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Western Civilization Since 1945: Timeline & Summary

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  • 0:01 Western Civilization…
  • 1:26 1945 - 1960
  • 5:03 The 1960s
  • 6:57 The 1970s and 80s
  • 8:13 1990 - The Present
  • 9:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

How has the Western world changed since the end of World War II? Learn about changes in politics, society and technology in this fast-paced summary of Western civilization since 1945.

Western Civilization Since 1945

How has Western civilization changed since World War II? That's a question that often takes a semester to answer! But since we're trying to cover it in ten minutes or less, we'll have to narrow things down a bit. First, let's look at some major trends and developments over time before we focus in on a few specific events in the decades since 1945.

For one thing, the British Empire crumbled after WWII. In its absence, the Soviet Union and United States competed to be the new dominant force in the world. This rivalry is commonly called the Cold War, and many of the conflicts that played out over the following five decades are a direct result of these tensions, especially in those post-colonial lands where power was up for grabs. For most people alive in the Western world between WWII and the 1980s, the spread of communism was a very tangible fear.

A direct side effect of the Cold War was a dramatic increase in technology. What began as a contest to outdo each other in an arms race turned into an era of technological progress and invention that gave us hundreds of products we now take for granted, culminating in the computer revolution late in the century.

1945 - 1960

Generally speaking, World War II had dramatic social effects on the home fronts of many nations in the years that followed. Emigrants from many former British colonies arrived in England. Racial and gender stereotypes in most nations had to be reassessed given the significant contributions made by individuals to the war effort. Civil rights movements emerged, especially in the United States, as black citizens struggled for economic, political and social equality.

The war had brought the Great Depression to an end; now, standards of living rose. Suburbs developed, and the U.S. became a car culture. A baby boom changed the demographics of many nations within a decade, giving rise to teenage culture and the birth of rock n' roll. Television replaced radio as the mass media of choice and telephones became commonplace. A global culture began to take shape.

Many decolonized nations in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East had internal power struggles that attracted the attention of the U.S. and USSR in the post-war years.

Let's examine a sampling of important events from this tumultuous era:

1945 - The United Nations formed to help prevent another world war. Communist partisans in Vietnam refused to welcome back French colonial forces at the end of the war.

1946 - Yugoslavia established a communist government, as did many other Eastern European nations under the influence of the Soviet Union. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said they were behind an Iron Curtain, and the phrase stuck.

1947 - Post-colonial India split along religious lines, creating the new Muslim nation of Pakistan. The UN created Israel from part of the former British Mandate of Palestine. Immediately, Israel's Muslim neighbors intervened to try and keep the territory in Arab hands.

1948 - South Africa implemented its apartheid regime, instituting strict racist policies.

1949 - Germany split when the USSR refused to give up control of the zone it had occupied since the close of WWII. East Germany became a communist nation, while the capitol city of Berlin continued to be half free, half communist. Meanwhile Greece, with American assistance, resisted a communist takeover. To fight the spread of communism into any more parts of the world, the U.S. formed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In response, the Soviet Union signed the Warsaw Pact with its allies later.

1950 - China's civil war ended with the establishment of a communist government.

1953 - The Korean War ended, with an unresolved split along the 38th parallel; North Korea remains communist to this day.

1956 - The Soviet Union violently suppressed an attempt by Hungary to free itself from communism. France and Britain, with Israel's help, attempted to regain control of the Suez Canal, which Egypt had seized. In the end, Egypt won the Canal.

The 1960s

The 1960s were full of social unrest, especially in the United States. The achievements made by African Americans in the '60s inspired equality movements for women, Native Americans, Latinos, homosexuals and other minority groups. Many prominent leaders were assassinated. Protests and riots erupted across the country against wars, politics, injustice or anything else. Those who felt themselves at odds with mainstream culture in the Western world became known as the hippies.

1961 - The United States launched the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, an attempt to train Cuban refugees to overthrow the island's communist government.

1962 - The United States discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba. The two nations went to the brink of nuclear war before calling a truce in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1965 - The U.S. sent ground troops to Vietnam and intervened in the Dominican Republic, fearing a communist takeover.

1967 - Israel launched a preemptive airstrike after Egypt massed troops along its border, then defended itself against an expected invasion along three fronts (Egypt, Jordan and Syria) in the Six-Day War. Israel won control of territory in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.

1968 - The war in Vietnam took a turn for the worse, shifting U.S. public opinion against it.

1969 - ARPANET, the grandfather of the Internet, was created; the United States put Neil Armstrong on the moon; Yasser Arafat became head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The 1970s and '80s

The 1970s and '80s saw a shift to more conservative politics in many Western nations. Even Mikhail Gorbachev instituted a number of political and economic reforms in the USSR. Soon, revolts against Soviet control began in earnest. Despite some conflicts over the spread of communism into places like Cambodia, Afghanistan and Nicaragua earlier in the time frame, the Cold War finally came to an end.

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