United States Between 1949 and 1960

In 1949, the Democrat HS Truman began the second period of his presidency of the USA, launching the formula of the “Fair Deal”, that is, a resumption of Roosevelt’s reform policy. It led to the implementation of large measures in favor of social housing and farmers, especially through federal interventions to keep agricultural prices at profitable levels. Despite the president’s fighting energy, however, other projects failed, such as the introduction of a compulsory health insurance system, the granting of federal aid to public education or the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and the restoration of the Wagner Act. in trade union matters. In the Chambers, indeed, the Republicans, hostile to tax increases and federal interventions in economic and social matters,

In foreign policy, on the other hand, there was a similar split between the republicans, between the isolationist “old guard”, or in any case opposed to extensive commitments abroad, and the more moderate elements. Although the gen. GC Marshall was replaced (Jan. 1949) in the State Department with Dean Acheson, but the previous directives remained intact, characterized by the assumption of gigantic global responsibilities and by the “cold war” with the USSR, which also became a global struggle against the communism and its ideology. The Marshall Plan for the reconstruction and coordination of the economies of Western European countries came into force, and the Atlantic Pact, with the apparatus of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), for their military association with the USA. and Canada. Aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey continued, as well as to the nationalist one of gen. Chiang Kai-shek in China, fighting the Communists. President Truman also advocated in his inaugural address on Jan. 20. 1949, a Point Four program “for peace and freedom”, extending American aid to underdeveloped countries, for the transformation of their economies, as a means of anticommunist struggle.

In 1949, hotbeds of international tension were extinguished, such as the blockade placed around Berlin by the USSR and faced by the West with an “air bridge”, or the guerrilla warfare in Greece, which died out especially after the break between the USSR and Yugoslavia. On the other hand, the Chinese Communists defeated the Chiang Kai-shek government, forcing it to take refuge on the island of Formosa. Nor did the statements of the Acheson who accused him of the corruption of the nationalist regime, or the American refusal to recognize the Communist government, for which the one in Formosa retained the seat due to China in the UN Security Council, lessened this reverse., the USSR was now in possession of atomic weapons, putting an end to the exclusivity enjoyed so far by the USA

This caused a wave of alarm and exasperation in American opinion, which turned primarily against the not many followers of the Communist Party in the USA and against their sympathizers or “traveling companions”. There were repeated convictions of Communist exponents, as guilty of instigating the violent subversion of the Constitution, and a series of sensational trials for espionage: the rumor spread that the USA was threatened by a dangerous conspiracy. The administration itself and the Acheson in particular became the subject of violent accusations, which accused them of a guilty weakness towards the internal enemy. These were unfounded or artfully exaggerated accusations, in which the intention at times was to discredit the entire Rooseveltian “liberal” tradition.

On June 27, 1950, the troops of the Communist government of North Korea invaded the territory of South Korea, recently evacuated by the Americans, who had occupied it during the Second World War. The Truman reacted firmly, ordering the immediate intervention of the US forces, while the UN condemned the North Korean aggression. Thus began a war fought in the name of the UN and with the participation of contingents from various nations, but weighing mainly on the USA, whose gen. D. MacArthur assumed command of operations. The North Koreans, although they advanced almost to the southern end of the peninsula, were pushed back and counterattacked in their territory (September-October 1950). However, a massive intervention of “volunteers” by Communist China followed,

Despite the very high standard of living and the astonishing technical progress achieved by the USA, there was an incipient economic regression in 1949, leading to 3.5 million unemployed, while the cost of living rose due to rising inflation.. The war made recession and unemployment disappear and led, contrary to the views of the Republicans, to a sharp increase in the president’s powers in economic matters, as well as taxes and compulsory conscription. But it also led to a resumption of conservative and nationalist currents, which did not conceal their intentions of revenge on the “liberal” and internationalist ones. Against the presidential veto, the Internal Security Act of sen. PA McCarran (September 1950), which virtually outlawed American Communists and barred access to the USA for those who had been members of totalitarian organizations. The “old guard,” led by former President Hoover and Senator Robert A. Taft, sparked heated debates in Congress against Truman’s foreign policy. The same gen. MacArthur took an open defiant stance when the president opposed his plans to end the Korean War, now at a standstill, by means of measures against Communist China, including an offensive by the nationalists, such as to provoke an open conflagration.

President Truman replaced MacArthur in command with Gen. MB Ridgway and when the former, on his return to the USA, tried to provoke a right-wing movement, he skillfully faced the crisis, which in fact soon faded into nothing. While avoiding the outbreak of a new world war, he also held firm in Korea, where truce negotiations had begun in July 1951, which were artificially prolonged indefinitely by the adversary, counting on tiring the Americans. In the meantime, he strengthened the political-military system surrounding the USSR, through various acts, with the signing of the peace with Japan (September 1951), the agreements with Australia and New Zealand preluding to the formation of a defensive system with respect to South Asia. -Oriental, or the one that put an end to the state of war with West Germany (August 1952), paving the way for the latter’s entry into NATO. Finally, he promoted the construction of an even more terrible weapon with the “H bomb”.

Another source of concern was the situation in Puerto Rico, prey to misery and troubled by unrest, sometimes bloody, including an attack (in Washington) on President Truman himself (1950). However, the situation was greatly improved by the granting of a wide autonomy, whereby the island became an autonomous government associated with the USA (1952).

In 1951, the 22nd amendment to the constitution was passed, which prohibited the re-election of the same president for more than two terms, as had happened for FD Roosevelt. The following year, the presidential elections approached and the opposition doubled their attacks, also exploiting the country’s impatience for the failure to conclude the truce in Korea, after much bloodshed (about 400,000 Allied casualties, of which 137,000 Americans, including 25,000 fallen). The anticommunist excitement allowed the rise to fearsome power of a demagogue, Senator JR McCarthy (republican, but also favored by circles of the opposite party), who made use of public inquiries, conducted by him with methods that have remained sadly famous, for a vast work of defamation and ‘ intimidation. Against the president’s veto, the Mac Carran-Walter Act (June 1952) on immigration was passed, which fixed the annual quota at 150,000 individuals, subjecting it to strict rules, while eliminating certain racial discrimination. Meanwhile, an investigation by sen. E. Kefauver (Democrat) led to disconcerting revelations about organized crime and accusations of corruption and waste rained down on the administration, exaggerated but for electoral purposes, but justified at least in the case of the Department of Justice, whose owner had to be removed by the president. The latter maintained the usual combativeness, as appeared on the occasion of a great strike in the steel industry, of which he had the factories requisitioned to induce the bosses to come to agreements.

Characteristic of this period was also the increase in Catholic influence in the USA. In general, after the war, there was a strong recovery in religious sentiment and therefore in the influence of ecclesiastical organizations. But to the particular advantage of the Catholic Church both the social ascent of the Catholic element of Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. origin worked, until yesterday in conditions of inferiority compared to the Protestant one, and the climate of the anti-communist struggle, which it allowed it to present itself as an anti-Communist force par excellence. However, requests for public subsidies for Catholic confessional schools were unsuccessful, and a proposal, accepted by Truman himself, to send an American ambassador to the Holy See.

In the presidential elections of 1952, the personal prestige of gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, presented as presidential candidate by the Republicans, triumphed, with a massive majority, over the “liberal” Adlai E. Stevenson candidate of the Democrats. Although defeated, the Stevenson, however, got even more votes than those collected by Truman in 1948, thanks to an exceptional turnout. Furthermore, in the Chambers, the Republicans reported only a weak majority, which they then even lost in the subsequent political elections of 1954.

The new president announced that he wanted to repair the democratic errors in foreign policy, cleanse the country of corruption and betrayal, give it a less expensive and more efficient government. In fact, however, he followed a line less distant from his predecessor than that envisioned by the republican “old guard”: the latter, moreover, lost its major exponent in 1953, with the death of sen. RA Taft. Charges of corruption were dropped once the electoral climate subsided. The federal bureaucracy was subjected to scrutiny, which led to about 2,000 layoffs: but the Democrats could object that these were provisions already prepared by the Truman administration or cases that had nothing to do with treason. There were still trials for espionage, particularly serious was the one concluded with the execution of the spouses Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1953), as well as legal measures, such as the Espionnage Act, which introduced the death penalty also for spying in peacetime, and the Communist Control Act (1954). Eisenhower himself, however, declared that he wanted to fight real but not imaginary espionage and showed disgust for “McCarthyism”, even though he avoided a direct confrontation with the powerful senator. He finally liquidated himself, with his excesses, arousing the hostility of the same more conservative colleagues, now more alarmed by the fate of traditional civil liberties than by the danger of subversive conspiracies. Put under investigation by the Senate, he ended up crushed by a severe verdict of conviction (December 1954).

The reduction in federal spending was also modest, as the administration maintained the vast international commitments contracted by the USA. The new secretary of state, John F. Dulles, announced a more resolute policy towards the USSR, aimed not only at containing the communist expansion (“containment”), but even to make it retreat (“rolling back”). The facts, however, were often less aggressive than words, also due to the changes produced in the international atmosphere by the death of Stalin. Thus came the signing of the truce in Korea (July 1954), which helped to increase the popularity of President Eisenhower, even though it was criticized by the Democrats as a kind of capitulation. There was an attenuation of the climate of the “cold war”, so the he began to speak of international detente, of peaceful coexistence between communist and capitalist regimes or of disarmament. For the first time in many years, the representatives of the great powers, gathered in the Geneva Conference (July 1954), reached positive conclusions, such as a truce in Vietnam, long since bloodied by the struggle between the Communist and French forces.

Faced with Soviet easing offers, Dulles maintained extreme rigidity, declaring that he was wary of their loyalty and insisting on the threat of massive atomic reprisals, as a “deterrent” to avoid crises similar to that of Korea, as well as on the need to negotiate only from positions of strength, perhaps even going to the brink of war. To the truce in Vietnam, he therefore opposed the creation of the SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization), with the Manila pact (September 1954). In fact, however, it did not come to the creation of a common army, like that of NATO, nor did it go beyond the preservation of the status quo. However, recognition of the Communist government in China continued to be denied and threatening warnings against the latter’s ambitions regarding Formosa were opposed. However, care was taken to avoid a resumption of hostility even on the part of the nationalists. Also in Europe, the rearmament and entry into NATO of West Germany were implemented, as well as a particular collaboration with the Spanish government of General Franco in the military. However, there was an evident consecration of the new relaxing course of the international affiri with the Geneva Conference (July 1955), in which the heads of state of the great powers participated (É. Faure and A. Pinay for France; D. Eisenhower and JF Dulles for the USA; A. Eden and H. Mac Millan for the United Kingdom; N. Khrushchev, N. Bulganin and V. Molotov for the USSR). There, President Eisenhower advocated the adoption of a gradual mutual disarmament, subject to the establishment of efficient controls, designed to prevent a sudden aggression. On this point, serious difficulties were raised on the Soviet side and it was impossible to reach a concrete agreement. However, it was possible to speak equally of a “spirit of Geneva”, that is, of a new desire for peaceful coexistence on the part of the two great world blocs. But the race between the USA and the USSR continued, especially in the very new field of missiles, but the nightmare of a war seemed to go away.

Between the two blocs themselves, moreover, a vast international neutralist alignment was entering, especially by India and Yugoslavia, of which the Bandung Conference (April 1955) seemed to be the consecration. New problems of international politics were thus emerging for the USA, starting with the very delicate one of extending or not extending financial aid to “neutralist” countries. And this concerned in particular the Afro-Asian peoples, anxious to demolish the ancient colonial system and procure their own economic-social elevation, so that the purely military competition between the USA and the USSR was replaced by a competition in winning the sympathies of these new nations.. Finally, in 1956, a double international crisis was opening up: on the one hand, a revolution broke out in Hungary, bloody repressed by Soviet forces; on the other hand, in Egypt, there was the Suez crisis with the Franco-Anglo-Israeli attack on the Sinai peninsula and in the canal area. The American government, while only deploring the Soviet repression in Hungary, was diplomatically intervening with a lot of energy, to enforce the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the Anglo-French. But the situation in the Middle East remained very murky: even in Iraq a revolutionary government was installed, with an anti-Western character and therefore favored more or less disguisedly by the USSR: the neighboring governments of Lebanon and Jordan felt threatened so much that they requested the sending of American forces one and British the other to protect their independence (1957).

Within the USA, new problems were also emerging. Eisenhower had adhered, in economic and social matters, to a moderate conservatism, generally in favor of private companies, but also open to popular measures, such as the creation of a new Department for Health, Education, Social Welfare (1953) or the extension of social security services to new categories (1954), for a complex of over 10 million citizens, further increased by subsequent provisions. The end of the Korean War had also ended the regime of economic controls and the coalition between Republicans and conservative Democrats had won another victory, on the issue of underwater oil sources: while the Truman had reserved control of it to the federal government, the new administration had obtained the assignment to the single riparian states, against the vote of the “liberals” (1953). Finally, the country was going through a phase of heightened prosperity all over again, from which its confidence in Eisenhower was growing. But America’s own pressing progress posed arduous questions to its rulers.

Agriculture was now obtaining such abundant harvests as to pose the problem of measures capable of subtracting part of the soil (“Banca del Suolo”) from cultivation, in order to curb the growing accumulation of “surplus”. Atomic energy was also used for peaceful purposes and therefore imposed the problem of greater collaboration with friendly countries for its development. The large trade union organizations of the AFL and the IOC were on the way to the merger and began to envisage, in addition to the old problem of the repeal of the Taft – Hartley Act, the new problems deriving from the automation of industries. The very rapid development of the Western states, especially California, increased their economic and political weight with equal speed, compared to the more ancient states of the East or the South. civil, both for the displacement of masses of color from the South to industrial centers. The collaboration between Republicans and Southern Democrats therefore gave way to a renewed conflict between North and South.

The “liberals” accused the administration of being sluggish and lacking in ideas in the face of new internal and international problems. Stevenson therefore reappeared as a candidate in the presidential elections of 1956, launching the slogan of a “New America”. In reality, the dominant slogan in that atmosphere of prosperity was that of moderation, to which the Democrats themselves were paying de facto homage. Then the Eisenhower triumphed again, although there was much talk of the decline of his physical energies: the latter had no effect other than an increase in the importance of Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Paradoxically, however, the Republicans lost more ground in the Chambers, to the benefit of the Democrats.

In subsequent years, the president’s popularity declined somewhat. The USSR boasted a spectacular success with the launch of the first artificial satellite (“Sputnik”) around the earth (1957) and maintained a certain advantage in the race for the conquest of interplanetary space even afterwards, although the USA could in turn launch the satellites “Explorer” and “Vanguard” in 1958 or boast the feats of atomic submarines, such as the Nautilus, which made the first underwater crossing of the Arctic ice sheet. The American economy underwent a new recession, with unemployment rising to over 5 million in 1958. It quickly disappeared, returning the country to its former prosperity, but the measures adopted by the administration, such as new increases in social housing or public works, were criticized as inadequate to the danger: also criticized as insufficient was the policy towards agriculture and the increasingly serious problem of the “surplus”. Voices were raised to lament the damage caused to America in the technical-scientific competition with the USSR, by the suspicions against the intellectuals incited at the time by McCarthyism or by the opaque conformity it fomented in the country.

Precisely in these years, on the other hand, ancient problems were solved, such as the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as 49th and 50th states of the Union (1959), or grandiose projects were implemented such as the canal of the S. Lorenzo, to put Chicago and the Great Lakes in communication with the Atlantic, or as the creation, through federal contributions, of a gigantic network of highways, over 60,000 km. Substantial advances were made in the equality of conditions between whites and blacks (see below), and the problem of federal intervention in the field of education was on the way to a solution, while fruitful criticisms invested the traditional educational systems. An investigation by sen. J. McClelland revealed the corruption of certain unions or their links with the underworld,(1959), to guarantee the internal democracy of labor organizations.

There were also new developments in foreign policy, especially after the death of Dulles (1959), who was succeeded by Christian Herter in the State Department. The president took personal initiatives to improve relations with the Soviet Union, which had become difficult due to the Berlin question, and to create greater sympathy with the USA in the world, including countries with a “neutralist” orientation. In 1959 there were therefore direct meetings with exponents of the USSR, among which the one with the head of the Soviet state, N. Khrushchev, in particular, on the occasion of his trip to the USA: for his part, Eisenhower also made long journeys in various European and Asian countries and then in Latin America. In 1960 a “summit meeting” was to follow in Paris, between the heads of state of the great world powers, to reach concrete agreements on Germany and on disarmament. The meeting, however, broke up before it began, following violent Soviet protests over the discovery of observation flights, carried out by American planes over the USSR. On the other hand, it is true that both the Americans and the Soviets expressed the intention not to break the disarmament negotiations for this reason. There was also mention of the possibility that technical progress could actually bring about a solution to the very problem of mutual control, on which disarmament negotiations have hitherto been stranded. Indeed, it seems increasingly difficult for one or the other of the two great powers to conceal their activity from the detection means, with which large space missiles are equipped.

The problem of the niggers. – The rise of blacks to equal rights with whites has emerged in recent years as one of the fundamental problems of the USA. Great importance therefore had the decisions of the Supreme Court, in which the segregation of the two races in public schools was declared unconstitutional (1954), contrary to the practice followed by the Southern states. The latter reacted with exasperation to the decisions themselves, although the Supreme Court only recommended a gradual implementation of desegregation: a meeting of governors of various southern states actually gave occasion to a “Southern Manifesto “, which displayed bitter intentions of resistance. The Eisenhower administration, however, while generally following a line of cautious moderation, clearly showed its favor for desegregation, abolishing among the other residual racial discrimination in the armed forces. The agitation of the Negroes, for its part, intensified, under the leadership of organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and with the support of “liberals” such as Stevenson and others. A noble humanitarian figure, Negro Baptist pastor Martin L. King, imported Gandhi’s tactics of non-violence to the South by organizing a peaceful bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama to achieve the abolition of racial segregation on public transport transport. The success of the demonstration, despite the brutal violence of extreme racists, was followed by another sentence of the Supreme Court which also declared this form of segregation unconstitutional (November 1956).

By now the problem was placed before the political and moral conscience of the nation. In the South itself, the majority of Protestant churches and the Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans urged fellow citizens to accept desegregation. The conservative side responded by appealing to the autonomy of the states, with respect to federal power, or by transcending acts of violence. The latter took on particular gravity in the town of Little Rock (Arkansas) to prevent black schoolchildren from entering the local middle school. But the president responded vigorously by sending federal troops to quell the riots (1958). In some cases, attempts have been made to evade the desegregation order with the expedient of closing public schools and reopening them as private schools.

Over the past two years, blacks have also employed the tactic of non-violence to achieve an end to segregation in public establishments, defying arrest by local police or any ill-treatment. The main problem, however, remains in the exercise of the vote, from which blacks were kept away in various southern states, by artificial provisions, such as those requiring a certain degree of education or the payment of a tax to be voters. But even this problem was addressed by Congress and solved, despite the use of the tactic of obstruction by some extremists, with the abolition of discriminatory practices (1960). For this abolition to come into force it will take a few more years, as it will have to be ratified by the legislatures of the states. There seems no doubt, however, that it will bring about political consequences of great importance, especially in states where blacks constitute the majority or at least an important minority of the population. There was no lack, even in the last months of 1960, of sensational episodes, such as the arrest and conviction of King himself or the sporadic appearance of neo-Nazi elements, on the one hand, and on the other the opening to black students of schools in New Orleans, that is, in the very heart of the “deep South”.

United States Between 1949 and 1960