The Postwar period in the United States is a remarkable time in our history. David Pierce of Student Pulse writes that this period “shaped the world as we know it today.” The Second World War itself was a major factor in this shaping, though other important factors included:
- Different and conflicting ideologies
- Advances in science
- Changes in the global temperament
Learning the details about these three factors can help you understand how the Postwar U.S. is characterized. As you’re preparing for the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ Social Studies subtest, you’ll want to know about the World Wars as well as the years following the war. Use our blog to familiarize yourself with the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression that followed, which were the two periods that followed the First World War.
The Postwar period, or the Cold War, followed the Second World War.
Different and Conflicting Ideologies
The Cold War was a conflict that occurred primarily between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (which is modern-day Russia). Though there were many differences between the two nations, one of the major conflicts was between the U.S.’s Democracy and the Soviet Union’s Communism.
Communism is “an ideology of economic equality through the elimination of private property.” It is most famously associated with Karl Marx, and has come to be associated with particular political parties. As Pierce notes, the founding principals of Democracy are fundamentally opposed to Communism. During WWII, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had been united against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. However, after the war ended, the U.S. began to view Communism as another radical ideology similar to Fascism. Our nation came to believe that Communism could pose a threat just like the ideological threat we had fought against during the war.
Tony Judt, a historian quoted by Pierce, claims that “it was in these post-war years, between 1947 and 1953, that the line dividing East from West, Left from Right, was carved deep into European cultural and intellectual life.” The U.S. and Western Democracy were on one side of this divide, and the Soviet Union and Communism were on the other side. The conflict led to an arms race between the two nations, as they each tried to stock thermonuclear weapons.
Advances in Science
The teachers at Digital History emphasize the fact that the Postwar Period was a time of dynamic, creative change. This creativity was primarily expressed through scientific and technological developments.
Major advances included the creation of commercial airlines and the transistor. According to the experts at Sparknotes, these developments “contributed significantly to the economy by transporting goods and people across the country within hours rather than days or weeks,” and “transformed the electronics industry and resulted in the formation of new technology corporations.” These advances helped the economy in the Postwar period, and federal grants were created to further invest in corporate research and development. Pierce reports that our nation “enjoyed an extended period of economic expansion during the war, and following the war the U.S. economy continued with great strength for more than a decade.”
The Cold War period also saw advances in nutrition and public health. Most significantly, Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1952. This vaccine effectively eliminated the disease, which had crippled and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Changes in the National Temperament
As the Cold War continued, paranoia spread throughout the U.S. This temperament was not an immediate effect of the WWII. It only became evident after the Soviet Union announced the first successful test of their nuclear bomb.
Pierce argues, “After the Soviets obtained the nuclear bomb, new fears regarding the advance of Communism became inextricably intertwined with the threat posed by the bomb itself.” These fears increased as political figures like Joseph McCarthy encouraged citizens to look for Communism in their communities (and not just in our enemies abroad). The Digital History teachers write that this deep fear at home was focused on “enemies within,” who might sabotage American foreign policy and pass secrets to the Soviets.
As the arms race continued, the U.S. promoted “nuclear preparedness,” which further increased “an atmosphere charged with paranoia and anxiety. Many citizens lived in fear of nuclear attack –or of their neighbors. Though the period was financially and technologically productive, widespread fear significantly characterized the period.