Digital History>Teachers>Modules> Topic
Learn About the Postwar
During the early 1970s, films like American
Graffiti and television shows like Happy Days began to portray
the 1950s as a carefree era before the assassination of John F.
Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and Watergate--a decade of tail-finned Cadillacs,
collegians stuffing themselves in phone booths, and innocent tranquility
and static charm. In truth, the post-World War II period was an era of
Across the globe, the United States clashed with the Soviet Union over
such issues as the Soviet dominance over eastern Europe, control of atomic
weapons, and the Soviet blockade of Berlin. The establishment of a Communist
government in China in 1949 and the North Korean invasion of South Korea
in 1950 helped transform the Cold War into a global conflict, in which
United States would confront Communism in Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, and
elsewhere. In an atmosphere charged with paranoia and anxiety, there was
deep fear at home about “enemies within” sabotaging U.S. foreign policy
and passing atomic secrets to the Soviets.
Not only a period of anxiety, the postwar period was also a time of
dynamic, creative change. During the 1950s, African Americans quickened
the pace of the struggle for equality, by challenging segregation in
court. A new youth culture emerged, with its own form of music, rock
‘n’ roll. Maverick sociologists, social critics, poets, and writers--conservatives
as well as liberals--authored influential critiques of American society.
of the 1950s were bland. The stock situation comedy centered on a white suburban
family with a happily married husband and wife and two or sometimes three well-adjusted
children. Father Knows Best was the classic example of this genre. It’s
theme son was entitled: “Just Around the Corner There’s a Rainbow in the Sky.”
Sit-coms like this were not documentaries. In fact, the postwar era was characterized
by tension, diversity, and unsettling social changes.
68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security
Handouts and fact sheets:
of the Cold War
The Contentious 1950s
your knowledge about the Postwar era.
O'Neill, American High: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960
This survey of the social and political history of the postwar period
rebuts many common assumptions about the 1950s.
David Halberstam, The Fifties
A panoramic view of the 1950s by a leading journalist, which contains
vivid sketches of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, Martin Luther
King, Jr., Joseph McCarthy, Ray Krok, U-2 pilot Frances Gary Powers,
Charles Van Doren, and many others.
of an ex-prize fighter who wrestles with a decision about whether to inform
about mob corruption on the New York waterfront can be interpreted as director
Elia Kazins defense of his decision to name names before the House Un-American
of the Body Snatchers
fiction films deals metaphorically with issues of infiltration and mind control
raised by the Cold War, as well as with issues of conformity in a mass society.
The Cold War
This website contains transcripts of the documentarys episodes
supplemented with primary source documents, rare archival footage, and
interviews with leading figures during the Cold War.