Readjustment & Recovery After WWII

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  • 0:02 Post-War America
  • 0:39 Economic Adjustments
  • 2:08 Soldiers & Citizens
  • 4:43 America & the World
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

World War II changed quite a lot in American society. In this lesson, we'll see how the United States attempted to adjust to all of this change, both at home and abroad.

Post-War America

We often see 1945 as the end of World War II. However, Americans of 1945 weren't just faced with readjusting and recovering from a four-year conflict, they were recovering from nearly 20 years of depression. The end of WWII represented the final end of the Great Depression and the chance for Americans to prove that their economy had recovered enough to survive in peacetime. There were a lot of changes Americans had to adjust to, and they were excited to do it.

Economic Adjustments

We're going to look at several segments of American society that required readjustment and recovery after 1945, but let's start with the economy. The American economy crashed in 1929, stagnating through the 1930s and was just starting to recover when America entered the war in 1941. As it turned out, however, the war was just the push that the economy needed for full recovery. The government utilized existing factories for wartime production, giving them hefty bonuses on top of government contracts for planes, tanks, and other military supplies. In 1945, these factories began transitioning back into their regular commercial production. However, many were now flush with funds from their government contracts.

In addition, new technologies made it possible to increase production. The time it took to build a car, for example, was cut in half by new technologies and methods. Wartime technological innovations resulted in new products, like synthetic fibers, including nylons, which flooded into commercial markets. Even homes changed, as William Levitt started building the first mass-produced houses in planned communities, called suburbs. With all of this growth, the American economy transitioned from wartime to peacetime with unprecedented speed and ease. It would be enough to fuel a generation of economic growth, and Americans celebrated. The Depression was nothing more than a horrible memory.

Soldiers and Citizens

The economy wasn't the only thing that had transition into peacetime. The American people would as well. This meant different things for different groups. In 1944, Congress passed a series of measures meant to both reward veterans for their service in the war and help integrate them into the peacetime economy. Collectively remembered as the G.I. Bill of Rights, these policies included things like low-interest business loans, easy mortgages, and free college tuition for vets. It was a great opportunity for many, bringing the struggling working class of the Depression into the affluent post-war middle class.

However, not all soldiers saw the same rewards. It's important to remember that America's military and society were segregated throughout World War II. Black soldiers returned from the war as heroes, only to find that segregation had no waned one bit. This prompted another element of readjustment after the war: civil rights. The basis of the Civil Rights Movement was in the lack of equality that black soldiers felt after fighting for their country and being denied the right to participate in post-war growth. Their demand for equality resulted in some of the first victories for civil rights. In 1948, President Truman finally desegregated the U.S. Military.

Women would also face their own period of readjustment in the late 1940s. During the war, women took to all of the positions that men had held, including factory work. It was seen as an act of patriotism, but now that the war was over, the patriotic thing to do was to let the men have their jobs back. This was coupled with a dramatic spike in births, known as the baby boom, as lovers enthusiastically reunited after the end of the war, married, and started families. Altogether, there was a lot of pressure placed on women to leave the workplace and serve the nation now as mothers and housewives, not as independent workers.

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