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Baby Boom_ Prosperity_ and McCarthyism

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14. Baby Boom, Prosperity, and McCarthyism, 1945-60
• Purpose: to gain an understanding of the
  development of the US economy, society,
  and domestic politics in the 1950s,
  specifically:
    • Economic development and conflict
      after the War
    • Truman’s surprise reelection in 1948
    • Anti-Communist Hysteria and
      McCarthyism
    • The Eisenhower presidency
    • The Baby Boom and the “Affluent
      Society” of the 1950s
    • Poverty and Conflict in mid-century
      America
    • The election of 1960
• Timeframe: ca. 1945-1960

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1.1 Postwar Economy and Labor Conflict
• Many feared a postwar depression.
  Problem of demobilization of the military.
• But: pent-up savings now spent for
  consumer goods led to economic growth.
• Inflation biggest problem of the postwar
  period, end of price controls in 1946.
  Many blamed Truman administration.
• Labor unions demanded a greater share
  of the postwar economic growth.
  Unpopular strikes in coal, steel,
  automobile, railroad industries.
• Truman heavily criticized unions and
  called for the power to draft strikers into
  the military.
• But Congress (Rep. majority since 1946)
  alienated unions even more. Taft-Hartley
  Act 1947 severely limited union power.                            Despite his confident appearance here, when
  Truman unsuccessfully tried to prevent                         Truman ran for re-election in 1948, most predicted
  the law with a veto.                                           his defeat over issues of inflation, labor unrest, etc.

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1.2 The Election of 1948
• In 1948, Truman and the Democrats
  seemed doomed. New Dealer Henry
  Wallace ran on a Progressive Party ticket,
  Southern conservative Strom Thurmond
  as a States Rights Democrat (Dixiecrat),
  all competitors for Democratic votes.
• All experts predicted victory for Rep.
  candidate Thomas Dewey. But the result
  was a surprisingly clear Truman victory.
• Why? Peace and prosperity. New Deal
  coalition. “Extreme” third parties made
  Truman look moderate. Rep. Congress
  had alienated even more people.                               Truman in 1948, victoriously holding a newspaper that
• Truman hoped to turn his victory into a                       prematurely proclaimed Dewey the winner. Despite an
  domestic mandate for a “Fair Deal.” But                           uneven domestic and foreign policy record and
  Korean War (1950-53) and anti-                                Truman’s unpopularity by 1952 (due to the Korean War
                                                                and other issues) many historians consider him one of
  communist hysteria made Truman a very
                                                                   the century’s most effective presidents. Truman
  unpopular president by 1952. Little of the                     presided over the United States’ rise to global power
  “Fair Deal” was realized.                                          and the beginning of unprecedented growth.

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2.1 The Fear of Communist Subversion
• In the late 1940s and early 50s, fear of
  communist subversion became a political
  factor, in the tradition of the Red Scare.
• Real Soviet espionage in the US and UK.
  Soviet nuclear bomb in 1949 was partly
  due to stolen secrets. But there was little
  hard evidence then to prove it.
• The CPUSA had 80,000 members; its
  leadership was loyal to the Kremlin, but
  regular members typically were not.
• Many liberals and intellectuals had
  sympathized with communism in the
  depression-ridden 1930s.
• The Soviet A-bomb, the “fall of China,”
  and the outbreak of the Korean War
  convinced many Americans that much of
  the world stood on the brink of a
  communist takeover and that communist
                                                                The loss of the US monopoly on nuclear weapons in
  subversives were active in the US.
                                                                      1949 contributed to anti-communist fears

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2.2 Truman’s Loyalty Probe
• Due to indications of Soviet espionage
  and also to dodge Republican attacks of
  being “soft on communism,” Truman in
  1947 ordered investigations into the
  loyalty of 3 million federal employees.
• Very few substantial allegations, but many
  were fired for alcoholism or debt as
  “security risks.” Anti-communism also
  targeted homosexuals in general.
• Legal rights of the accused were often
  violated.
• States began demanding ever more
  elaborate loyalty oaths from their
  employees and also conducted loyalty
  probes. Universities, militias, schools,
  bureaucracy were all affected.
• Rather than calming fears of subversion,
  these government actions stoked the fires                         Truman was partly responsible for the anti-
  of anti-communist hysteria.                                    communist hysteria that emerged in the late 1940s

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2.3 HUAC
• In 1947, the House Un-American
  Activities Committee began hearings to
  expose communist influence in the US.
• People who invoked their constitutional
  right not to testify against themselves
  were called “5th amendment communists.”
• “Duck Test”
• When prominent Hollywood screenwriters
  and directors refused to cooperate in
  1947, HUAC had them cited for contempt
  of Congress and sent to federal prison.
  “Hollywood Ten.”
• General atmosphere of intimidation. The
  CIO, for example, expelled 11 unions with
  a membership of 900,000. Most labor
  organizations dropped their militancy and
  endorsed anti-communism.
• Unsurprisingly, membership in the                             Young Richard Nixon, member of HUAC (1913-1994)
  CPUSA shrank quickly.
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2.4 Anti-Communism and Popular Culture
 • In Hollywood, anti-communist blacklisting.
   Left-wing actors, writers, directors could
   not work anymore.
 • Instead, many films produced with anti-
   communist themes. Some obvious, like
   The Red Menace, but also allegorical Sci-
   Fi and horror movies. Invasion of the
   Body Snatchers, Them!
 • Music, television, radio shows often
   reflected anti-communist sentiment; even
   comics like Captain America. Many left-
   leaning artists found themselves out of
   work for allegations of communism.
 • Not all artists conformed. Walt Kelly’s
   cartoon Pogo used animal characters to
   caricature anti-communism. Some papers
   stopped running the cartoon, others
   moved it from the funnies to the politics
   section.

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2.5 The Hiss Case, Fuchs, and the Rosenbergs
• 1949: Soviet atomic bomb, “Fall of China”
• HUAC questioned state department
  official Alger Hiss. Former Soviet spy
  Whittaker Chambers claimed that Hiss
  had given him secrets in the 1930s.
• Hiss denied everything; Truman backed
  him up. But under interrogation by HUAC
  member Richard Nixon, Hiss admitted
  knowing Chambers well in the 1930s. In
  1950, Hiss was convicted of perjury.
• Same year, conviction of Klaus Fuchs in
  UK for atomic espionage.                                         Julius and Ethel Rosenberg insisted they were
                                                                innocent, that they were the victims of anti-Semitism.
• Fuchs conviction led to the accusation of                     Soviet documents available in the 1990s showed that
  Jewish immigrants Julius and Ethel                               Julius was indeed a spy, although Ethel’s guilt
  Rosenberg. The two were executed for                           remains unclear. But in 1950, hard evidence of their
  treason, the only civilians in US history.                               espionage was not conclusive.
• 1990s: Hiss, Fuchs, and Julius
  Rosenberg were guilty according to
  Soviet documents.
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3.1 Joseph McCarthy
• Bad news of 1949, publicity of Hiss and
  Rosenberg cases, outbreak of Korean
  War paved way for demagogue Joseph
  McCarthy, Rep. senator from Wisconsin.
• 1950 speech at Wheeling, WV: McCarthy
  claimed that Cold War setbacks could
  only be explained through a communist
  conspiracy that reached highest levels of
  government in the US.
• McCarthy waved a piece of paper (really
  a laundry list) and claimed it was a list of
  205 members of the Communist party
  who worked in the state department.
• McCarthy repeated his accusations in
  later speeches but modified numbers.
• His stature as a senator, and the support
  of Rep. Party establishment combined to
  give him great influence. McCarthy’s
  aggressive patriotism appealed to many.                               Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957)

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3.2 McCarthyism
• McCarthy continued his attacks on the
  State Department and singled out George
  Marshall and Dean Acheson as leading
  communists. His false accusations proved
  powerful in the congressional elections of
  1950; few politicians dared oppose him.
• McCarthy’s vicious attacks cost hundreds
  of people their careers, including many
  bright analysts in the state department.
• McCarthy’s gift was to generate maximum
  publicity on completely unfounded
  charges. While many politicians used anti-
  communist rhetoric, none were more
  reckless and flamboyant than he.
• In the early 1950s, Congress passed a
  series of laws that led to the dismissal of
  many alleged communists and
  homosexuals from government service.                            Political cartoonist Herbert Block (Herblock) coined
                                                                 the term McCarthyism. This cartoon shows “hysteria”
                                                                          trying to extinguish the fire of liberty.

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3.3 The Election of 1952 and Eisenhower
• In 1952, Truman did not run, and Dem.
  candidate Adlai Stevenson was popular
  mostly with liberals.
• Republicans convinced Eisenhower to run
  for president. The party nominated HUAC
  investigator Nixon as his running mate.
  They won in a landslide.
• Eisenhower proved a moderate and very
  popular president. He appointed
  corporate executives to the cabinet, but
  did not challenge New Deal achievements
  and tolerated deficit spending.
• “Dynamic Conservatism:” while “Ike”
  worked to reduce the size of the
  government, he also used federal power
                                                                  In the anxiety-ridden early 1950s, Dwight D. “Ike”
  to stimulate the economy, like with the                           Eisenhower’s laid-back style and aura of quiet
  Interstate Highway Act of 1956.                                   competence was very attractive to Americans.
• Eisenhower’s leadership style helped
  bring a sense of calm to public opinion.

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3.4 The Downfall of Joseph McCarthy
• Eisenhower did not challenge McCarthy
  but hoped that the media and public
  opinion would dismantle the demagogue.
• In 1954, looking for new publicity,
  McCarthy accused the army of harboring
  communists and arranged for senate
  hearings to root them out.
• However, the televised hearings showed
  McCarthy’s boorishness, his alcoholism,
  and his lack of basic decency.
• In Dec. 1954, the Senate voted to
  censure McCarthy, who died in 1957 of                          At the army hearings in 1954, McCarthy continuously
  the effects of alcoholism.                                       interrupted, he slurred his speech, he bullied and
                                                                    shouted. Americans saw his misbehavior on TV.
• Anti-communism’s influence declined
  greatly, but did not vanish. Esp. ultra-
  conservatives such as the John Birch
  Society and some Republicans continued
  to use it as a political tool.


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3.5 The “Consensus Mood”
• Eisenhower’s presidency was part of a
  desire among most Americans for
  normality after the Depression, WWII, the
  Korean War (ended in 1953), and the
  fears of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
• Foreign policy was largely bipartisan, and
  no “hot” war broke out during
  Eisenhower’s presidency.
• More conflicts in domestic policy, but
  when Democrats regained a majority in
  Congress in 1954, Eisenhower worked
  well with them on most issues.
• Generally, most Americans clung to the
  status quo and shunned passionate
  politics. Moderate politicians dominated.
• Eisenhower won re-election in 1956 with
  an even greater majority than in 1952, but
  Democrats continued to hold majorities in
  Congress.

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4.1 Prosperity, Baby Boom, Suburbanization
• 1945-61 one of the longest economic
  growth periods of American history.
• Increases in productivity, consumer
  spending, easy credit.
• Rise of GNP, incomes, purchasing power.
• Baby Boom and marriage boom. More
  than 4 million births a year, highest in
  American history.
• Housing Boom. Federal mortgage
  insurance (FHA) and veterans benefits
  combined to create massive construction.
• Automobile sales surged, as did highway
  construction. Suburbanization. Levittowns
  (1947): standardized housing construction
• Percentage of US population in suburbs
  from 19.5% in 1940 to 31% in 1960. At
  the same time, decline of inner cities.
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4.2 The Sunbelt, Military Spending, Mergers
• Much economic and population growth in
  the sunbelt. Air conditioning crucial. CA
  became most populous state.
• New industries, often defense contractors:
  aerospace, petrochemical, electronics,
  etc. Military installations.
• Military spending fueled boom: from $10
  billion in 1947 to $98 billion in 1961.
  Contracts with industry, universities to
  produce and develop military equipment.
• Mergers: conglomerate corporations were
  involved in unrelated industries in order to
  minimize risks in unstable markets.
• Labor merger: AFL-CIO in 1955. At least
  for unionized blue-collar workers,
  increasingly middle class incomes.
• Agribusiness: mechanization, productivity.
  Decline of farm population: 24.4 million in
  1945, 14.8 million in 1961.
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4.3 Education, Religion, and Family
• GI Bill of Rights: over 1 million veterans
  enrolled in college in 1946 alone. College
  education no longer limited to upper and
  upper middle classes.
• Baby Boom led to school enrollment and
  more focus on education. PTAs, etc.
• New approaches to child rearing. Dr.
  Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care
  (1946) bestseller of the 1950s.
• Rising membership of religious
  congregations from 71.7 million in 1945 to
  116 million in 1961. Pledge of Allegiance                         Revival preacher Billy Graham reached mass
  with “under God” in 1954. Patriotism.                                             audiences.
• Mostly mainstream churches, but also
  growth of evangelical and fundamentalist
  denominations.
• Generally great focus on family, home,
  and domesticity.


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4.4 Television
• Fastest new medium in history. Few in
  1946, 75% of households in 1955, 90% in
  1960. Millions of sets sold every year.
• TV Guide became bestselling periodical.
• TV was greatly compatible with focus on
  family togetherness and suburban homes.
• TV was the ideal medium of conformity
  and consumerism. Many shows depicted
  middle-class, suburban families who did
  not seriously challenge gender roles or
  the “American way of life.” Commercials
  were a prominent part of programming.
• Classic family comedies: “Leave it to
  Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” but also
  Westerns, children’s shows, etc.                              TV sets quickly became the centerpieces of American
• TV also had an impact on politics: fall of                                  living rooms in the 1950s.
  McCarthy, Civil Rights Movement,
  Eisenhower, televised debates of the
  election of 1960.
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4.5 Women in the 1950s
• The situation of women in the 1950s was
  highly problematic and contradictory.
• Strong pressure on women for
  domesticity. Ideal of full-time housewife.
• But: more women, esp. married women in
  the workforce. After WWII largely
  excluded from better-paying industrial
  jobs, but many worked in service sector.
• Dr. Spock expected women to provide
  emotional support for the family selflessly;
  social critic Philip Wylie (Generation of
  Vipers) attacked them for “momism” and
  raising a generation of wimps.
• Playboy Magazine (1953) created yet
  another contradictory image of women.
• In the anxiety of the 1950s, women often                          Many women were deeply frustrated with the
  found themselves blamed for endangering                         demanding, constricting, and contradictory roles
  the “moral fibre” of America by not                           society assigned them. This discontent contributed to
  conforming or conforming too much.                                  the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s.

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4.6 The Other America
• Prosperity did not reach everyone.
• African Americans as well as some
  Hispanics (esp. Puerto Ricans)
  increasingly concentrated in the inner
  cities that became economically poorer as
  many middle-class whites left for the
  suburbs.
• Native Americans’ situation badly
  deteriorated due to the Eisenhower
  administration's Termination Policy of
  forced assimilation.
• Single mothers faced low wages, little
  social security, often depended on welfare
• Farm workers and tenant farmers
  displaced by agribusiness often lived in
  dire poverty in depressed rural regions.
• In 1962, Michael Harrington’s The Other
  America brought continuing poverty to the
  attention of public opinion.
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Conclusion: The Election of 1960
• Eisenhower had presided over a largely
  prosperous and conformist, but also
  anxiety-ridden and conflicting decade.
• In 1960, his vice president Richard Nixon
  of California ran against Democrat John
  F. Kennedy, a Catholic from a rich Irish-
  American family in Massachusetts.
• Nixon ran on his credentials as anti-
  communist, vice president, conservative.
  Eisenhower gave him little support.
• Kennedy worked hard to convince people                        Televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960.
  that his Catholicism would not be a                            Radio listeners felt that Nixon “won” the debate, but
  problem. He also presented himself as a                          Kennedy’s charisma gave him the advantage TV.
  tough Cold Warrior who promised to close
  a (nonexistent) “missile gap” between the
  US and the Soviet Union.
• In the end, it was primarily Kennedy’s
  better television appearance that won him
  an extremely narrow victory.

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Document Assignment and Sample Keyword
Document Assignment:                                           Sample Keyword:

Joseph McCarthy, Speech at Wheeling                            House Un-American Activities
West Virginia (1950)                                           Committee (HUAC)

Available online or from the folder in the                     Congressional committee that was part of
library.                                                       the anti-communist hysteria after WWII.
                                                               HUAC investigated labor unions, liberal
                                                               organizations, etc., in highly publicized
                                                               public hearings and using guilt by
                                                               association to "prove" disloyalty. 1947 case
                                                               of the “Hollywood Ten.” HUAC’s 1949
                                                               investigation of the Hiss case brought
                                                               Richard M. Nixon to national prominence.
                                                               HUAC’s investigations helped prepare the
                                                               ground for McCarthyism.


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