The Challenges of Peacetime

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1946, George Kennan sends the Long Telegram from Moscow. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine is announced, and the first Levittown house is sold; an aerial photograph of Levittown, Pennsylvania, shows many rows of similar houses. In 1948, the Berlin Airlift begins; a photograph shows Berlin residents, watching as a plane above them prepares to land with needed supplies. In 1950, North Korean troops cross the thirty-eighth parallel. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president; a photograph of Eisenhower is shown. In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for espionage; a photograph of the Rosenbergs behind a metal gate is shown. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education, and Bill Haley and His Comets record “Rock Around the Clock”; a photograph of Bill Haley and His Comets is shown. In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School integrates, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) launches Sputnik; a photograph of American soldiers escorting the Little Rock Nine up a flight of stairs is shown, and a photograph of a replica of Sputnik is shown.
(credit: “1953”: modification of work by Library of Congress)

The decade and a half immediately following the end of World War II was one in which middle- and working-class Americans hoped for a better life than the one they lived before the war. These hopes were tainted by fears of economic hardship, as many who experienced the Great Depression feared a return to economic decline. Others clamored for the opportunity to spend the savings they had accumulated through long hours on the job during the war when consumer goods were rarely available.

African Americans who had served in the armed forces and worked in the defense industry did not wish to return to “normal.” Instead, they wanted the same rights and opportunities that other Americans had. Still other citizens were less concerned with the economy or civil rights; instead, they looked with suspicion at the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe. What would happen now that the United States and the Soviet Union were no longer allies, and the other nations that had long helped maintain a balance of power were left seriously damaged by the war? Harry Truman, president for less than a year when the war ended, was charged with addressing all of these concerns and giving the American people a “fair deal.”