Social & Political Developments Since 1945

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  • 0:03 Society and Politics Post-WWII
  • 0:40 Student Activism &…
  • 2:49 Women's Liberation
  • 4:30 Creation of EU
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we examine several social and political developments in the United States and in Western Europe since 1945, from the civil rights movement to the creation of the European Union.

Society and Politics Post-WWII

The great events we study from ancient history were often the results of the actions and motivations of its greatest actors. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Charlemagne are just some of these larger-than-life characters historians study. But as the world has grown more democratic, and individual citizens have gained a greater say over the politics in their own country, grassroots movements have become a large factor in international and domestic politics. These movements were never more important than in the past century, especially after World War II (WWII). The rest of this lesson will detail some of the more important movements of the 20th century.

Student Activism & Civil Rights

After WWII, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, university and college students across the Western world began exercising what power they could to protest the injustices of the world. One of the largest and most vociferous of American student movements was in opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Students across the country disliked the U.S. motives for going to war - that is, stopping the spread of communism.

Furthermore, they felt it was unfair so many men of their own age would be fighting and dying in a war which had little to do with American safety. Student anti-war activism took on an angrier, anti-establishment tone in the 1970s after the Kent State Massacre of May 4th, 1970, when a detachment of the Ohio National Guard fired on student protestors, killing four and wounding nine others.

While students were protesting an unjust war, many of the same students were also fighting against injustices at home. Indeed, the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s were closely linked. Many felt it incredibly unfair that young African American men could go to Vietnam and fight alongside their white compatriots, only to come home and be treated as an underclass by many Southern states that still maintained racial segregation.

February 1960 is often seen as the beginning of the student civil rights movement, when several black students staged the first 'sit-in' at a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth's by sitting at the white-only lunch counter and refusing to leave until they had been served. The event and the publicity it received touched off numerous sit-ins across the South, and student-based civil rights organizations, such as the famous Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, proliferated across the country. Students often played key roles in many of the famous civil rights marches of the 1960s, such as the famous Selma to Montgomery march to end intimidation of black voters in 1965, where several protestors lost their lives after being beaten by white police and vigilantes.

Women's Liberation

Another area which required a grassroots movement to encourage change was the role of women in society. Indeed, although women had attained legal equality in the first half of the 20th century in many Western countries, in most they were still socially disadvantaged, especially in the workplace. In conjunction with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, women's equal status in society began to be legislated into existence, and other advances further gave women greater control over their own lives and their own bodies.

One of these occurred in 1960 when the first daily, oral contraceptive hit the market, known colloquially as 'the pill.' The pill gave women total control over their own fertility, allowing them to plan their lives accordingly. Women pursuing an exciting career or degree no longer had to postpone their lives to have children; now they could decide when having children was most appropriate for them while still enjoying their sexual freedom.

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