31 The Long 50’s

Long 50s

Dr. Jim Ross-Nazzal and His US History Students

“We shall stay. Period.” -Harry Truman, June 24, 1948[1]

“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. . . Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries weren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying,” -Donald Trump, January 16, 2017[2]

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The Cold War is the driver of the “Long 50’s.” The events and personalities roughly from the late 40’s to the Kennedy assassination is the Long 50’s.  The Soviet Union, although economically devastated as a result of World War II, still had a goal of leading a worldwide Communist empire and a hope of the demise of capitalism. Many western European countries lay in ruins and the free world turned to the US for assistance for protection from Stalin’s Russia. Territory held by Russia in eastern part of Europe were pressured by Moscow to create communist governments and forgo free and fair elections. Democracy died first in Poland than in other countries in eastern Europe.

I. GLOBAL INSECURITIES AT WAR’S END

Some hoped for an “American Century,” such as Henry Luce. Luce was the publisher of several popular magazines to include Time. He held Wilsonian ideas in the sense that he believed in a missionary role of the US -to spread democracy, to lead the world in economics and culture. To redefine the world in its own image. In other words, reject isolationism. The US GDP increased around 65% over prewar levels (not so in the Allied countries). So, the reality was that the US needed about $14 million in exports per year to keep the economy going but, the Soviet Union was not a trading partner. In fact, the US lost about half of the world as a trading partner as countries in eastern Europe and Asia (such as China) turned to Communism. And, just to throw this wrench into the works, the US first became involved in the Vietnam war in October of 1945. It’s the 10,000 Day War after all. In October of 1945 Truman ordered US naval vessels to transport French forces to Vietnam. US intelligence operatives began working in Vietnam. The first US death in Vietnam was recorded in December of 1945 -A. Peter Dewey on September 26th.

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LTC. A. Peter Dewey

There were hopes for collective security when the United Nation opened for business in San Francisco in April of 1945. Tasked with “maintaining international peace and security,” the two main groups were the General Assembly and the Security Council. The former consisted of representatives of members nations. The General Assembly votes on non-binding resolutions; basically putting your finger up to the wind of the world. The Security Council, however, passes binding resolutions. Resolutions that allow nations to act or demand nations to cease actions. For example, the Security Council asked North Korea to withdraw from South Korea (Resolution 82) then asked member nations to send troops to South Korea to push back the invasion of Communist North Korea (UN Resolution 84, July 7th, 1950).

There were (and are) five permanent members of the Security Council. Their super power is that they can veto any resolution. If any one of the permanent members votes “no” then the resolution dies. The vote can be 14-1 but if that one vote is one of the permanent members, the resolution fails to pass. From 1945 until 1972/1973 the Soviet Union will be the primary veto agent of Security Council resolutions. Since the early 1970s, the veto of resolutions have been taken up by the US. That is a whole different discussion.

The US, China/Taiwan, USSR, Great Britain, and France were/are the five permanent members. They were the five allies during WWII. Interestingly enough, those five will also be the first five countries in the world to develop the atomic bomb.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, drafted the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which is the essence, the basis of the reason for the UN’s existence. She was the chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. While peace was breaking out in San Francisco, remember that the Allies divided Germany into four sections, and Berlin into four sections without an agreement on how to bring the parts back together. As Poland and other eastern European countries established Communist governments, it became clear to the wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Europe was terribly divided. “An iron curtain has descended upon the continent,” he said in a speech in Fulton, Missouri in the early Spring of 1946.[3]

II. POLICY OF CONTAINMENT

The Truman Doctrine

The Greeks fell upon themselves in a civil war in 1947. Communism played a role. Turkey, which shared a border with the USSR, also got caught up with internal interventionalism. Truman feared the loss of two pro-West nations to the Russians, or what Truman called “that certain ideology,” so Truman got Congress to appropriate $400 million in military aid to Greece and Turkey. That was the Truman Doctrine: whatever you need to fight against Communism short of US troops.

Three months after Truman’s speech, General George Marshall gave the commencement address at Harvard. When you graduate your mind will be on many things, probably pertaining to activities once you get home. There will be one dignitary after another congratulating you. There will be a few people on the stage asking you to thank your parents. Some speakers will quote Gandhi and MLK (lacking imagination). And then comes the commencement address. Some person you might or might not have heard of. Someone who has “made it” in the world. He or she will give you advice, tell you a personal story, try to tell a joke, but you are not paying attention because you just want to get home and start the celebration, Totally understandable. And, whoever the commencement speaker will be, he or she will probably talk way too long for you. In June of 1947, General Marshall’s commencement lasted 15 minutes and in those 15 minutes, Marshall changed the course of the world. So, pay attention!

Marshall’s idea was simple: people are hungry, cold, hurt, and in need of help. If the US does not provide that help then they will turn to the Russians. The US therefore must rebuild Europe, must provide economic aid. This is known as the Marshall Plan. Congress poured billions into the rebuilding of Europe. And, it worked. Not one country that the US rebuilt turned to Communism.

Here’s the Rhetorical Question of the Day: Why was there not a Marshall Plan for Iraq? for Afghanistan? Why no Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of the US after it was devastated by COVID-19?

Operation Vittles (aka Berlin Airlift)

On June 24, 1948, Stalin cut off West Berlin from all rail and road traffic. US and British air forces begin delivering food, medicine, supplies, everything that the people of West Berlin need to survive. Pilots even flew in Christmas present for the kids. For example, there was the Candy Bomber. “Gail Halvorsen was a pilot in the US Air Force flying C-54s loaded with food, milk, coal and other essentials. In his free time Halvorsen liked to explore West Berlin with his video camera and on one of his breaks he met a group of children at the fence at Tempelhof Airport.  He was touched by the warmth of their greetings and their gratitude for the job he was doing. Impressed by their restraint, as they didn’t beg him for anything he decided to reward them with sweets and chocolates. He explained that when he flew in the next day he would drop chocolate and chewing gum from his plane for them. Concerned that they would not know which aircraft to watch out for Halvorsen explained that he would wiggle his wings as he flew over a beacon at the airport, earning him the nickname Uncle Wiggly Wings.”[4] Halversen was known in the press as the Candy Bomber or Rosinenbomber for the Germans. Planes landed about every 45 seconds.

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Photo: Still from The Candy Bomber by KUED.

Within the first 10 days, more than 1,000 tons of cargo had been carried to Berlin, including the first shipment of coal loaded in GI duffel bags. By mid-July, 1,500 tons a day were being flown in by American planes, while the British were flying in 500 tons daily with smaller transports from their bases at Celle and Fassberg. By this time, the world news media had focused on the effort. The press delighted in describing how pilots formerly assigned to desks were now flying around the clock to keep the city alive in what was quickly dubbed Operation Vittles.

More airlift capability was needed, and larger Douglas C-54s began to arrive on June 30 to replace the C-47s, all of which were relieved by October 1. Tonnage figures rose, and within 28 days the planes were flying 3,028 tons of food, clothing, coal, medicine and petroleum products into the city each day.

Berlin youngsters who live near Tempelhof Field, play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge). They are using model planes which were sold in German toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin.

 

The Allied planes carried nearly 121,000 tons in August, and the West Berliners were gradually getting enough supplies for a bare subsistence. In September, seeing that the two airfields could not handle the rising demand for coal shipments, Clay ordered several large steamrollers to build a new airfield, Tegel, in the French sector. Too big to be carried by C-54s, the steamrollers were cut into sections with acetylene torches, flown to Berlin and welded together again. A Douglas C-74 Globemaster and a Boeing YC-97A Stratofreighter were each flown experimentally for a short period, as were five Fairchild C-82 Flying Boxcars.[5]

Although a negotiated settlement resulted in Stalin lifting the the ban on land traffic on May 12, 1949, the Americans and British air forces continued to fly supplies into West Berlin through September to stockpile supplies and, just in case Stalin changed his mind. The result of this was the creation of an alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The original members of NATO were the “United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom agreed to consider attack against one an attack against all, along with consultations about threats and defense matters. This collective defense arrangement only formally applied to attacks against the signatories that occurred in Europe or North America; it did not include conflicts in colonial territories. After the treaty was signed, a number of the signatories made requests to the United States for military aid. Later in 1949, President Truman proposed a military assistance program, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program passed the U.S. Congress in October, appropriating some $1.4 billion dollars for the purpose of building Western European defenses.”[6]

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Cold War in Asia 

In exchange for sovereignty, Japan allowed the US to build military bases. Japan would not have a military, which was written into its Constitution. In 1949, China was “lost” to the Communists led by Mao. The Republicans blamed Truman for that major defeat in Asia. In fact, the GOP called the Democrats “the party of treason” for the China situation. In 1950 Mo and Stalin signed a formal military pact. And with that, US decision-makers viewed China as evidence of the growing “international communist conspiracy.”

 

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A story about a captured American soldier who is brainwashed by the Russians to assassinate an American presidential candidate so that a secret Communist candidate can win the US presidency.

Atomic Diplomacy

After the defeat of the Japanese, there was talk about dropping a third bomb on Russia. While Russia was an ally during the War, there was massive distrust of the Communist country during the War. For example, On 8 May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, the Russian general Mikhail Katukov attended victory celebrations with American general George S. Patton. The Russian offered a toast to Patton. Patton replied “Tell that Russian son-of-a-bitch . . .  that I regard them as enemies and I’d rather cut my throat than have a drink with one of my enemies!”[7] When China fell to the Communist forces, advisers told Truman it would take the Russians a decade to develop the bomb. A few months after the Chinese civil war came to an end, Russia successfully tested their first atomic bomb. And so, both countries raced to produce bigger bombs -the hydrogen bomb.

Congress diverted money to nuclear weapons. Post-war jubilation turned to fear as Americans built bomb shelters in their back yards and school children practiced the “duck and cover” in school: the nuclear clock was ticking loud and clear.

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III. The Truman Presidency

To Err is Truman

Unemployment skyrocketed. Men, especially those returning from military service, replaced women. Women protested losing their jobs. Labor unions called for strikes throughout the country. And Truman responded by threatening to draft and striking workers. The Republican members of Congress (who were in the minority) publicly denounced Truman’s handling of domestic affairs. Domestic troubles and Truman’s unpopular responses gave the Republicans a platform to run on in the 1948 election. “Had enough?” Was their slogan. And, the GOP won control of both houses of Congress.

The Taft-Hartley Act was passed in order to bury the Wagner Act. Among other things, Taft-Hartley called for union members to take oaths stating you were not a Communist or a member of a Communist or Socialist party. Truman vetoed the popular measure, which took guts, because Congress overrode his veto. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1948. 1948 was also a presidential election.

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1948 Election

Truman had desegregated the military, much to the chagrin of many Southern Democrats. In fact, around 300 southern Democrats walked out of the Democratic Convention in protest and they formed a new, and doomed to fail, political party they called the Dixiecrats. The Dixiecrats were based on racism, inequality and pro-segregation. They were led by the governor of South Carolina Strom Thurmond. The Republicans ran Governor Thomas Dewey of New York. The election was very close and when Truman (the most of the country) went to bed on the night of the election, it looked like Dewey defeated Truman. Made sense. Almost all of the polls had predicted Dewey to defeat Truman. In fact, newspapers across the country printed early editions stating so. However, they got it wrong and once all of the votes were counted President Truman had won reelection.

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The Fair Deal

Truman’s major domestic policies included the National Housing Act of 1949, raised the minimum wage, and extended Social Security. The National Housing Act extended the FHA mortgage insurance, built hundreds of thousands of low income housing units, and, provided additional assistance for improvements on farms. The minimum wage went from 40 to 75 cents an hour. Considering inflation, in 2020 that 75 cents would equate to $8.20. The federal minimum wage in 2020 was $7.25. Minimum wage hasnot kept up with inflation since the early 1970’s. But that’s a story for a later chapter. Regarding the changes to Social Security:

“This legislation extended coverage under the old-age and survivors insurance program to about 10 million more persons; it liberalized the eligibility conditions; it improved the retirement test; it provided wage credits of $160 a month for military service from September 1940 to July 1947; it increased benefits substantially; it raised the wage base for tax and benefit computation purposes; it provided a new contribution schedule; and it eliminated the 1944 provision authorizing appropriations to the trust fund from the General Treasury.”[8]

There were some limits to Truman’s progressive agenda. For example, southern-led Democrats prevented legislation on desegregation, anti-lynching laws, national health care, federal aid for education, and election reform (such as outlawing the poll tax). Look at those agenda items carefully. The poll tax is illegal today. So too is lynching. Desegregation is the law of the land. The federal government aids education. However, the US does not have a national health care system. The first US president to call for a national health care system was Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican. And then in 1949-1950 Truman, a Democrat, called for a national health care system. But today Republicans confer the title of “socialism” to national health care, such as Colorado senator Cory Gardner.[9], Arkansas governor, presidential candidate, and, Christian broadcaster Mike Huckabee[10], and, a self-proclaimed Christian e-newspaper called the Free Republic[11], to name a few. Of course the military has socialized medicine. So too is Medicare and Medicaid. And, don’t forget the VA. But, this is a discussion for another chapter. Just a little heads up here.

 

IV. The Cold War at Home

The National Security State

During World War II there were approximately 900,000 civilians employed by the federal government with 10% of those in national security. Shortly after the War that number shot up to 4 million employees with about 75% in national security. The Pentagon has 35,000 employees alone.

The National Security Act of 1947 created the Central Intelligence Agency (the Company), my favorite, the National Security Agency (the Agency), and the National Security Council. The NSC consisted of advisers and decision-makers such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State. The NSC advises the President of matters pertaining to national security.

 

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National Security Agency, 1950

There was a fear (anxiety) in Congress that certain subsets of Americans or those who wanted to become Americans were not or could not be full Americans. Could not be trusted to maintain proper or true American culture and social civics. Thus, Congress passed and President Truman issued, various pieces of legislation and orders to curb the fear of difference. For example, Executive Order 9835, issued on March 21st, 1947, established the Federal Employee Loyalty Program. The FELP basically prohibited Commies, homosexuals, or anyone “sympathetic” to either from being employed by the federal government. Then there was the Internal Security Act of 1950, which Truman called “the greatest danger to freedom of press, speech, and assembly since the Sedition Act of 1789.” The ISA required all civilian Commies to register with the government (the Subversive Activities Control Board) and authorized the arrest of Commies/sympathizers during national emergencies. The ISA was on the books until 1973. Finally, the Immigration Act of 1952 barred homosexuals from ever becoming US citizens.

Luther Harris Evans was an American political scientist who served as the tenth Librarian of Congress and third Director-General of UNESCO

Homosexuality was of particular concern because decision-makers feared they could become blackmailed as homosexuality was very much maligned in the US at that time. For example, “During the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s and early 1950s, gay librarians were ‘purged’ from the staff at the Library of Congress, supposedly because homosexuals could be blackmailed by Communist operatives, and therefore presented greater security risks. Librarian of Congress Luther Evans gave the directive that no ‘Communists or cocksuckers’ would be allowed to work at Library of Congress, and this mood was prevalent in municipal and university libraries throughout the country, where loyalty oaths were required for continued employment.”[12]

The Red Scare in Hollywood

A Representative from Texas, Martin Dies, who had chaired the House Committee on Un-American Activities since 1938, told the press in 1944 that Hollywood was the greatest source of Communist propaganda, Renamed the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) in 1945, its new leader, J, Parnell Thomas, sought to fetter out Communists from Hollywood. The Committee created a list of suspect Communists and Thomas asked “good Americans” to come forth to give testimony at the Communist element in Hollywood. One who did so was future governor of California and future US President, Ronald Reagan:

“In opposing those people, the best thing to do is make democracy work. In the Screen Actors Guild, we make it work by ensuring everyone a vote and by keeping everyone informed. I believe that, as Thomas Jefferson put it, if all the American people know all of the facts they will never make a mistake. Whether the Party should be outlawed, that is a matter for the government to decide. As a citizen, I would hesitate to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology. We have spent 170 years in this country on the basis that democracy is strong enough to stand up and fight against the inroads of any ideology. However, if it is proven that an organisation is an agent of a foreign power, or in any way not a legitimate political party – and I think the Government is capable of proving that – then that is another matter. I happen to be very proud of the industry in which I work. I happen to be very proud of the way in which we conducted the fight. I do not believe the Communists have ever at any time been able to use the motion picture screen as a sounding board for their philosophy or ideology.” -Ronald Regan, 1947[13]

 

A small group, led by Humphry Bogart, protested and refused to name names: “This has nothing to do with communism. It’s none of my business who’s a communist and who isn’t. The reason I am flying to Washington is because I am an outraged and angry citizen who feels that my civil liberties are being taken away from me and that the Bill of Rights is being abused and who feels that nobody in this country has any right to kick around the Constitution of the United States, not even the Un-American Activities Committee.”[14] Nevertheless, many actors, writers, and others associated with movie production were prohibited from working on any movie set, “blacklisted.”  Blacklisting continued into radio and television.

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Red Channels: the Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television arrived quietly and discreetly. No headlines, no TV coverage. There seemed to be something a little dirty about it from the start.

Some executives wouldn’t even admit to having seen a copy. But Red Channels was soon the most public secret in the industry. Among the prominent names it listed were Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Lena Horne, Edward R. Murrow and Artie Shaw.

Its vigilante crusade was serious business. For example, early in 1951 George Burns introduced a new cast member on The Burns and Allen Show: John Brown. But Brown had been listed in Red Channels. After six months, he was dropped. There were a lot of stories like that.

The public was still largely unaware of Red Channels — until it caught the spotlight with the Jean Muir case in August. That summer NBC cast actress Muir in The Aldrich Family. Muir’s name had already appeared in Red Channels, but no one considered that important — yet. Only when the sponsor began receiving protest letters did anyone take another look. In August, Muir was replaced before the first program aired.

On June 22, 1950, copies of Red Channels: the Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television were distributed to network executives along Madison Avenue. Unlike with Brown or Hunt, the Muir case was widely reported, along with the role played by Red Channels. The squalor of it all was embarrassing to the networks and advertisers. They decided they wanted distance and deniability. Some thought it might break the blacklist. Instead, it merely drove the process even deeper behind close doors.

Hunt says, “At the time, in New York, there was no procedure set up to try to clear your name. I did, on my own volition, write a letter to each of the major networks explaining that I knew nothing or cared nothing about communism; and that I did my best to be a good citizen during World War II; and that I hoped this would clear any confusion and that I would be permitted to resume work. I never had any kind of response to that.”

Authorities were not interested in letters. They preferred a mix of humiliation and atonement. “You had to to repent any official stand you may have taken, such as signing a petition for something you believed in. You had to repent all those activities that were cited under your name in Red Channels and to swear lifelong hatred and opposition to the Communist Party.”

The decline of the blacklist was slow but steady by the late ’50s, until it was largely broken by a lawsuit in 1962.[15]

Then there were the spies and spy cases. Whitaker Chambers worked for Time magazine and was a Communist spy. He named names. Alger Hiss, a former State Department lawyer, was found guilty of perjury. State Department officials claimed that Hiss advised FDR at Yalta to make bad, pro-Soviet decision when his health has in decline. His perjury conviction was for stating he never met Chambers, when indeed he did, allegedly at a party, I recall. Then the biggest spy case was about stolen atomic bomb secrets. Julius Rosenberg worked on the Manhattan Project. David Greenglass was arrested for allegedly participating in spying. Greenglass turned in Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Julius Rosenberg was indeed guilty. His wife, however, was questionable. Nevertheless, both were sentenced to death and the sentences were carried out in 1953. Even Einstein and the pope asked for clemency for Ethel, who had two young children. David Greenglass, by the way, was Ethel’s brother and Julius’s brother-in-law.

Joe McCarthy (R) was a Senator from Wisconsin. He was up for re-election and was trailing in the polls. On February 9th, 1950, he gave a speech in West Virginia saying he had a list of 200 known Communists who worked for the federal government. “Today, we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down — they are truly down.”[16] McCarthy was a heavy drinker. He will die of alcoholism. “Right after the Wheeling speech, a trio of Wisconsin journalists sat down with McCarthy at Toys, a Chinese restaurant on Third Street in Milwaukee. Joe, I don’t believe you’ve got a goddamn thing to prove the things you’ve been saying. The reporters recalled saying it’s all a lot of political hogwash. ‘Listen, you bastards,’ McCarthy replied, ‘I’m not going to tell you anything. I just want you to know that I’ve got a pail full of shit and I’m going to use it where it does me the most good.'”[17]

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For several years McCarthy held hearings. He hauled people in front of his committee. He berated them, abused them, and generally acted belligerent towards those who came before him. Edward R. Murrow, the most well-known journalist of that time, said about McCarthy: “Thoughtful people correctly gauge the McCarthy threat. McCarthy’s methods to me look like Hitler’s Eleanor Roosevelt remarked in private correspondence, President Truman agreed that there is no difference in kind between Hitlerism and McCarthyism, both being the same form of warfare against the minds and souls of men. Publicly, Eisenhower’s predecessor did not mince words when defining McCarthyism. McCarthy is a corruption of truth, the abandonment of our historical devotion to fair play. It is the abandonment of due process of law. It is the rise to power of the demagogue who lives on and drove across the Atlantic.”[18]

No ne was ever found guilty, but many lives were ruined and some had their passports stripped such as W.E.B. Dubois.

February 1951 was a busy month for W. E. B. Du Bois, who turned eighty-three and threw himself a huge birthday party to raise funds for African decolonization. He also married his second wife, the leftist writer Shirley Graham, in what the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper called the wedding of the year. And he was indicted, arrested, and arraigned in federal court as an agent of the Soviet Union because he had circulated a petition protesting nuclear weapons.

The Justice Department saw Du Bois’s petition as a threat to national security. They thought it was communist propaganda meant to encourage American pacifism in the face of Soviet aggression. They put Du Bois on trial in order to brand him as “un-American,” to use the language of Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Du Bois was not in fact a Soviet agent. He was an American citizen using his First Amendment rights to protest nuclear weapons on his own behalf. A federal judge acquitted him because prosecutors failed to present any evidence.

W. E. B. Du Bois may be our keenest critic of Trumpism today.

Nevertheless, the trial and the publicity around it ruined his career. He was left scrabbling to earn enough money just to buy groceries. And the trial hardly ended the state persecution. In 1952 the State Department illegally revoked Du Bois’s passport to stop him from traveling to a peace conference in Canada (and, implicitly, to prevent him from moving to a friendlier country where he was not blacklisted). The Supreme Court restored passport rights for suspected communists in 1958, and three years later Du Bois used his regained freedom of travel to become an expat in newly postcolonial Ghana. But while he was there, the State Department refused to renew his passport, effectively annulling his United States citizenship. The American civil rights icon became a Ghanaian citizen and died there in 1963.[19]

 

McCarthy’s hearing were televised in 1954 and Americans got to see his antics, his abuses. Letters, phone calls, and telegrams poured into Washington, DC against what was going on. McCarthy even turned his wrath against Secretary of State , John Foster Dulles and then against President Eisenhower, the general who oversaw D-Day and the saving of western civilization from the Nazi’s attempt to rule over Europe, and then beyond. McCarthy was finished. The Senate censured him. The Senate charged him with “contempt of the Senate or a senatorial committee”; encouraging federal government employees to violate the law by providing him with classified materials; “receipt or use of confidential or classified document”; abuse of Senate colleagues; and abuse of Brigadier General Ralph W. Zwicker during the army hearings.”[20] In turn, “McCarthy labeled the [Senate] select committee the ‘unwitting handmaiden of the Communist Party,’ attacked [Senator] Arthur Watkins as ‘cowardly,’ and referred to the entire proceeding as a ‘lynch party.’ Donald Trump, the one-term president (2017-2021) was impeached twice for high crimes and misdemeanors. Trump referred to his impeachment as a “lynching.”[21] Of course the presidency of Donald Trump and the damage he inflicted upon this nation (to include the “coup attempt” as Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and others called the January 6th insurrection) will be covered in a later chapter.[22]

When McCarthy started to attack the Secretary of the Army, Eisenhower instructed his Vice President to go after McCarthy. Eisenhower’s vice-president was the nearly-impeached future president, who resigned in disgrace, Richard Nixon. Nixon’s presidency and the damage inflicted upon this nation will also be covered in a later chapter.

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Age of Anxiety

The US was a consume society following WWII. Children of the Depression, who fought in WWII, came home and began spending in part with the GI Bill (see below) and the two-income family. In 1952, there were two million more wives at work tan during WWII. Women made up of half of the work force during the 1950s. So child rearing books were in vogue, such as Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. Then there was Modern Women: The Lost Sex, which argued that women need federal economic assistance so they could afford to stay at home with their children. But the reality is took two incomes to buy homes and equip them with all the modern trappings/conveniences such as televisions. The US controlled 50% of the world’s wealth, but had only 3.6% of the world’s population, In other words, the US was incredibly wealthy and economically powerful. While Europe lay in ruin.

Two-thirds of US households owned television sets by the time Truman left office in 1952. Color TV was introduced in 1954, cost $1000 and there was only 60 minutes of color programming that year. The GI Bill afforded men to buy homes. The first in their families to do so. And, to go to college. Creating a meaningful middle class. About 55% home ownership rate. The birth rate also skyrocketed in the 1950s.

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But Americans were also fearful in the 1950s. Really it started in 1947 ten a pilot, Ken Arnold, spotted what he described as a “saucer” near Mount Rainier. Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects increased after the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik on October 4th, 1957. Science Fiction movies showed Americans fear of atomic power and aliens, such as the Incredible Shrinking Man and Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. In the former, a man fishing in the Pacific is overcome by a cloud of radioactive particles. He begins to shrink until disappearing. In the former, a woman is enlarged by an alien causing her to grow to gigantic proportions (and she goes on a rampage). The Day the Earth Stood still was about an alien and his robot who came to Earth to help humanity. The only rule was not to kill him, or else his robot would blow everything up. Of course people don’t listen and they shoot the alien. the Robot is fixing to blow everyone up when a female human who befriended the alien speaks the secret phrase she was taught by the alien. A phrase that will cause the robot to stop blowing everyone up. “”Klaatu barada nikto” Whew, just n the nick of time!

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The National Security Council put out occasional papers. NCS 68 (4/7/1950) was a policy paper that laid out the US foreign policy view of Russia and what the US should do to meet the Russia threat. First was the belief that Russia was hell-bent on controlling the world. Russia would use puppet states to attack pro-US states and the US should respond by arming the pro-US country under attack, thus initiating a proxy contest. The proxy contest was a hallmark of the Cold War. The US and Russia did not directly fight each other, except on the ice in Lake Placid at the Olympics in 1980, but that’s a story for a later chapter.

NSC 68 said, among other things, that the US was the only country possibly to stop Russia; there needed to be a massive build up of nuclear weapons and traditional forces; the draft must be reinstituted; and that all of that would be paid for by US taxpayers. An increase in taxes by about 32% should cover it.

A little over two months after NSC 68 came out, North Korea (a pro-Soviet country) invaded the pro-US country South Korea. Truman said if the US stood up to Communists at that time, Russia would not think twice about doing that again. So the United Nations Security Council took up the question of Korea. Actually, on the docket that day the Security Council was supposed to talk about China. You see the representative from China at that time was not China but Taiwan. Russia wanted to talk about removing Taiwan in place of China. So when the Security Council voted to table the issue, the Russia ambassador walked out in protest. Remember, it only took one vote from a permanent member of the Security Council to kill a resolution. With no one left to vote “No” the Security Council passed a resolution to send troops into Korea under the command of the US. General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur wanted to use nukes to take China out as the US troops were in the neighborhood. Truman said no.

 

 

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A Chinese anti-US propaganda poster from the Korean War era shows Chinese troops crushing US-led forces. Click mage for an article.

MacArthur instead lobs artillery across the Yalu River (the border between North Korea and China), which resulted in about 1 million Chinese troops pouring south to join the war. Truman fired MacArthur and the armies fought to a stalemates along the 38th parallel, which was exactly where North and South Korea had been split before hostilities began. Eisenhower runs for president on the idea of negotiating an end to the conflict. Stalin dies, leaving no Russian leader who really is all that excited about continuing to support North Korea, so the war comes to an end.

There were other military conflicts the US got itself into. More like coups that conflicts. And more like overthrows of democracies. Yes, in the 1950s the US initiated a policy of removing from power democratically elected heads of state when the US disagreed with the results of the democratic processes in those states. Such as in Iran, Egypt, and Guatemala.

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In Iran a popular, nationalist named Mohammad Mossadeq ran for Prime Minister, in part, supporting the idea that Iran’s oil should be for the benefit of Iran. At that time Iran’s oil wealth went to Great Britain, who had signed an agreement with the Iranian government at the turn of the 20th century. Mossadeq wins the election in 1952 and then nationalizes the oil industry, cutting off the British. Now, the British are weakened by WWII and need help getting rid of the democratically elected leader so they turn to the US and Eisenhower turns to a newly created entity called the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA filters money and weapons to Iranian military leaders to get them to launch a coup against Mossadeq. The coup is a success in 1953. Mossadeq is arrested and the Shah (the old dictator) is returned to his throne. To help the Shah retain his authoritarian control over Iran, the CIA and the Israeli version, Mossad train the Shah’s national police on how to control the media, rig elections, et cetera. The Shah will remain in power until 1979.

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In 1954 a Guatemalan nationalist named Jacobo Arbenz is elected president. He nationalizes all foreign owned land, most of which is held by an American firm, the United Fruit Company. But, unlike Mossadeq, Arbenz promises to pay the United Fruit Company for their losses. Eisenhower brands Arbez a Communist and launces a CIA-backed coup (Operation PBSuccess). US funded and trained military forces eventually take control of the major cities, including parts of the capitol. Arbenz takes refuge in the Mexican embassy, where he eventually is granted exile to Mexico. The United Fruit Company had great support in Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who might have been a share holder in the company.

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And, don’t forget that at this same time the French lose their final battle of their war in Vietnam, forcing the French to withdraw. Ike begged the French to continue fighting, saying he will support them with whatever weapons they need. No good. The French pulled out of Vietnam, leaving nobody but some US military advisors and the likeness of a South Vietnamese army. So, the US took over by supplying the South Vietnamese army with weapons and increasing the number of US advisors, around 700.

When John Kennedy took over for Ike, Kennedy quickly increased the number of military personnel in Vietnam to around 11,000 by 1962.[23]

The Cold War began before World War II came to an end. And while US tanks massed along the Fulda Gap watching for an expected Soviet invasion of western Europe, US troops were fighting and dying in Korea and Vietnam. And the Vietnam conflict was not an official war. By the time President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the US had been fighting and dying in Vietnam for 18 years.

Finally, just a little something different (I think) about the mid-20th century civil rights movement. The “civil rights movement,” aka the “Black freedom movement,” is typically viewed through the lens of domestic players such as Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Barbra Jordan and events such as the integration of major league sports, March on Washington, and the Albany Movement, but the historian Kevin Gaines looks at the 20th century civil rights movement for racial equality through the lens of internationalism.[24]

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US Vice President Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr., and their wives in Accra, Ghana. March 6, 1957. [Photo by Griff Davis on assignment as US Foreign Service Officer by US Information Service

First, Gaines notes that Martin Luther King, Jr., just happened to have met Vice President Richard Nixon in Ghana (which was celebrating its independence from England) and invited the Vice President to come to Alabama. “Upon his return, King regaled his congregation . . . with a euphoric account of the moment at which the Union Jack was replaced with the flag of the new nation of Ghana.” The people of Ghana began shouting “Freedom!” And King retorted to his flock, “And I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: Free at last, free at last, Great God almighty, I’m free at last.”[25]

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Poster advertising a 1959 Louis Armstrong concert in Beirut, Lebanon. In English and Arabic.

One more thing, Ike launched the jazz cultural ambassador program. The first tours ran from 1956 to 1958 and they fell under the guise of the Department of State. This is where the civil rights movement and American culture intersect. There are other examples, such as due to the Brown decision (which noted international criticism of American civil rights record) President Eisenhower wanted to show the world that race was not America’s “Achilles Heel” so he sent abroad, as culture ambassadors Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The State Department also sent white jazz musicians such as Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan.

As with the other chapters, I have no doubt that this chapter contains inaccuracies as some of the information came from notes I took from books I read or lectures/presentations I attended. Therefore, please point them out to me so that I may make this chapter better. Also, I am looking for contributors so if you are interested in adding anything at all, please contact me at james.rossnazzal@hccs.edu


  1. https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-airlift
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/16/politics/donald-trump-times-bild-interview-takeaways/index.html
  3. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/cold-war-on-file/iron-curtain-speech/
  4. https://withberlinlove.com/2015/03/08/sunday-documentary-the-candy-bomber/
  5. https://www.historynet.com/berlin-airlift-operation-vittles.htm
  6. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/nato
  7. Target Patton: The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton, Robert Wilcox, p. 334.
  8. https://www.ssa.gov/history/1950.html
  9. https://www.greeleytribune.com/2017/08/26/weld-news-full-of-eye-rolls-recently-its-never-too-late-to-find-your-voice-mailbox-for-aug-27/
  10. https://jamesbradfordpate.wordpress.com/2007/11/18/mike-huckabee/
  11. https://freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1873219/posts
  12. https://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla64/002-138e
  13. https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/ronald-reagan-testifies-huac-1947/
  14. https://slate.com/culture/2016/03/you-must-remember-this-on-the-blacklist-humphrey-bogart-and-the-african-queen.html
  15. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128005395
  16. https://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/this-day-in-politics-feb-9-1950-218837
  17. https://www.happyscribe.com/public/it-was-said/ep-6-edward-r
  18. Ibid
  19. http://bostonreview.net/race-politics/andrew-lanham-when-w-e-b-du-bois-was-un-american
  20. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/censure_cases/133Joseph_McCarthy.htm
  21. https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/22/politics/lynching-donald-trump-impeachment/index.html
  22. https://abc7chicago.com/congress-adam-kinzinger-capitol-building-house-of-representatives/9412651/
  23. https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/teachers/curricular-resources/high-school-curricular-resources/military-advisors-in-vietnam-1963
  24. "A World to Win: The International Dimension of the Black Freedom Movement," by Kevin Gaines, Magazine of History, OAH, Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2006, pp 14-18.
  25. Ibid

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Our Story: An Ancillary to US History by Dr. Jim Ross-Nazzal and His US History Students is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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