The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1952-1960.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 37.
‘Merica wanted some calmness and wanted to pursue all the commies! Good bye, Truman. Hello, Ike!
The economic boom that WWII brought continued into the 50s. Homes in suburbs were springing up out of nowhere. After the invention of the transistor in 1948, computers with less processing power than calculators began to be built by IBM. Eisenhower established the Strategic Air Command that would expand passenger airplanes and connect military and civilian aircraft production. Boeing released the 707 in ’57 and later gave Ike the first Air Force One.
White-collar workers soon outnumbered blue-collar workers. Organized labor began to shrink after union membership reached its peak in 1954 at 35% of the workforce. Women left the factories to be motherly to their 50 million baby-boomer children. 30 million of the 40 million new jobs created were in the clerical and service work. Women, though new mothers, filled many of these positions. Feminists began to wonder why women stopped staying in the kitchen to make sandwiches and starting working for an income. The Feminist Mystique explored this issue and would help lead to a feminist revolution.
1950s also contained loads of consumerism. McDonald’s. Disneyland. Consumers hit the ground running. Television became really popular when we started Leavin’ It to Beaver (who, in this case, is a little boy and not a woodland creature). Most TV programs were sitcoms that portrayed a common middle-class, white two-parent, two-child family. By 1960, everyone and their mom had a TV. Advertisers flocked to ‘hawk their wares’ on the TV sets.
Televangelists started to rip off people from their homes and professional sports could now be viewed live. Elvis Presley, known as Justin Bieber today, invaded the scene and was abhorred by traditionalist prudes. Marilyn Monroe also came onto the scene as did Playboy, still a favorite of teenage boys everywhere. There were also some psychoanalysis books written by professors, but isn’t there always? They claimed that consumerism wouldn’t benefit mankind over time. Yeah right– it’s worked out great! Stupid sociologists.
Going into the election of 1952, it was clear who would win. The Dems decided to nominate Adlai Stevenson from Illinois. The Republican hero Ike Eisenhower with his red-hunt running mate Dick Nixon easily won. ‘I Like Ike’ was the common phrase. Nixon brought with him a lot of baggage. He saved himself by talking to his dog, Checkers, in his famed Checkers Speech. Eisenhower’s short TV spots started the political commercials that continue today. The GOP also won control of Congress.
Eisenhower’s first order of business was stopping the war in Korea. After teasing with atomic weapons, an armistice was finally signed. The Korean War had been a stupid one. We lost men, money, and things were back to the way they were at the start. Communism had hardly been contained.
With a small speech in West Virginia in 1950, Senator Joe McCarthy ran into the limelight, claiming that there were 205 commies in the State Dept. His rhetoric grew as the GOP won big time in 1952. He used the fear of the American people to bring the communist standpoint of many Hollywood people to light. Eisenhower hated him. McCarthy dug us a hole when he got Asian specialists fired that could have helped us win the ensuing war in Vietnam. Joe went on to attack the US Army and broadcasted the hearing on live TV.
The blacks in the South had it rough. Jim Crow laws restricted them from doing pretty much anything. Segregation was undoubtedly the biggest law. Many blacks were lynched, raped, and beaten up. But thankfully, there was a new outlook on the horizon. Scholars published books that advocated racial equality. African Americans took the torch and began running. Rosa Parks famously began the Montgomery Bus Boycott and MLK Jr. was inspired to fight for civil rights.
Truman had long been a fighter for civil rights. He ended segregation in the Feds in 1948 though Congress didn’t take notice. Eisenhower didn’t care at all. But soon the Supreme Court would outlaw segregation. The deep South held massive resistance to this ruling and southern senators opposed any desegregation legislation. Eisenhower complained that the ruling upset the American customs. In 1957, Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock, AR to protect nine black students attending school. Congress went on to pass civil rights laws that set up the Civil Rights Commission to root out violations of civil rights and protect voting rights.
MLK organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 to rile up the troops of black churches all over the South. A large scale sit-in began in February of 1960 at a small restaurant in Greensboro, NC with 4 black college freshman. Other students were inspired to start SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in April of that year.
Eisenhower steadfastly held on to his ‘dynamic conservatism’. He focused on shrinking the Nat’l debt while stopping the build-up of the military. His sectaries of education, health, and welfare were all against the antipolio vaccine. Cool beans, textbook!
There was also a huge buildup of Mexican illegal immigrants. The Mexican gov’t demanded they be returned. Operation Wetback returned 1 million illegals back over the border. Ike also sent the Native Americans packing when he dissolved their legal status and made reservations illegal. Not cool, man!
Though Ike was completely against the New Deal, he enacted the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 that helped create jobs and its namesake. This act severely robbed railroads of any profit. In the end, we spent $126 billion to create a network of highways the world had never before seen.
In 1952, when Ike was elected, he totally changed US foreign policy. They wanted to roll back communist gains, but cut the military budget. He rolled back on the Army and Navy and put an emphasis on superbombers (SACs), which held nukes. His policy of ‘massive retaliation’ was shown to be stupid after the failed Hungarian revolt in 1956.
Back in the Far East, things were starting to brew again. Ho Chi Minh led the Vietnamese rebels against the French, whom we paid $1 billion to support. His advisers insisted on using bombs, but Ike wouldn’t do it. After a conference in Geneva, the country was split between the communist north and the pro-democracy south at the 70th parallel. Soon, the communist forces would force America’s hand.
While the US and Western Europe were signing up for NATO, the USSR and Eastern Europe signed the Warsaw Pact. However, in 1955, the Soviets gave up Austria and the new Soviet leader denounced Stalin. However, when those Hungarians wanted freedom, they said, “Oh fuck that.” and pretty much slaughtered them. We were scared that the reds would also take over Iran and its oil fields, so we initiated a coup and then installed a dictator!
When the Egyptian leader tried to nationalize the Suez Canal, our allies the French and the Brits went behind our backs to attack them, expecting that we would supply them with our oil. We didn’t. Our allies swiftly left.
The Eisenhower Doctrine, introduced in 1957, pledged support to oil-rich Middle Eastern countries with communism threats. Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all joined OPEC, which would hold dominance over the West for years to come.
The election of 1956 pitted Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson again. He won again. He started his second term by golfing and fishing. A main issue that he had avoided was labor legislation. Unions were full of corrupt leaders and scandals. With the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, labor leaders were forced to keep financial records and stop with bully tactics.
After the reds launched Sputnik, there was loads of fear about their rocket reach. Not only did the US expand their rocketry program, our education system got a kick-start with the National Defense and Education Act in 1958.
The Soviets took the first step towards disarmament when in 1958, they stopped testing nuclear weapons. The US soon followed. The Soviet leader Khrushchev went to the UN in New York to argue total disarmament. Meanwhile, under the Eisenhower Doctrine, we stopped a communist uprising in Lebanon. A small conference at Camp David between the super powers went great. Alas, in 1960, the follow-up conference in Paris went horribly.
Down in Latin America, communism was boiling. We would support any bloody dictator so long as he wasn’t communist. In 1959, Fidel Castro ousted the dictator in Cuba and gained power. He denounced the US and liked the USSR. We embargoed them and have ever since. During this time, one million Cuban refugees made themselves at home in the US.
Going into the election of 1960, VP Dick Nixon wanted the top office. JFK got the nomination for the Democrats. Joining him under compromise from the South was LBJ. JFK was Catholic and that was a big deal. The South, usually Democratic and Protestant, turned their back on Kennedy while the North greatly supported him. With the advent of TV, JFK’s killer smile wowed millions. The Dems easily won Congress and the White House.
Eisenhower wasn’t all that bad, apparently. The US had flourished and a lot of people liked Ike. He didn’t do a damn thing for civil rights, though.
Finally, there was loads of literature coming out of the 50s and heading into the 60s. Hemingway and Steinbeck were two pre-war favorites. Many stories portrayed soldiers’ troubles after WWII. Many war tales would follow in Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five (numbers were very popular, too). Many new, diverse writers took over the scene. There were loads of awesome plays that displayed new parts of American life and symbolism. And, of course, who can forget the favorite book of sophomores everywhere, The Catcher in the Rye?!