At the end of World War II, the United States was left as a global superpower, only challenged by the Soviet Union. The two countries became opponents in a cold war that lasted for decades. The United States continued its economic progress and remained the world’s strongest economic and military force into the 21st century.
Domestically, large sections of the population experienced enormous wealth growth, but also economic upheavals and social and cultural tensions between population groups and between regions.
Postwar and Cold War 1945–1960
During the Depression, the Roosevelt administration had to stimulate activity. World War II led to a stimulus of the economy that made controls, increased consumption taxes and rationing necessary. Truman’s task was to continue the restrictive economic policy, but now in peacetime when the demands for greater freedom were promoted with great force.
Truman’s popularity soon turned to the opposite. At the same time, relations with Congress became tense, especially as Republicans secured a majority in the period 1947-1949. On the other hand, Truman’s veto of a law that imposed certain restrictions on the trade union’s activities (the Taft-Hartley Act) led him to regain support from trade union and liberal circles. The bill was nevertheless passed by more than 2/3 majority in Congress and thus became law over the president’s veto, but Truman won the presidential election in 1948 narrowly ahead of Thomas Edmund Dewey; this despite the fact that progressive and reactionary forces in Truman’s own party had formed their own parties with their own presidential candidates.
During the World War, there had been widespread fear in the United States that the conclusion of the peace would lead to new economic depression. It turned out, however, that saved funds led to a very high demand for consumer goods, which in turn contributed to the industry quickly switching to peace production. Rationing was abolished, but prices rose rapidly and control of them proved insufficient. The rise in prices and housing shortages led to social unrest and tension in the labor market despite the boom.
Fight against communism
In this situation, the continued and partly renewed international crisis mood stabilized the US economy. Particularly from 1947, the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union increased, and it came to a closer cooperation with the United Kingdom on a Western foreign exchange rate. In connection with the United States taking over British defense obligations in Greece, the president came up with the so-called Truman Doctrine in March 1947.
Based on a program of military and financial assistance to Greece and Turkey as a counterbalance to communist pressure, the doctrine essentially stated that the United States anywhere in the world would support legal regimes against communist attacks or undermining. In June 1947, a speech was made by Secretary of State George Catlett Marshall who gave the run-up to the Marshall Plan.
Here, humanitarian, defense political and economic motives came together in a push to rebuild and thus stabilize war-torn Europe. In 1948, the four-year plan for European reconstruction was approved with a $ 5.2 billion grant for the first twelve months. That same year, the Senate passed the Vandenberg Resolution, which promised military assistance to states willing to coordinate its defense regionally. Thus, the assignment was given to the work of establishing a European defense organization. In 1949, the United States initiated the Atlantic Pact and the establishment of NATO.
During the first five post-war years, the role of the United States in the global community had changed completely. As a country located in North America listed on constructmaterials, US military involvement in Europe and Asia had previously been completely out of date, except during the World Wars. With US military bases, the establishment of NATO and not least the Korean War, this attitude reversed. At the same time, relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated. The Iran crisis, the “Sovietization” of Eastern Europe, and not least Winston Churchill’s anti-communism paired with Britain’s faltering post-war economy, led the United States to reluctantly undertake new international commitments. Through the containment policy, the United States was to act as a guarantor to “curb” Soviet expansion.
However, the Truman administration’s active attitude toward the communist world did not prevent the opposition from attacking the president and Democratic party leaders for communist friendliness. The attacks were particularly marked during the McCarthy period (1950–1954). Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy accused in a series of speeches and statements by the Department of Foreign Affairs and other state leadership of being communist-infiltrated.
The Korean War (1950–1953) intensified the sense of imminent danger. The mood was further agitated when, in the spring of 1951, Truman resigned General Douglas MacArthur’s command of the United Nations troops in Korea because MacArthur insisted on pursuing a different and more aggressive approach to North Korea and China than the US Army leadership and president wished. McCarthy’s business and the war provided the Republican Party with a breakthrough for political revenge following the defeat since 1932.