How did the political environment change? 1945-80

The second Red scare and A climate of fear

The second Red scare followed the Second world war. The USSR joined the USA and its allies toward the end of the war. After the war ended many Eastern European countries occupied y the USSR emerged with Soviet government - increasing fears of communist takeovers in other countries

  • The USSR was spying on the USA and was keen to get hold of atomic weapons 
  • Elizabeth Betley told HUAC she had been part of a Moscow-led spy ring and named other government employees involved
  • Whittaker Chambers told HUAC of more government employees involved with Moscow
  • The trials of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were especially high-profile
  • In 1949 China became communist and the USSR held its first nuclear weapon test
  • Truman was accused of not giving enough support to Chiang Kai-Shiek the leader of the Chinese government against the communist rebels 
  • The media began to question whether the government was doing enough to fight communism and protect its citizens 
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Joseph McCarthy and Anti-Communism

  • Between 1950-54 McCarthy headed the 2nd Red Scare and announced he had the names of 205 known communists and when reporters asked him to see the list he pretended to have left it on the plane. The next day he revised the number o 57 and called the senate and change changed the number to 81 
  • The tydings committee was set up to investigate his charges and he led a series of investigations of suspect communists and his apparent conviction carried many ordinary people along with him 
  • The committee issued a majority report saying McCarthys accusations were a muddle of half-truths and lies and these investigations were televised and watched by 20 million people 

Anti-Communism 1954-80

  • The FBI was given powers to investigate people & bring them to be questioned by the HUAC
  • The HUAC was allowed to open letters, tap phone's, and bug offices
  • People had their freedom of speech limited by worries about what would happen if they expressed liberal views
  • In the late 1950s, a third of librarians removed books such as Karl Marx from their shelves
  • When Khrushchev visited the USA he was met with large anti-communist demonstrations
  • Anti-communism united many Republicans and Democrats, not 1 senator supported USSR and China publicly 
  • Groups were set up in the 1950s to press the government to take actions against communism e.g Present danger which set up in 1950 and was reformed in 1976  and had many government advisors as members
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  • The second red scare and violence against black activists, especially in the Deep South, had many people uneasy about the political climate in the USA
  • Kennedy presented a new liberalism and said liberal meant forward thinking and flexible 
  • Liberals were usually educated and middle class and their views might have gotten them into trouble during the Red Scares
  • Liberal politicians produced the idea of positive discrimination for the 5 minorities 
  • The CRA, the Voting reform act, & Johnsons Great society could only pass a liberal congress


  • Hippies wanted to loosen the tight family system & believed in peace and a simple way of life
  • Some smoked dope and supported wider sexual freedom
  • The most famous hippie gathering of the 60s was the Woodstock Festival 1969  (200,000 tickets sold) and up to 500,000 people came and the music was loud and there were drugs
  • Radical Student groups wanted to change society in the USA to produce an equal world
  • The SDS denounced conventional politicians & rejected all forms of bigotry & the Vietnam war
  • The FreeSpeechMovement was a campaign on the university of Calfornia in 1964 and groups peacefully protested
  • In 1970 an Ohio Guardsman shot 4 unarmed students and injured nine at the invasion of Cambodia
  • In the same year a bomb was detonated outside an army research base in Madison killing 1 researcher
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What was the impact of the Second world war on dom

  • The cold war begins
  • WW2 led to US involvement abroad & it wanted to be a leading world power.It was a founding member of the UN in 1945
  • There was ideological difference between the USA nad USSR and this divide soon became a Cold war 
  • Truman told Congress represented a different life to USSR and that the USA needed a policy of containment 
  • This Truman Doctrine was followed by the Marshall plan which aimed to aid war-torn countries to prevent takeover
  • USA was one of the member countries of NATO where members agreed to respond to an attack on any of them
  • Nuclear Defence 
  • Once it became clear that the USSR had nuclear capability the US government had to prepare for an attack
  • In the 1950s The Federal defence administration was setup to organise evacuations & give out pamphlets with advice
  • The 1956 interstate act road network was designed for rapid evacuations of cities
  • The arms race and armed services
  • Between 1947 and 1948 the US holding of atomic bombs rose from 13 to 50 & the USSR started making some
  • The creation of a large military force affected domestic economy providing jobs and created hawks/doves
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What was the impact of the Cold War on the preside

The growth of the USA as a Cold War power changed the position of the president in several ways: 

  • The power of the president to go to war or make treaties without Congress grew with USA's involvement with NATO and the UN. Its Nuclear weapons arsenal made it a superpower
  • After the war, the 1947 National security act reorganised US military into the Pentagon.The size of the armed forces was enlarged after 1950 & the president could move armed forces without permission from Congress
  • The national security act created the CIA which reported to the White House, not Congress
  • The existence of nuclear weapons meant a nuclear war without warning and the president had the power to react at once and not wait to ask Congress for permission

After the War, Truman made treaties to place permanent US bases in other countries. He also ordered the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and went to war in Korea without Congress's consent. Later presidents also did this as Kenney didn't tell Congress about the Bay of Bigs invasion 1961)

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What was the impact of the Korean War on domestic

  • North Korea invaded South Korea with help of supplies and advisors from the USSR
  • Truman was concerned to fight a limited war but the war was taking place in context of the Red scare and he wanted to stop calls for all-out war. 
  • He stressed that it wasn't the USA going to war but the UN and was just UN police action. 
  • There were 260,000 troops and never more than 35,000 from the other 15 countries
  • MacArthur was in charge of the war in Korea and he criticised Truman's limited war policy and advocated bombings of North Korea. He disobeyed orders (e.g he bombed the bridges, River Yalu)
  • Korea emphasised the way the Cold War shifted presidential attention away from domestic policy and towards international policy. Truman had freedom to act alone in foreign affairs
  •  Many Republican wanted to become an opposition especially after they lost seats in the 1948 elections. Truman key Republicans allies in Congress and Truman's handling of the Korean war gave Republicans their opportunity 
  • One criticism of the Korea war was the cost and defence as spending hit a peak at 14% of US GNP. 
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What was the impact of the Korean war on presidenc

  • The Korean war marked a shift in the way the media dealt with the presidency. When Truman held back from the media because he was unwilling to inflame communist feeling, the media took their information from other sources. Headlines announced the president was considering the atomic bomb and using the draft which weren't true
  • Truman arranged for 200 reporters to go to Korea, however, he found it hard to regain media support for a 'limited' war. This made it hard gain public support as didn't communicate well
  • He had little support when he sacked MacArthur in 1951 despite him disobeying orders
  • When the issues with USSR needed peaceful resolution to avoid a world war hs opponents said this didn't sound like the Truman Doctrine 
  • The behaviour of the various part of the government over the Korean war contributed to the beginnings of disillusionment with the presidency and government in general which deepened under later presidents 
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What was the impact of the Vietnam war on domestic

Spending on the war in Vietnam created defence budget concerns and contributed to rising inflation. It also created a loss of credibility for the presidency as they introduced unpopular (e.g the draft which selected men aged 18-26, one of them being Muhammad ali, to fight in Vietnam and WASP's sent their children abroad to avoid them going to war) 

Who protested against the war 

  • Old, young, black, white and even famous all protested against the war
  • The VVAW began when 6 veterans marched together in a peace demonstration in NYC1967 
  • It soon had membership of over 30,000 and it campaigned to show the horror of the war. Returning veterans returned home with disabilities or stress-related illnesses 

What Role did the media play?

  • Media coverage of the war was intensive as people saw the war up close. Reporters reported shocking stories of soldiers going into battle high on drugs and the massacre of Mai Lai 
  • Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam & broadcasted critism of the way the war was being run.His programme increased public reaction against the war as he was very respected
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What was the impact of the Vietnam war on the pres

  • The conflict in Vietnam cast a shadow over 4 presidencies and drove successive presidents into unpopular domestic policies
  • Protestors against the war in Vietnam in 1968 chanted 'Hey Hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today?'
  • Presidents found themselves involved in a war that a majority of Americans opposed 
  • It was difficult to leave the war without putting South Vietnamese in danger
  • Despite the notion of a 'planned withdrawl' the American people saw footage in 1975 of a shambolic helicopter evacuation of Saigon taking out US citizens and Vietnamese  
  • People were humiliated to have fought a dirty war, lost it and left in such a scramble. Vietnam was the first war that the USA had lost and the first which had been seen by so many people
  • Many people were now likely to look more critically at the role and behaviour of the president in future wars. 
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Why did confidence in government decline, 1968-80

  • Many historians see the 60s as the decade when Americans came to lost their faith in their president and government. In 1960, 70% if Americans said they trusted their president and this dropped to 40% in 1974. There were several factors in the decline of confidence in presidency:
  • Media: People had wider access to the media than in earlier years. Under Roosevelt, the media saw their jobs as explaining policies.From 1953, Truman mishandled the media and criticism grew. From 1968, the media came increasingly to see their job as uncovering government deception. 
  • Scandal: Public confidence was shaken by evidence they couldn't trust the government. The Watergate scandal showed that Nixon was guilty of burglary and surveillance of political opponents. Tapes of discussions in the White House showed Nixon badly as he swore and was suspicious of everyone. Confidence hit rock bottom. 
  • Mishandling of events: The government could not avoid responsibility for the conduct of the war in Vietnam.As the media exposed government mishandling of the war, public opposition grew. 
  • Social factors: Violent police reaction to protests and the level of violence spread across the country. There were riots i cities following the death of MLK and some places like Chicago became notorious for police violence. (1970 national guard killing 4 students) Between 1968 and 80 white class Americans became disillusioned with liberal thinking. They began to feel that the government was not doing enough to help the poor or them
  • The presidents: Johnson put Us troops into Vietnam without Congress approval. Nixons public communication stue was forced and watergate scandal shocked people. Public reaction meant they couldn't trust Ford who pardoned Nixon. Carter was inexperienced and only won support because he was a moral man. However, he made poor decisions and was inflexible. 
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