of the nation.ivWith the United States having so much to give as well as so much to still gain as a world power, recent innovations in society and industry did not stay isolated within the time period of World War II.
Instead, the advancements that people were making continued full on into the next decades and generations, setting up the United States for more change in daily and year-to-year life than ever had occurred before.After World War II, the United States of America experienced vast changes in all aspects of economy, family life, and popular culture. Theaverage American’s daily life was dramatically altered from pre-war years, never to be the same again.All Americans pitched in to support the war effort. This nationwide involvement in the war known as “The Home Front” created so much enthusiasm and jobs that unemployment practically vanished.In 1940, the year before the U.S. joined World War II, unemployment still was hovering at about 15 percent, an echo of the troubles that plagued the U.S. during the Great Depression in the 1930s. A few years later, in 1944, the unemployment rate had dropped to only about 1 percent.vDespite still persistent discrimination, women, children, and ethnic minorities like African Americans and Mexican Americans all had some way to contribute to supporting their country during its time of striving and hardship. Women took jobs producing war-related goods such as technicians, welders, and riveters. Non-war related factory jobs were also being filled by female workers in place of the typical male. Though many of the men were away at war, partially due to the hard work of American women, now was exactly the time when America’s industry skyrocketed.viSoon, the United States had become one of the richest countries in the world. As availability of men in the workforce decreased, more and more women were holding positions in jobs which were once exclusively reserved for men.
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Though many in the U.S. were still suffering from the repercussions of the Great Depression, the overall view of America’s financial status was better than it had been in a long time.viiThis economic boom only progressed with the war. By the time that the United States had ended the war by first defeating Italy and Germany, then forcing Japan into surrender with the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, unemployment rates were still very low. Due to America’s victories for the Allies in WWII and the production of an abundance of natural and financial resources produced during the war, the U.S. had further established its place as aworld power. The U.S. began to repair and aid war-ravaged countries in Europe such as Germany and Britain, gaining the image of something like a necessary protector of nations in weakness, only adding to the presence of the U.S. in global affairs, politically, socially, and economically. However, this didn’t come without a price. Over 15 million Americans, mostly men, had served in WWII, near a half a million of them perishing.viiiDue to the dramatic changes in everyday lifestyle and the alterations made to the American dream, the U.S.A. would never be quite the same as before the war.A field that was directly impacted by the War effort was America’s industry and economy, particularly in the areas of technology, innovation, and consumerism. Advancements didn’t just take place in the fields, factories, or workplaces. From 1950 to 1960, the gross national product of the U.S. (total income from products) rose from $200 billion to $500 billion in 1960.ixThe financial and technological standing of the United States caused standards for living to correlate with it, bringing in a new age of wealth and advancements.
The automobile industry contributed heavily to the growing economy, the number of citizens owning cars rapidly rising over the years. This change in transportation methods had far more effects than just economical ones. If a neighbor bought a new car or a new appliance of some sort, it became expected for observers to follow suit and keep up with the latest trends. All of a sudden, a new consumerist culture had emerged within the middle class, which was growing steadily by 1 million citizens each year.xThis consumerism strongly affected the very way people lived as well as what material goods they owned. In 1956, the Highway Act of 1956 built more than 64 kilometers of roads all across America, changing its landscape and the lifestyles of its citizens from cultures centered around locality to one of portability and transition. Now that nearly everywhere in the U.S. was accessible by automobile, horizons were broadened for travel and settling new areas. Possibilitiesfor young adults were further expanded when President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the G.I Bill in 1944, which promised unemployed World War II soldier returning from the war to receive 20 dollars per week for a whole 52 weeks, while soldiers entering colleges received 500 dollars per year for tuition and 50 dollars a month for living expenses. In addition, veterans didn’t have to give down payment when buying new homes. With this new-found opportunity and cash, it became possible for nearly any individual with a paying job to purchase of home of one’s own.xiAmerica now had an abundance of middle-class citizens but was sorely lacking in middle-class housing. One method in particular was presented as a solution for this dilemma: the mass-production of houses. In order to keep up with and take advantage of housing demands, companies would buy large areas of seemingly stark, bare land and transform it- practically overnight- into a neat grid of humbly-sized family homes.One conspicuous building project of the 1940s and 1950s was one owned by a man named Bill Levitt, who rapidly built towns by manufacturing them off-site, then using an assembly line on-site to construct them. There were several towns named “Levittown,” after Bill Levitt, but one of the first ones built was located on a plot of average farmland on Long Island. Only 30 miles away from Manhattan, New York, this town offered convenience that farm living lacked along with solace that some might desire away from the bustle and crowdedness of city life. Levittown homes, selling for about 7,990 dollars each, sported just two bedrooms, a small living room, kitchen, one bathroom, and a yard in the front and the back.
For many, that was all that one needed for a comfortable life. Other companies like Montgomery Ward and Sears had been selling homes from catalogs for years, but it was the likes of Levitt that really made neighborhood life commonplace and created the basis for the modern-day suburb.xiiThe shift to the suburban life caused the dynamics of family to change- as men returned from the war to their families and jobs, so did women return to their place in the home as mothers and housewives, seeming to have only acted as understudies for the former. The millions of American men returning home meant change for the multitude of women who were there to greet them. While women had enjoyed independence and opportunities in once- limited fields for their sex during the war, traditional values held fast as soon as WWII came to an end. Instead of in the workplace, women’s place was in the home and “in the arms of a loving husband.” Rather than an individual’s society, as it had been previously, America became a couple’s society, with family life and social activities being the highest priorities in one’s life.xiiiDivorce rates were extremely low compared to today, and the average age couples were married at was much younger. These trends resulted from the expectations of a couple to stay together and raise a family, the assumption that womenwereto become faithful mothers and wives one day, and men’s goals to become responsible, hardworking fathers and husbands.xivPresident of the U.S.A. after WWII, Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the large political figures of the time who supported traditional family values and the building of one’s life upon those values.xvThe environment becoming traditional, education and housing becoming easily accessible, and the overall optimism towards the future in the United States gave way to enormous population growth, with 25 million children born between 1946 and 1952. Considering that the population of the United States at this time was under 200 million citizens, 25 million was over an eighth of the already existing population.xviThis explosion in the number of children born in the U.S. was dubbed the “Baby Boom” and its results the “Baby Boomers.”xviiAlthough the adults of the late 1940s to the 1960s were for the most part conservative, their children, the Baby Boomers, would grow up in a world of new, exciting new concepts and ideas.
New music like Rock ‘n Roll and Jazz stirred up youth to embrace the new and rebel against the old. New ideas emerged that challenged religious and parental authority. All these elements combined to create a new culture that was exclusive to the rising youth of the country and the generations to come. The newgenerationgrew up with more disposable income and a higher quality of life than their predecessors, helping the youth culture furthergrowlessdependentupon adult authority.xviiiThe 1950s and 1960s saw many teenagers and young adults “dropping out” of church and no longer fully embracing Protestant Christianity. However, what people refer to now as a revolution, the movements of the 50’s and 60’s did not eliminate the practice of “America’s Religion.” After the end of World War II, floods of people and their childrenvi.Protestant Christianity was “America’s religion,” large numbers of people returned to church after war, despite youth turning away, religion was more integral to life as ever (p 7)vii.The “Boomers” were a generation of spiritual seekers, non-European ethnic communities developed, 42% of boomers “dropped out” of Church, mysticism and New Age ideas entertained (p 8)viii.Elvis Presley called “vulgar” and “suggestive” by older people while younger people adored him (p 3)ix.Teenager culture developed, “hip” vs. “square”Appendix(On title page) The Saturday Evening Post cover on June 17, 1944By Norman Rockwell(On title page) Picture of a family in front of aLevittown home in New York.(On title page)(On title page) The Saturday Evening Post cover on June 4, 1949