1945-1955

 US History

1941-1950's

 

Allied Conferences

President Roosevelt, in addition to supervising the entire U.S. war effort, made extraordinary efforts to cooperate in the conduct of the war with the other powers fighting against the Axis and at the same time to lay the foundations for peace.

 

His diplomatic efforts took the form principally of a series of conferences, chiefly with Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain and Premier Joseph Stalin of the USSR.

The conferences included meetings with Churchill from 1941 to 1943 at Washington, Québec, and Casablanca, where Roosevelt discussed the military conduct of the war and proposed the principle of unconditional surrender by the Axis.

At a conference in 1943 at Cairo (Cairo Conference), he planned the prosecution of the war against Japan with Churchill and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China.

At Tehran, Iran (Tehran Conference), in 1943, with Churchill and Stalin, he formulated plans for a concerted attack on Germany; at Yalta, USSR (in what is now Ukraine) (Yalta Conference), in 1945; with the same principals, decisions were made to divide Germany into zones of occupation, to establish the United Nations, and to bring the Soviet Union into the war against Japan.

Several other conferences in 1945 laid the foundation for the organization of the United Nations and other forms of worldwide cooperation after the war; notable among them were the meetings in Moscow in 1943; at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire (Bretton Woods Conference); and at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C., at which basic plans were adopted for organizing the United Nations.

Roosevelt's Fourth Election and Death

 

In the presidential campaign of 1944, Roosevelt ran for a fourth term, defeating the Republican candidate, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York.

On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. His long administration was notable for its economic reforms, its successful conduct of the war, and its establishment of a basis for world peace. These policies formed the foundation of the new administration when Roosevelt was succeeded by Vice-President Harry S. Truman.

The new president was essentially a political moderate who had distinguished himself in the Senate investigations of wartime waste and inefficiency in military spending. His first problems as president were the conclusion of the war and the establishment of world peace. German resistance was virtually at an end, and on May 8, 1945, Germany formally surrendered to the Allies.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific theater, U.S. forces were fighting difficult but successful campaigns in the advance toward the Japanese home islands. In the atmosphere of impending victory, a conference of the United Nations met in San Francisco to draft a charter for a permanent world organization to ensure lasting peace.

Conclusion of the War

The increasing difficulties in Soviet-U.S. relations, however, became evident at the Potsdam Conference in Germany in July, where agreements relating to the final division of Germany were reached.

 

Some Americans, led by President Truman, had become convinced that Stalin was not living up to his agreements at Yalta to hold free elections in Romania and Bulgaria, and Truman therefore demanded that the Russians honor their pledges.

 

The spirit of wartime cooperation increasingly gave way to mutual suspicion, misunderstanding, and recrimination, leading to the era of conflict known as the cold war. A momentous event concurrent with the Potsdam Conference was Truman's authorization of the use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Truman made this controversial decision in order to induce a Japanese surrender and to prevent heavy U.S. casualties in an invasion of Japan. The bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9, 1945, and the Japanese surrendered on August 14.

Economic Affairs

 

With the conclusion of hostilities, reconversion of the U.S. economy to peacetime conditions and demobilization of the troops became the paramount issues in U.S. domestic policies.

 

To facilitate the process, the Truman administration formulated a 21-point program calling for full employment, labor-management cooperation, heavy federal housing subsidies, increased unemployment compensation, extension of price controls, federal aid to education, guarantees of civil rights, increased minimum wage, and continued foreign aid.

 

The president also recommended unification of the armed services and universal military training. Many of these programs were vigorously opposed by the Republican-dominated Congress, and congressional rejection of price controls led to an 18 percent increase in the cost of living in 1946.

 

 

The economic situation became further complicated when almost 5 million workers struck for wage increases to meet the rising costs of living. In 1947 Congress responded to this strike activity by passing, over the president's veto, the Labor Management Relations Act, known as the Taft-Hartley Act, which placed limitations on the freedom to strike. See National Labor Relations Act.

Security Affairs

 

Despite these domestic problems, the U.S. continued its unprecedented participation in international affairs, through membership in the UN and other groups and through Allied conduct of war crimes trials of former enemy leaders, chiefly Germans and Japanese (War Crimes Trials).

 

In August 1946 the U.S. joined the International Court of Justice. Major diplomatic questions included the U.S. proposal for UN control of atomic energy and atomic weapons. This proposal, known as the Baruch Plan, after the U.S. financier Bernard M. Baruch, its chief proponent, called for the turning over of atomic bombs and secrets to the UN, whereas Soviet leaders demanded the destruction of existing atomic weapons prior to or simultaneously with the creation of UN control. In 1946 atomic control in the U.S. was transferred from the army to the civilian Atomic Energy Commission. The National Security Act of 1947 unified the armed services under the authority of a secretary of defense and the joint chiefs of staff. It also established the National Security Council to plan and coordinate defense policies and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to gather and report strategic information from abroad.

Containing Communism

 

In 1947, in an effort to halt, or contain, the advance of communism in Europe, and especially in Greece and Turkey, President Truman announced the policy known as the Truman Doctrine, by which the United States furnished military and economic aid to countries threatened by aggression and subversion.

 

An important adjunct of this policy was the Marshall Plan proposed in June 1947 by Secretary of State George C. Marshall. Officially designated the European Recovery Program, it was a broad program of economic rehabilitation.

 

The policy of containment was expanded to the western hemisphere in 1947, when the United States joined with 18 other American nations in signing the Rio Treaty, promising mutual defense and assistance against aggression by an American or a non-American state on any of the signatory nations.

 

In 1948 the U.S. agreed to the establishment of the Organization of American States (OAS) to settle disputes among the nations of the Americas. As part of his worldwide campaign against communism, President Truman also implemented the Point Four Program to aid developing nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The Berlin Airlift

The Soviet Union responded to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan with the formation of a new Communist International (the Cominform) and a tightening of its control of Czechoslovakia.

 

The United States then resolved to strengthen West Germany against communism. In February 1948 a plan for the economic merger of the British and U.S. occupation zones went into effect following its acceptance by the Germans in those zones, and a conference, attended by representatives of the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Great Britain, was held in London to discuss the eventual political and economic merger of the French, British, and U.S. occupation zones.

 

On June 24, 1948, following an agreement by the nations that had participated in the London Conference on the creation of a West German state, and the establishment of a West German currency by the Western occupying powers, the Soviets banned all rail traffic between Berlin and West Germany. Because water and roadway transportation into the city had been suspended by an earlier Soviet action, the British and U.S. occupation authorities organized a system of air transport, known as the Berlin airlift, to supply the Western-occupied sectors of the city. In April 1949 the foreign ministers of the United States, Great Britain, and France completed plans for combining their occupation zones of West Germany into a federal republic. Also in April the U.S., Canada, and ten Western European nations arranged a guarantee of mutual defense and assistance in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known as NATO.

Truman Wins Election

In domestic matters, Truman proposed a program of civil rights legislation, including laws against lynching and the abolition of the poll tax.

 

These proposals cost him the support of many southern Democrats. When he was nominated for president at the Democratic national convention in 1948, many of these southerners left the Democratic party, forming a group known as the States' Rights Democrats, or Dixiecrat party, with Governor Strom Thurmond (1902- ) of South Carolina as their presidential candidate.

 

Another new faction, the Progressive party, which viewed Truman's containment policy as a threat to world peace and urged greater efforts toward cooperation with the Soviet Union, named former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace as its candidate for the presidency. The Republicans renominated Dewey, whose victory in the election was regarded as virtually certain. Truman, however, won; Dewey ran second, Thurmond was third, and Wallace was fourth. The Democrats also won a majority of the contested seats in the House and Senate.

Truman, in beginning his first full term, sought support for a legislative program known as the Fair Deal and comprising government control of credit exports and rents, an increase in taxes, government support of low-rent housing, government-sponsored health insurance, universal military training for men, and an extension of the executive power to enter into reciprocal trade agreements with other nations.

 

Although most of these proposals were defeated in Congress, Truman was able to gain congressional approval for an expanded federal housing program, minimum wage increases, and enlarged social security benefits. He also abolished segregation in the armed forces by an executive order.

Turmoil over China

 

Truman's policy of containment of communism, although generally successful in Europe, was less effective in Asia, except in Japan, where the military occupation under General Douglas MacArthur successfully built a stable democratic government. In 1951 a peace treaty ended the U.S. occupation, and Japan became the firmest U.S. ally in Asia.

 

In China, however, the government of Chiang Kai-shek, which had been supported by the U.S., was unable to withstand the advance of Communist forces under Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). By the end of 1949 Chiang's troops had been overwhelmingly defeated, and Mao formed the Chinese People's Republic.

 

This development caused great turmoil in the U.S., when critics charged that the Truman administration had failed to support Chiang Kai-shek against the Communists. A further disturbance of public opinion occurred in September 1949, when Truman announced that the Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb. Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson stated, however, that the loss of the U.S. nuclear monopoly would produce no fundamental change in the foreign policy of the U.S. and that the United States would continue to press for adoption of its nuclear control plan.

The Korean War

The events in China and the resulting criticism had made the Truman administration sensitive to further Communist expansion in Asia, and in June 1950, when South Korea was invaded by the forces of Communist North Korea, Truman announced that the United States would intervene to assist the South Koreans, and the UN, in an unprecedented move, sponsored military action.

 

On November 26, 1950, the Chinese Communists entered the war, and General MacArthur, in command of the UN forces, subsequently urged that he be allowed to bomb Chinese bases beyond the Yalu River (the Chinese border) and deploy Chiang's troops against the Communists. Truman rejected these suggestions, however, and when MacArthur became increasingly outspoken in his criticisms, the president relieved him of his command, despite widespread popular support for the general.

 

This quarrel represented a basic disagreement over tactics in the age of containment. MacArthur and his supporters believed that war must be waged only in the name of ultimate victory. Truman felt that a larger view of world affairs was essential and that nuclear warfare was to be used only as a last resort.

The conflict in Korea produced other profound repercussions on the U.S. domestic scene, including the doubling of military and related expenditures. The cost of living rose more than 5 percent during the first six months of the war, wage and price controls were established, and on December 16, 1950, Truman established the Office of Defense Mobilization to supervise the war effort.

The McCarthy Era

 

The Korean War also caused severe psychological dislocations as concern about communism within the U.S. intensified. As early as 1947 President Truman had set up a nationwide system of loyalty boards to investigate government employees.

 

The government also prosecuted 11 leaders of the Communist party, U.S.A., under the Smith Act of 1940, which prohibited group s from conspiring to advocate the violent overthrow of the government. In 1950 Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which established a permanent Subversive Activities Control Board to follow Communist activities in the U.S. and barred from admission into the country any person who had been a member of Communist organizations.

 

Truman vetoed the bill on the ground that it represented "a suppression of ideas in disregard to ideals which are the fundamental basis of our free society," but his veto was overridden by Congress.

 

Considerable controversy over the degree of Communist influence in the U.S. was aroused by the activities of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, who would put his stamp on the entire decade.

Republicans Regain Power

The 22d Amendment to the Constitution, stating that no person may serve more than two terms as president, became law on February 26, 1951. Also in that year congressional opposition to Truman's domestic programs increased, and the severe economic inflation produced by the war resulted in serious strikes in several major industries.

 

On August 8 the president placed the entire steel industry under federal control to prevent a threatened nationwide strike, but the steel companies challenged the constitutionality of this action, and the Supreme Court declared the seizure unconstitutional. The steel mills were returned to the owners, and a 54-day strike followed.

 

Evidence of serious corruption within the government and Truman's apparent reluctance to act against the guilty parties further undermined public confidence in the Democratic administration.

In July 1952 the Republican party nominated General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Senator Richard M. Nixon of California as candidates for president and vice-president.

 

The Democrats named Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois and Senator John Sparkman (1899-1985) of Alabama. Eisenhower won easily, and the Republicans captured control of Congress. Eisenhower's personal prestige contributed heavily to the Republican victory, as did frustration over the Korean War and fear of communism at home.

Eisenhower's Policies

 

In contrast to Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower believed that the presidency should involve considerable delegation of authority, and he therefore granted much independence to his cabinet, which was composed largely of business executives.

 

Despite its conservative outlook, the administration made no effort to repeal New Deal legislation. Unlike the Democrats, however, Eisenhower endeavored to limit the role of national government, calling for greater local control of governmental affairs. In addition, he reduced taxes and pressed for drastic reductions in federal spending in order to balance the budget.