What Part of my History Book Did You Live Through?

 

I will be twenty-nine in a few weeks. In my (almost) twenty-nine years, I have been through a lot. More than many of my peers, and more than most of the friends I’ve had since childhood. All that I have been through has not broken me, I like to think I have gained the immunity needed to fight off any other incidents that may invade my healthy, joyful life. I cannot help but wonder what if everyone in my generation experienced the heartache and pain I experienced; What if every person in my generation jumped hurdles to get to where they are today? Would we be stronger? Would we appreciate life more, and all that comes along with it? How would we function as a society? Lets explore that, but instead of focusing on the last twenty-nine years, let’s explore society between 1940 and 1969.

WAR

  • In the 1940s, the world was in war AGAIN! America had not technically joined, but because we disapproved fascism, Franklin Roosevelt was indirectly waging war on Germany. We eventually entered the war (officially), after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, in December 1941. One of the biggest tragedies of World War II, if you can single out any parts of it as more tragic than others, were the concentration camps. When I saw the pictures and videos in History class, I was absolutely disgusted. And the veterans’ recollections of what they witnessed when they got to the camps were just sad. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers many articles, picIMG_2607tures, videos, and even a couple oral accounts from survivors. Germany and Japan eventually lost to the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain in 1945, with the UNITED STATES and the SOVIET UNION coming out on top as the superpowers.
  • The relationship between America and the Soviet was one of frenemies, during the war, and each having great fear and suspicion of the other superpower transitioned us from one war to another. According to our textbook, Volume 2 of Becoming America, America believed free trade and, more importantly, democratic free elections would rebuild and stabilize the world after World War II. Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin, knew Adolph Hitler and the Nazis gained their power through free elections, so he really only kept his agreement about holding free elections places where communism was the winner by default. Former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, came to the U.S. and warned of America making the same mistakes with the Soviet that Britain had with Germany. The bloodshed and lives lost still fresh on everybody’s minds, paired with Americans having a hard time distinguishing Stalin’s totalitarian plans to protect Eastern Europe from hostility from Hitler’s dictatorship, it was easy for President Truman and his State Department to exaggerate the threat and scare Congress into action. The Cold War was not just open warfare, it was an economic, political, military, cultural, and even psychological hostility between America and its rivalry, communist Soviet Union, that lasted approximately 45 years! As part of the attempt to contain communism American soldiers were involved in, and being drafted for, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union ran out of money and collapsed and Americans won the very long battle for supremacy.

So how did people react to all this war? Well many of the issues originated in Europe, that includes World War I also, so overall the feeling among citizens was we shouldn’t be involved in Europe’s problems. Obviously the attack on Pearl Harbor completely changed that attitude.  The response to that became similar of a fight or flight response in the human body, and we chose to fight. We were very happy, for a while, and the American population boomed with babies. After WWII ended, we were involved in more social conflicts (as opposed to physical threats) that lead to war (or we voluntarily entered war because we thought our way was better or were afraid of how communist chose to do things) and by the 1960s many American young adults were against war and upset about the young men being drafted to risk their lives.

RACE

Even with all this war going on, blacks were limited in joining the fight. And of those who survived and made it back home, a very small portion were equally rewarded as veterans. For instance, in 1947, when Mississippi offered 3,000 federal mortgage loans to veterans, less than half of one percent were given to black veterans; Two of the three thousand to be exact. According to PBS, approximately 650,000 African Americans were serving in the military by 1945. Black soldiers were treated unequally and unfair, although they risked their lives just the same. Officials and soldiers were apprehensive to use African Americans in the armed forces, and it wasn’t until after World War II ended was the United States military desegregated. This was partly due to the successful hard work put in by units such as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Back on familiar territory, African Americans were fighting the all too familiar war on racism. The Civil Rights Movement, most prominent from the mid 1950s to late 1960s, was the fight against oppression and segregation  based on racism and prejudice. Blacks were standing up for equal access to voting, education, employment, healthcare, physical security, and law protection. Buses, train cars, bathrooms, restaurants, water fountains, movie theaters, and ball games were among the many everyday places where blacks were either separated or banned altogether. Some of these habits, rules, and laws had been around for so long, many white people truly thought they were biologically necessary for their well being, rather than made up and enforced by society. An example would be the misconception that black people carried different diseases and health issues, and therefore were unsafe to share bathrooms with. The truth was separate bathrooms was just an idea white people had been taught generation after generation. 

Needless to say, many courageous people risked, and sometimes lost, everything, including their lives for the cause. Some have literally went down in history like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Jackie Robinson. Some we will never even know about.

 

THE 1950s

The fifties are remembered as this great time in America when it was all good. Everybody had money, worked hard for it, was happy, and family was everything. This is not all true. Many

Americans were still living in poverty, and minorities had very deep struggles. Women were still not seen as equals, and there was still a lot of military fighting. But let’s take a quick look at why this nostalgia exist when people think about the 1950s.

NO, not everybody had money but overall, Americans were living better, and unemployment rate was low. There was a long stretch of economic growth that had started in 1948 and lasted until the mid 1970s. Many employees received four weeks of paid vacation, which gave them time with their family, made them happier and harder working, and gave them an extra opportunity to pump money back into the economy as traveling consumers. Three radio networks

became huge television networks that are still around today, NBC, ABC, and CBS. TV became a family pass time. Families watched happy-go-lucky shows ab

out nuclear families living in the suburbs. Happy-go-lucky families moved to the suburbs. These suburban families purchased spacious, comfortable automobiles, in which they could go to drive in movies and restaurants. Kitchen appliances and frozen and canned dinners gave housewives more free time to spend with their husbands and children and to shop and consume. Teenagers emerged for the first time. Teenagers were not small adults forced into the work place anymore. They were encouraged to stay in school, but were not children and became the center of popular culture. The beginning of integration, paired with the expression of adolescence, sexuality, and free musical expression created an almost surreal happiness. 

THE 1960s

All the expression and the first ever teenagers becoming adults rolled right on over to the sixties; As did racial tension and protesting, and war. A huge part of the overall memory of the sixties is the anti-war movement. That was influenced by people wanting to feel in control of their destiny, rather than being drafted, lack of justification for the U.S. being involved in foreign affairs, and by drugs and sex! People were encouraged to explore their minds, while under the influence of opioids. Sex and sexuality were more openly and liberally

explored. Women steered away from domestication really for the first time. So, many people were high and f

reely sexually active. Do I need to say more?

If you know an older person, a minority that has lived long enough to remember the civil rights movement, a veteran of the armed forces, or a woman who has lived long enough to remember when a woman’s place was literally in the kitchen, and they seem to be stronger, wiser, content, fulfilled, happier, just better

than many others you may know, take the time to think about what part of your history book they may have been through to get to where they are today.

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