A series of conflicts both internally and globally affected the citizens of the USA from 1953–1968. Political, socio-economic, and foreign policies as well as North America’s military history saw rapid changes due to rapid technological development and paradigm shifts in cultural practices across the globe (Moss, 2005). Many new social, demographic, environmental, and cultural concepts and experiences occurred during their time to shake up the way the USA saw itself as a nation, and how it wished to portray itself to a dawning “global village”. Such topics are of critical importance to the student of the history of the United States of America. As only through critical reflection on what has gone before can society as a whole hope to bring about 21st-century life that is grounded in human rights, sustainable living, individuality, and collaboration.
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This paper will provide a commentary on the relationship between the goals of this Module (American History) and the core content of George Donelson Moss’s book, Moving On: The American People Since 1945, 3/E (2005) to achieve these goals. Firstly, a review of the 1950s under the presidency of Eisenhower will be presented. Secondly, the contribution of African-American activists to the directions of North American policies and values will be discussed. Next, an outline of administration decisions that was publicized to be motivated by a desire to improve the standards of living for those in the USA and abroad will be made. Finally, a conclusion synthesizes the main points of this paper and demonstrates the importance of students of history to take note of periods of crisis, to better determine best practices about foreign and domestic policies.
The Cold War
The Module began with a critical review of the Cold War between the Soviets and the USA during the 1950s. Colonialism on the continent of Africa and in the Southeast Asia area (as well as India and other parts of the globe in which the USA did not have vested interests) was ending, and the two superpowers (the Soviet Union and the USA) were appropriating territories that they considered being of strategic importance, both in military and economic terms (Griffith, Baker & Patterson, 2006). The continuance of the Cold War made clear the choice of the USA to practice bipartisan consensus domestically on the frontlines of North American politics; all looked to contain Communism across the globe.
The domestic issue peaked in 1954 when Eisenhower’s administration and the Senate suppressed Senator Joseph McCarthy. Such an action internally demonstrates the aim of this Module to inform students about extreme stands, the processes they use and the harm they can have on the wider society in terms of hope, trust and liberty. It makes sense that at this time segregation laws across the USA fell and that the growing voice of African-Americans for their rights to equality and access to opportunities was being heard.
American Civil Rights
The focus on Eisenhower during this Module exemplified the different ways presidencies have sought to achieve national goals of sustainability, low tax, high standards of living and peace domestically and abroad. Eisenhower’s federal-state highway construction linked communities to schools, shopping centers, churches, relatives and much more. Simultaneously, integration of Anglo and Black social groups across the States was being accepted as a critical principle to domestic harmony and the socio-economic progress of the USA. Martin Luther King was at the forefront of the civil rights movement (Chafe, Sitkoff & Bailey, 2002).
This part of the Module reinforced the values of the constitution of the United States for liberty and human rights. By presenting materials about civil rights, the objections to it, the laws that existed at the time and how they served to subjugate African-Americans. In turn, exposure to such material also showed how issues of women’s rights became more popular as subjects of discourse, as well as human rights in general given the atrocities of war such as by the Nazis.
At this time (1955-1958), many African-Americans were seeking to prove their value and equality to their white cohorts. Volunteering to go to war however meant ongoing frustration of not obtaining their goal to prove their “Americaness” and of wanting to integrate, which in turn have contributed to the brother’s feelings of dissatisfaction and alienation (Chafe et al, 2002). However, it was not until 1964 when Lyndon Johnston was president that civil rights were integrated into the value system of the United States with The Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which upheld the rights of African-Americans to take part in the democratic process of voting.
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The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia served to educate the student about questioning the definitions and purposes of democracy, foreign aid and economic development amongst Third World nations (Griffith et al., 2006). Many of the decisions made by administrations during almost two decades of political crises within the USA and across the globe were not grounded in the North American ethos of liberty, justice, and truth. Rather, such decisions, like avoiding giving aid to Hungry when invaded by the Soviet Union, were grounded in economic and military benefits. Another example is that of Kennedy choosing not to liberate the peoples of Latin America from military dictatorships which acted to protect the interests of the USA in those regions. As such, this Module provided evidence for ethical practices in everyday living if the government elected by the people is expected to uphold those very same values.
In conclusion, this Module provided a wealth of modern history to inform the student as to how the values and principles practices in the USA today, and the state of affairs globally for developed and developing countries, have their foundations in crisis and resolution. Sometimes, such crises and revolutions have served to urge the people of the United States to persevere for change, such as the civil rights movement. However, at other times, the process has only highlighted the inadequacies of administrations that seek only to further monetary and social power gains.
Chafe, W., Sitkoff, H., & Bailey, B. (2002) A history of our time: Readings on postwar America. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Griffith, R., Baker, P., & Patterson, T. (2006) Major Problems in American History Since 1945. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Moss, G. D. (2005) Moving On: The American people since 1945, 3/E, Prentice Hall.