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History of the USA

p>The first American military decision was to concentrate on defeating Hitler while fighting a holding action in the Pacific. The next was to form an alliance with Great Britain so close that even military commands were jointly staffed. The year 1942 was devoted to halting, after many defeats, the outward spread of Japanese power and to keeping Hitler's forces from overwhelming America's British and Soviet allies. Large shipments of munitions went to both allies. In November an American force invaded North
Africa; it joined the British in defeating the German armies in that region by May 1943.

In 2 months the Allies were fighting the Germans in Sicily and Italy; at the same time U.S. forces in the Pacific were pushing in toward the
Japanese home islands by means of an island- hopping offensive. On the long
Russian front, German armies were being defeated and pushed back toward their borders. In June 1944 a huge Allied force landed on the French coast, an invasion preceded by 2 years of intense day-and-night bombing of Germany by British and American aircraft. By August 1944, Paris was recaptured.
Hitler's empire was crumbling; clouds of bombers were raining destruction on German cities; and on Apr. 30, 1945, with the Soviet troops just a few miles from Berlin, Hitler committed suicide. Peace in Europe followed shortly.

The Pacific war continued, the Japanese home islands being rendered practically defenseless by July 1945. American aerial attacks burned out city after city. In April, Harry S. TRUMAN had succeeded to the presidency on Roosevelt's death. Now, advised that the alternative would be an invasion in which multitudes would perish, including many thousands of young Americans, he authorized use of the recently tested atomic bomb. On
Aug. 6, the city of Hiroshima was obliterated; on Aug. 9, the same fate came to Nagasaki. Within a week, a cease-fire (which later research suggests was reachable without atomic attack) was achieved.

The political shape of the postwar world was set at the YALTA CONFERENCE
(February 1945) between Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill.
Soviet occupation of Eastern European countries overrun by the Red Army was accepted, in return for a pledge to allow democratic governments to rise within them. Soviet and Allied occupation zones in Germany were established, with Berlin, deep in the Soviet zone, to be jointly administered. In return for Soviet assistance in the invasion of Japan
(which was eventually not needed), it was agreed that certain possessions in the Far East and rights in Manchuria, lost to the Japanese long before, would be restored to the USSR. Soon it was clear that the kind of democratic government envisioned by the Americans was not going to be allowed in the East European countries under Soviet control. Nor, as the
Soviets pointed out, was the United States ready to admit the Soviets to any role in the occupation and government of Japan, whose internal constitution and economy were rearranged to fit American desires under Gen.

Cold-War Years

The breach widened steadily. Charges and countercharges were directed back and forth, the Soviets and Americans interpreting each other's actions in the worst possible light. Americans became convinced that the Soviets were thrusting out in every direction, seeking to communize not only the Soviet- occupied countries, but also Turkey, Greece, and Western Europe. In
February 1946, Stalin declared in Moscow that there could never be a lasting peace with capitalism. Shortly thereafter, Churchill warned of the
"iron curtain" that had descended across the middle of Europe. The COLD WAR had begun.

In March 1947, Truman asked Congress for funds to shore up Turkey and
Greece, both under Soviet pressure, and announced the Truman Doctrine: that
"it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Then the MARSHALL PLAN (named for George C. MARSHALL, U.S. chief of staff during the war and at this time secretary of state), approved by Congress in April 1948, sent $12 billion to the devastated countries of Europe to help them rebuild and fend off the despair on which communism was believed to feed.

True to its Democratic tradition, the Truman administration stressed multilateral diplomacy; that is, the building of an international order based on joint decision making. Nationalism, it was believed, must be tamed. The United Nations received strong American support. Meanwhile, the
United States continued the drive toward a lowering of world tariffs (begun in the 1930s). During the war, all recipients of Lend-Lease had been required to commit themselves to lowered tariffs. These commitments were internationally formalized in 1947 in the GENERAL AGREEMENT ON TARIFFS AND
TRADE, when 23 nations participated in an extensive mutual lowering of trade barriers. In 1948, at American initiative, the ORGANIZATION OF
AMERICAN STATES was established to provide a regional multilateral consultative body in the Western Hemisphere. Within Europe, the Marshall
Plan required the formation of Europe-wide organizations, leading eventually to the Common Market.

Toward the USSR, the basic American policy was that known as containment: building "situations of strength" around its vast perimeter to prevent the outward spread of communism. Angered Americans blamed the USSR for world disorder and came to regard the peace of the entire world as a U.S. responsibility. After their immense war effort, many Americans believed that the United States could accomplish whatever it desired to do. Also, having defeated one form of tyranny, fascism, and now being engaged in resisting another, Stalinist communism, the American people assumed with few questions that, since their cause was just, whatever they did in its name was right. Critics of national policy were harshly condemned.

A series of East-West crises, most dramatically the Berlin Blockade of 1948-
49, led to the creation (April 1949) of the NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY
ORGANIZATION. The NATO alliance sought to link the United States militarily to Western Europe (including Greece and Turkey) by making an attack against one member an attack against all. As Europe recovered its prosperity, the focus of East-West confrontation shifted to Asia, where the British,
French, and Dutch empires were collapsing and the Communist revolution in
China was moving toward its victory (October 1949). In June 1950 the North
Korean army invaded South Korea. The United Nations Security Council (which the Soviets were then boycotting) called on UN members jointly to repel this attack. Shortly afterward, a multinational force under Gen. Douglas
MacArthur was battling to turn back North Korean forces in the KOREAN WAR.
As the UN army swept northward to the Manchurian border, Chinese forces flooded southward to resist them, and a long, bloody seesaw war ensued. An armistice was not signed until July 1953, following 150,000 American casualties and millions of deaths among the Koreans and Chinese.

Domestic Developments during the Truman Years

In 1945, President Truman called on Congress to launch another program of domestic reform, but the nation was indifferent. It was riding a wave of affluence such as it had never dreamed of in the past. Tens of millions of people found themselves moving upward into a middle-class way of life. The cold war, and the pervasive fear of an atomic war, induced a trend toward national unity and a downplaying of social criticism. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 nationalized nuclear power, putting it under civilian control, but no other bold departures were made. What fascinated Americans was the so- called baby boom--a huge increase in the birthrate (the population was at
150 million by 1950 and 179 million by 1960)--and the need to house new families and teach their children.

In the presence of rapidly rising inflation, labor unions called thousands of strikes, leading in 1948 to passage of the Taft-Hartley Act (see LABOR-
MANAGEMENT RELATIONS ACT), which limited the powers of unions, declared certain of their tactics "unfair labor practices," and gave the president power to secure 80-day "cooling off periods" by court injunction. As union benefits increased nationwide, however, industrial warfare quieted. In 1948 the United Automobile Workers won automatic "cost of living" pay increases in their contracts and in 1955 the guaranteed annual wage. In 1955 merger negotiations were completed for the formation of the AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
LABOR AND CONGRESS OF INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATIONS (AFL-CIO); more than 85 percent of all union members were now in one organization.

Fears that Russian communism was taking over the entire world were pervasive during the Truman years. Soviet spy rings were discovered in the
United States, Canada, and Great Britain. In 1948-50 a sensational trial for perjury led to the conviction of a former State Department official,
Alger HISS, on the grounds that while in the department he had been part of a Communist cell and had passed secrets to the Soviets. In 1950 a Soviet spy ring was uncovered in the Los Alamos atomic installation. These events, together with the explosion (1949) of a Soviet atomic bomb and the victory
(1949) of the Communists in China, prompted a widespread conviction that subversive conspiracies within the American government were leading toward
Soviet triumph.

In February 1950, Republican Sen. Joseph R. MCCARTHY of Wisconsin began a 4- year national crisis, during which he insisted repeatedly that he had direct evidence of such conspiracies in the federal government, even in the army. The entire country seemed swept up in a hysteria in which anyone left of center was attacked as a subversive. A program to root out alleged security risks in the national government led to a massive collapse in morale in its departments; it destroyed the State Department's corps of experts on Far Eastern and Soviet affairs. The Truman administration's practice of foreign policy was brought practically to a halt. In 1952,
Dwight D. EISENHOWER, nationally revered supreme commander in Europe during
World War II, was elected president (1953-61) on the Republican ticket, but soon McCarthy was attacking him as well for running a "weak, immoral, and cowardly" foreign policy. In 1954 a long and dramatic series of congressional hearings, the first to be nationally televised, destroyed
McCarthy's credibility. He was censured by the Senate, and a measure of national stability returned.

The Eisenhower Years

Eisenhower declared himself uninterested in repealing the New Deal, but he was socially and economically conservative and his presidency saw the enactment of few reforms. His appointment of Earl WARREN as chief justice of the Supreme Court, however, led to a Court that suddenly seized so bold and active a role in national life that many called it revolutionary.
During Warren's long tenure (1953-69), the Court swept away the legal basis for racial discrimination; ruled that every person must be represented equally in state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives; changed criminal-justice procedures by ensuring crucial rights to the accused; broadened the artist's right to publish works shocking to the general public; and in major ways limited the government's ability to penalize individuals for their beliefs or associations.

No decision of the Warren Court was more historic than that in BROWN V.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS (1954), which ruled unanimously that racial segregation in the public schools was unconstitutional. This great decision--followed by others that struck down segregation in all public facilities and in elections and marriage laws--sparked a revolution in race- relations law. The separate-but-equal principle was cast aside, and the
Second Reconstruction could get underway. Now black Americans could charge that the statutory discrimination that tied them down and kept them in a secondary caste was illegal, a fact that added enormous moral weight to their cause. Resistance by southern whites to desegregated public education would make the advance of that cause frustratingly slow, however. By 1965 black children had been admitted to white schools in fewer than 25 percent of southern school districts. The fight for racial equality was not limited to the South, for by 1960 only 60 percent of black Americans remained there; 73 percent of them also lived in cities: they were no longer simply a scattered, powerless rural labor force in the South.

In 1957 the Soviet government launched its first orbiting satellite,
Sputnik, and a national controversy erupted. Why are we so far behind in the crucial area of rocketry? Americans asked. Many critics replied that weaknesses in public education, especially in science and technology, were the root cause. In 1958, Congress enacted the first general education law since the Morrill Act of 1862--the NATIONAL DEFENSE EDUCATION ACT. It authorized $1 billion for education from primary level through university graduate training, inaugurating a national policy that became permanent thereafter and that resulted in the spending of huge sums and the transformation of American public education.

Eisenhower's foreign policy, under Secretary of State John Foster DULLES, was more nationalist and unilateral than Truman's. American-dominated alliances ringed the Soviet and Chinese perimeters. Little consultation with Western European allies preceded major American initiatives, and in consequence the United States and Western Europe began drifting apart.
Persistent recessions in the American economy hobbled the national growth rate while the Soviet and Western European economies surged dramatically.
An aggressive Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet premier, trumpeted that communism would bury capitalism and boasted of Moscow's powerful intercontinental missiles while encouraging so-called wars of liberation in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.


During the 1960s and 1970s cold-war concerns gave way as attention focused on social and cultural rebellions at home. Involvement in a long and indecisive war in Asia and scandals that reached into the White House eroded the confidence of many Americans in their country's values and system of government. The United States survived such challenges, however, and emerged from the 1970s subdued but intact.

The Exuberant Kennedy Years

The Democratic senator John F. KENNEDY, asserting that he wanted to "get the country moving again,"won the presidency in a narrow victory over Vice-
President Richard M. NIXON in 1960. The charismatic Kennedy stimulated a startling burst of national enthusiasm and aroused high hopes among the young and the disadvantaged. Within 3 years his Peace Corps (see ACTION) sent about 10,000 Americans (mostly young people) abroad to work in 46 countries. Kennedy's ALLIANCE FOR PROGRESS proposed a 10-year plan to transform the economies of the Latin American nations (partially successful, it sunk out of sight during the Vietnam War). He also proposed massive tariff cuts between the increasingly protectionist European Common
Market and the world at large. (The so-called Kennedy Round of tariff negotiations concluded in 1967 with the largest and widest tariff cuts in modern history.) In June 1961, Kennedy pulled together the disparate, disorganized space effort by giving it a common goal: placing an American on the moon. Responding enthusiastically, Congress poured out billions of dollars to finance the project. (After the APOLLO PROGRAM succeeded, on
July 20, 1969, in landing astronauts on the moon, the space effort remained in motion, if at a reduced pace.)

Kennedy blundered into a major defeat within 3 months of entering the White
House. He kept in motion a plan sponsored by the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
AGENCY (CIA) and begun by the Eisenhower administration to land an invasion force in Cuba, which under Fidel Castro had become a Communist state and a
Soviet state. The BAY OF PIGS INVASION failed, utterly and completely. The force was quickly smashed when it struggled onto the beaches of the Bay of
Pigs in April 1961. During the succeeding 2 years, Kennedy labored to break the rigid cold-war relationship with the USSR. In October 1962, however, he discovered that the Soviets were rapidly building missile emplacements in
Cuba. Surrounding the island with a naval blockade, he induced the Soviets to desist, and the sites were eventually dismantled. The relieved world discovered that, when pushed to the crisis point, the two major powers could stop short of nuclear war. This CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS effectively ended the cold war.

The atomic bomb now seemed defused, and Moscow seemed ready to negotiate on crucial issues (perhaps, it was suggested 15 years later, to give the
Soviets time to build a far more powerful armaments system). A new and more relaxed relationship developed slowly into the U.S.-Soviet DETENTE that emerged in the late 1960s and persisted through the 1970s. A test-ban treaty, the Moscow Agreement (see ARMS CONTROL), signed in October 1963 symbolized the opening of the new relationship. Three of the world's nuclear powers (Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR--the fourth,
France, did not sign) agreed to end the detonation of atomic explosions in the atmosphere.

In this new environment of security, American culture, long restrained by the sense of team spirit and conformity that the crises of depression, war, and cold war had induced, broke loose into multiplying swift changes.
People now began talking excitedly of "doing their own thing." The media were filled with discussions of the rapidly changing styles of dress and behavior among the young; of the "new woman" (or the "liberated woman," as she became known); of new sexual practices and attitudes and new styles of living. The sense of community faded. Romanticism shaped the new mood, with its emphasis on instinct and impulse rather than reason, ecstatic release rather than restraint, individualism and self-gratification rather than group discipline.

Assassination and Cultural Rebellion

The excitement of Kennedy's presidency and his calls to youth to serve the nation had inspired the young, both black and white. His assassination in
November 1963 shocked and dismayed Americans of all ages, and the psychological links he had fashioned between "the system" and young people began to dissolve. His successor, Lyndon B. JOHNSON, later shouldering the onus of an unpopular war, was unable to build a reservoir of trust among the young. As the large demographic group that had constituted the "baby boom" of the post-World War II years reached college age, it became the
"wild generation" of student radicals and "hippies" who rebelled against political and cultural authority.

Styles of life changed swiftly. Effective oral contraceptives, Playboy magazine, and crucial Supreme Court decisions helped make the United
States, long one of the world's most prudish nations in sexual matters, one of its most liberated. The drug culture mushroomed. Communal living groups of "dropouts" who rejected mass culture received widespread attention.
People more than 30 years old reacted angrily against the flamboyant youth
(always a small minority of the young generation) who flouted traditional standards, glorified self-indulgence, and scorned discipline.

In the second half of the 1960s this generation gap widened as many of the young (along with large numbers of older people) questioned U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Peaceful protests led to violent confrontations, and differences concerning styles of life blurred with disagreements about the degree of allegiance that individuals owed to the American system. In
1968 the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther KING, Jr., and President
Kennedy's brother Robert F. KENNEDY seemed to confirm suspicions that dark currents of violence underlay many elements in American society.

Race Relations during the 1960s and 1970s

Race relations was one area with great potential for violence, although many black leaders stressed nonviolence. Since the mid -1950s, King and others had been leading disciplined mass protests of black Americans in the
South against segregation, emphasizing appeals to the conscience of the white majority. The appeals of these leaders and judicial rulings on the illegality of segregationist practices were vital parts of the Second
Reconstruction, which transformed the role and status of black Americans, energizing every other cultural movement as well. At the same time, southern white resistance to the ending of segregation, with its attendant violence, stimulated a northern-dominated Congress to enact (1957) the first civil rights law since 1875, creating the Commission on Civil Rights and prohibiting interference with the right to vote (blacks were still massively disenfranchised in many southern states). A second enactment
(1960) provided federal referees to aid blacks in registering for and voting in federal elections. In 1962, President Kennedy dispatched troops to force the University of Mississippi (a state institution) to admit James
Meredith, a black student. At the same time, he forbade racial or religious discrimination in federally financed housing.

Kennedy then asked Congress to enact a law to guarantee equal access to all public accommodations, forbid discrimination in any state program receiving federal aid, and outlaw discrimination in employment and voting. After
Kennedy's death, President Johnson prodded Congress into enacting (August
1965) a voting-rights bill that eliminated all qualifying tests for registration that had as their objective limiting the right to vote to whites. Thereafter, massive voter registration drives in the South sent the proportion of registered blacks spurting upward from less than 30 to over
53 percent in 1966.

The civil rights phase of the black revolution had reached its legislative and judicial summit. Then, from 1964 to 1968, more than a hundred American cities were swept by RACE RIOTS, which included dynamitings, guerrilla warfare, and huge conflagrations, as the anger of the northern black community at its relatively low income, high unemployment, and social exclusion exploded. At this violent expression of hopelessness the northern white community drew back rapidly from its reformist stance on the race issue (the so-called white backlash). In 1968, swinging rightward in its politics, the nation chose as president Richard M. Nixon, who was not in favor of using federal power to aid the disadvantaged. Individual advancement, he believed, had to come by individual effort.

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