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The Political, Economic and Social Effects of the GI Bill and the Vietnam War

The post-war era after the second world war led to multiple paradigmatic shifts in American history. One of the most consequential events was the passing of the GI Bill of Rights which afforded veterans of the Second World War economic benefits that greatly enhanced their quality of life. The improved economy also increased the standards of living in the 1950s as Americans embarked on an effort to achieve economic prosperity. This prosperity was sadly not equally experienced by minorities due to racial discrimination. However, the outbreak of the war in Vietnam dealt a blow to the economic gains made due to the increased military spending.

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Standards of living are the income, comforts, and services available to society rather than an individual. The belief that there would be peace after the end of the second world war encouraged Americans to focus on economic prosperity (Cogan 125). The median after-tax income of the average American household more than doubled which afforded Americans more purchasing power. The increased spending of the government on infrastructure and veterans’ benefits enabled the economic mobility of many Americans (Cogan 128). There was also a surge in suburban establishments which took advantage of the boom of the American economy. Additionally, the establishments were modest and affordable which appealed to the American public. Consequently, the standards of living in the 1950s had risen compared to the past years.

The GI Bill of Rights was a law that provided a wide range of benefits for World War II veterans. The bill included benefits such as low-interest loans for starting a business, a low-cost mortgage, and one-year unemployment compensation. It also provided payment of tuition to attend high school and college (Massey 19). This educational opportunity encouraged the veterans to enroll in public educational institutions.

This subsequently enabled them to acquire skills that encouraged long-term economic growth (Massey 20). However, the bill failed to benefit African Americans since it was intended to accommodate the Jim Crow laws which were inherently racial. The unequal opportunities between white Americans and African Americans caused increased racial wealth disparity. The GI Bill of Rights, although benefitting the white Americans, failed to do the same for minorities.

Consequently, the increasing differences in the standards of living between White Americans and minorities led to the birth of the civil rights movement. The economic disenfranchisement of African Americans was a major spark of the civil rights movement (Cogan 126). One of the major gains was made in 1954 in the Brown vs Board of Education case where the court ruled that segregation of schools based on race was unequal. The removal of the segregation of schools enabled more African Americans to access quality education. This increased their economic prospects and as a result their standards of living.

The war in Vietnam that began in 1955 led to drastic changes in American political life. The large number of casualties sustained by America only served to amplify the American public’s distrust of the government. Subsequently, Congress passed a bill to end mandatory drafting which had been the primary way the US Military used to recruit soldiers (DiCicco and Fordham 135). The system was now changed to an all-volunteer force which was well received by the public. Additionally, the legal voting age was also reduced to eighteen since it seemed impractical to send soldiers to war without affording them these rights. This caused a shift in the political arena as now more people could vote.

The economic gains made during the 1950s were brought to a halt after the onset of the war in Vietnam. After President Lyndon Johnson decided to fund both the war and his “Great Society” projects which were “a war on poverty”, there was a sudden spike in inflation since there was no substantial increase in taxes (Cogan 130). This hyperinflation which hit its peak in the mid-1970s resulted in unfavorable terms of trade between the US and its trade partners. This caused an international monetary crisis that threatened the nation’s gold reserves. The political and economic effects of the war caused the American public to mistrust its government. The war, now over, had caused a shift in America’s role in the international scene.

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To conclude, the GI Bill of Rights and the war in Vietnam greatly influenced the standards of living during the post-war period. The GI Bill of Rights afforded economic opportunities to white Americans which were not provided to minorities such as African Americans. This led to a large disparity in the standards of living between Americans as the economic improvement of African Americans was hindered by discriminatory laws. Consequently, the civil rights movement began Grassroot protests to demand greater a more equal America. Subsequently, several landmark events caused the standards of living for minorities to improve as systemic racism in the education and transport sectors were reduced. The standards of living then plunged during the Vietnam war due to the large military budget.

Works Cited

Cogan, John F. “9. A New Kind of Entitlement: The GI Bill.” The High Cost of Good Intentions. Stanford University Press, 2020. 125-138.

DiCicco, Jonathan M., and Benjamin O. Fordham. “The things they carried: generational effects of the Vietnam War on elite opinion.” International Studies Quarterly 62.1 (2018): 131-144.

Massey, Douglas S. “Creating the exclusionist society: from the War on Poverty to the war on immigrants.” Ethnic and racial studies 43.1 (2020): 18-37.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Political, Economic and Social Effects of the GI Bill and the Vietnam War." July 11, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-political-economic-and-social-effects-of-the-gi-bill-and-the-vietnam-war/.

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