Post-War Era

El Centro History Department

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The Post-War Era


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Post-War (1945-60) on YouTube

Army - McCarthy Hearings
Audio of Truman Doctrine
"In the Mood" by Glenn Miller (1946)
What Makes a Good Party (1950)
Attitudes toward Working Women in the 1950s
A 1950s Date with Your Family
1950s Kool Aid Commercial
First Barbie Commercial
1950s Music Sequence
30 Best Songs of the 50s
Teen Queens of the 1950s
"Be My Baby" by the Ronettes
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles
"La Bamba" by Richie Valens
Jack Kerouac on Steve Allen Show

1946 Time Machine
Fifties Web
Literature and Culture of the 1950s
Levittown - 1951
Levittown Historical Society
Development of Suburbs
The Fair Deal
Harry Truman
Truman Doctrine
Truman Library and Museum
Marshall Plan - Wikipedia
McCarthyism - Wikipedia
House Un-American Activities Committee
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum
The Eisenhower Presidency
The Federal Highway Act of 1956

Lecture Notes

The Post-War Era (1945-60)

Many Americans think of the Post-War Era as the "Best Years." Was it? Answer: It depended on who you were.

It was a time of settling down after the Great Depression and World War II. Even politics seemed milder. Truman was re-elected in 1948 and General Dwight D. Eisenhower from World War II, a Republican, won both the 1952 and 1956 elections. Despite party differences, both were moderate, had few dramatic differences or policy shifts, although each had his own priorities and interests.

The biggest concern of most Americans was the economy and wondering if the depression would return. Fear spread after the war when a two year long recession struck. During demobilization, reconversion to peacetime industry, and defense cutbacks, the Gross National Produce (GNP) decreased, inflation increased, and shortages of consumer goods appeared. Elimination of wartime price controls increased prices while decreasing overtime lowered income. Layoffs became common.

At the end of the 1940s, the economy recovered, though, due to two major factors. Consumerism was one as people had saved during the war but were now ready to spend. They wanted to buy houses, cars, and appliances. Defense spending was the other factor. After a brief decline after the war, spending on defense increased as the Cold War emerged.

From 1950-70, economic prosperity reached a high-point in U.S. history. Average income doubled in the 1950s and doubled again in the 1960s. Unemployment rarely reached over 3.5%. A growth in professional jobs by the mid-1950s enlarged the middle class as half of working Americans moved into those positions. The economy grew to accommodate women. after the war, many went home, married and had babies. By the 1950s, the trend reversed especially among working-class women. In the early 1950s, as many women worked outside the home as had during the war and was growing. The economy was strong enough to continue to provide a safety net for the poor including AFDC, Social Security, and Unemployment Insurance. Indeed, there were many happy people in the Post-War Era.

Veterans were happy with the G. I. Bill of Rights (1944) that provided educational benefits, low interest business and home loans, and health care for veterans. This also helped stimulate the economy as 4 million veterans used benefits by 1947. One million bought homes. Eventually, eight million veterans of World War II used this program that has been continued to cover veterans until today.

Families were happy to, a symbol of the Post-War era. The obsession was "family values." The "baby boom" or increase birth rate after World War II inspired this. 76 million babies were born from 1946-1964. That generation will dominate culture due to sheer numbers. Other signs of sound family life appeared such as decreasing divorce rates and we were healthier than ever. The development of penicillin in the war, the introductions of the polio vaccine in 1955, and the first birth control pills provided examples of the development of modern medicine. This was the first generation consistently born in hospitals rather than at home, too.

Family activities were emphasized. The "family vacation" developed with the Interstate Highway system under the Eisenhower administration. Mass air travel increased and car sales boomed. 53,000 motels were built to make room for the traveling families. Family movies also were the thing with Disney films and cartoons, science fiction, and clean cut movie stars like Doris Day, Bob Hope, and John Wayne. But there was also Marilyn Monroe, the most important sex symbol of the era. If you ever have time, though, watch her films like "Some Like It Hot." (my favorite) Monroe never did anything sexual in her films. There was always the suggestiveness, but she did actually do anything in the films although her famous poses for Playboy Magazine revealed all. Drive-in movies were the thing. It was a family outing with playgrounds near the screen, lawn chairs, and ice chests. I remember going to either the Jefferson or Chalk Hill Drive-Ins every weekend during the Post-War Era. When baby-boomers grew into teenagers, they redefined the purpose of drive-ins.

Another favorite family activity was sports. It was another Golden Age of Sports especially in baseball. Integration of the white leagues happened in 1947 with Jackie Robinson who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. In addition to Robinson, other great players included Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, and Hank Aaron. The New York Yankees dominated in the Post-War Era appearing in eleven World series from 1946-60 and winning eight.

If all this was not enough, families had a new member: the television set. The first broadcast had been in 1939 and first color in 1947. By 1950, 90% of households had a television. Television had an enormous impact on consumerism, values, politics, and advertising. To naive Americans, television defined "normal." People believed they should be like the characters on television. But how many people really lived like "Leave It to Beaver," "I Love Lucy," "Father Knows Best," and "Amos 'n Andy?"

Television could be controversial, though. "I Love Lucy" was the most popular show when Lucille Ball, the star, got pregnant. This was a time pregnant women did not appear in public or hid their pregnancies. Pregnant teachers were released from their jobs. The word "pregnant" was not allowed on television. And, no one ever slept together. Lucy and Ricky had twin beds like everyone else on television until "The Munsters." To keep "I Love Lucy" on the air, she concealed her first pregnancy in all sorts of weird costumes. The second pregnancy, however, made history. It was written into the show. This was a first and opened doors for women. But, they never said "pregnant." It was "having a baby," "in the family way," and other euphemisms.

Elvis Presley was also controversial with his "Elvis the Pelvis" moves that might corrupt the baby boomers. He was even censored on one show showing only the waist up. But, music was never the same again.

Television also could be a powerful political tool as we know today. It changed campaigns, conventions and investigative journalism. One incident illustrated the power of television, McCarthyism. This was another anti-radical hysteria after World War II like the "Red Scare" after World War I. Named after Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (R), it had actually begun in the late 1930s with the creation of the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to investigate radicalism, especially Communists. Then, in 1940, the Smith Act made it illegal to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government. During World War I, this subsided since the Communists were part of the Allied Powers. After the war, it resumed and Americans saw themselves in a death struggle with Communism.

Again, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was called into action. From 1947 through 1955, a purge of radicalism was conducted. But, few Communists were found but liberals were vulnerable. Many innocent Americans found their careers destroyed by the mere accusation of being Communist or knowing Communists. Americans were forced to prove they were not Communists. Could you do that? Still Americans were accused and received subpoenas to hearing by HUAC. Witnesses were pressured to name names of Communists with the threat of losing their jobs. If a witness did not cooperate, "blacklisting" was the result and they could not get a job. HUAC was especially harsh in Hollywood with the purge led by Ronald Reagan who was convinced Communists in the movies were corrupting Americans. 110 actors and writers received subpoenas. Eventually ten writers were indicted and convicted for not cooperating the the Committee and taking the 5th Amendment. They became known as the "Hollywood Ten."

Meanwhile, Joseph McCarthy was accusing the U.S. government of being infiltrated by Communists although he never provided proof. In fact, McCarthy never found one Communist during his reign.

Then, in 1949, the Soviets exploded their first atom bomb and the search for U.S. spies that assisted them began. Eventually, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed in 1953 for treason. Later studies suggest that there is some evidence against Julius but nothing to suggest Ethel was involved.

McCarthyism could not survive television, though. In 1954, McCarthy accused the U.S. Military of being Communist. Hearings were held on television. McCarthy looked like Hitler yelling and screaming that the Chief of Staff George Marshall of being a Communist. Yet, he had no evidence. Eventually, McCarthy is shamed by the lawyer representing the military (Joseph Welch). Here is Welch's famous put down: Army McCarthy Hearings Overnight, public opinion changed, McCarthy was censured by the Senate and retired.

Television would have a major impact on another Post-war trend, the Civil Rights Movement. World War II had not magically eliminated prejudice. After there were race wars in the North, lynchings in the South, and the Ku Klux Klan reappeared. Japanese-Americans were attacked on the streets especially by veterans and Jews threatened. "White Flight" or the departure of whites from major cities began and suburbs grew.

Minorities and the courts had changed and white Americans will be confronted with racism and forced to deal with it. After World War II, a series of court decisions on segregation and discrimination on voting rights were issued in favor of minorities. Also, there were more and more organizations representing minority issue. By 1954, court decision had ordered non-discrimination in voting, travel, real estate, and burial in national cemeteries. Then came the big one, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Supreme Court overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson and ordered the desegregation of public schools. But, resistance to this decision will be great but more and more desegregation appeared. In 1948, President Truman took the bold step of desegregating the military and civil service jobs.

At the same time, African-Americans lost patience. This became obvious in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks, a college graduate seamstress and church worker, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man which was the law. Parks had been carefully chosen for this move by civil rights activists due to her character. Later she said, "I had made up my mind never to move again." Parks was arrested. Two previous women had been arrested but they just did suit the needs of a leadership role in the civil rights movement. When the NAACP discovered her, they knew she was the one to take on this role. After her arrest, she had one call and that was to E. B. Nixon and he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nixon, a labor leader in the Sleeping Car Porters Union, made a historic invitation to a young, popular minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., to help mobilize the people with his great oratory. This was MLK's introduction to national prominence.

For a year the Montgomery Bus Boycott continued as buses were not ridden by African-Americans. This was a great hardship, of course, as people had to walk to work or get a ride in organized carpools. A few brave whites provided some transportation. African-American who tried to ride buses were ostracized from the community. After a year, the Supreme Court ruled the Montgomery's policies regarding African-Americans in mass transportation was unconstitutional. Think about it today in Dallas. If all minorities quit riding DART in protest, what might happen? Of course, getting all minorities together only happens at El Centro.

Then in 1957, two more major events occurred. The Little Rock Crisis resulted from Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus refusing to desegregate. The showdown happened at Little Rock's Central High school when nine African-American students were initially prevented from entering the school. That left it up to President Eisenhower since the President is the only one who has the power to enforce Supreme Court decisions. Eisenhower did not agree with the Brown vs. Board decision. As a disciplined military man, however, he enforced the decision by sending in the National Guard to protect the "Little Rock 9" as they entered the school. Many people are unaware that a similar situation developed just down the road near where I live in Mansfield, Texas. They, too, refused to desegregate and the National Guard was sent in. Mansfield also has the claim to fame of burning John Howard Griffin in effigy on Main Street. Griffin authored the book Black Like Me and was not welcome in Mansfield, his hometown, any longer.

Another major civil rights accomplishment came in 1957 also, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights act since Reconstruction (1865-1877). Mostly concerned with voting rights, it created the Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of civil rights. But the Civil Rights Movement had just begun as we will see in the 1960s. There was optimism about civil rights, though, and the baby boomers helped.

They grew up in an era when music promoted integration. Radio provided access to all cultures as the race of singers was not advertised. The d.j. format appeared in the late 1940s replacing live shows. When it came to music, race was irrelevant to most teenagers. Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" promoted better race relations, too, when he promoted minority musicians and integrated the audience. Samples of Post-War are in the links at the top of the page under Youtube. I remember how I was pretty sure I was the missing member of The Shirelles when I was in junior high school. I had no idea they were African-American until I happened across a picture. I guess I wasn't the lost member, but my girlfriend and I sang it at the top of our lungs anyway. Music also became a tool to criticize American society. But this was supposed to be the "Best Years."

While many Americans were happy with the trends of the Post-War Era, not all were. Members of labor unions were not happy. Republicans had taken control of Congress after World War II and wanted to restrict labor strikes. They also feared Communists and organized crime had infiltrated labor unions. So, in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed over Truman's veto. This created the "right to work" states like Texas and the South in general. The law allowed states to outlaw "closed shops" which southern states did. A closed shop means that if a majority of the workers vote for a union, all workers at that shop have to join the union and pay dues. Without the closed shop, workers get the benefits of a union without paying dues. Without a strong labor movement in the South, it became almost impossible to organize unions. This law did force the AF or L and CIO to get over their differences and in 1955 they formed the AFL-CIO.

The poor made up another group of unhappy people. 1/5 of Americans were defined as poor. The economic boom passed by some people. The low unemployment rates did not tell the whole story. Women on AFDC, part-timers who wanted full-time work, those who had given up looking for jobs, women who would have worked if jobs had been available, and urban youth were not counted in the statistic.

Elderly Americans made up the largest group of poor people even with Social Security. The lack of medical care made those costs so much they became impoverished. President Truman tried to get a national health care system but could not get it through Congress.

44% of minorities were poor and not very happy, too. Among minorities, American Indians were the most unhappy. With President Eisenhower, there was another change in policy and a return to the pre-New Deal attitudes in government of assimilation and Americanization. The Bureau of Indian Affairs implemented the so-called Termination Policy (scary, huh?). American Indians were forced to move to cities and leave reservations. Another selling off of their lands followed. By the end of the 1950s, 40% of American Indians lived in cities. I was lucky enough to talk to a Choctaw guest speaker who claimed this was political, to weaken American Indian political strength by spreading them out in cities.

Other Americans were unhappy with increased juvenile delinquency and single motherhood (1 in 10 births). Other critics said Americans had become visionless, materialistic, and unethical robots. Others said the sense of community was gone. Even television game show cheating scandals led to cynicism. The atom bomb seemed to be over everyone's heads and led to the Ban the Bomb movement. Some Americans, especially the young, became so disillusioned that they advocated rejection of middle-class values or the "counterculture."

In the 1950s they were the beatniks. who adopted a bohemian lifestyle and rejected the norms of society. Author Jack Kerouac has been called the "father of the beats" as result of his books especially On the Road. The "beats" believed everything was hopeless and the world was on the path to self-destruction. Their response to that was to drop-out. They were partial to black clothes, coffee houses, dramatic boredom, avante garde poetry like that of Allen Ginsberg, bongo drums, and snapping fingers when something was "groovy." While the beatniks seemed strange to most Americans, the counterculture of the 1960s will "blow their minds."

One of the reasons the beats were depressed was the direction of U.S. foreign policy. They believed the world was doomed which was not totally irrational.

As World War II ended, the Allies divided the world among themselves as "spheres of interest." France, England, the U.S., and the Soviet Union got areas of responsibility. The Allied leaders agreed that democracy would be protected. Joseph Stalin lied. He was already exterminating people in his own country trying to wipe out opposition. Once the Soviets had their "spheres of influence," the so-called "Iron Curtain" fell. This is a symbolic term, not a real curtain. It meant the divide between the Soviet spheres forced under communism and the Western European spheres where democracy was encouraged. The Soviets controlled Eastern Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia and Yugoslavia. They became Soviet satellites with hand picked leaders. The Cold War had begun although it got awfully hot sometimes.

To combat the spread of Communism, President Truman announced the Truman Doctrine in 1947. Containment would be the U.S. policy for many years. It meant to keep Communism from spreading and helping countries trying to fight it. That mean money. First, the U.S. helped Turkey and then Greece with $400 million. Truman also launched the Marshall plan to rebuild Western Europe and Japan so those countries would no be attracted to Communism. That will cost the U.S. almost $25 billion.

Truman also signed legislation to fight Communism with covert or secret actions. As a result, the National Security Act was passed creating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense, and National Security Council to advise the President. Those actions led to responses by the Soviets.

They took control of Czechoslovakia in 1948 and began a "Berlin Blockade" in June of 1948. This gets complicated. The Soviets had control of Eastern Germany. All the other Allies had other chunks of Germany. But, the capital of Germany, Berlin, is located in what was the Soviet sector so Berlin was divided. East Berlin was under Soviet control. West Berlin was under U.S. control. The Berlin Blockade was an effort to starve the Western sector into submission. To prevent this, the U.S. began airlifts to West Berlin with everything they needed. It lasted eleven months and in May, 1949, the Soviets ended it. Today historians believe the blockade was merely a distraction the Soviets planned while they developed their first atom bomb.

This led to actions by the western democracies including the creation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) made up originally of 12 democracies including the U.S. to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union. To arm Nato cost the U.S.another $1.5 billion. Plus, the U.S. began its own military build-up which was good for the economy but cost $15 billion just to get started.

Then it was Stalin's turn. He created the Warsaw Pact of Communist countries to protect them from the Western Democracies. In 1949, the Soviets exploded their first atom bomb and China became Communist and that is a lot of people. So back and forth it went.

Meanwhile, the new National Security Council came up with a new theory known as the "domino theory" that would dominate U.S. foreign policy for 40 years and lead the U.S. into two major conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Neither would be a declared war but they sure looked like wars.

Animated Map of Korean Conflict

The first test was in Korea in Southeast Asia. Korea had been a Japanese colony since 1909 so Koreans were happy to see their occupier defeated and looked forward to independence. But, the Allies divided Korea into two sectors at the 38th parallel. The Soviets got the North that was industrialized and placed Kim Il Sung in control. The U.S. had control of the south, an agricultural region with Syngman Rhee in charge. The U.S. proceeded to make major public relations mistakes. While the Soviets kept a low profile, worked behind the scenes and tried to create good relations in the North, the U.S. tried to Americanize the south and refused to allow promised elections about the reunification of Korea because Rhee was so unpopular,

By 1947, civil war erupted in the south due to harsh control by Rhee. 22,000 of Rhee's opponents were arrested. Koreans began to see the U.S. as an occupier like Japan. At the same time, by 1949, the U.S. and Soviets had managed to work out a plan for both to withdraw from Korea. The U.S. left and took its military arms and equipment with them. The Soviets also departed but left their military equipment behind. North Koreans also did not believe the U.S. would fight over Korea and they were determined to reunite the country.

On June 25, 1950, 90,000 North Korean troops plunged across the 38th parallel. The United Nations caled for a cease fire and ordered North Koreans back to the North. The Soviet Union was boycotting the U.N. at the time over the refusal to recognize Communist China so did not vote. Meanwhile President Truman was under fire at home as Republicans accused him of being "weak on defense." So Truman reacted with an order for the U.S. military to prepare for combat. General Douglas MacArthur was sent to Korea to assess the situation. He discovered the North Koreans ignored the U.N. order and had taken control of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, the U.S. sector. The South Korean Army was in chaos and had lost almost 45,000 troops from death, capture, or desertion. They also had lost 30% of their military equipment. Truman ordered air and water defense but no ground troops.

Then, the U.N. voted to send military assistance to South Korea, the first such action by the U.S. in its brief history. This was called "collective security," an effort by 15 nations under the command of MacArthur. But, 90% of the troops will be from the U.S. Truman did not consult Congress. He said it was not a war but a "conflict" or "police action." So this was never an official war.

By October, 1950, the North Korean had been forced to retreat to the 38th parallel where everything started. President Truman made a controversial decision to pursue the North Koreans to the Chinese border. On October 16, the Chinese entered the conflict feeling threatened. This will prolong the war (oh, excuse me conflict) for 33 months. By Spring, 1951, the U.S. was forced to retreat back to the 38th parallel. Peace talks began. Truman began considering a withdrawal. That angered General MacArthur who proceeded to openly criticize the Commander in Chief saying there was "no substitute for victory" and that the U.S. should crush China with atom bombs. What's wrong with this picture?

Truman fired MacArthur. This led to a huge uproar among the American people who still saw him as a WWII hero having forgotten the Bonus Army mess. McCarthy was still active at that time and accused Truman of being drunk (as an alcoholic himself, he should know). Hearings were held on television. President Truman was defended by the military establishment. There is one unbreakable rule in a democracy. Military leaders may not criticize the Commander in Chief in public. We have avoided military coups in U.S. history as a result of this hard fast rule. Public opinion changed as the facts became public and that Truman had no choice to maintain civilian control of the military. General Matthew Ridgway took over in Korea.

Peace talks continued but bogged down on the issue of Prisoners of War (POWs). It will take two years to sort it out while the body count grew. The problem fell into the lap of the next President, Dwight Eisenhower. He also was determined to contain communism. He called his foreign policy "massive retaliation" suggesting he would use atomic weapons. His bark was worse than his bite, though. When East Germany and Hungary organized revolts against Communism in 1953 and 1956, there was no help from the U.S.

Finally, on July 27, 1953, a treaty was signed to end the Korean conflict. Almost 34,000 Americans had been killed but another 8,000 were unknown. Over 110,000 had been wounded. But, Communism had been contained and the 38th parallel is still defended by the U.S. When troops returned home, though, no parades or celebrations greeted them. Americans did not perceive victory. Veterans were accused of collaboration with the enemy as POWs. They were accused of being cowards since they did not escape. They were accused of being spoiled by New Deal liberalism. Only 21 American POWs refused to return while 50,000 North Koreans and Chinese POWs refused to go home and requested asylum in the U.S. Probably there were about 75 Americans who did collaborate with North Korea, but 3,000 died as POWs.

The Korean conflict had been the most unpopular military action up to that time. Quickly it became known as the so-called "Forgotten War." Korean veterans did not even get a monument until 1995 (Korean War Veterans Memorial), long after the Vietnam Veteran Memorial was dedicated which takes us to our next subject, Vietnam.

Vietnam Map

Before World War II, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were French colonies. After the war, they were returned to French control. But, in 1945 civil war erupted in Vietnam because the Vietnamese wanted independence. The rebellion against France was led by Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. But Ho Chi Minh did not see the U.S. as a natural enemy. On several occasions in 1945 and 46 he requested U.S. support for their independence but Truman ignored him. The State Department advised Truman that Ho Chi Minh was not under Soviet dominance and the Vietnamese saw this as a revolution against colonialism like the U.S. American Revolution had been against England. Ho Chi Minh did not denounce democracy or capitalism.

When China became Communist in 1949, Truman decided the only way to contain Communist was to help the French and he refused to recognize Ho Chi Minh as the leader of Vietnam. Eisenhower continued the policy. By 1954, the us was paying 78% of the costs of the war and it had cost $1.1 billion. Despite this help, the French were being defeated.

This led to the Geneva Accord of 1954. This was an agreement between France and Vietnam to end the civil war, divide Vietnam like Korea with Ho Chi Minh receiving control of the North and an effort to establish democracy in the South. Elections would be held in the future to determine reunification. It also limited the U.S. to 342 military personnel. Remember that number. So, the French withdrew and Vietnam was divided at the 17th parallel. Ngo Dinh Diem was put in charge of the South.

All this worried Eisenhower's National Security Council who reminded him of the "domino theory" and the threat North Vietnam would be. But the problem in Vietnam was not dominoes, it was Ngo Dinh Diem. When the free elections rolled around in 1955 and 1956, he refused to hold them because he knew Ho Chi Minh would win. Diem was very unpopular. He arrested opponents even non-Communists. The U.S. referred to him as "our dictator." To prop up Diem, Eisenhower made a fateful decision to ignore the Geneva Accords and ordered an additional 350 "advisers" to South Vietnam.

By 1959, South Vietnamese Communists (Vietcong) were operating an armed struggle against the Diem government and the first American died in Vietnam, Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, a U.S. Army officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Vietnam was shot and killed in Saigon. By 1960, U.S intelligence predicted the collapse of the Diem government.

Most Americans were unaware of the growing problems in Southeast Asia. The media ignored it and other issue dominated the news. In 1953, Joseph Stalin died and there was a new leader in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. He made a good impression on the U.S. at first. He had a good media personality and said "peaceful coexistence" between the U.S. and Soviets was possible. He had helped encourage the North Koreans to end that conflict. He seemed like a nice guy. Khrushchev had great pressures at home, though. He, too, had been accused of being "weak on defense" and "soft on capitalism."

Americans also found distraction in events of North Africa and the Middle East. The Middle East was in turmoil with the creation of Israel and the presence of oil. Iran had become troublesome for the U.S. by resisting U.S. oil companies and Communism had a strong following. To solve the problem in 1953, the U.S. engineered a coup or takeover of Iran's government. The CIA placed a more cooperative leader in a dictatorship, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi best known as the Shah of Iran. This created great hostility toward the U.S. among the Iranian people and will come back to haunt the U.S. in the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81.

Iran was not the only problem. Egypt's President Nassar took control of the Suez Canal "owned" by French and English stockholders. In 1956, England, France and Israel attacked Egypt without consulting the U.S. Because of this the U.S. and Soviets cooperated to pressure the U.N. to enter as "peacekeepers" for the first time. But the trouble had just begun. This led Eisenhower to extend money to those fighting communism in that region (The Eisenhower Doctrine). But, the Communists were on a roll.

An unbelievable shock to the U.S. came in 1957 when the Soviets launched "Sputnik," the first satellite in outer space. Americans had been told that the Soviets were scientifically backward. The U.S. was embarrassed but increased activity to produce our own satellite in the space program. The space race had begun. For a year, there was one failure after another for the U.S. until January, 1958, when Explorer I was launched. This embarrassing event, however, led to almost 4900 million in federal funds for education emphasizing the sciences.

Then, in 1959, another victory for Communism came when Communists took over Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. If the domino theory was correct, that made Florida vulnerable. Meanwhile, Vice President Richard Nixon was attacked during a South American tour. The biggest embarrassment was yet to come.

This is known as the U2 Spy Plane incident in which Eisenhower was caught in a lie. He had consistently denied the U.S. spying over Soviet territory. In 1960, that was revealed to be untrue when a U.S. spy plane (the U2) was shot down over Soviet territory and the pilot, Gary Powers, survived to allegedly spill his guts to the Soviets. Eisenhower had assumed the pilot was dead and continued denials. Then the Soviets paraded Powers on television along with photos of the U2 Spy Plane. Eventually, Powers was returned to the U.S. in a spy exchange, he did not receive a warm welcome. Eventually, Congressional hearings pardoned him of any wrongs and said Powers had followed orders, had not divulged any critical information to the Soviets, and had conducted himself “as a fine young man under dangerous circumstances.” Powers died in a Helicopter crash in 1977 while cover a forest fire a television network when he ran out of gas and purposely guided the crash away from children playing on a playground.

So that was the way it was in the world when the U.S. faced the presidential election of 1960.

The 1960s

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