Most historians are unanimous in believing that after World War II, especially in the years immediately following it, there were significant cultural changes in America. In effect, the stage was set for these changes to happen over the remaining period of the twentieth century, the echoes of which can be felt to the present day. It was a pain for most American citizens to suffer the pangs of the war especially after enjoying the success of the consumer-oriented and freedom of the roaring twenties. Americans were suddenly faced with the depths of the Great Depression and then the rigors of World War II. The main cultural issue that arose after World War II pertained to civil rights. The post-war period in America also witnessed the baby boom, as is often the case after a major war. The baby boom began immediately after the war and lasted for over a decade. It was only in 1957 that birth rates began to decline in the USA. There were 3,548,000 babies born in the country in 1950 alone and it is estimated that about 77 million Americans were born during the period of the baby boom. This increase in population had a major bearing on the history and economy of the US in the years to come (Raver, 2007).
The majority of Americans were confident about the country’s role in world affairs. They favored a strong stand against communism and supported the cause for the spread of democracy as far as possible. Within the country there was a visible shift in economic gains and the economy was gradually becoming service-oriented. The boom in births had led to the expansion of cities by way of growth in suburban areas. Despite the visible progress, all Americans could not reap the benefits of the emerging prosperity, and in due course, challenges emerged in terms of the unwillingness of different sections of society to accept the status quo that continued to be maintained in American culture.
African Americans initiated a movement to ensure nondiscriminatory treatment for everyone and a major victory was made when the Supreme Court held in 1954 that there was inequality in the education facilities for black children as compared to white children, which paved the way for the desegregation of all public schools in the country. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, African Americans won civil rights and voting rights which led them to make continual progress towards joining the status of the middle classes, thus bringing in a remarkable change in the demographic pattern of American society.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a new movement was taking place in America whereby women raised their voices in demanding the same opportunities as given to men. The movement was led by Betty Friedman and Gloria Steinem and they initiated movements that eventually led to the revision of laws and customs to provide women the opportunity to participate equally with men in all areas of business and administration. Native Americans also started a movement to get rights as promised by the government in the different treaties and agreements signed with tribal leaders. By using the court and legislative processes they got control of tribal lands and education facilities for tribal people. Consequently, in 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell became the first Native American to be elected as Senator (O’Brien, 1995).
In the post-war period Hispanic Americans, comprising of people that came from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America, and Mexico started to take an active interest in politics and were nominated to local and national bodies. Students also became active politically in protesting against the Vietnam War which they felt was unnecessary and morally wrong. They had a major hand in protesting and ultimately pressurizing President Johnson to initiate negotiations for peace. It was at this time that youngsters started rejecting old cultural values and a new culture emerged whereby young people adopted new lifestyles by way of long hair, rock and roll music, and drugs abuse. Americans became concerned about the environment and made attempts to lessen the extent of water and air pollution. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 and the same year saw the setting up of the Environment Protection Agency which made environmental legislation a reality.
There were considerable social and cultural changes in the period following World War II and most of such changes were the result of the openness and fluidity of a diverse society. At times the demand for change was non-violent, but sometimes it had serious consequences that resulted in violence and loss of life. But surely the United States emerged in such a change as a powerful country in reflecting its multicultural foundations.
- O’Brien, Kenneth Paul, and Lynn Hudson Parsons, The Home-Front War World War II and American Society. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995
- Raver Edward, The American Renaissance – Post World War II Life, 2007, Associated Content