The years from the finish of civilization War II come the end of the 1950s were conquered by four powerful changes in American life. The an initial was the birth of the Cold War, and the an excellent fears the it created. The second was the dramatic growth of affluence, which reinvented the lives of many, but not all, Americans. The 3rd was a cultivation anxiety amongst many Americans who felt that their stays were too constricted through the staid culture of the era. And the 4th was the development of a new subversive society growing beneath the smooth, secure surface the the decade that would explode in the 1960s.
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The Cold War
In 1954, one angry group of males gathered in a listening room in a Senate Office Building, ostensibly to mediate a dispute but in fact to do fight before the world. Top top one side to be Senator Joseph McCarthy and his aggressive, rag-tag young staff, bolstered through the assistance of numerous adoring citizens associated to the occasion only through television, radio, and the newsparamuseum.orgers. On the other side were representatives that the merged forces of the presidency, the Army, the Republican Party establishment, essentially the entire autonomous Party, much of the press, and also a far-reaching part of the legal profession. Because that the five days of what came to be known as the Army-McCarthy hearings, these two forces remained locked in uneven combat until ultimately McCarthy—a victim in the finish of his very own arrogance, recklessness, and also laziness—staggered native the contest discredited, heading toward a humiliating censure by the Senate, and doomed come a painful obscurity because that the remaining couple of years of his alcohol-fuelled life. And with his autumn came the beginning of the end of one of the most corrosive events in modern-day American history: the great Red fear of the 1940s and also early 1950s.
The phenomenon of Joseph McCarthy is a main story that the 1950s. He to be from the generation of people War II veterans, several of whom parlayed their military records (or in McCarthy’s case, a lot inflated myth around his army record) into political success. Chosen to the Senate in Wisconsin in 1946, the aramuseum.orgproached his re-election quiet an obscure mediocrity without any kind of important issue or achievement on i beg your pardon to basic his campaign. Beginning in 1950, he began searching for visibility, and also unsurprisingly in a time once anticommunism was a an effective force in nationwide politics, he determined to present himself together a scourge of disloyalty. At a celebrated speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, he waved a item of paramuseum.orger before his audience and also claimed to “hold in my hand” a perform of world named through the secretary that state together members of the Communist Party still serving in government. End time, the number of names on the list fluctuated widely; and also through every the years in which McCarthy raged through the political world flogging this issue, never once go he identify anyone that was judge of treason or subversion. However McCarthy attracted committed followers nonetheless since of his swaggering, sweaty, populist style, i beg your pardon made the seem to numerous admirers to it is in a courageous, unpretentious number unafraid to strike disloyal elites.
McCarthy was not a leader the his party, however until at least 1952, he was tolerated, even welcomed through the Republican leadership, due to the fact that the party as a totality was cursed to utilizing the are afraid of communist to rest the twenty-year autonomous lock ~ above the presidency. However after the election of Eisenhower in 1952, McCarthy’s roughshod tactics came to be an embarrassment; and his cases of communist affect in the military particularly enraged a chairman who had spent many of his life in the Army. The Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 flourished in discrediting McCarthy in huge part since the Eisenhower administration quietly participated in the strike on his credibility.
McCarthy was an essential part that the an excellent crusade against domestic subversion that sharamuseum.orged American publicly life in the 1950s, yet he was just one of many figures who helped create the good fear. The American civil Liberties Union warned the “the hazard to civil liberties this particular day is the most serious in the history of our country.” The historian Richard Hofstadter composed in 1954 that “the widespread foreboding among liberals that this type of disagreement will thrive until the overwhelms our liberties altogether and plunges us into a totalitarian nightmare.”
The Red Scare was visible in practically every area of American life. Yet it was generally a phenomenon the government and politics. It was produced and largely continual by government, also if it ultimately spread past government. Anti-communism came to be official federal government policy not just in Washington, however at every level of government. Forty-four out of the forty-eight state governments in the United says passed laws in between 1949 and 1955 designed to root out subversives and also suppress communist activities. State and local courts involved in remarkable excesses in pursuing and punishing communists. Even city and county governments became energetic in rooting out world they thought to be subversives. But it remained in the federal federal government that the Red Scare developed most raramuseum.orgidly and decisively.
It is hard to pick a particular moment when one might say the postwar Red scare “began.” are afraid of radicalism and also fear of residential subversion in America has actually a long history. However a minute that has at least some insurance claim as the beginning point because that the postwar Red scare is 1947, as soon as the home Un-American activities Committee started investigating Hollywood.
HUAC to be then a reasonably obscure committee, developed early in civilization War II to look into residential fascism however was unclear about its mission after the war. The members of HUAC were mainly right-wing Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. The committee had a reputation together the worst in Congress, and it attracted very little attention because that the following two years—until 1947, when it made decision to investigate communist infiltration the the film industry. The was drawn to this target because of right-wing resentment of Hollywood, i beg your pardon the right believed was dominated by brand-new Dealers, Jews, and communists; and also there were, in fact, many new Dealers, plenty of Jews, and also a no insignificant variety of communists in the movie industry. A couple of Hollywood figures agreed come testify prior to HUAC together “friendly witnesses”—among them Ronald Reagan, return he to be not among those who “named names.”
And then HUAC dubbed a collection of “unfriendly witnesses”—ten screenwriters. The trials of the Hollywood Ten—a team of display writers charged with communist leanings—generated substantial publicity. The was partly, the course, because the defendants to be from Hollywood; but also because they themselves were identified to generate as much publicity together possible—which in the end did little to assist them. Amongst them to be a team of famous writers—Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, and also many others.
A year later, the situation of Alger Hiss electrified the anti-communists. In 1948, Whitaker Chambers, an editor that Time magazine, announced that in 1937 he had actually acted as a conduit for passing divide State Department files to the Soviet Union. The male who had offered him the documents, the said, to be Alger Hiss, who had actually been a high-ranking official in the State Department. Hiss, that was currently out the government, refuse the charges, and also most civilization seemed to think him. Yet Chambers developed evidence the damaged Hiss’s insurance claim of innocence. Richard Nixon, a young congressman indigenous California and a member the HUAC, sought Hiss with great determination. Hiss was lastly convicted the perjury (the statute of limitations having run out on the really espionage) and also sentenced come a quick term in prison. The Hiss instance seemed to confirm a id growing well-known on the appropriate that plenty of American elites were in fact mystery communists.
Then, in 1950, just a main after Hiss’s conviction because that perjury, a British atom scientist named Klaus Fuchs, who had operated on the Manhattan Project throughout the war, turned himself in to Scotland yard in London and also admitted that he had been passing come the Soviets all the atomic tricks to which he had had access. Fuchs’s confession sparked investigations that brought about a lower-middle-class Jewish pair in brand-new York: Julius and also Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were charged with having actually been the conduits v whom Fuchs’s secrets, and also the keys of others, had been passed to the Soviets.
The Rosenbergs to be Communist Party members, and so sympathy because that them was restricted from the beginning. They were tried in an environment of close to hysteria and confronted with great legal irregularities engineered by the justice Department and the judge in the case. They were convicted that treason and sentenced come death.
The great fear slowly decreased after the disgrace that Joe McCarthy and also other anti-communist demagogues. Yet the fear of communist remained right into the 1960s, and well past for those who thought that communist was not simply in the Soviet Union, but also in the United says as well.
The affluent Society
The power of the American economic climate in the years after human being War II aramuseum.orgpeared to many contemporaries to be, as one historian wrote in ~ the time, “the cross of a an excellent divide in the background of humanity.” It to be often defined as one “economic miracle.” The GNP was farming fourteen time as rapid as the populace and seven times the rate of inflation. The average family members income flourished as lot in the ten years after world War II together it had actually grown in the vault fifty years combined. In between 1940 and also 1965, typical income thrived from about $2,200 per household per year to simply under $8,000; when adjusted for inflation, that way average household incomes virtually tripled.
These years additionally saw a significant decrease in (although not a disaramuseum.orgpearance of) poverty in America. The percent of families listed below the official poverty line in 1950 was 30 percent. By 1960 it had dropped to 22 percent and also by the 1960s, it had dropped to under 14 percent. Between 1950 and 1970, in various other words, poverty declined by over 60 percent.
There to be many claims at the moment that not only was America becoming wealthier, but that it to be becoming an ext “equal,” that wealth was gift redistributed at the exact same time it to be increasing. The was no true. There to be no far-ranging redistribution of wealth in the 1950s and 1960s, increase or down, simply boost in the total amount the wealth. However significantly—and in sharp comparison to the duration since the mid-1970s—while there was no downward redistribution that wealth, neither was there an upward circulation of wealth. Circulation patterns, in other words, stayed unchanged—the wealthy and the bad experienced roughly the same rates of growth. The garamuseum.org between them remained the same.
What brought about this amazing growth? One important cause was federal government spending, i m sorry was clearly the significant factor in finishing the Depression in the at an early stage 1940s. Government expenditures in 1929 were 1 percent the GNP; in 1955, they were 17 percent. The bulk of this boost in the at an early stage 1950s came from armed forces spending till the end of the korean War. After ~ that, highway and home construction picked up lot of the slack. Veterans’ services (mortgage and also education assistance), government-sponsored study (military and space), and also other resources of development helped fuel the economy. An additional cause of postwar financial growth was populace growth: the tremendous increase in the birth rate in the te after civilization War II (“postwar infant boom”). Populace grew in the 1940s and 1950s at double the price it had actually grown in the 1930s. Increased population was also responsible for enhanced demand and also increased consumption, a spur to financial growth.
The expansion of suburbs after people War II was one of the good population activities in American history. Eighteen million people—10 percent of the population—moved come suburbs in the 1950s. The American population as a whole grew 19 percent in 1950s; suburban population grew 47 percent. Suburbs created a vast brand-new market and provided an essential boost to number of of the most important sectors that the economy: the real estate industry, the vehicle industry, highway construction, and also a wide variety of customer industries. And also another aspect of expansion was the revolution in labor relations. The cultivation power of unions enabled workers come receive far better wages and benefits for your members.
The cumulative financial effect of all these changes was a radical change in the American life—the bear of an economic situation (and hence a society) in which numerous Americans involved consider affluence a norm; in i m sorry the capability not just to subsist, but greatly to enhance the high quality of one’s life came to seem a simple right; in which product abundance became one of the means in i m sorry many, most likely most, Americans defined their world.
Economic growth impacted both popular and elite ideas about caramuseum.orgitalism. Slowly it became possible to think that there were few limits to economic growth. Caramuseum.orgitalism, many Americans came to believe, was caramuseum.orgable of much greater accomplishments than most Americans had once believed possible.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the well known Harvard economist, solid an uncritical defender the caramuseum.orgitalism, published a small book in 1952 licensed has been granted American Caramuseum.orgitalism. In it, the expressed few of the wonder and enthusiasm of this new discovery. About caramuseum.orgitalism, he created simply: “It works!” and also he walk on to say:
In the United says alone there require not lurk behind modern programs of social betterment that fundamental dilemma that almost everywhere paralyzes the will of every responsible man, the dilemma between economic progress and also immediate increase of the real revenue of the masses.
The new economic vision was based on the values of Keynesianism—the idea that there was currently a “modern,” “scientific” method to manage the economy—not directly, by controlling the corporations, but indirectly, through manipulating fiscal and also monetary levers. Through the mid-1950s, the belief that Keynesianism worked, the it could carry out the crucial to maintaining the economic climate stable, got a growing variety of economists.
Many economists believed they had uncovered the secret of irreversible growth and permanent stability. The suggested new possibilities because that social progress. Keynesianism, some of its practical worker argued, do it feasible to revolve caramuseum.orgitalism right into a genuinely revolutionary force. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Created in the 1950s the “Keynes, not Marx, is the prophet the the brand-new radicalism.” Fortune magazine published an post entitled “The permanent Revolution.” The economist Paul Samuelson created that “the brand-new Economics yes, really does work. Wall surface Street to know it. Key Street ... To know it. ... You can bet the the statisticians in the Kremlin understand it.”
The development of affluence also detailed an chance to improve the stays of Americans and also to accomplish social needs. Galbraith urged a significant increase in publicly spending top top such things as schools, parks, hospitals, city renewal, and also scientific research. The 1957 launching the Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to be launched right into orbit (before the United claims had controlled to perform so), to be a tremendous event in American politics and culture. The too persuaded many Americans, and also the government, to ask for huge social invest in an effort to catch up—particularly in science, technology, and also education.
Many americans in the 1950s taken into consideration their era together a time that affluence, community, and also unity. Today—a half century later—many world still view those years together a golden era that has now been lost. Also the most sophisticated chroniclers of its time thought in the an excellent successes the the 1950s. The renowned chronicler Richard Hofstadter created at the time:
The jobless, distracted and bewildered males of 1933 have actually in the food of the years found substantial places in society for themselves, have become homeowners, suburbanites, and solid citizens.
The French writer Simone de Beauvoir said of America in the 1950s:
Class barriers disaramuseum.orgpear or end up being porous; the factory worker is an financial aristocrat in comparison through the middle class clerk; also segregation is diminishing; intake replaces acquisition together an incentive. America ... As a country of vast inequalities and also dramatic contrasts is ceasing come exist.
Many middle-class americans in these years believed in the idea the the American people, because that all their diversity, to be becoming much more and more alike—and might expect to proceed to perform so in the future. Couple of ideas became much more pervasive in popular society than the feeling that America was coming to be a middle-class nation—a society in which anyone was either already component of the middle class, soon to become component of it, or aspiring to become part of it. And there was some evidence for in this powerful idea.
There to be raramuseum.orgid growth in the variety of people able to afford what the government characterized as a “middle-class” standard of living—60 percent the the American people. House ownership rose from 40 percent in 1945 come 60 percent in 1960. Through 1960, 75 percent the all families owned cars; 87 percent owned televisions; 75 percent owned washing machines. Yet these figures likewise show the survival of a comprehensive minority (25 come 40 percent) the remained external the center class. Much more than 23 percent of americans still resided in poverty, and African American poor was far higher.
American national politics in the 1950s was conquered by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who emerged from the war as the military guy with the most political aramuseum.orgpeal, largely due to the fact that of his personality. Over there were other generals who had performed with at the very least equal brilliance and also effectiveness. Yet none of them had actually Eisenhower’s an individual qualities: his public warmth and also friendliness and geniality; his dazzling, extremely photogenic smile, which ended up being his politics trademark; his comforting, unthreatening public image. It aided him become president in 1953, and also it helped him remain famous until the left the White residence in 1961.
But Eisenhower was likewise aramuseum.orgpealing since he appeared to embody the stability and the desire because that unity that characterized so plenty of other areas of American society in the 1950s. Eisenhower’s aramuseum.orgproach to management was based upon two reasonably simple assumptions. He had a deep aversion come conflict and confrontation. The leaned instinctively towards consensus and conciliation; and he do the efforts to prevent doing noþeles that would disrupt the harmony the he favored to think prevailed in American society. And he was deeply committed to caramuseum.orgitalism, and to caramuseum.orgitalists; a champion of free enterprise; a cheerleader because that the organization community in this hour of its good economic triumph. Eisenhower’s presidency was an embodiment the the middle-class yearning for stability and also consensus.
Eisenhower became, in effect, the cautious, prudent, conciliatory paternal figure presiding over the heyday the middle-class prominence of American life. He seemed to embody the era’s aramuseum.orgparent stability and also unity and homogeneity. The epitomized the American center class’s idealized picture of itself. And not incidentally, that presided end an era of practically unbroken prosperity and unbroken tranquility that reinforced the power of the stable, consensual public culture of the time.
The 1950s were an excellent times for middle-class white Americans that were content with their era. But it was not a great time because that dissent. The most evident explanation for the is the Cold War and also the fear of communism—fanned through opportunistic and also demagogic politicians—that attach it. It was also a result of a homogeneous popular culture that had small patience v divergent views. The growing intolerance of non-conformity helped develop the staunching of dissent at numerous levels of society. Hollywood studio executives blacklisted writers and actors not just due to the fact that of the Red fear but additionally because that their very own dislike of your politics. Newsparamuseum.orger and also magazine publishers banished writers that were as well stridently an important of the political and economic orthodoxy of their time. Television and radio executives refuse to allow even mildly dissenting voices access to the air. The revered Edward R. Murrow, the very first great television newscaster, found his career at CBS derailed after he broadcast a program in 1954 attacking Joseph McCarthy—even despite by then McCarthy’s affect was already in decline.
In 1953, the political writer I. F. Stone—also a harsh doubter of McCarthyism and also of conservative politics—found it important to found his very own political journal, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, because none that his vault employers, including the Nation, would certainly publish his work any longer. Years later, in the early 1980s, he released a arsenal of his writings from those years. He title it The Haunted Fifties.
For Stone, and also for many others, the fifties appeared haunted due to the fact that the public society of the time was so resolutely self-congratulatory and so stifling to alternative views; due to the fact that the problems and also injustices and also dislocations of the time frequently seemed concealed under a haze of bright, cheerful, affirmative images of a thriving middle-class country haramuseum.orgpily carried out a brand-new period in the history—enthroned as the richest and most powerful country in the world.
But beneath the shining surface ar of the public country of the 1950s lived one more America—a shadow country or, together I. F. Rock sometimes dubbed it, a subversive nation, which was gradually structure up a critique the American culture and national politics that would certainly burst right into the facility of nationwide consciousness in the 1960s and also beyond. That critique took plenty of forms. African Americans demonstrated in Montgomery and also elsewhere, shooting the an initial shots the the Civil civil liberties Movement. The restive left was struggling to reveal the persistence of poverty in the middle of prosperity. There was increasing resistance by females to the obstacles they faced in the workplace and also in the larger society when lock attempted to relocate out that their roles as wives and also mothers. There to be the cultivation concern about the environment among scientists and ecologists who saw, much previously than many Americans did, the threats of heedless economic growth.
But equally necessary were critiques that expressed a collection of anxieties and thwarted desires the were details to the white male culture of the time. There to be a farming fear that the modern world threatened their autonomy, their independence, your authenticity.
Employees of huge corporate organizations, the movie critics of the 1950s and early 1960s argued, learned to dress alike, to pattern their lives in comparable ways, to adopt comparable values and goals, to place a high value on “getting along” within the hierarchical structure of the corporation. In fact, complaints around the conformity, the homogeneity the the society of organization ended up being one of the staramuseum.orgles of society criticism in the 1950s, as social scientists pertained to see in this culture a an obstacle to the caramuseum.orgacity of people to retain any psychological autonomy. The organization, castle argued, was a debilitating force, producing alienated conformists fear to an obstacle prevailing norms. Lock were civilization who would take no risks; world who fear to it is in different.
Corporate workers, movie critics argued, faced continuous pressures to gain along by walk along. The sociologist David Riesman created in his significant book, The Lonely Crowd (1950), that modern-day society was providing birth come a new kind that man. In previously eras, many men and also women had actually been “inner-directed” people, defining themselves largely in terms of their own values and goals, their own sense of their worth. Now, the dominant personality was coming to be “other-directed” man, specifying himself in terms of the opinions and goals that others, or in terms of the bureaucratically created goals that the organization.
But perharamuseum.orgs the clearest instance of disenchantment with and alienation indigenous the middle course was not the job-related of these mainstream writers and also intellectuals. The clearest example came instead from a group of younger writers and artists who emerged largely from the center class yet chose to stand outside the tendency of middle course culture. They hosted that society in contempt—they ridiculed and repudiated not just the an individual anxieties of business life, however many of the an essential premises that middle-class society. There to be the men and women who referred to as themselves “the Beats.” lock openly challenged the conventional values the middle-class American society: product success, society values, political habits. Plenty of of them adopted an different lifestyle because that themselves the emphasized rootlessness, anti-materialism, drugs, antagonism to an innovation and organization, sex-related freedom, and a dark, numbing despair about the nature of contemporary society. Yet most of every the win were looking for “ecstasy,” the a release from the reasonable world, of a retreat native what they thought about the repressive culture of your time.
The poet Allen Ginsberg came to be the many influential figure in the to win world, the male many people considered the founder the the movement. In 1955, he composed a city that became something the a credo for your generation. The poem was entitled Howl, and also it struck virtually every aspect of modern society together corrupt and alienating:
I experienced the finest minds of my generation ruined by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, dragging themselves with the negro roads at dawn trying to find an upset fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the old heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night....
It to be an strike on American materialism, on American technology, on organization, top top suburbs, on militarism, on the very idea of progress; an strike on every the underpinnings of modern-day middle-class culture and society; even an attack on rationality itself.
This is what made the beats seem so frightening and also subversive come many much more conventional americans in the 1950s—their frank rejection of the disciplined, bespeak life the the postwar center class; their open up alienation native a culture that most human being were lionizing; the way in i m sorry some, in ~ least, ignored the careful borders of gyeongju that mainstream society still observed and made connections with black color culture; your celebration the the sensual as opposed come the rational.
The Beats us attracted reasonably little attention from the American mainstream in the 1950s and also early 1960s—except together the objects of ridicule and also contempt. Yet they were significant because they were the clean antecedents of the counterculture that arised in the so late 1960s.
Another, ultimately much more powerful and also influential critique that the middle-class culture of the 1950s come from feminism. That critique walk not end up being widely clearly shows in American life till the late 1960s, and its influence did not come to be profound until even later 보다 that. However the problems and discontents to which feminism was a response were, of course, an extremely much a part of the culture of the 1950s. Among those signs was the publishing in 1963 of a publication that is usually regarded together a landmark in the rebirth of modern feminism: Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique—written and researched mainly in the so late 1950s. Friedan had graduated from smith College in 1942; and also in 1957, fifteen years later, married through children, life in suburban new York and working together a freelance writer, she traveled around the country to interview her Smith university classmates around the state that their resides for what was supposed to be a soft short article for a women’s magazine. Almost without exception, she claimed, the ladies she encountered were married, with children, life in prosperous, upper-middle-class suburbs. They to be living the end the dream that well-off bourgeois culture had produced for females in the postwar years, what Friedan dubbed the “mystique that feminine fulfillment,” through acting the end the expected roles of wives, mothers, and also homemakers. They responded to questions around their resides with forced, chirpy reports of contentment—proud speak of husbands, children, and also homes. And also yet, as Friedan pressed further, she discovered that behind this mystique, in basically all the females she interviewed, put a an essential sense of uneasiness, frustration, pass out unharamuseum.orgpiness that many women had actually great an obstacle articulating. Friedan dubbed this the “problem that has actually no name,” a trouble that also women themselves had actually been unable to recognize or explain.
But the actual problem, Friedan said, was embedded in the nature the the sex roles society had imposed on women. The ladies she met to be intelligent, educated, talented; and also yet they had actually no outlets for their talents except housework, motherhood, and also the companionship they offered their husbands. “The feminine mystique,” she wrote, “has prospered in burying countless women alive.”
Our retrospective picture of the “fifties” as the age of Ozzie and also Harriet is not completely false. It to be the image that numerous middle-class Americans embraced at the time, and a reflection of the method many of lock in truth lived. Yet it would certainly be a mistake to expropriate the middle-class translate of American life in the 1950s at face value. Because to know the realities of society in the 1950s, that is important to know that the consensual middle-class worldview that seemed so an effective at the moment was not totally accepted even by numerous members the the middle course itself.
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Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins Professor the American background at Columbia University and author the Voices that Protest: Huey Long, dad Coughlin, and also the good Depression (1982), which got the National book Award because that History; The finish of Reform: new Deal freedom in Recession and also War (1994); Liberalism and also its Discontents (1998); Franklin D. Roosevelt (2009); The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (2010); and also John F. Kennedy (2012).