How did the Cold War shape American politics and culture in the second half of the 20th century, using examples from such things as the Sputnik crisis, Vietnam War, Counterculture, and Iran-contra...
How did the Cold War shape American politics and culture in the second half of the 20th century, using examples from such things as the Sputnik crisis, Vietnam War, Counterculture, and Iran-contra scandal etc.
The Cold War was the dominant fact of American life in the last half of the 20th century. Therefore, it did a great deal to affect the culture of our country. I will look at three examples of how this happened.
The first example comes from the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957. Sputnik was the first artificial satellite ever launched into orbit around the Earth. When the Soviet Union launched this satellite, it was a huge shock to American society. It made Americans very worried because it appeared to show that the Soviets were more technologically advanced than the US. In response, the US government poured money into science education. This changed American culture to some degree as more Americans became more educated.
The second example comes from the time of the “Red Scare.” In the early 1950s, many Americans were very worried that communism was taking the country over. They thought that ordinary Americans would be tricked by communist sympathizers into believing in communism. For example, they thought that communist sympathizers would use movies to brainwash people into thinking that communism was good. This led to an intense crackdown on people who supported communist ideas. There was, to some degree, a “witch hunt” in which people tried to ferret out communists in various walks of life. People at this time were very afraid of being labelled as “reds.” This helped bring about the conformity that is said to have dominated American culture during the 1950s.
Finally, let us look at the Counterculture. This came about in part because of the Vietnam War and in part because of the culture of conformity that I just mentioned. By the mid-1960s, many young Americans (though by no means all of them) believed that the American cultural system was corrupt. They felt that our government was dominated by big businesses. They felt that too many Americans cared about nothing but money. They felt that our society was dominated by white men and by excessively traditional values. Therefore, they fought back against these things. They promoted the idea that people should value love and happiness over money. They opposed the capitalist system of economics. They opposed what they saw as our overly aggressive foreign policy. In short, a significant part of America’s population came to reject the things that had been the foundations of American culture.
All of these changes in American culture came about because of the Cold War at different times in the latter half of the 20th century.