Was the 1950s a time of peace, progress, and prosperity for all Americans?

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This is the standard interpretation. Many twentieth-century historians saw the end of the Second World War as beginning a period of cultural and economic prosperity for citizens of the United States. To a large extent, this is true, and some historians have even gone so far as to call the post-WWII era as the “American Age.” The United States emerged from the war as the preeminent economic and military power across the globe, and was the only country in the world (initially) to possess the atomic bomb. While most of Europe and Asia struggled to rebuild their devastated infrastructure, the American economy was left virtually untouched. This allowed US markets to produce more than 50% of the world’s goods, and made vastly new material commodities available for consumption. Even the most low-income families in the post-war era could afford basic commodities, like food, soap, water, clothes, bedding, and linens, and by the 1970s nearly every American household owned a television set. It was certainly a period of plenty.

But the political animosities and the growth of big business created material inequalities previously unprecedented across American society. The Cold War cast suspicion on any and all foreigners living in the United States, even if they had been naturalized. The Second Red Scare, coupled with the explosion of McCarthyistic reactionary culture, cast aspersion upon many foreign families living in the United States, with many people being jailed or placed in internment camps until their loyalties could be confirmed. The rise of Hollywood culture also led to the emergence of a free-wheeling spirit of the age. While this enhanced American citizens’ sense of personal freedom, it also led to the spread of drug use and homelessness, as many Americans gave up a traditional existence for a chance of attaining luxury and glamor. Thus, as with all things in history, the 1950s has a mixed legacy—some good and some bad came about as a result of America’s emergence as the predominant world power.

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