World War II
As the entire world was struggling to save itself from the looming threat of fascist Germany, In the U.S. the meaning of freedom underwent profound shifts. With the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the nation's population, freedom acquired different meanings for different people. Various visions of freedom were articulated during the war. Racial and ethnic minorities, women, and even LGBT communities enjoyed the growing power of their freedom messages, causing enduring effects on the collective view of freedom in America.
The period of WWII created new, enormous possibilities for women. Their vision of freedom was based on a persistent desire to free themselves from the chains of household chores and enter the world of men on equal terms. Women increased their presence in all domains of social, economic, and cultural performance in America. They perceived freedom as a life free of gender discrimination and sexist mentality. While millions of men were fighting at war, millions of women came to replace them in the national labor force. By the end of the Second World War, every third worker in the U.S. would have been a woman. Historians recall the dramatic effects of mobilization on the American economy, when factory owners rushed to hire women for jobs that had been previously done by men. Meanwhile, women envisioned their freedom as being able to live and work without stigma, which had been haunting them in their striving to acquire a stronger social position in the American society.
Beyond women, racial and ethnic minorities faced profound changes as a result of WWII. Even though the war was not helpful in eradicating racism, it uncovered the hidden racial tensions, while exposing racial and ethnic minority groups to better growth opportunities. For African-Americans, the vision of freedom was inseparable from equal rights. With that equal rights agenda, black leaders in the U.S. actually entered WWII. Their actions led to the passage of Roosevelt's Order 8802, which put a ban on racial discrimination in employment. The growing number of African-Americans went to serve in the armed forces. Still, most efforts to curb discrimination and empower blacks were concentrated at the home front. They viewed freedom as being closely associated with a strong government, which would defend their civil rights. Eventually, the government accepted a new non-discrimination rhetoric to help African-Americans gain all rights available to white citizens.
Native Americans and Mexico people also used WWII as a channel for communicating their freedom concerns. The former left their reservations to serve in the army or work in defense industries. Their vision of freedom was based on a strong desire to leave reservations and become full members of the American society. During WWII, many Indians became more deeply assimilated into mainstream American society. Unfortunately, they never managed to overcome the barriers of anti-Indian discrimination. Many of them had to come back to their reservations. Likewise, Mexican Americans who had come from abroad to work in the U.S. experienced the pressure of segregation and confinement in their communities. They viewed their freedom as the ability to participate in the workforce and have access to the simplest resources provided by the American society. Their position was better than that of African-Americans. It was even better, compared with the sufferings experienced by the Japanese.
Japanese people lost much of their cultural and spiritual identity during WWII. Their cultural and social situation during the war was the most uncertain among other racial and ethnic minorities. Their freedom had to be associated with the decline of anti-Japanese sentiments, which had dominated the political and social landscape in America before WWII. Meanwhile, members of sexual minorities had their heads lifted, as new wartime opportunities for coming out and establishing open relationships with the society emerged for them. Their freedom was that of no discrimination on the basis of sexual preferences. All those changes created a vision of the "good war".
WWII is often defined as a "good war". The term implies the many positive changes, which occurred during the wartime era in America. It was good in the sense that it set the stage for the effective revival of the American economy, while opening the gateway to recognizing the value of social and cultural diversity in the U.S. It was the good war of struggling for the freedom of the world. Following WWII, the U.S. reemerged as the world's agenda-setting power. Unfortunately, many population groups in the U.S. failed to enjoy its advantages. After the end of WWII, the struggle continued at the domestic front, creating a foundation for the subsequent transformation of America into a leader of the world.
Onset of the Cold War
The Cold War was a controversial period in U.S. history and politics. The United States became locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union for several reasons. It is possible to say that the Cold War was by itself a product of multiple influences. Basically, it was a response to the rapid expansion of the communist moods and ideals across the planet. In one of his speeches, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy urged the State Department to identify and dismiss the Communists who were taking positions in the public service. Additionally, following WWII, new power vacuums coupled with the financial and physical exhaustion of Western European countries imposed an atmosphere of political mistrust, throwing the U.S. and the USSR into a fight for political domination in the world. Finally, the U.S. and the USSR faced considerable disagreements as to the future of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. America could not simply accept the fact that, at the end of WWII, the Soviet Army was present in virtually half of European territories. The Cold War which resulted had profound effects on American politics at both the domestic and foreign fronts.
The Cold War ideology was the critical factor shaping America's foreign policy and culture in the 1950s. The politics of containment became the dominant force of foreign policymaking for the U.S.. In the words of George F. Kennan, a U.S. diplomat, the new foreign policy had to anticipate and minimize any attempts made by the USSR to reinforce its international strength. Simply put, the U.S. had to be one step ahead of everything that could strengthen the USSR. Simultaneously, it would not miss a single opportunity to weaken the international political position of the USSR.
The Cold War also influenced the American culture. The postwar prosperity and the emerging obsession with communism created a unique cultural and historical atmosphere, exposing Americans to the pleasures of wellness they had missed during the Second World War. That was the time, when family values and personal commitments revived. Strong families and financial prosperity had to create a strong foundation for pursuing the U.S.'s national security interests abroad. Yet, many social issues such as labor unionization remained unresolved, leaving a long-standing legacy of social and cultural tensions for the future generations.