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The United States Of America, Part Eight

This is the story of how the American Republic developed from colonial beginnings in the 16th century, when the first European explorers arrived, until modern times.

 

History of the United States:  Continued

THE COLD WAR  
At the end of World War II, the United States and the USSR emerged as the world’s major powers. They also became involved in the Cold War, a state of hostility (short of direct military conflict) between the two nations. The clash had deep roots, going back to the Russian Revolution of 1917, when after the Bolshevik victory, the United States, along with Britain, France, and Japan, sent troops to Russia to support the anti-Communists. During World War II, the United States and the USSR were tenuously allied, but they disagreed on tactics and on postwar plans. After the war, relations deteriorated. The United States and the USSR had different ideologies, and they mistrusted one another. The Soviet Union feared that the United States, the leader of the capitalist world, sought the downfall of Communism. The United States felt threatened by Soviet expansionism in Europe, Asia, and the western hemisphere.

The United States and the Soviet Union disagreed over postwar policy in central and eastern Europe. The USSR wanted to demilitarize Germany to prevent another war; to control Poland to preclude any future invasion from its west; and to dominate Eastern Europe. Stalin saw Soviet domination of Eastern Europe as vital to Soviet security. Within months of the war's end, Stalin installed pro-Soviet governments in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Independent Communist takeovers in Albania and Yugoslavia provided two more "satellite nations." Finally, the Soviets barred free elections in Poland and suppressed political opposition. In March 1946 former British prime minister Winston Churchill told a college audience in Fulton, Missouri, that a Soviet-made "iron curtain" had descended across Europe.

President Harry S. Truman, enraged at the USSR's moves, at once assumed a combative stance. He believed that Soviet expansion into Poland and Eastern Europe violated national self-determination, or the right of people to choose their own form of government; betrayed democratic principles; and threatened the rest of Europe. In contrast to the USSR, the United States envisioned a united, peaceful Europe that included a prosperous Germany. Truman became an architect of American Cold War policy. So did State Department official George Kennan, then stationed in Moscow, who in 1946 warned of Soviet inflexibility. The United States, wrote Kennan, would have to use "vigilant containment" to deter the USSR’s inherent expansionist tendencies. The doctrine of containment became a principle of U.S. policy for the next several decades.

Throughout 1946 a sequence of events drew the United States and the USSR deeper into conflict. One area of conflict was defeated Germany, which had been split after the war into four zones: American, British, French, and Soviet. Stalin sealed off East Germany as a Communist state. The two countries also encountered problems beyond Europe.

In 1945 and 1946, the Soviet Union attempted to include Turkey within its sphere of influence and to gain control of the Dardanelles, the strait in Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Control of the Dardenelles would give the USSR a route from its Black Sea to the Mediterranean. In response, Truman offered Turkey large-scale aid, and the two countries entered a close military and economic alliance. Meanwhile, an arms race began; each superpower rejected the other's plans to control nuclear arms, and the United States established the Atomic Energy Commission to oversee nuclear development. Within the year, the Cold War was under way.

The Truman Doctrine  
In 1947 the Cold War conflict centered on Greece, where a Communist-led resistance movement, supported by the USSR and Communist Yugoslavia, threatened to overthrow the Greek monarchical government, supported by Britain. When the British declared that they were unable to aid the imperiled Greek monarchists, the United States acted. In March 1947 the president announced the Truman Doctrine: The United States would help stabilize legal foreign governments threatened by revolutionary minorities and outside pressures. Congress appropriated $400 million to support anti-Communist forces in Turkey and Greece. By giving aid, the United States signaled that it would bolster regimes that claimed to face Communist threats. As George Kennan explained in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1947, "containment" meant using "unalterable counterforce at every point" until Soviet power ended or faded.


In 1947 the United States further pursued its Cold War goals in Europe, where shaky postwar economies seemed to present opportunities for Communist gains. The American Marshall Plan, an ambitious economic recovery program, sought to restore productivity and prosperity to Europe and thereby prevent Communist inroads (see European Recovery Program). The plan ultimately pumped more than $13 billion into western European economies, including occupied Germany. Stalin responded to the new U.S. policy in Europe by trying to force Britain, France, and the United States out of Berlin. The city was split between the Western powers and the USSR, although it was deep within the Soviet zone of Germany. The Soviets cut off all access to Berlin from the parts of Germany controlled by the West. Truman, however, aided West Berlin by airlifting supplies to the city from June 1948 to May 1949 (see Berlin Airlift).


 

NATO  
In 1949 the United States joined 11 other nations (Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal) to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense pact. Members of NATO pledged that an attack on one would be an attack on all. Stalin responded by uniting the economies of Eastern Europe under the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Then late in 1949, Americans learned that the Soviets had successfully exploded an atomic bomb in August. Finally, in February 1950, Stalin signed an alliance with the People's Republic of China, a Communist nation formed in 1949.

The doctrine of "containment" now faced big challenges. To bolster the containment policy, U.S. officials proposed in a secret 1950 document, NSC-68, to strengthen the nation’s alliances, to quadruple defense spending, and to convince Americans to support the Cold War. Truman ordered the Atomic Energy Commission to develop a hydrogen bomb many times more destructive than an atomic bomb. In Europe, the United States supported the independence of West Germany.

Finally, the United States took important steps to contain Communism in Europe and Asia. In Europe, the United States supported the rearmament of West Germany. In Asia in early 1950, the United States offered assistance to France to save Vietnam (still French Indochina) from Communist rule, and signed a peace treaty with Japan to ensure the future of American military bases there. Responding to the threats in Asia, Stalin endorsed a Communist reprisal in Korea, where fighting broke out between Communist and non-Communist forces.

The Korean War  
Japan had occupied Korea during World War II. After Japan's defeat, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel into the Communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north, and the U.S.-backed Republic of Korea in the south. After June 1949, when the United States withdrew its army, South Korea was left vulnerable. A year later, North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Truman reacted quickly. He committed U.S. forces to Korea, sent General Douglas MacArthur there to command them, and asked the United Nations to help protect South Korea from conquest.

MacArthur drove the North Koreans back to the dividing line. Truman then ordered American troops to cross the 38th parallel and press on to the Chinese border. China responded in November 1950 with a huge counterattack that decimated U.S. armies. MacArthur demanded permission to invade mainland China, which Truman rejected, and then repeatedly assailed the president’s decision. In 1951 Truman fired him for insubordination. By then, the combatants had separated near the 38th parallel. The Korean War did not officially end until 1953, when President Dwight Eisenhower imposed a precarious armistice. Meanwhile, the Korean War had brought about rearmament, hiked the U.S. military budget, and increased fears of Communist aggression abroad and at home.

Cold War at Home  
As the Cold War intensified, it affected domestic affairs. Many Americans feared not only Communism around the world but also disloyalty at home. Suspicion about Communist infiltration of the government forced Truman to act. In 1947 he sought to root out subversion through the Federal Employee Loyalty Program. The program included a loyalty review board to investigate government workers and fire those found to be disloyal. The government dismissed hundreds of employees, and thousands more felt compelled to resign. By the end of Truman's term, 39 states had enacted antisubversion laws and loyalty programs. In 1949 the Justice Department prosecuted 11 leaders of the Communist Party, who were convicted and jailed under the Smith Act of 1940. The law prohibited groups from conspiring to advocate the violent overthrow of the government.


The Communist Party had reached the peak of its strength in the United States during World War II, when it claimed 80,000 members. Some of these had indeed worked for the government, handled classified material, or been part of spy networks. Although Communist party membership had fallen to under 30,000 by the 1950s, suspicion about disloyalty had grown. Concerned about the Sino-Soviet alliance and the USSR’s possession of atomic weapons, many Americans feared Communist spies and Soviet penetration of federal agencies.

Attention focused on two divisive trials. In August 1948 Time magazine editor Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist, charged former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a member of the Communist Party and, subsequently, of espionage. Hiss sued Chambers for slander, but Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 and jailed (see Hiss Case). In 1951 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of treason for stealing atomic secrets. They were executed two years later. Both of these trials and convictions provoked decades of controversy. Half a century later, the most recent evidence seems to support the convictions of Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg.

Meanwhile, Congress began to investigate suspicions of disloyalty. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) sought to expose Communist influence in American life. Beginning in the late 1940s, the committee called witnesses and investigated the entertainment industry. Prominent film directors and screenwriters who refused to cooperate were imprisoned on contempt charges. As a result of the HUAC investigations, the entertainment industry blacklisted, or refused to hire, artists and writers suspected of being Communists.


One of the most important figures of this period was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who gained power by accusing others of subversion. In February 1950, a few months after the USSR detonated its first atomic device, McCarthy claimed to have a list of Communists who worked in the State Department. Although his accusations remained unsupported and a Senate committee labeled them "a fraud and a hoax," McCarthy won a national following. Branding the Democrats as a party of treason, he denounced his political foes as "soft on Communism" and called Truman’s loyal secretary of state, Dean Acheson, the "Red Dean." McCarthyism came to mean false charges of disloyalty.

In September 1950, goaded by McCarthy, Congress passed, over Truman's veto, the McCarran Internal Security Act, which established a Subversive Activities Control Board to monitor Communist influence in the United States. A second McCarran act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also became law over Truman's veto. It kept the quota system based on national origin, though it ended a ban on Asian immigration, and required elaborate security checks for foreigners visiting the United States.

The Cold War played a role in the presidential contest of 1952 between Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Many voters feared Soviet expansionism, Soviet atomic explosions, and more conflicts like Korea. Eisenhower's running mate, former HUAC member Richard M. Nixon, charged that a Democratic victory would bring "more Alger Hisses, more atomic spies." Eisenhower’s soaring popularity led to two terms as president.

McCarthy’s influence continued until the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, when the Senate investigated McCarthy’s enquiry into the army. The Senate censored him on December 2, 1954, for abusing his colleagues, and his career collapsed. But fears of subversion continued. Communities banned books; teachers, academics, civil servants, and entertainers lost jobs; and unwarranted attacks ruined lives. Communists again dwindled in number after 1956, when Stalin was revealed to have committed extensive crimes. Meanwhile, by the end of the decade, new right-wing organizations such as the John Birch Society condemned "creeping socialism" under Truman and Eisenhower. McCarthyism left permanent scars.

The Cold War Under Eisenhower  
When Eisenhower took office in 1953, he moved to end the war in Korea, where peace talks had been going on since 1951. Eisenhower’s veiled threat to use nuclear weapons broke the stalemate. An armistice, signed in July 1953, set a boundary between the two Koreas near the 38th parallel. Eisenhower then reduced the federal budget and cut defense spending. Still, he pursued the Cold War.


When Stalin died in 1953, the United States and the USSR had an opportunity to ease tensions. However, the USSR tested a nuclear bomb in 1954, and Eisenhower needed to appease Republicans who urged more forceful efforts to defeat Communism. He relied on his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, who called for "liberation" of the captive peoples of Eastern Europe and the end of Communism in China. Dulles was willing to bring the world to "the brink of war" to intimidate the USSR. With reduced conventional forces, Dulles's diplomacy rested on threats of "massive retaliation" and brinksmanship, a policy of never backing down in a crisis even at the risk of war.

In 1955 the United States and USSR met in Geneva, Switzerland, to address mounting fears about radioactive fallout from nuclear tests. Discussions of "peaceful coexistence" led the two nations to suspend atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. Still, the United States spent more on nuclear weapons and less on conventional forces.


Dulles, meanwhile, negotiated pacts around the world committing the United States to the defense of 43 nations. The focus of the Cold War now shifted to the so-called Third World, where the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) represented U.S. interests. Established in 1947 to conduct espionage and assess information about foreign nations, the CIA carried out covert operations against regimes believed to be Communist or supported by Communist nations. In 1954, for example, the CIA helped bring down a Guatemalan government that the United States believed was moving towards Communism.

Finally, to stop the USSR from spreading Communism, the United States became involved in Indochina and the Middle East. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, a nationalist and a Communist, led a movement for independence from France. The Truman administration had aided France, but in 1954, the French were defeated. An international peace conference in Geneva divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The United States refused to sign the Geneva Accords, which it believed conceded too much to the Communists. Instead the United States sent economic aid and military advisers to South Vietnam from 1954 to 1961. Although Eisenhower feared further involvement in Vietnam, he supported what was called the domino theory: If Vietnam fell to Communism, all of Southeast Asia might follow.


In the Middle East, the United States promised a loan to Egypt's new ruler, Gamal Abdul Nasser, to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. But when Nassar bought arms from Communist Czechoslovakia, the United States canceled the loan. Nasser retaliated in July 1956 by nationalizing the Anglo-French Suez Canal, an artificial waterway across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt. Britain, France, and Israel (formed in 1948) responded with force, which the United States condemned. The invaders of Egypt withdrew, and the Suez crisis was defused.


In reaction to the Suez crisis, the United States announced a new policy, the Eisenhower Doctrine: The United States would intervene in the Middle East if necessary to protect the area against Communism. In July 1958 the United States sent 14,000 marines to Lebanon during a civil war that the United States feared would destabilize the region.

In the USSR, Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, did his part to keep the Cold War alive. He extended Soviet influence by establishing relations with India and with other nations that were not aligned with either side in the Cold War. In 1955 Khrushchev created the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of seven European Communist nations, to secure the Soviet position in Europe. In 1956 he used force in Hungary and political pressure in Poland to ensure continued Soviet control of those countries. He increased Soviet power by developing a hydrogen bomb, and by launching the first earth satellite in 1957. Finally, he formed an alliance with Cuba after Fidel Castro led a successful revolution there in 1959.

At the end of Eisenhower’s second term, the Cold War still dominated American foreign policy. United States efforts around the world to quell Communist-inspired or nationalist insurgencies sometimes caused anger. In 1958 angry crowds in Peru and Venezuela stoned Vice President Nixon’s car. On May 1, 1960, the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane, and plans for a second summit collapsed. When Eisenhower left office, he warned against "unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex." But the nuclear arms race had intensified, and the Cold War seemed to be widening.


The Cold War brought divisiveness and discord in the United States. Americans of the 1950s clashed on the extent of the threat posed by Communism at home and abroad. Historians debate this question, too, as well as the origins of the Cold War. Some contend that Soviet aggression in the postwar era reflected valid concerns for security, and that a series of hostile acts by the United States provoked the USSR to take countermeasures. Others argue, variously, that Communism was inherently expansionist; that Soviet aggression was a natural outgrowth of Communism; that with Stalin in power, the Cold War was inevitable; that the USSR was bent on establishing Communist regimes in every region where a power vacuum existed; and that containment was a necessary and successful policy.

Starting in the early 1990s, scholars have gained access to Soviet evidence that was previously unavailable. New revelations from Russian archives—as well as declassification in 1995 and 1996 of U.S. intelligence files on interception of Soviet spy cables, known as the Venona decryptions—has recently made possible new scholarship on the Cold War era. For the moment, debates about U.S. Cold War policy are likely to remain.

A WORLD OF PLENTY  In the post-World War II decade, the United States was the richest nation in the world. After a brief period of postwar adjustment, the economy boomed. Consumers demanded goods and services. Businesses produced more to meet this demand, and increased production led to new jobs. Federal foreign aid programs, such as the Marshall Plan, provided overseas markets for U.S. businesses. Finally, the government spent large amounts of money by providing loans, fighting the Cold War, and funding social programs. Government spending plus consumer demand led to an era of widespread prosperity, rising living standards, and social mobility.

The Postwar Administrations  
As the nation demobilized, President Harry S. Truman faced a political battle. A one-time courthouse politician who owed his political success to the Democratic political machine of Kansas City, Truman had been a liberal senator and loyal New Dealer. Assertive and self-confident, he capably assumed the presidency after Roosevelt’s death at the end of World War II. But in 1946, Truman encountered the Republican-dominated 80th Congress, the first time Republicans won control of both houses since 1928.


In 1947 Congress passed the Labor-Management Relations Act, known as the Taft-Hartley Act, over Truman’s veto. The act was a restrictive labor law that handicapped labor and boosted employer power. For instance, it banned closed shops, thereby enabling employers to hire nonunion workers; it revived the labor injunction as a way to end strikes and boycotts; and it allowed states to pass right-to-work laws that forbade making union membership a condition of hiring.

Congress also rejected Truman’s efforts to improve civil rights for African Americans. It refused to pass federal antilynching laws or to abolish the poll tax. In 1948, however, Truman integrated the armed forces by an executive order. He also ordered an end to discrimination in the hiring of federal employees.


Southern Democrats never liked Truman. At the Democratic convention of 1948, they withdrew from the party to form a states’ rights party, the Dixiecrats. Truman also faced a challenge from the left, when Henry Wallace ran as the presidential candidate of the Progressive Party. Both of these challenges took Democratic votes from Truman, and most observers expected that his Republican opponent, New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, would defeat him. But the scrappy president won reelection. The 81st Congress continued to reject his social and economic proposals, known as the Fair Deal. Legislators defeated, for instance, a measure for national compulsory health insurance. Still, Truman succeeded in raising the minimum wage, extending social security coverage, and building low-income housing.

Elected president by big margins in 1952 and 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed immense popularity. A pragmatic, centrist Republican, Eisenhower believed in smaller government, fiscal conservatism, and a business-like administration.


Eisenhower continued some New Deal policies. He expanded social security, raised the minimum wage, and backed a huge public works program, the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which provided funds for the Interstate Highway System. He also cut defense spending and presided over an era of peace and prosperity.


In 1953 Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as chief justice of the Supreme Court, an appointment that began a new era in judicial history. The Warren Court transformed the American legal system by expanding civil rights and civil liberties. In the 1950s the Court broadened the rights of the accused and overturned the 1949 convictions of Communist leaders who had been tried under the Smith Act. Most important, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Warren court declared that school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Concluding that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," it declared segregated schools unconstitutional.

In 1955 the Court ordered the states to desegregate schools "with all deliberate speed." However, many people resisted school integration. In 1957 the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, tried to block the enrollment of nine black students into Little Rock High School. In response, Eisenhower, never a strong civil rights supporter, reluctantly sent federal troops to desegregate the school. The Brown decision began a new era in civil rights.

The Eisenhower administration also ushered in the age of modern space exploration. In 1958 Congress formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee a civilian space program. NASA's birth reflected the Cold War competition between the United States and the USSR for supremacy in space. The Soviets launched Sputnik 1 (an artificial satellite) in October 1957. The United States followed with Explorer 1 in January 1958. In 1961 the Soviets hurled the first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit. The same year, Alan Shepard, one of seven American astronauts trained in Project Mercury, went into space on a suborbital flight. In 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

The Prosperous Fifties  
Eisenhower oversaw a productive and prosperous era. Government spending plus consumer demand boosted the gross national product (GNP). With 6 percent of the world's population, the United States produced half the world's goods. Technological advances, many achieved with federal aid, ushered in new industries and sped up the pace of production in old ones.

The nation's five largest industries—autos, oil, aircraft, chemicals, and electronics—illustrated a leap in productivity. The auto industry, the nation's largest, lowered labor costs by using more automated machines. Oil replaced coal as the nation's major energy source. The aircraft industry profited from defense spending, space research, and commercial airlines’ shift to jet propulsion. The chemical industry offered new consumer goods, such as synthetic fibers, chemical fertilizers, and plastics. Computers, too, began to have an effect in the business world. By the mid-1960s, more than 30,000 mainframe computers were in use.

As productivity rose, the labor market changed. Fewer people held blue-collar jobs, and more did white-collar work. Employment grew rapidly in the service sector, which includes sales work, office work, and government jobs. More American wage earners worked for large corporations or for state or federal agencies than in small enterprise. Businesses expanded by swallowing weaker competitors, as happened in the steel, oil, chemical, and electrical machinery industries. Corporations formed huge new conglomerates (mergers of companies in unrelated industries). In addition, companies offering similar products or services in many locations, known as franchises, increased; the first McDonald’s franchise opened in 1955.

Some big corporations established overseas operations and became multinational. Producers in the United States depended on world markets to buy oil, iron, steel, and food that they exported. They also increased their overseas investments. Standard Oil (later Exxon), for instance, developed oil resources in Venezuela and the Middle East. Coca-Cola swept through Europe, where it set up bottling factories. New types of bureaucrats ran the big businesses of postwar America. In The Organization Man (1956), sociologist William H. Whyte wrote that employers sought managers who would adapt to corporate culture, which rewarded teamwork and conformity.

The Middle Class Expands  
Many factors converged to provide unparalleled social mobility in postwar America. Most important, income rose. Between 1945 and 1960, the median family income, adjusted for inflation, almost doubled. Rising income doubled the size of the middle class. Before the Great Depression of the 1930s only one-third of Americans qualified as middle class, but in postwar America two-thirds did.


The growth of the middle class reflected full employment, new opportunities, and federal spending, which contributed mightily to widespread prosperity. During the war, for example, the U.S. government built many new factories, which provided jobs. The federal government also directly aided ambitious Americans. In 1944 Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, known as the GI Bill of Rights. Under the law, the government paid part of tuition for veterans and gave them unemployment benefits while they sought jobs. It also provided low-interest loans to veterans buying homes or farms, or starting businesses. The GI Bill and other federal programs offered mortgages for homebuyers.

New middle-class families of postwar America became suburban families. Of 13 million new homes built in the 1950s, 85 percent were in the suburbs. By the early 1960s, suburbs surrounded every city.

New families of the postwar era created a baby boom. The birthrate soared from 1946 to 1964, and peaked in 1957, when a baby was born every 7 seconds. Overall, more than 76 million Americans were part of the baby boom generation. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946), by Dr. Benjamin Spock, sold a million copies a year in the 1950s, and popular culture glorified suburban homemakers.


However, more and more women entered the job market. New women workers were increasingly likely to be middle-aged and middle-class. By 1960 almost two out of five women with school-age children held jobs. Some women workers supported households alone; many were wives whose second incomes helped their families attain middle-class lifestyles.

As suburbs, generally without public transportation, grew, cars became necessary and auto sales increased. Easy credit facilitated the purchase of cars. The number of cars on the road leaped from 40 million in 1950 to 60 million in 1960. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 created the Interstate Highway System, a 68,400-km (42,500-mi) network of limited-access highways. This system spurred further suburban growth.

Middle-class families bought not only homes and cars, but educational opportunities. Between 1940 and 1960, the percentage of college-age Americans who attended college almost doubled. Again, the federal government played a role. In 1958 Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which provided loans to college students and funds for teacher training and instructional materials. Cold War enthusiasm for technological advances also affected research. By 1960 one-third of scientists and engineers in universities worked on government research, mainly defense projects.

Consumers  
World War II limited the products that consumers could buy, but at its end, consumer demand fueled the postwar economy. By the end of the 1950s, three out of five families owned homes, and three out of four owned cars. Consumers chose among a wealth of new products, many developed from wartime innovations, including polyester fabrics—rayon, dacron, orlon—and new household appliances such as freezers, blenders, and dishwashers. Manufacturers urged new models on consumers. Americans acquired more private debt with the introduction of credit cards and installment plans. Home mortgages increased the debt burden.


Businesses tried to increase consumer spending by investing more money in advertising, especially in television ads. Television played a pivotal role in consumption—both as a product to be bought and a mode of selling more products. The first practical television system began operating in the 1940s. Television reached 9 percent of homes in 1950 and almost 90 percent in 1960. Audiences stayed home to watch live productions of beloved comedies, such as "I Love Lucy" (1951-1957), and the on-the-scene reporting of Edward R. Murrow. TV Guide became one of the most popular magazines. Television programming of the 1950s, which catered to potential consumers, portrayed a middle-class, homogeneous society. But the less visible, less prosperous parts of society were also an important facet of the postwar era.

Other Americans  
The widespread prosperity of postwar America failed to reach everyone. In The Other America: Poverty in the United States (1962), political activist Michael Harrington revealed an economic underworld of 40 million to 50 million Americans, who were excluded from affluence and were socially invisible. At the end of the 1950s, nearly one-fifth of the population lived below the poverty line. The poor included many groups: the uninsured elderly, migrant farm workers, families in the Appalachian hills, and residents of inner-city slums.

When many middle-class Americans left the city for the suburbs, they left behind urban areas with antiquated schools and deteriorating public facilities. They also left behind high concentrations of poor people, which meant a dwindling tax base. Federal aid, which provided the middle class with mortgages and highways, had less influence on the poor. Federal housing programs, urban renewal efforts, and slum clearance projects often did little more than move poor city dwellers from one ghetto to another. What Harrington called the culture of poverty—that is, living without adequate housing, food, education, medical care, job opportunities, or hope—remained.

Poverty affected minority groups in the 1950s. In the 1940s, when labor was scarce, the United States established the Emergency Labor Program, popularly known as the Bracero Program. Braceros, whose name derived from the Spanish word brazo (arm), were Mexican manual laborers allowed to enter the United States to replace American workers who joined the armed forces. Many Mexicans who entered the United States under the Bracero Program remained in the country illegally. To curb illegal immigration from Mexico, the United States in 1954 began Operation Wetback, a program to find illegal immigrants and return them to Mexico. During the 1950s, several million Mexicans were deported. But illegal entrants continued to arrive, often to become low-paid laborers. Most of the postwar Mexican American population settled in cities, such as Los Angeles, Denver, El Paso, Phoenix, and San Antonio. One-third of Mexican Americans in the 1950s lived below the poverty line.

Federal policy toward Native Americans underwent several reversals in the 20th century. In 1934 Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, which granted Native Americans the right to elect tribal councils to govern reservations. In 1953 the federal government changed its position and adopted a "termination" policy. Congress passed a resolution to end its responsibility for Native American tribes. The resolution terminated Native American status as wards of the United States, granted Native Americans citizenship, eliminated financial subsidies, discontinued the reservation system, and distributed tribal lands among individual Native Americans. This redistribution made thousands of acres of reservation land available to non-Indians, such as real estate dealers. From 1954 to 1960, the federal government initiated a voluntary relocation program to settle Native Americans in urban areas. The new policies failed, and in 1963 the government abandoned termination.

African Americans of the postwar era continued their exodus from the South. Waves of black migrants, mainly young, left the rural South for Northern cities. The introduction of new machinery, such as the mechanical cotton-picker, reduced the need for field labor and eliminated sharecropping as a way of life. From the end of World War II to 1960, nearly five million blacks moved from the rural South to cities in the North. By 1950 one-third of blacks lived outside the South.

Simultaneously, the black population moved within the South. By 1960 almost three out of five Southern blacks lived in towns and cities, concentrated in large metropolitan areas such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Large-scale migration to cities spurred rising aspirations, soon evident in the postwar civil rights moveme

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