China Falls to the Communists As the U.S. and Soviets were struggling for control of Europe in the 1940s, communism was spreading in other parts of the world as well, including the world’s most populous country, China. The struggle between China's Communists and Nationalists (anti-communists) had been going on since the 1920s. As World War II drew to a close, the Communist leader Mao Zedong and the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek tried to rally their sides to a victory in the Chinese Civil War. Mao was the much more popular leader, and it appeared that communism would spread to Asia. Always trying to contain communism, President Truman provided economic and military aid to the Nationalists.
When Chiang asked for more American help, specifically American troops, Truman and his advisors concluded that Mao's takeover of China probably could not be prevented. The United States decided to focus instead on saving Western Europe from Soviet domination. In 1949, China's capital of Beijing fell to the Communists. Many Americans viewed the "loss of China" as a stain on the record of the Truman administration. Members of Congress and others who held this view called for greater efforts to protect the rest of Asia from communism. Truman pledged that the next time an Asian country was threatened by communism, he would send troops. He would not have to wait long.
Section 3: The Korean War Communist Expansion in Asia While the attention of most Americans was focused on the communist threat in Europe, events were unfolding in Asia that would cause the Cold War to flare up into a "hot" military confrontation. While the U.S. and the Soviets never directly engaged in war with each other in Asia, they both engaged in proxy wars. In these wars, the two superpowers “fought” each other by supporting other groups at war with each other. The Chinese Civil War was an example of this. The Soviets supported Mao’s communists, while the U.S. supported the Nationalists. After the communists emerged victorious, the U.S. pledged to not let that happen again. Just one year later, Korea became the focal point of the Cold War.
Dividing Korea Like most of Asia, Korea was taken over by Japan during World War II. Japanese rule of Korea was harsh, and Koreans hoped that their nation would be restored after the Japanese were finally defeated in World War II. However, the war ended before careful plans for Korean independence could be worked out. The Allies agreed on a temporary solution. Soviet soldiers accepted the surrender of Japanese troops north of the 38th parallel, the latitude line running across Korea at approximately the midpoint of the peninsula; American forces did the same south of the parallel. While the dividing line was never intended to be permanent, Korea was divided-temporarily into a Soviet-occupied northern zone and an American-occupied southern zone. Soon a pro-American government, led by Syngman Rhee, formed in the south and a Communist regime, led by Kim Il Sung, was established in the north. Occupying forces soon withdrew and the zones became official countries, North Korea a communist nation, and South Korea, a democratic nation. The Cold War would play out on a peninsula the size of Florida.
The Korean Conflict Koreans on both sides of the dividing line wanted to unify their nation under their government. In June 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korean troops streamed across the 38th parallel, determined to reunite Korea by force. The invasion took South Korea and the United States by surprise. It turned out that the action had been planned by the Soviet Union. The fall of China to the Communists had been a shock to the United States; now it seemed as though communism was on the advance again. President Truman was determined to respond. He wasted no time. He ordered American air and naval support for the South Koreans. Later he sent ground troops as well. Although Truman did not go to Congress for a declaration of war as required by the Constitution, both Democrats and Republicans praised him for his strong action. Members of the House stood and cheered when they heard of it. Eventually, 16 member nations of the United Nations contributed troops or weapons, but Americans made up roughly 80 percent of the troops serving in South Korea.
Waging the War A hero World War II and a strong anti-Communist, General Douglas MacArthur was Truman's choice to lead the Allied forces in Korea. Despite a difficult personality, MacArthur was an excellent military strategist, and he developed a bold plan to drive the invaders from South Korea. With Soviet tanks and air power, the North Koreans had swept through South Korea. Only a small part of the country, near the port city of Pusan, remained unconquered. MacArthur suspected that the North Koreans' rapid advance had left their supply lines stretched thin. He decided to strike at this weakness. After first sending forces to defend Pusan, he landed troops at Inchon in northwestern South Korea and attacked enemy supply lines from behind. MacArthur's strategy worked. Caught between UN forces in the north and in the south, and with their supplies cut off, the invaders fled back across the 38th parallel. UN troops pursued them northward. American and South Korean leaders began to boast of reuniting Korea under South Korean control. Such talk alarmed the Chinese Communists, who had been in power less than a year and who did not want a pro-Western nation next door.
As UN troops approached North Korea's border with China, the Chinese warned them not to advance any farther. MacArthur ignored the warning. Chinese troops poured across the border to take the offensive. The Chinese and the North Koreans pushed the UN forces back into South Korea. A stalemate (when neither side can gain an advantage) developed. MacArthur wanted a more aggressive war with China and North Korea, possibly including nuclear weapons. Truman opposed this strategy, fearing it could lead to a widespread war that would involve the USSR and their atomic weapons. Truman was able to keep the war limited. However, the struggle dragged on for over two more years, into the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Finally, a truce was signed in 1953, leaving Korea divided at almost exactly the same place as before the war, near the 38th parallel.
The Effects of the Korean War Korea is still divided at the 38th parallel today. North Korea is still communist and is controlled by the Kim Dynasty (leadership passed from Kim Il Sung to his son, Kim Jong Il in 1994, and then to his grandson, Kim Jong Un in 2011). South Korea has grown into a thriving capitalist democracy and close ally with the United States. Even with the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea remains a threat to world peace and is considered an enemy of the United States. This explains why the border at the 38th parallel is the most heavily fortified border in the world today.
The Korean War caused enormous frustration for the United States. Americans wondered why roughly 54,000 of their soldiers had been killed and 103,000 wounded for such limited results. They questioned whether their government was serious about stopping communism. On the other hand, communist forces had been pushed back beyond the 38th parallel, and did not take over South Korea. What's more, this containment had occurred without nuclear war. It seemed that Americans would have to get used to more limited wars.
One change was in the military itself. Before the war, President Truman ordered the racial integration of the armed forces, and the Korean War was the first war in which white Americans and African Americans served in the same units. The Korean War also led to a huge increase in military spending. The military had taken less than a third of the federal budget before the war, but a decade later, military spending made up 50 percent of federal spending.
Section 4: The Cold War at Home
The American Economy During the Cold War When American soldiers returned from the battlefields after World War II, they wanted to put the horrors of the war behind them and enjoy the comforts of home. During the war, many items were rationed or not produced at all. Now most Americans were eager to acquire everything the war-and before that, the Depression-had denied them. The marriage rate increased dramatically after the war, and the population boomed. Fueled by a growing economy, suburbs popped up outside big cities. Suburban families typically enjoyed high incomes and spent large sums of money on recreation. Bythe end of the 1950s, about 75 percent of families owned a car, and even moreowned a TV set. America's consumer economy was thriving.
A Growing Economy During the postwar years, the United States embarked on one of its greatest periods of economic expansion. The gross national product (GNP - the cost of all goods and services produced by a country in one year) more than doubled, jumping from $212 billion in 1945 to $504 billion in 1960. Per capita income, the average annual income per person, increased from $1,223 to $2,219 during the same period. Companies grew as well. As new products were invented, more workers were needed to produce them. As income grew, the unemployment rate decreased.
A New Kind of Business In 1954, salesman Ray Kroc was amazed when two brothers who owned a small restaurant in San Bernardino, California, gave him an order for their eighth Multimixer, a brand of milkshake machine. Because of the restaurant's fast, efficient service and its prime location along a busy highway, it was experiencing great success. Intrigued by the possibilities, Kroc purchased the two brothers' idea of assembly-line food production. He also acquired the restaurant - McDonald's. Kroc copied what the brothers had done in California, and built a nationwide chain of fast-food restaurants. He did this by selling eager entrepreneurs (people who start businesses) the right to open a franchise - a business that offers certain goods and services from a larger parent company. Franchise agreements generally allow each owner to use the company's name, suppliers, products, and production methods. Each franchise, then, is operated as a small business whose owners profit from the parent company's guidance. The success of McDonald’s as a franchise caused any other franchises to follow.
Television Transforms Life Meanwhile, developments in technology spurred industrial growth. Rushing to keep up with demand, businesses produced hundreds of new products, such as dishwashers and gas-powered lawnmowers, aimed at saving the consumer time and money. Eager Americans filled their homes with the latest inventions. One of those was television. Americans fell in love with television in the 1950s. The technology for television had been developed throughout the 1930s, but then stalled during the war. After World War II, television became enormously popular. As had been the case with radio, television networks raised the money to broadcast their shows by selling advertising time. Television became a powerful new medium for advertisers, allowing them to reach millions of viewers. As a result, Americans watched their favorite shows interrupted by commercials, a practice that continues today.
The Computer Industry Another innovation appeared in the 1950s that would transform American life in the decades to come. Research led to the development of ever more powerful calculators and computers. During the 1950s, American businesses reached out to embrace the computer industry. In 1947, scientists at Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the first transistor, a tiny circuit device that amplifies, controls, and generates electrical signals. The transistor could be used in radios, computers, and other electronic devices, and greatly changed the electronics industry. Because of the transistor, giant machines that once filled whole rooms could now fit on a desk. The invention of the transistor is looked back upon as the beginning of the computer age that continues today.
Advances in Medicine Americans also found hope in developments made in medicine. In 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Thomas Francis conducted a successful field test of a vaccine to prevent one of the most feared diseases-poliomyelitis. Before the vaccine, the disease, known commonly as polio, had killed or disabled more than 20,000 children in the United States every year. President Franklin Roosevelt suffered the effects of polio throughout much of his life. Salk's injected vaccine effectively eliminated the threat of polio.
Changes in the Work Force In earlier years, most Americans made a living as blue-collar workers, producing goods or performing services that depended on manual labor. After the war, however, new machines assumed many of the jobs previously performed by people. Most blue-collar workers learned new skills and found white-collar jobs. Young people, particularly former servicemen with new college degrees, also chose white-collar jobs as they joined the work force. By the end of the 1950s, for the first time in US history, a majority of American workers held white-collar jobs. Many were managing offices, working in sales, and performing professional and clerical duties with little manual labor. Physically, the work was less exhausting than blue-collar labor, it was not as dangerous, and some workers had the opportunity to rise into executive positions. But office jobs had their drawbacks. Employment in large corporations was often impersonal. White-collar workers in large companies had less connection with the products and services that their companies provided. Employees sometimes felt pressure to dress, think, and act alike.
Moving to the Suburbs Seeking more room from crowded, noisy cities, growing families retreated to new suburbs. With more people purchasing homes, builders began to cater to the demand for housing. To produce homes faster, builders often made every home in a neighborhood the same size, shape, and color. Suburban growth brought with it other changes. Following their customers, some stores began to move from cities to newly built shopping malls located in the suburbs. Many Americans, living in suburbs built beyond the reach of public transportation, depended more and more on automobiles. To meet the demand, automakers started introducing new car designs every year. People eagerly awaited the unveiling of the latest models. During the 1950s, American automakers produced about 8 million new cars each year, more than ever before.
Growth in the car industry created a need for more and better roads. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act provided $25 billion to build an interstate highway system more than 40,000 miles long. The project provided a grid of new roads which allowed families to travel and businesses to expand. The car culture inspired the development of many new businesses including gas stations, repair shops, parts stores, and drive-in restaurants and movie theatres.
Here Come the Kids With so many people working and making a better living than ever before, and Americans moving into larger houses in the suburbs, the birth rate of the U.S. began to rise after World War II. The rate continued to increase for almost two decades. This became known as the baby boom. The baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1962) would become the largest in US history. Kids became the focal point of American families, and TV shows and advertisements began to gear their messages to younger viewers.
Fitting In Most Americans were comfortable during the 1950s, but the nation was still recovering from years of economic depression and war. Americans applauded the apparent harmony between individualsand groups in the United States that conformity(trying hard to be like everyone else) seemed to encourage. Conformity led people to act in a way that wouldn't be viewed as "standing out" in their families, jobs, or communities. People wanted toenjoy their newly won prosperity and provide even betteropportunities for their children, and Americans believed the best way to do that was to “fit in”. Individualism and creativity were often discouraged in the 1950s.
Youth Culture The strong economy of the 1950s allowed more young people to stay in school rather than having to leave early to find a job. Before World War I, most Americans left school before they turned 16 to help support their families. However, by the 1950s, most middle-class teenagers were expected to stay in school, holding only part-time jobs, if they worked at all. With more leisure time, some young people appeared to devote all their energies to organizing parties and pranks, joining fraternities and sororities, and pursuing entertainment and fun. Some teenagers baby-sat the growing number of children in their spare time. Others went to newly constructed community parks or pools, play organized sports at their schools, and travelled with their families on the new highway system. Teenage girls collected items such as silver and linens in anticipation of marriage, which for most came shortly after high school. The number of teenage brides rose in the 1950s, close to half of all brides were in their teens, typically marrying grooms just slightly older.
Men's and Women's Roles Americans in the post-World War II years were very aware of the roles that they were expected to play as men and women. These roles were defined by social and religious traditions. Men were expected to go to school and then find jobs to support wives and children. The man’s world was the world away from home, where they earned money and made important political, economic, and social decisions. Women were expected to play a supporting role in their husbands' lives. They cleaned the house, cooked meals, and raised children. Many parents turned to pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock for child-care advice. His best-selling book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care had a major impact on child-rearing practices. Most middle-class women settled into the domestic role and took on the demands of raising children and maintaining their suburban homes.
Youth Challenge Conformity Some young people were not happy with the conformist culture of the 1950s, challenging the values of their parents. These young people sought a style they could call their own. In 1951, disc jockey Alan Freed began hosting a radio show in Cleveland, Ohio, playing what was then called "rhythm-and-blues" music for a largely black audience. "Moondog Rock 'n' Roll Party" gave important exposure to the music, which grew out of rhythm-and-blues and came to be called rock-and-roll. Teenagers across the nation quickly became fans of the beat and melodies that characterized rock-and-roll. They rushed to buy records of their favorite performers such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley and the Comets, and Buddy Holly. One of the best-known rock-and-roll singers was Elvis Presley. Presley's performances showcased his flamboyant style and good looks. He attracted hordes of screaming teenage girls everywhere he went. Presley released many records that became huge hits, and eventually crossed over to TV and movie fame, and was called "The King of Rock and Roll."
From the United States, rock music spread to Europe and Asia, becoming popular with listeners and influencing musicians. Many adults disliked the new music, fearing it would cause a rise in immorality. For some people, opposition to rock-and-roll had to do with race. Rock-and-roll, in its appeal to both black and white teenagers, and in its black rhythm-and-blues origins, threatened many who were comfortable with racial segregation in the 1950s and who were uncomfortable with the idea of black and white teenagers attending the same concerts and dancing to the same music. Despite some efforts to ban rock concerts and keep records out of stores, rock-and-roll's popularity continued to soar.
Fear of Communism at Home While most Americans were concerned about communism spreading through Europe and Asia in the 1950s, a small number of other Americans were attracted to the idea of communism. A very small number, a few thousand, even joined the American Communist Party. For the most part, these people were harmless. They held meetings, passed out literature, and occasionally protested. But to many Americans, these people represented a growing number of “disloyal” Americans. They feared that there could be communist spies living among American citizens. Many people grew more paranoid at the thought of potentially have neighbors, friends, co-workers, and teachers who could secretly be communist, and maybe even planning the overthrow of the American government. This era became known as the Red Scare. (“red” was a slang and derogatory word for a communist person.)
The Red Scare Some government officials made the fear and paranoia worse by encouraging Americans to investigate those around them, and look for suspicious behavior. During the Red Scare, being accused of being communist could ruin someone’s life. To investigate communism in America, Congress created The House Un-American Activities Committee, known as HUAC. HUAC investigated communist infiltration of government agencies and, more spectacularly, a probe of the Hollywood movie industry. Claiming that movies had tremendous power to influence the public, HUAC charged that numerous Hollywood figures had communist leanings that affected their filmmaking. HUAC also looked into claims that communists had infiltrated office buildings, schools, and factories. Very rarely were there actual communists for HUAC to find, and almost never were those communists dangerous. The fear of communism and the paranoia that came with it did much more damage to the country than the communists themselves.
McCarthyism, The new “witch-hunt” The man most responsible for spreading the Red Scare was Joseph McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin. He encouraged Americans to be on the lookout for any suspicious behavior. Using HUAC as his personal attack squad, McCarthy claimed communists were everywhere in America, including working for the federal government. When asked for details, the senator would rarely produce actual evidence to support his claims. But his claims ruined thousands of lives. McCarthy took his crusade to the floor of the Senate and engaged in the smear tactics that came to be called McCarthyism. Not only was McCarthy reelected, but he became a hero to many Americans who were told to be afraid of communism. Merely being accused by McCarthy caused people to lose their jobs and reputations.
The Rosenbergs Help McCarthy’s Cause During the Red Scare, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple who were members of the Communist Party, were accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets during World War II. The Rosenbergs admitted to being communist (which wasn’t illegal), but did not admit to being spies. There was very little evidence to prove they were spies, other than the claims of Ethel’s brother, who was a soldier in the U.S. Army. After a highly controversial trial, the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage and executed in 1953. The chance that the couple might have been spies gave people like McCarthy more support to keep looking for communists. (The Rosenbergs' executions were debated for years afterward. Careful work by historians in once-classified American records and in secret Soviet records opened at the end of the Cold War indicates that Julius Rosenberg was guilty. While Ethel Rosenberg may have had some knowledge of her husband's activities, she was not guilty of espionage.)