The focus of this paper is to explore various events, including wars, civil rights movements, and the roles played by President Kennedy and M.L. King Jr., from the 1950s to the beginning of the 21st century in U.S. history. Throughout this fifty-year period, significant changes occurred in society, government, and technology. However, despite these transformations, the era of World War II feels distant and obsolete.
Starting from the 1950s, America underwent significant cultural transformations. These changes included four major military conflicts, rapid technological advancements, the emergence of harmful diseases, and a presidential resignation to avoid impeachment or imprisonment. Additionally, there was also the collapse of the Soviet Union and several economic challenges. Despite winning World War II and experiencing subsequent economic growth, the United States faced increasing social and economic problems internally while providing aid to other countries.
During the 1950s, several important events occurred. These comprised the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, America’s involvement in the Korean War, tensions arising from the Suez Canal incident in Egypt, and Castro leading the Cuban Revolution. Furthermore, Senator J. McCarthy made allegations against the United States regarding Anti-Communist views causing confusion. However, despite all these occurrences, advancements were achieved in the Civil Rights Movement.
These improvements were not the result of one person or group, but rather a movement that managed to stay united and strong even in difficult times. One possible reason for this was that it was a favorable moment, with black individuals having served in World War II and exposing some white Americans to racial issues for the first time. Additionally, the country was focused on anti-communism, so race may not have been a top priority. It is also crucial to remember that it was not just courageous African Americans who took up the fight for justice, but also college students and religious leaders of various races.
Various activities were undertaken to address the issue of racism and make it a household concern among middle-class families. These activities included legal challenges, civil protests, and other efforts. It’s worth noting that not all African Americans approached the struggle in the same way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, was an influential advocate for nonviolent change. He emphasized rational discourse and implemented principles inspired by Thoreau and Gandhi. According to King, if enough individuals peacefully defied unjust laws and actions on purpose, those laws would eventually collapse (Morris, 1986, 30-44, 58-89).
Despite this, the mass migration of African Americans from rural areas in the South to the North and West occurred as they sought better job prospects. This movement also resulted in their calls for higher wages and a more democratic society. Additionally, advancements in agricultural mechanization in the South caused a larger scattering of African Americans throughout the country. It is important to note that while many Americans and politicians supported decolonization efforts in Africa and advocated for equal rights and governance for African populations, they had differing opinions when it came to their own nation.
The U.S. Supreme Court made a significant ruling in 1954, known as Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional (See: http://brownvboard.org/summary). This legal decision stated that many institutions in the South were violating individuals’ rights protected by the 14th Amendment by denying them education. However, tensions resurfaced in 1957 when the Little Rock Arkansas School District was instructed to integrate. Governor Fabus of Arkansas refused to comply, arguing that states had authority over their own educational systems.
In 1957, Governor Fabus used the National Guard to prevent African Americans from attending Little Rock High School, a racially discriminatory act that received little media attention. White adults attacked black children without causing surprise among Americans. President Eisenhower deployed Federal Troops to restore authority and protect African Americans amidst global scrutiny. In retaliation, Governor Fabus closed the schools for two consecutive years (1958 and 1959). However, the Civil Rights Movement emphasized peaceful coexistence and equal legal rights for all individuals, regardless of race.
The victories achieved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, while significant, were more important for laying the groundwork towards the end of that decade (Jackson, 2006). In contrast, the 1960s were marked by unrest and a departure from the politically conventional and seemingly flawless family portrayals depicted in the media during the 1950s. What made this era distinct was a sizable population of post-World War II children who had now come of age, earning it the nickname “the Age of Youth” (Jackson, 2006).
During this time, a significant counterculture and social revolution emerged among young people. Issues such as civil rights, feminism, the Vietnam War, and the anti-war movement gained prominence in the United States. The use of illegal drugs also became more prevalent. Tensions escalated between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Additionally, there were groundbreaking experiments in music, dance, and the arts during this era. Moreover, both domestic and international assassinations had a profound impact on political history.
During this time, significant social and political changes occurred that included riots, demonstrations, sit-ins, and a counter culture that rejected mainstream materialism while embracing a new sexual revolution. The counter culture challenged authority, government, and society itself by demanding more freedoms and rights for women, minorities, and sexual minorities. Additionally, there was a strong movement to end the Vietnam War (Gitlin,1993). President Eisenhower’s desperate attempts to regain control over the United States were observed by the world. In response to the civil rights movement,
Federal Troops were deployed to protect African Americans,
and Governor Fabus closed schools in 1958 and 1959.
The significance of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s lies in its emphasis on peaceful coexistence and legal rights for all races. Although important battles were won, the real importance can be found in the preparations made as the decade ended (Jackson, 2006). The 1960s, despite a conservative political climate and idealized family images in the media, were a turbulent period marked by social unrest. This decade, known as the Age of Youth, was unique due to many individuals coming of age after World War II. The 60s witnessed a large counterculture and social revolution, with unprecedented youth rebellion. Additionally, there was increased focus on civil rights, feminism, new left ideologies, and movements such as Latino and Chicano activism. The Vietnam War and anti-war protests at home contributed to the turmoil. Drug use became more common; tensions between West and East escalated; and there were new artistic experiments in music, dance, and other forms. Furthermore, several national and international assassinations occurred during this time that altered political history.
In the 1960s, various social and political changes took place including protests, riots, demonstrations, sit-ins, and the rise of a counterculture. This counterculture questioned prevailing materialism and embraced a sexual revolution that defied authority and societal norms while campaigning for more freedoms and rights for marginalized groups like women, minorities, and sexual minorities. The Vietnam War was also highly significant during this time.
The complexity of the Vietnam War was due to the participation of pro and anti-communist groups in both South and North Vietnam. The primary difficulty was distinguishing between individuals with communist sympathies and those without. To prevent communism from taking hold in South Vietnam, the United States and its allies intervened as part of their broader aim to contain its spread. Some strategists during this time worried about a domino effect, wherein if one country succumbed to communism, others would also be endangered.
An instance of what was forecasted was complicated by President Eisenhower as early in 1954; “Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.” (Domino theory, news conference,1954) As the war had accelerated throughout the early part of presidency of John F. Kennedy, possibly was appropriate to his view that unless a strong line was drawn, the Soviet Union would continue to exert its authority and power. Though, the quality of the South Vietnamese military was poor, and unlike the North Vietnamese military, had corruption, poor leadership, and an incompetent government made it all but impossible to fight a modern war with any hope of winning (McNamara, 1996, 3-20). After the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson was more disturbed with issues at home, his Great Society than the war in Asia. Of course, though, the war intensified, demanding increasingly extra American troops and dollars to be sent to the area and escalation throughout the decade.
In November 1967, General Westmoreland embarked on a public relations tour to garner support for the War. However, he encountered a apathetic public who struggled to comprehend the reasons for a war in Southeast Asia. The war seemed to lack a clear objective and it appeared as if America was not fully committed to victory. These circumstances greatly impacted the social fabric of the United States, with the Army becoming demoralized and generals expressing uncertainty about the allegiances of their allies and enemies. The use of tactics became a political game with low success rates even in the most favorable situations (McNamara, 1996, 45-90).
Upon returning to the United States, Vietnam War veterans experienced a feeling of being unrecognized and disconnected from their own country. This made them question the significance of their service in Vietnam. Even Henry Kissinger admitted that the U.S. military was not prepared for this type of warfare. Furthermore, doubts about political decision-making arose as a result of the economic consequences of the war, leading to close scrutiny of every action on television news broadcasts. The majority of Americans believed that there was no legitimate reason for U.S. involvement in Vietnam (Davidson, 1991).
The Vietnam War revealed the flaws within the home front, indicating that even a superpower could be vulnerable and that immense strength would not always guarantee victory. Transitioning from the chaotic 60s, the 1970s became a period of transformation, healing, economic hardships, corruption in high levels of the government, increased reliance on foreign steel and oil, but a growing commitment to achieving political and social equality. While Japan experienced an economic boom, many Western countries, reliant on Arab oil, confronted an economic downturn.
The Vietnam War ended with a peace agreement, highlighting America’s inability to achieve victory. Although the United States engaged in Middle East conflicts, it faced challenges in resolving internal matters. Nonetheless, progress was made in environmentalism, feminism, and civil rights during this era, promoting greater inclusion of women and minorities in society. Despite aging, the counterculture movement continued expressing dissatisfaction. Politically and culturally, both America and Europe experienced a shift towards more conservative ideologies (Burns, 2005).
Richard Nixon’s presidency in the 1970s was characterized by the Watergate Affair, a scandal involving covert and illegal activities authorized by Nixon or his associates. These activities included the illegal break-in of the Democratic Party Headquarters on June 17, 1972. The purpose was to obtain classified information and undermine the Democrats in the upcoming election. The scandal was exposed by journalists from “The Washington Post” and other media outlets.
Nixon initially downplayed the scandal surrounding him. However, the discovery of tapes containing conversations made it clear that Nixon had accepted illegal campaign contributions, harassed opponents using his Presidential powers, and abused his position and duty to the Constitution (Stans, 1978). Despite mounting evidence against him, Nixon continued to deny any involvement. In November 1973, he addressed the nation by stating: “People need to know if their President is a criminal. Well, I’m not a criminal. I have worked hard for everything I have” (Kilpatrick, 1973-11-18). The Washington Post reported on this declaration with the headline “Nixon Tells Editors ‘I’m Not a Crook.'”
However, in May 1974, the Congressional House Judiciary Committee began public impeachment hearings against President Nixon. Realizing that his diminishing political and public support would likely result in impeachment and conviction followed by imprisonment; Nixon resigned from the Presidency on August 9th of that year. He delivered an emotional television address upon resigning.
Although he never admitted wrongdoing at the time,Nixon later acknowledged that he may have made errors in judgment (Kutler ,1992:167-72).
After the Watergate scandal, Nixon was disbarred by the State of New York and lost his law licenses. He resigned from all his law licenses without admitting any wrongdoing. However, on September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon without conditions, effectively preventing any future indictment. The pardon caused controversy as many believed it was part of a secret agreement in exchange for Nixon’s resignation.
Following Nixon’s presidency, Ronald Reagan emerged as a prominent figure in American politics and conservatism during the 1980s. Prior to his presidency, Reagan had worked as a Hollywood actor and served as Governor of California.
Economies globally experienced a significant boom, with both production and Western culture extending to the 2nd and 3rd worlds. Concurrently, Western democracies witnessed a remarkable resurgence of conservatism, with leaders like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Reagan in the United States, Helmut Kohl in Germany, and Brian Mulroney in Canada. It is worth noting that the Middle East was engaged in warfare, while the Arab-Israeli conflict continued. In China, reformers staged protests in Tiananmen Square, while the USSR popularized a new policy of openness under Gorbachev. Additionally, Eastern Europe witnessed the downfall of several dictatorial regimes due to their lack of financial support from the USSR.
In fact, many social historians believe that one of the legacies of the Reagan years was his insistence upon military spending to literally bankrupt the Russian economy (White, 1999). However, it was not just Reagan’s foreign policy that characterized this era. Instead, a now popular term called Reaganomics’ has come to represent the U.S. economy in the 1980s. Reaganomics had four major pillars: reducing non-military governmental spending, reducing tax rates on labor and capital income, reducing governmental regulation on the economy, and controlling the money supply to reduce inflation (Wilentz, 2008: 174). The legacy of the Reagan years showed that when he became president, the country was experiencing a high rate of inflation and unemployment. By the time he left office, the economy was stimulated, unemployment was down, and inflation was down. However, the national debt tripled, leaving a legacy of debt (Greenspan, 2007).
During the 1990s, the legacy of Reagan shifted as significant events unfolded. One of these was the Fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern Communists, and the conclusion of the Cold War. Technological advancements propelled America forward, while free-market capitalism became more prevalent in developing nations. The occurrence of racial and gender prejudice decreased, and after 165 years of British Colonial Rule, Hong Kong came under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China. The United States also played a role in the 1991 Gulf War and participated in the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which created a trade zone involving Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Bill Clinton was the dominant political figure in America during the 1990s, and his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia, as well as his emphasis on globalization, restored America’s position as a world leader (Kallen,1998). However, it was the end of the Cold War that solidified the shift towards increased globalization, peace, and prosperity, and a reduced focus on militarization and fear. In essence, when Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, the Soviet economy was in a state of stagnation or even collapse.
He recognized the need for significant structural reforms while also acknowledging the importance of seeking reconciliation with the United States and reducing the financial strain on the Soviet Gross National Product caused by military spending. By engaging in a series of summit discussions, the arms race was significantly reduced, leading to the eventual collapse of the Soviet alliance system and the liberation of Poland. The official end of communism occurred on Christmas Day in 1991 when the USSR was formally dissolved (Gaddis, 1994). Nevertheless, the impact of the Cold War can still be felt in contemporary times.
The politics of post-World War II shaped America’s global role, with countless billions of dollars and millions of lives sacrificed in the name of protecting different ideologies like Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism. This era cemented America’s position as a world policeman, evident by its military alliances with over 50 countries and the deployment of 1.5 million troops in 117 countries by 1989 (Gaddis, 1994). While some former communist countries have experienced economic growth and partnerships with the West, the Russian Republic still grapples with challenges related to its ethnic minorities, criminal activities, and defining its global position.
The question being asked is whether the world will survive 2010 and move into 2012. Some futurologists who predict the future say that if we make it past 2012, the future afterwards is very uncertain. The rapid evolution of technology will continue to have a significant impact, both in America and internationally. The conflicts in the Middle East have been ongoing and appear to have reached a stalemate with no resolution in sight. It is crucial for the United States to distance itself from relying on foreign oil and therefore reduce its involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. In terms of economy, America seems to be heading towards a recessionary period due to the overwhelming amount of credit card and real estate debt which has severely damaged the economy and placed resources in vulnerable positions. However, it should be noted that we are on the verge of potentially electing the first African American President, with a female Speaker of the House, and many individuals from various ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities holding high positions in the military, government, and private sector.
As we have seen, change is the one constant. We may not change in the way futurists predict, but there is certainly a rapid movement towards egalitarianism and a philosophy of global cooperation. References: www.brownvboard.org, “The Future of American Power” http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080501facomment87303/fareed-zakaria/the-future-of-american-power.html, “What is the economic future of the United States?” http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/5/21/54452/0829, http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/ford.htm, www.watson.org, Burns, Bree (2005), America In The 1970s, Facts on File. Davidson, Philip (1991), Vietnam At War: The history: 1946-1975, Oxford University Press. Gaddis, John Lewis (1994), The U.S. and the End of the Cold War, Oxford University Press. Gitlin, Todd (1993), The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, Bantam. Halberstam, David (1994), The Fifties, Ballantine. Jackson, Thomas F. (2006), From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Struggle For Economic Justice, University of Pennsylvania Press.
Kallen, Stuart. (1998), A Cultural History of the United States: The 1990s, Lucent Books.
Kutler, Stanley (1992), Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon, WW Norton.
McNamara, Robert, (1996), In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Vintage Press.
Morris, Aldon, (1986), Origins of the Civil Rights Movement. Free Press.
Stans, Maurice H. (1978) The Terrors of Justice: The Untold Side of Watergate, W. Clement Stone.
Kilpatrick, Carroll (1973-11-18). “Nixon Tells Editors, ‘I’m Not a Crook’”. The Washington Post.
The references for this paper include the following books:
– White, Anne, (1999), Democratization in Russia Under Gorbachev, 1985-91, Palgave McMillan.
– Wilentz, Sean. (2008), The Age of Reagan: A History, Harper.
– Greenspan, Alan, (2007) The Age of Turbulence, Penguin Press.
It is important to note that these references are not in the complete order of “APA” style.
Furthermore, I obtained a grade point of 240 for this paper in the course “HIS/135” which is titled “The American Experience Since 1945 (AXIA).”
To improve this paper, I suggest adding a title page and enhancing the conclusion to make it stronger. Additionally, it would be beneficial to shorten the information provided in the paragraphs.