“No More World Wars and No More Great Depressions”
Although never stated at the time, this slogan provides a useful way to understand what
drove American policymakers in the aftermath of the war. The government developed
policies to achieve these goals. At other times, it accidentally happened upon programs
that helped to achieve them.
First, to try to guarantee no more world wars, the United States joined with other
countries to create the United Nations (UN) in April 1945. In this way the U.S. abandoned
the old foreign policy of neutrality or isolationism. The dilemma of multilateral
engagement and maintenance of national sovereignty remained.
Second, to avoid future depressions, the U.S. developed policies to keep the economy
strong. For example, it created tax policy to advance home ownership through the Federal
Housing Administration. This increased home construction and consumer spending.
Finally, the Cold War with the Soviets unexpectedly advanced the goal of no more world
wars. Once the Soviets developed their own atomic bomb it changed U.S.-Soviet relations.
Atomic warfare threatened the potential end of the world. Understanding that nuclear war
could mean their “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), the U.S. and Soviets kept
conflicts from escalating into all-out world war.
The Cold War also had an unplanned effect on the U.S. economy. National defense became
a focus of the federal government. Unlike after earlier wars, the U.S. did not totally
demobilize its armed forces after World War II. The government continued to spend huge
sums of money on military personnel, machinery, and technology. It developed a policy of
“military Keynesianism” keeping the pump of the American economy primed through
government spending on weapons. National defense became the justification for multibillion dollar contracts to build jet fighters or aircraft carriers, and more bombs. It was
even the reason behind such huge projects as the interstate highway system. This
continued spending, along with the tremendous savings that Americans had accumulated
during the war, led to an era of great prosperity by the early 1950s.
Critics of U.S. policy during the era suggested that we were in a “permanent war” that
purposely drew the civilian government and the military together. Even President
Eisenhower in his farewell address warned that the connection, the so-called “militaryindustrial complex” could possibly endanger American liberty.
The slogan “No More World Wars” does not mean no more wars. The U.S. would fight
“limited” wars when necessary.
United Nations (UN): Modeled after the League of Nations Woodrow Wilson
had called for after WWI, it is a congress where the nations of the world come to
discuss issues and to resolve disputes. Its approach to world peace is through
collective security: all member nations of the UN promise to come to the defense of
any nation invaded or attacked by another. Having led in creating the UN, the great
powers established the Security Council—an executive committee of fifteen nations,
including the five permanent members: the U.S., Russia, France, Great Britain, and
China. The five permanent members have a veto on any UN action.
The goal of the UN is to guarantee peace through diplomacy.
European Recovery Plan -- Marshall Plan:
Again following Wilson’s model, the U.S. believed rebuilding the economies of European
nations—Britain, France, and Germany--would help to achieve peace and prosperity.
Understanding that to keep the U.S. economy strong it needed markets for its goods, the
U.S. spent $12.5 billions to rebuild Europe’s industrial infrastructure. Officially the
European Recovery Plan, it became known as the Marshall Plan for Secretary of State
George Marshall.
At first, many Americans opposed the cost. But after the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia
in 1948, they understood it not only made good economic sense it made sense strategically
to create stability and a bulwark against Soviet threats.
With the Marshall Plan, Americans aimed to ensure peace through economic strength.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): In 1949, the U.S. and its European
allies formed NATO as the third part of the plan to ensure peace and prosperity. NATO is
a defensive military pact based on collective security.
In 1955, the Soviets formed a counter military treaty group called the Warsaw Pact.
NATO’s Cold War goal was to ensure peace through military strength.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO’s role has changed somewhat. During the 1990s,
NATO was responsible for enforcing UN sanctions against Serbia in the Bosnian War,
under the command of Gen. Wesley Clark. After September 11th, 2001, it engaged in the
war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in 2011 in Libya against Muammar Khaddafi.
“Iron Curtain”: Term from Winston Churchill’s speech in
Fulton, MO, 1946, it became the image of the absence of political
and economic freedom in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” he declared,
“an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”
Truman Doctrine: In 1946, tensions between the U.S. and the
Soviet Union began to grow. At Yalta, FDR and Stalin had secretly
agreed the Soviets should have a buffer zone in Eastern Europe to
protect Russia. Stalin publicly promised free elections in the Soviet
satellites, nations bordering the U.S.S.R., but the Soviets squelched
dissent. The Soviets also helped Communist insurgencies elsewhere,
notably in Greece. America saw this as a threat to their interests.
Truman promised to help Greeks fighting Communism. In 1947, he
declared that it must be U.S. policy “to support free peoples who are
resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside
pressures.” Under the Truman Doctrine, the U.S. pledged to
intervene in any conflict to contain the spread of Communism.
Further Trouble in Eastern Europe
The U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviets divided up Germany after the war to keep it
under control. The Soviets were in the eastern part and the others split the western part.
They also divided Berlin, the nation’s capital, into quarters. An alliance led the U.S. and
Britain to unite their sections. Later, the French joined in, leaving the Soviets feeling it was
three against one in Germany.
Berlin Airlift: In the spring of 1948, tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets grew.
Because Berlin was entirely within Soviet-controlled eastern Germany, the Soviets tried to
force the allies out. In April, they began restricting traffic on highways into Berlin. In June,
they cut off ground traffic altogether.
In response, the allies decided to fly in food,
water, and other goods to keep western Berlin
free from Soviet domination. For eleven
months, the airlift provided a million tons of
food and equipment for West Berliners. The
Soviets backed down in May 1949, and all
nations agreed to allow West Germans to form
a separate self-governing nation.
Election of 1948
The most surprising election in U.S. history. The Republicans named popular New York
governor Thomas Dewey and it seemed his election to lose because the Democrats were
deeply divided. The center of the party nominated Truman for what would effectively be a
second term. But Truman had alienated the left-wing of the party by being too stern in
dealings with the Soviets; it broke off and ran with former Vice-POTUS Henry Wallace
under the Progressive banner. Meanwhile, Truman had alienated the Southern-wing by
desegregating the armed forces; so it broke off and ran with South Carolinian Senator
Strom Thurmond under the States Rights Democratic Party, or the “Dixiecrats.”
Dewey was so sure he would win that he stopped
campaigning months before the vote. Truman,
however, continued to campaign and ending up
winning the Labor vote and enough of the urban
black vote to win Illinois, Ohio, and California.
Truman won the election.
Atomic Spies: In the early post-war years, the U.S. had negotiated with the Soviets from
a position of strength. The U.S. had the Bomb and Stalin did not. That changed in 1949.
Soviet spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project during the war. Indeed, Stalin knew
about the bomb before Truman did. Several atomic scientists, even Manhattan Project
director J. Robert Oppenheimer, feared America's unilateral control of the atomic bomb. A
leading scientist, Klaus Fuchs passed vital information to the Soviets. This information,
along with that gathered from Julius Rosenberg, enabled the Soviets to develop a bomb
years faster than expected. In September 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their own Abomb. The Soviets won the second move of the Cold War.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: Their story was a cause célèbre during the early 1950s as
the husband and wife team were tried and convicted (1951) and executed (1953) for
espionage. At the time, the American public was split on the trial because of a spirited
defense and the Rosenberg’s denial of guilt. Many believed the Rosenberg’s were innocent.
But in 1995, declassified documents from the FBI’s Venona Project, proved the Rosenberg’s
and scores of others had spied on the U.S.
“The Pumpkin Papers”: It involved
Soviet agent–turned anti-Communist informer: Whittaker Chambers
a Harvard-trained lawyer and former Deputy Secretary of State: Alger Hiss
an ambitious freshman Congressman: Richard Nixon.
In 1948, Chambers named Hiss as a spy. Hiss denied the charge despite his being a member
of the Fourth Department. Pressured to prove his claim, Chambers took HUAC investigators
to his farm, led them to his pumpkin patch, and from a hollowed-out pumpkin drew spools
of microfilm containing secret government documents Hiss had given him. Hiss was
convicted of perjury, for lying to HUAC.
Hiss denied the charges to his death in 1996, but
Venona and documents from the Soviet archives
opened up after the demise of the Soviet Union
proved that Hiss was a spy.
Red China: Events in Asia cemented the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviets.
1949, the Chinese civil war ended as Mao Zedong’s Communist forces pushed the U.S.backed Chinese Nationalists out to Taiwan. At the end of the year, Mao visited Moscow
to celebrate Stalin’s 70th birthday and sign a Sino-Soviet Pact confirming an alliance
against the US. Months later Mao and Stalin gave North Korean leader Kim Il Sung the
okay to invade South Korea.
Mao’s victory caused criticism against Truman as many asked: “Who lost China?” and
were Democrats “Soft on Communism?”
“The gravest threat to the security of the U.S. within the foreseeable future stems from the
hostile designs and formidable power of the USSR, and from the nature of the Soviet
system. . . . We must confront it with convincing evidence of the determination and ability
of the free world to frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will.”
NSC-68: The National Security Act of 1947 reorganized the U.S. defense system. It created
the Central Intelligence Agency to gather intelligence on America’s enemies and National
Security Council to coordinate intelligence and advise the POTUS on foreign policy.
In 1950, the Council issued Study #68, a “top secret” document advising Truman about
Soviet intentions. NSC-68 called the Soviet Union “aggressive and expansionist,” and
advanced the policy of containment. It insisted that the U.S. “strike out on a bold program of
rebuilding the West’s defensive potential to surpass that of the Soviet world.”
NSC-68 was declassified in the 1970s. It represents that clearest statement of U.S. foreign
policy of the era.
Korean War, 1950-1953: In June 1950, North Korean forces (equipped with Soviet-made
weapons) invaded South Korea. Truman pushed a resolution through the U.N. condemning
the invasion. The U.N. sent troops (mostly Americans) to free South Korea. In November
1950, Chinese Communists came to North Korea’s defense, invading North Korea to push
the U.S. troops back. The world stood on the brink of a world war. But that unimaginable
conflict created restraint. Truman did not attack the Chinese. Dwight Eisenhower won the
election of 1952 and in August 1953, he settled for a truce. Korea remains divided today.
General Douglas MacArthur (again):
After Japan surrendered, he was military governor of occupied Japan, reshaping Japanese
society through a new constitution and a peace-oriented economy. A vain and arrogant man,
he saw himself as presidential material and looked down on Truman, but his misreading of
the political situation in the Cold War ruined him.
He was Commander of UN forces in Korea, devising and leading the invasion at Inchon,
and pushing the North Koreans back to the Chinese border. When the Chinese Red Army
flooded across the border and pushed UN forces back, MacArthur pressured Truman to
begin an all-out war on Communism. Truman, fearing World War III, refused and fired him.
With his political ambitions ruined, MacArthur gave a final address to Congress, asserting
the axiom, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
Domino Theory: Amid concern over communist
threats in Indochina, Eisenhower voiced belief that
if the U.S. did not intervene militarily to prevent the
fall of Laos and Vietnam to communism, then the
entire region would fall like so many dominoes.
“The fall of Laos to communism,” he later wrote,
“would mean the subsequent fall—like tumbling
dominoes—of its still-free neighbors, Cambodia and
South Vietnam and, in all probability, Thailand and
Burma. Such a chain of events would open the way
to Communist seizure of all of Southeast Asia.”
Among the chief advocates the idea was
Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
“Massive Retaliation”: Part of Eisenhower’s “New Look” strategy to contain the Soviets;
it involved the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons upon minor provocation. Other parts
of the New Look strategy were diplomacy, economic sanctions, covert attacks led by the CIA,
and psychological warfare. Historians came to call Ike’s approach “brinksmanship,” meaning
bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war and then backing away. Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev was actually more responsible for this approach, however. The other major part
of the strategy was regional alliances, what one historian has called Pactomania, adding to
NATO, the ANZUS Treaty, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), and Middle
East Treaty Organization (METO; a.k.a. CENTO for Central Treaty Organization).
Senator Joseph McCarthy: Wisconsin Republican elected in 1946. In 1950, McCarthy
announced that he had evidence that there were 57 known Communists in the U.S. State
Department and declared that the Soviets were winning the Cold War, touching off what
has become known as the “Second Red Scare.” In 1954, he turned his attention on
Communist infiltration of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in a series of televised hearings. His
abuse of witnesses, disrespect for other Senators, and vulgar personal attacks shocked the
public. Opponents in both parties called him reckless and a liar; the media stepped up their
attacks. Six months after the hearings, the Senate censured him. He died of the effects of
alcoholism in 1957.
McCarthy indeed was a liar (about some things) and
opportunist who may have done more to harm the
anti-Communist challenge than to help it. His name
is a noun meaning vicious, unsubstantiated
political attacks, a witch hunt: McCarthyism.
Ironically, Venona showed that most of his claims
were true.
Suez Crisis: One of two crises in the Middle East (the
other being Eisenhower’s response to a Communist coup
in Iran where the C.I.A. and U.S. military reinstalled the
Shah in 1953), it occurred in 1956 but grew out of the ArabIsraeli conflict that had been smoldering for a decade.
In 1956, war again broke out between Israel (with help
from the British and French) and Egypt. Eisenhower,
knowing the importance of the region’s oil to the U.S.
economy, backed Egypt and pressured the British to back
down. The Soviets also backed Egypt and threatened to
bomb Britain. Although the American role was more
significant in forcing Britain to relent, the Soviets got
more credit from the Arabs.
The crisis caused Eisenhower to declare the Eisenhower
Doctrine, that he would use military force to protect
American interests in the region. The whole event shows
the complexity of creating American foreign policy once
the U.S. decided to be the “world’s policeman.”
Sputnik: Following WWII, the U.S. and Soviets began a rivalry of technology—not only to
create atomic weapons, but also rockets, missiles, and satellites. Because of atomic spies, the
Soviets quickly caught up in weapons technology. In August 1957, the Soviets tested the first
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)--a long-distance missile capable of hitting the U.S.
In October, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into space.
Many Americans began to panic that the Soviets were winning the Cold War. In response,
Congress, in 1958, created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and
enacted the National Defense Education Act to advance training in math, science, and foreign
Fallout Shelters:
Symbol of America fearing nuclear war.
The government campaigned to have people
build bomb shelters in their back yards as places
to go in case of a nuclear attack. Shelters were to
have sleeping and sanitary facilities and be
stocked with enough food and water to enable a
family to survive.
Meanwhile, in schools, students learned the
“duck and cover” -- drilled like we do tornado
drills, students would crawl under their desks
and cover their heads to avoid the nuclear fallout.
The absurdity of believing a desk could protect you or that a
fallout shelter was a suitable response shows a deep anxiety and
irrationality of the much of America’s reaction to the Cold War.
The World's Economic Superpower Emerges
Conformity: to be like everybody else – the post-war period is seen as a time of
conformity when several things pressured Americans not to act in ways that challenged the
dominant culture, a culture that stressed consumerism, materialism, traditional gender
roles and morality. One reason for this is the prosperity that the nation witnessed in the
two decades following WWII. After years of hardship, Americans could afford to buy
things again. Added to that, a firm belief that the Great Depression was caused by a lack of
consumer power (demand-side economics) took hold. It was good to buy “things” (cars,
refrigerators, televisions): good because it was fun and good because it kept people
working making those things and kept the economy humming.
Another reason was the rise of suburbia. All the homes looked alike; you could walk into a
new friend’s suburban home that you had never visited before and know the basic floor
plan (or notice how it differed from your house) An impression of equality emerged – you
were basically the same as your neighbor. But when your neighbor bought something new,
you might have sensed that you were falling behind; so you had to get that new thing, too.
You had to “keep up with the Joneses.” The media helped foster these ideas, through
advertising or consumer magazines.
Such stifling of individualism may help explain not only the culture of the 1950s, but also
the reaction to it in the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1955 film, Rebel Without a Cause, exemplifies the tension over conformity and personal
expression. In it, the young superstar James Dean feels held back by his middle-class
upbringing. He has every material thing he could want and his parents love him and treat
him well, but he is dissatisfied. He needs to find his own character. But the dominant culture
dismisses his rebelliousness. Life is good (better than it was for his parents in the
Depression and War). He has no “cause” for which to rebel.
Ticky-Tacky Suburban Society:
The Culture of Conformity, 1945-1964
“The Fifties:” In 1957, U.S. News & World Report called the previous ten years a
“decade of miracles.” The U.S. had emerged as the world’s sole economic superpower.
America was “a nation on the move” with “millions of babies . . . millions of pupils . . .
millions of jobs . . . millions of households . . . [and for them] millions of new homes in
new cities.” The U.S. comprised 7% of the world’s population, but held 42% of the world’s
income and produced 50% of the world’s manufacturing output—43% of electricity, 57% of
steel, 62% of oil, 80% of automobiles. It held 75% of the world’s gold.
One reason behind the boom was the continued spending of the federal government to
avoid a return to the Great Depression. In 1950, government spending reached $43 billion,
more than four times 1939 levels. Spending included mortgage guarantees, highway
construction, medical and scientific research, and the “military-industrial complex” of
weapons systems.
Not all Americans shared in the bounty, of course, and anxiety over the struggle against
Communism abroad and at home made the decade less than perfect. But economically, as a
nation, there is no question that the U.S. had become the world’s economic superpower.
The G.I. Bill: Shortly after D-Day, Congress enacted the
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “G.I.
Bill of Rights.” The Act stipulated that any veteran who had
served at least 90 days in the military after September 1940 had the
right to the following benefits:
1. access to a job finding program
2. unemployment benefits for a year
3. access to discount home mortgage loans
4. “education and training.”
The last “right” became the most significant over time – veterans
received up to four years of paid, full-time education, including
money for college. By 1956, about 8 million veterans had taken
advantage of the opportunities, including more than 2 million who
went to college or university.
The WWII generation was the first to have so many get beyond a
high school education.
The Baby Boom: The postwar years (1946-1962) saw the largest demographic bubble in
U.S. history—70 million babies, almost two-fifths of the 1960 population of 190 million.
The boom ended with the advent of the “birth-control pill” in the early 1960s, as couples
married later, and as divorce became more accepted.
Levittown: First mass suburban tract built after WWII. William Levitt and Sons created
an assembly line approach to home construction. Levitt divided the building process into
steps, performed in sequence by a crew that repeated its same tasks on each home. Levitt
claimed to finish a house every fifteen minutes. The first Levittown, on Long Island had
17,500 houses and 82,000 residents. Along with new construction techniques, postwar
homebuilders and buyers took advantage of new tax rules and low-interest loans
sponsored by the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration to create
the post-war housing boom.
“I Like Ike”: Truman’s problems in Korea and the stress of his second term kept him from
another run for the presidency. He talked Illinois Governor Adlai E. Stevenson II into
running. Republicans, meanwhile, considered Robert Taft (“Mr. Republican”), but wanted a
more likely winner. They found Dwight Eisenhower. As hero of WWII, “Ike” was a shoo-in
with the public. The only question was whether conservative Republicans could be coaxed
along. They were, with the selection of Richard M. Nixon as vice-presidential candidate.
A political moderate, Eisenhower did not intend to dismantle the New Deal. He did not
intend to do much of anything and that was what a conforming America wanted. Economic
prosperity continued thanks in part to major public works projects. Although his was
essentially a successful presidency, Eisenhower’s biggest oversight as POTUS was his slow
support for the growing Civil Rights Movement. He had a settling influence on the
American psyche despite the anxieties of the Cold War.
Interstate Highway System: Inspired by the German Autobahn, it is a limited-access
superhighway that serves a dual-purpose: to promote commerce, and increase national
security. Costing an estimated $129 Billions, it changed the US economy, changed the
relationship of the federal government to the states , reshaped cities, altered the landscape,
and changed American culture.
Polio Vaccine: Invented by Jonas Salk in 1952, it all but eliminated child paralysis
(poliomyelitis), a disease that affected 58,000 children in 1952 (killing 1,400) and had paralyzed Franklin
Roosevelt. Albert Sabin produced an oral vaccine in 1962. The research was funded by
government and through the work of such organizations as the March of Dimes. By 1962,
there were only 910 recorded cases in the U.S. Ending polio boosted other disease prevention
research and gave hope that science would end other childhood diseases, as well as cancer,
heart disease, and stroke.
Transistors: Semiconductors used for amplification and switching—the key components
in modern electronics. Using less power and being much smaller than vacuum tubes, they
facilitated portable electronic devices, such as transistor radios first developed by Texas
Instruments in 1954. The pre-transistor portable radio was about the size of a notebook
computer and contained several heavy batteries. By comparison, the “transistor,” as it
became known, was small and operated off one 9V battery. Transistors became popular with
youth in the early sixties, when their price came down from its original $50.
Television: Although invented much earlier, television receivers were not marketed to any
great extent before the end of WWII (besides there was nothing to watch). In 1949, 2.3% of
U.S. homes had black-and-white sets on which to watch the most popular viewing of the
day—wrestling. By 1962, 90% had at least one TV and by the mid-1960s sets were color.
In between, the two major radio networks, CBS and NBC, transformed many of their popular
radio shows into television shows (Amos and Andy, The Lone Ranger, etc.) many shown
“live.” New TV stars established themselves—none bigger than Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy.
Game shows were extremely popular, at least before being
discredited in the “Quiz Show Scandal” where viewers of
Twenty-One and $64,000 Question discovered that contestants
had been given the answers before hand.
Viewers became riveted by news programs and Congressional
hearings involving McCarthy’s Red Scare and Kefauver’s
investigations into organized crime. Finally, while important and
cutting-edge dramas played on programs such as Playhouse 90,
most shows were family fare – light, moralist, and suburban –
blandly capturing the “American Dream.”
Hootenanny: In the late1950s, an acoustic folk music revival emerged to challenge the
frivolousness of “pop music” and rock-and-roll. It built on work by “old folkies”, such as
Woody Guthrie and The Weavers (notably Pete Seeger who was blacklisted for membership
in the Communist Party USA). The breakthrough act of the revival was The Kingston Trio
whose “Tom Dooley” (about the hanging of Tom Dula in Statesville for murder) exploded
on the charts in 1959. For the next five years, folk music merged with the civil rights
movement and competed with rock-and-roll for the youth market with artists, such as Peter,
Paul, and Mary, and Phil Ochs. It reached a new level in Bob Dylan.
The Beats: Group of writers, centered in San Francisco that
led the bohemian anti-establishment movement known as the
“counter culture”. Their followers became known as “Beatniks”
or “Hipsters.”
Led by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, they erupted on the literary scene
in the mid-1950s with the publication of a poetry collection by
Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”. The book scandalized publishing
because of its explicit homosexuality, but it opened the way for
new and more provocative works to follow.
Although other writers had success, the most successful was
Jack Kerouac, whose books On the Road remains an icon of
1950s rebellion. Several Beats got caught up in experimentation
with drugs, particularly LSD. Beats stayed at the center of the
counterculture when San Francisco, specifically HaightAshbury, became the Mecca for hippies after 1965.
The Kennedy Administration, 1961-1963
Kennedy-Nixon Debates: First televised presidential
campaign debates, between Sen. John F. Kennedy (Democrat)
and Vice-President Richard Nixon (Republican). The debate
turned on two things. (1) Image: Kennedy wore make-up which
under the television lights made him look tan and healthy.
Nixon did not; so he looked pale and pasty. The television
audience believed Kennedy looked more presidential. (2) Cold
War: Kennedy accused the Eisenhower-Nixon administration
of letting the Soviets get the lead in the Cold War, notably
through what Kennedy called a “missile gap”—there was no
substantive difference between the Soviet and American
Nixon beat Kennedy on that and other policy points. The radio
audience believed Nixon made the better arguments and
having a better grasp of issues.
The Kennedy Administration, 1961-1963
“Ask not”: John Kennedy represented “a passing of the torch” from the WWI generation
(Eisenhower) to the WWII generation. He sparked the imagination of youth by inviting
them to volunteer. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he declared in his
inaugural address, “ask what you can do for your country.”
New Frontier: Kennedy’s policy agenda, building on
the idea of a new generation taking control of
government. It called upon citizens to think anew about
the problems facing the world. The main elements
included: (1) a new approach to the Soviets—”Flexible
Response, i.e. maintaining a strong military force while
calling for a reduction of nuclear weapons and the ending
the development of new weapons by banning nuclear
weapons testing; (2) using government to spur advances
in science to explore space—most notably racing to the
moon—and to eliminate diseases; (3) improving relations
with Latin America and holding off Communist
expansion through the Alliance for Progress; (4) tapping
into the idealism of the youth of America.
Agency led by Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sergeant Shriver. It
called on college-age people to travel to under-developed countries
to help grow food, increase crop yields, and improve health
conditions. It built on Project HOPE, the Eisenhower program to
have doctors give medical and nutritional aid to people in poorer
nations. More than 5,000 applicants took the first exams to enter
the Peace Corps. The first 51 volunteers went to Ghana in 1961. By
the end of 1963, 7,300 were serving in 44 countries. Despite an
obvious humanitarian value, the programs expected to help the
U.S. Cold War effort by winning the “hearts and minds” of people.
The Peace Corps:
Bay of Pigs Invasion: In 1959, Fidel Castro led a Communist revolution in Cuba. He
took U.S. property and Cubans sympathetic to the old regime went into exile in Florida. The
U.S. saw Castro as a direct threat. The Eisenhower administration developed a plan to help
the exiles invade Cuba (entering at the Bay of Pigs) and oust Castro. After the 1960 election,
Kennedy inherited the mission. In part because Kennedy failed to give adequate air support
to the invaders, the April 1961 invasion ended in complete and utter failure. It was a major
blemish on the new government. Among other important results, it put Kennedy on the
defensive in international negotiations relating to Cuba and Castro and made him
vulnerable to attacks by Republicans that his foreign policy was inept.
Vienna Conference:
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had little respect for Kennedy
(believing him to be weak and a fraud) and so he decided to test JFK’s mettle. He met with
Kennedy in Vienna in June 1961. Kennedy, heavily drugged to control his severe back pain,
performed poorly and admitted himself that Khrushchev walked all over him. Returning
home, Kennedy claimed victory but feared that nuclear war was inevitable. He started to
mobilize the military and asked Congress for a $3.2 billion defense appropriation.
Berlin Wall: Berlin remained a point of Cold War conflict after the airlift in the late 1940s.
At Vienna, Khrushchev had threatened to block U.S. access to the city. But he had a problem:
thousands of East Germans crossed to the West to escape Communism. To stop the flood of
refugees, Khrushchev ordered a wall built through Berlin and the German countryside to
keep East Germans in. The wall demonstrates the lengths to which the Soviets would go to
control their people. It became a symbol of the tyranny and slavery of the Communist
system, as JFK made a rousing visit to West Berlin in 1963 and gave his famous “Ich Bin Ein
Berliner” Speech. And prompting President Ronald Reagan to tell the Soviets to "tear down
this wall" during a visit to Berlin in 1987.
Cuban Missile Crisis: The critical moment of the Kennedy presidency. After pushing
JFK around for more than a year, the Soviets went too far, placing nuclear missiles in Cuba.
The missiles could target major U.S. cities. Kennedy ordered the Soviets to remove the
missiles. The Soviets countered, demanding that the U.S. pull its missiles out of Turkey.
Kennedy refused and a six-day stand-off resulted.
The world was never closer to nuclear war. Finally, Khrushchev backed down, removing the
missiles. Kennedy claimed victory. What was not known or admitted at the time was that
Kennedy had also backed down—he had pulled U.S. missiles out of Turkey.
The crisis scared the U.S. and Soviets so much that they
began talks to lessen the nuclear arms race. The talks
resulted in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned
testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. Though a
small step, it was a step toward better relations between
the USSR and the U.S.
Assassination of John F. Kennedy:
On November 22, 1963, as JFK rode through Dallas in an open limousine, Lee Harvey Oswald
shot and killed him. Arrested the day of the shooting, Oswald was interrogated, but denied
doing it. A couple of days after the assassination, Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, a
nightclub owner who claimed he wanted to avenge Kennedy. Oswald’s quick death left
many questions unanswered and has led ever since to speculation of a conspiracy. Lyndon B.
Johnson, Kennedy’s Vice-POTUS, became POTUS as a result of the murder.
"Camelot": After the murder and funeral of President Kennedy, a mythology developed
that came to overwhelm the reality of the Kennedy years. In death, Kennedy became more
universally popular in America than he was in life. He became the symbol of hope that, as
the U.S. descended into disorder and careened from one disaster to another over the next
twenty years, became a symbol of lost innocence and a dream destroyed. Chief among the
mythmakers were his advisers, his staff, and his family. Shortly after the assassination,
historian and Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., asked Jacqueline Kennedy what life
was like in the JKF White House. Recalling the favorite Broadway musical of the day, she
said that it was like Camelot" -- "In short there's simply not a more congenial spot for
happ'ly-ever-aftering than here in Camelot." The myth stuck.
“The British Invasion”: In February 1964, as the U.S. dealt
with JFK’s murder, The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney,
George Harrison, Ringo Starr) landed in New York to play the Ed
Sullivan Show. The crowd (mostly screaming girls) greeting them
at the airport was the biggest thing rock music had seen since
Elvis Presley broke on the scene. Over the next year, the Beatles
dominated American culture (music, dress, hair, even movies).
After them, came British acts of varying quality and popularity—
from giants (Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton) to the big
and then gone – changing the face of popular music. The synergy
of the British invasion, America’s musical response (exemplified
by The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan), the youth market, drugs, and
the Vietnam War helped expand the counterculture on both sides
of the Atlantic.