The Aftermath of World War II

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How did WWII change America's social, cultural, political, and economic landscape?

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The United States emerged from World War II as an economic powerhouse. While the economies of Europe, Japan, and other countries were in shambles, the United States became an economic and political superpower, as it built on the defense industries and technologies it had developed during the war. In addition, pent-up consumer demand gave rise to a burgeoning economic climate that lasted, albeit with occasional blips, well into the 1960s. Politically, the United States became a superpower embroiled in the Cold War with the Soviet Union and other communist states, and the United States practiced a policy of containing the spread of communism in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. At home, McCarthyism, named after the anti-communist crusader, Senator Joseph McCarthy, involved crushing communism or anything that seemed to resemble estrangement from the American form of government.

The country also underwent social and cultural change in the postwar years. African American veterans returned after the war to fight the "Double Victory" campaign, including not only victory abroad, but also victory at home in the form of civil rights. The Civil Rights movement was reinvigorated both during and after the war. Defense plants were integrated during the war, and the military was integrated in 1948. The war brought about a retrenchment in women's rights, as women who had fought in war plants were encouraged to return home to make jobs available for returning servicemen. The "baby boom" of the postwar years celebrated domesticity, brought about suburbanization (or the growth of the suburbs), and resulted in a boom in the birth rate in the years following the war. 

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World War II had tremendous impacts on the United States.  Of course, the biggest impacts were on the people whose families experienced losses during the war.  The families of those who were killed and those who were badly wounded were affected profoundly by the war.  Let us look, however, at some other ways that the war made a difference.

It helped make the US rich.  After World War II, the US was by far the most prosperous country in the world.  All of its competitors had been physically devastated by the war.  Their cities had been bombed and, in cases like that of Germany, had served as battlegrounds in the war.  This severely reduced their economic potential while the US was physically unscathed.  This helped make the US the richest country.

It helped begin to change the role of women in society.  During the war, women famously had to (or had the chance to) go to work in many jobs that had previously been reserved for men.  After the war, they generally lost those jobs.  Even so, these experiences had helped instill in many women the idea that they should not be relegated to life as housewives.

It helped pave the way for racial integration.  The war had been partly cast as a war against Hitler’s horrible racist regime.  Many, many African Americans had served in the war.  These facts made it harder for African Americans to accept being treated in a racist way at home.  Soon after the war, President Truman ordered the integration of the military.  These things helped to pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement, which got going in earnest about ten years after the war ended.

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