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A Humorous Account of America's Past: 1945 to 2001

A Humorous Account of America's Past: 1945 to 2001

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A Humorous Account of America's Past: 1945 to 2001

611 pages
13 heures
Apr 27, 2011


In 1945, the United States was the most powerful nation in the world. But an Iron Curtain soon surrounded Eastern Europe, and by 1950, Americans were fighting in Korea. In 1952, I Like IKE! swept the nation, and the Fabulous Fifties began. GM sold the most cars, gas was 29 cents a gallon, and a new house cost $9,000. In 1955, following President Eisenhowers mild heart attack, Americas favorite sick joke had Vice President Dick Nixon greeting Ike at the White House by saying, Welcome back. . . May I race you up the stairs?

The Fabulous Fifties of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley gave way to riots, Hippies, and The Beatles during the Radical Sixties. The 1960s began with JFKs New Frontier, grew into LBJs Great Society and the Vietnam War, and ended with Nixons Silent Majority and men on the moon. Soon, Nixon resigned, Ford stumbled, Carters brother sold Billy Beer, and the star of Bedtime for Bonzo led the popular Reagan Revolution. In 1989, Reagans Evil Empire collapsed. Soon, George Bush was victorious over Iraq and Panama, and lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton was eventually impeached, and was later replaced by another Bush. Want more details? Read my book.

Apr 27, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

Dr. Stanley earned masters' degrees from Long Beach State and Whittier College and an Ed.D. from Pepperdine University. He taught American History and Government at the high school and adult school levels before becoming a high school administrator. He recently retired after many years as a successful adult school principal. Also by Richard T. Stanley, Ed.D. Lessons of American History A Humorous Account of America's Past: 986 to 1898 A Humorous Account of America's Past: 1898 to 1945 A Humorous Account of America's Past: 1945 to 2001

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A Humorous Account of America's Past - Richard T. Stanley



Humorous Account


America’s Past:

1945 to 2001

Richard T. Stanley

iUniverse, Inc.


Copyright © 2011 Richard T. Stanley

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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ISBN: 978-1-4620-1031-8 (pbk)

ISBN: 978-1-4620-1030-1 (ebk)

Printed in the United States of America

iUniverse rev. date: 4/11/2011

This book is dedicated to my high school U.S. History and American Literature teacher, Mr. Robert E. Ciriello. Mr. Ciriello kindled in me a life-long love of history, literature, and politics.



Part I The Cold War: 1945 to 1989

Chapter I The Man From Independence

I. The Dawn of the Atomic Age

II. Harry Who?

III. Truman’s Reconversion Plan

IV. The Long Telegram

V. The G.I. Bill

VI. The Truman Doctrine

VII. The Marshall Plan

VIII. The Taft-Hartley Act

VIII. Civil Rights, the National Security Act, And Recognition of Israel

X. The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

XI. The Election of 1948

History as Humorist The Man From Independence

Chapter II The Fair Deal

I. Bess and Margaret

II. The Fair Deal


IV. Soviet Spies

V. The Korean War

VI. MacArthur’s Farewell

VII. The Election of 1952

History as Humorist The Fair Deal

Chapter III 1953

I. I Like IKE!

II. Happy Days

III. Sports

IV. Songs, Books, and Other Stuff

V. Hollywood Movies

VI. The Golden Age of Television

VII. The Hay Day of Detroit

History as Humorist 1953

Chapter IV A West Pointer in the White House

I. Eisenhower’s First Inaugural Address

II. Eisenhower’s Cabinet

III. The Dulles Brothers

IV. McCarthyism

V. Brown v. Board of Education

VI. Waterways, Highways, and Education

VII. The Election of 1956

History as Humorist A West Pointer in the White House

Chapter V Ike’s Last Tour of Duty

I. The Eisenhower Doctrine

II. Little Rock Central High School

III. Sputnik 1 and Explorer I

IV. The John Birch Society

V. Fidel Castro – The George Washington of Cuba

VI. Alaska – The Last Frontier

VII. Hawaii – Paradise of the Pacific

VIII. The Sherman Adams Affair

IX. The U-2 Affair

X. The Election of 1960

XI. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

History as Humorist Ike’s Last Tour of Duty

Chapter VI A Thousand Days

I. Camelot

II. The New Frontier

III. The Peace Corps

IV. The Bay of Pigs

V. The Berlin Wall

VI. The Space Race

VII. The Cuban Missile Crisis

VIII. The Civil Rights March on Washington

IX. Tragedy in Dallas

History as Humorist A Thousand Days

Chapter VII The Great Society


II. The War on Poverty

III. The Civil Rights Act of 1964

IV. Landslide Lyndon

V. Lady Bird

VI. The Gulf of Tonkin

VII. The Warren Commission Report

VIII. The Election of 1964

History as Humorist The Great Society

Chapter VIII Civil Rights and Vietnam

I. Happy Days

II. Growing the Great Society

III. Civil Rights vs. Segregation and Hawks vs. Doves

IV. Race Riots

V. Anti-war Protests

VI. The Pueblo Affair

VII. The Tet Offensive

VIII. The Kerner Commission Report

IX. The Assassination of Robert Kennedy

X. The Election of 1968

History as Humorist Civil Rights and Vietnam

Chapter IX From Whittier to the White House

I. Nixon’s First Inaugural Address

II. From Whittier to the White House

III. The Imperial Presidency

IV. Henry Kissinger

V. Tricky Dick

V. The Public Nixon

VI. The Election of 1972

History as Humorist From Whittier to the White House

Chapter X Scandals, Resignations, and Restoration

I. The Fall of Spiro T. Agnew

II. The Fall of Richard M. Nixon

III. In Watergate’s Wake

IV. Gerald R. Ford

V. Nelson A. Rockefeller

VI. The Pardon of Richard Nixon

VII. Roe v. Wade

VIII. The Fall of Saigon

IX. The Election of 1976

History as Humorist Scandals, Resignations, and Restoration

Chapter XI 1976

I. The Bicentennial Celebration

II. America’s Music

III. At the Movies and on TV

IV. The Olympics

V. The American Sports Scene

VI. The Feminist Movement

VII. The Mysterious Howard Hughes

History as Humorist 1976

Chapter XII The Peanut Farmer from Plains

I. Just call me Jimmy

II. Who was Jimmy Carter?

III. Carter’s Inaugural Address

IV. The Burt Lance Scandal

V. Billygate

VI. The Iran Hostage Crisis

VII. Fodder for the Opposition

VIII. The Election of 1980

History as Humorist The Peanut Farmer from Plains

Chapter XIII The Reagan Revolution

I. Supply-side Economics

II. Calvin Coolidge, Hero?

III. The Curse of Entitlements

IV. Reagan’s First Inaugural Address

V. Reaganomics

VI. An Assassination Attempt

VII. A Love Story

VIII. The Evil Empire

IX. Star Wars

X. Gays, Guns, and God

XI. The Election of 1984

History as Humorist The Reagan Revolution

Chapter XIV The Age of Ronald Reagan

I. The Great Communicator

II. Rawhide’s Ranch

III. Reagan’s Second Inaugural Address

IV. A Second American Revolution

V. Reagan and Gorbachev

VI. The Challenger Tragedy

VII. The Iran-Contra Scandal

VIII. Bush vs. Dukakis

History as Humorist The Age of Ronald Reagan

Chapter XV 1989

I. The Collapse of the Evil Empire

II. The Tiananmen Square Massacre

III. The World Series Earthquake

IV. The Invasion of Panama

History as Humorist 1989

A Brief Summary of The Cold War: 1945 to 1989

Part II Pax Americana: 1989 to 2001

Chapter I The Transition Years: From Cold War to Peace

I. The Savings and Loan Scandal

II. George H.W. Bush’s Inaugural Address

III. The First Grandmother

IV. The Exxon Valdez Disaster

V. The Junk Bond Scandal

VI. The Americans With Disabilities Act

VII. Operation Desert Storm

VIII. Collapse of the Soviet Union

IX. The Los Angeles Riots

X. The Election of 1992

History as Humorist The Transition Years: From Cold War to Peace

Chapter II Peace and Change

I. Slick Willie

II. The Inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton

III. The First One Hundred Days

IV. Whitewater

V. Hairgate

VI. Travelgate

VII. Troopergate

VIII. Taming the Shrew

IX. Presidential Duties and Paula Jones

X. Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America

XI. The Comeback Kid

XII. The Oklahoma City Bombing

XIII. Shutdown of the Federal Government

XIV. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta

XV. The Downfall of Dick Morris

XVI. The O. J. Simpson Trial

XVII. The Election of 1996

History as Humorist Peace and Change

Chapter III Scandal and Impeachment

I. The Constitution on Impeachment

II. Who Was Monica Lewinsky?

III. Clinton’s Second Inaugural Address

III. Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

V. President Clinton’s Impeachment

VI. The Senate Trial

VII. Hillary’s Run for the Senate

VIII. Clinton’s Last Years in Office

IX. The Disputed Election of 2000

X. A Nation Divided

History as Humorist Scandal and Impeachment

Chapter IV 9 – 11

I. His Fraudulency

II. The Bush Dynasty

III. The Education President

IV. The Toxic Texan

V. Debt of Honor

VI. September 11, 2001

History as Humorist 9 – 11

A Brief Summary of Pax Americana: 1989 to 2001



A Humorous Account of America’s Past: 1945 to 2001 is the third volume in my seven-part history of the United States. All three volumes have been labors of love, and together, they represent a promise that I made to myself that I have finally fulfilled. A Humorous Account of America’s Past is based more upon over forty years of study as an avid reader and student of history than on some earned pedigrees in American History. My doctorate is in institutional management, and I retired after thirty-six years in public education.

A comfortable retirement (and my understanding wife) has afforded me the opportunity to research and write about America’s Past. My primary sources come from my own personal library of over 8,000 books. One of those books is Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. One of their more provocative conclusions was this: "There is no humorist like history." I wrote A Humorous Account of America’s Past with the intent of making dead people, places, and events come back to life by enhancing its content with occasional humor. For example, in A Humorous Account of America’s Past: 986 to 1898 (2009), I maintain that America was discovered in 986 A.D. by a few drunken Norwegians who got lost in the fog while sailing to Greenland; had they established a permanent settlement, we Americans might be living today in the United States of Wine-Land. In 1492, Columbus gave the men of San Salvador shiny glass beads, and their women gave his crew syphilis. Who took advantage of whom?

If not for the defeat of the Spanish Armada in the English Channel in 1588, America today would likely be Spanish and Catholic. Early English explorers were pirates of the Caribbean, and early American colonists were illegal immigrants. The first English colony in America was structured a lot like General Motors is today, and the husband of Pocahontas was responsible for lung cancer and slavery in the South. And the greatest book ever written on democracy in America was penned in 1835 by a French aristocrat. More recently, in 1898, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders had to run up San Juan Hill because someone forgot to transport their horses from Florida to Cuba.

In A Humorous Account of America’s Past: 1898 to 1945 (2010), I point out that the United States became an empire in 1898 by accident due to our splendid little war against Spain. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the most famous men in America were not athletes or politicians; they were inventors and businessmen like Bell, Edison, Morgan, and Rockefeller. Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet was actually grey. Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 because "He Kept Us Out of War!" World War I began as a family feud between European cousins named Georgie (England), Willie (Germany), and Nicky (Russia). The War to end all wars set the stage for World War II. America’s first female President was Edith Wilson, and our first Black President was possibly Warren Harding. Aside from Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Sigmund Freud, Emily Post, or Sinclair Lewis’ novels and Hollywood’s movies, President Calvin Coolidge personified the Roaring Twenties. Herbert Hoover, the Great Humanitarian, was elected in a landslide in 1928, only to become America’s most vilified President.

Following The Great War, Benito Mussolini became the Father of Fascism and was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the continuing Great Depression after the Election of 1932, FDR’s New Deal and his fireside chats helped us survive Hoovervilles, but it took World War II to end the Depression. Prior to December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was the U.S. Navy’s favorite duty station. Back in Europe, Adolf Hitler actually did roll on the floor and chew on the edge of carpets from time to time when he felt stressed. And two atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities in August 1945 to save lives.

In A Humorous Account of America’s Past: 1945 to 2001, we can chortle over the fact that the S in Harry S. Truman wasn’t just his middle initial – it was his middle name. Or that due to an admissions clerk’s mistake at West Point, David Dwight Eisenhower became forever known as Dwight D. Eisenhower. Or that gasoline in America cost twenty cents (or less) per gallon in 1953. Following President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955, one of the nation’s most popular sick jokes had Ike’s ambitious Vice President, Richard Nixon, greeting him at the entrance to the White House by saying, "We’re all glad to have you back home, Mr. President. Can I race you up the stairs? We can also laugh at old tapes showing Ed Sullivan introducing one of his many guests on his popular CBS Television Sunday evening variety show in 1959, Fidel Castro, as The George Washington of Cuba! Or we can laugh at popular entertainer Dean Martin’s famous 1960’s line that his pal, President Kennedy, was going to appoint him Secretary of Liquor. Or that one of the CIA’s top spooks," Richard Bissell – their man in charge of a covert operation to kill Castro – grew up in the same Connecticut mansion in which Mark Twain had written Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Or that the head of the Chicago mob, Sal Giancana, and the President of the United States, John Kennedy, shared the same party girl, Judith Exner. To many cynical voters in 1964, the Presidential contest of Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon Johnson was a choice between a kook and a crook. Who says Crime never pays? And those devout 1960’s nonconformists called Hippies? They wore mandatory love beads to fit-in.

Did you know that Dick Nixon’s nickname while he attended Whittier High School was Gloomy Gus? Or that Nixon financed his first political campaign in California by using his World War II G.I. poker winnings? Or that Nixon was the first President to literally talk to the man on the moon?

Did you know that Lyndon Johnson often claimed that President Gerald Ford, in his youth, had played in too many Big Ten football games for Michigan without a helmet? Or that First Lady Betty Ford’s maiden name was Betty Bloomer? Or that Jimmy Carter once said, "It’s about time we had a President without a funny accent?"

In 1976, the average American could name more college football coaches than they could name United States Senators. In the midst of the Cold War against the Reds in Russia and China, America’s best baseball team was proudly called The Big Red Machine. And pro-football’s Super Bowl MVP for 1976 was a tough-as-nails guy named Swann. And billionaire Howard Hughes’ Aircraft Company was a tax-exempt charity.

Jimmy Carter was a senior at Plains High School in Georgia when Ronald Reagan, Hollywood movie star, played the dying Notre Dame halfback George Gipp in the football classic, Knute Rockne – All American. Did Jimmy Carter, in a darkened theatre watching Reagan on the giant screen, have a clue that he would one day run against The Gipper for President? And lose? Did you know that one of Ronald Reagan’s more controversial acts as President was when he replaced the portrait of Thomas Jefferson in the White House Cabinet Room with one of Calvin Coolidge? Or that Reagan was the first President in American history to be a life-long member of the AFL-CIO? Or that his Secret Service code name was Rawhide?

During the Age of Reagan, the Three-G’s of politics became Gays, Guns, and God. And Vice President George H.W. Bush’s life-long nickname was Poppy. In 1989, while the Soviet Union’s ‘outter empire" was choosing freedom over Mikhail Gorbachev’s brand of communism, Poppy, now President, invaded Panama. American forces soon drove General Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator, from his asylum in the Papal Consulate in Panama City by playing extremely loud rock-‘n-roll music for several days and nights. But charges against the dictator for possession of fifty kilos of cocaine were eventually dropped when the suspected bundles were found to contain tamales.

A fictional weapons system championed by former President Reagan and ridiculed by his critics helped cause the collapse of the God-less Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991. President Bush’s popularity soared during the First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, only to fall in 1992 to Bill Slick Willie Clinton’s cleaver campaign run by his chief political strategist known as the Ragin’ Cajun’, who coined the winning slogan, It’s the ECONOMY, stupid! Bill and Hillary Clinton’s own White House scandals included Whitewater, Hairgate, Travelgate, Troopergate, and the Monica Lewinsky affair. But did you know that it was Hillary who paved the way for Monica’s first White House assignment?

The two most disputed elections in American history – 1824, Adams vs. Jackson, and 2000, Bush vs. Gore – were also the only times that the sons of former Presidents were elected to the nation’s highest office. Many ridiculed the new President, and claimed that his Vice President, Uncle Dick, was really in charge. Some others simply laughed, or called him His Fraudulency, or the Toxic Texan. Then came 9-11. There was nothing humorous about 9-11.

Indeed, not all history is humorous. But what lessons can we learn from the study of America’s past, funny or not? Once upon a time, many years ago, I taught at a new high school in Southern California that was surrounded by old dairy farms and new housing tracts in what is now the City of Cerritos. Back then, Lyndon Johnson was President and the Vietnam War was raging on. One bright and aromatic morning in the middle of my American Government class, a required course for all seniors, one of my students raised his hand and, upon my acknowledgement, asked the rhetorical question, "Why do I have to know this stuff as long as I can make good money milking cows? (We were really into personal relevance back in the 1960’s!) Being fresh out of college, I gave him a quick, smart-ass response in the form of a quote from Santayana’s Life of Reason: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But I also tried to make it clear to him and his classmates that his question had merit. What are some practical Lessons of American History? Government? Economics?

In 2007, I completed a brief book entitled Lessons of American History. Here are some practical statements, or lessons, to refer to when making decisions regarding present and future actions:

• Lesson #1 The Basic Purpose of Government is Protection.

• Lesson #2 When compared to the Economic Systems of Fascism, Socialism, and Communism, CAPITALISM ROCKS!

• Lesson #3 Culture Wars in America are Part of the Democratic Process, and date back to the beginning of our Republic. Why? Because we have the right to disagree.

• Lesson #4 Labels, Slogans, Pamphlets, and Books can be Powerful Motivators for Good or Bad.

• Lesson #5 Money is the Plasma of Politics.

• Lesson #6 Government’s Most Important Power is the Power to Tax.

• Lesson #7 Public Education is the key to Democracy and Success. But what is the purpose of public schools in America? Academic Rationalism? Cognitive Process? Personal Relevance? Social Adaptation? Social Reconstruction? Technological Advance? All of the above? Something else?

• Lesson #8 Freedom and Economics are Magnets for Immigrants. America is the world’s greatest example, ever.

• Lesson #9 Racism is Curable.

• Lesson #10 There are Always More Lessons to Learn.

Lesson #10 completed my 2007 list. Since 2007, while writing A Humorous Account of America’s Past, I have concluded that there are at least four more practical Lessons of American History:

• Lesson #11 Unfunded Federal Mandates can Damage Public Schools and Local Communities No Matter How worthy the Cause.

• Lesson #12 Freedom to Choose is the Foundation of America’s Greatness.

• Lesson #13 Beware of The Cycle of Democracy: From Bondage to Faith; from Faith to Courage; from Courage to Liberty; from Liberty to Abundance; from Abundance to Complacency; from Complacency to Apathy; from Apathy to Dependency; and from Dependency back to Bondage.

• Lesson #14 We Americans, including most of our elected leaders, believe we are answerable to a Higher Power.

Whether you agree or disagree, please read A Humorous Account of America’s Past with an open mind. Just like my former cow-milking student’s question asked in all its rhetorical splendor many years ago, America’s Past has merit. Enjoy.

A Humorous Account of America's Past

Part I The Cold War: 1945 to 1989

Chapter I The Man From Independence

I. The Dawn of the Atomic Age

America had been rudely roused from its relatively isolated slumber on Sunday, December 7, 1941, as a result of the Empire of Japan’s surprise attack on America’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared to a special session of Congress the very next day, December 7, 1941, will be forever a date which will live in infamy… Less that four years later, after countless heroic and Herculean efforts against both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, the United States of America emerged as the most powerful nation on earth in a new and terrifying Atomic Age. What would the future hold for us, our allies, and the world?

Harry S. Truman, the newly-sworn President following FDR’s untimely death on April 12, 1945, gave the order to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, approximately one hundred and forty thousand people died in little more than the blink of an eye. When an obviously defeated Japan still refused to surrender, Truman dropped a bomb on Nagasaki. This time, reason prevailed – Japan surrendered unconditionally. Truman would later bear the brunt of much hindsight criticism for the so-called murder of innocent civilians. Was Truman a murderer? Yes. He knowingly ordered the use of atomic weapons against innocent civilians to save lives – American and Japanese.

Harry Truman, as a good Baptist, no doubt feared the wrath of God. As a savvy politician and a dedicated patriot, he also feared the wrath of his fellow Americans. As a believer in representative government, he knew that the American people would have never forgiven him had he chosen not to use the ultimate weapon Roosevelt had dreamed of to end the war. Certainly the well-known phrase, "Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t!" no doubt entered his mind more than once prior to his fateful decision to drop the bomb. His alternatives? General George C. Marshall, the Army’s Chief of Staff, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, his close advisor James Byrnes, Admiral William Leahy, and General Henry Hap Arnold all advised President Truman that millions more would die – and the war would drag on through 1946 – unless he gave the order to launch the Atomic Age. Nothing less shocking would force the fanatical Japanese to surrender!¹ His alternatives – blockade and starvation or invasion – would both cost far more time and precious lives. Besides, Japan had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor without warning while peace negotiations were being held. The Japanese were responsible for the mass bombing of civilians in Manila and the prolonged torture of American prisoners-of-war during the Bataan Death March. Japanese soldiers had doused captured American airmen with gasoline and burned them alive on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The Japanese were fanatics who glorified suicidal, kamikaze attacks. They still occupied much of China and Korea with millions of troops. Their home islands had millions more – all willing to fight to the death. And, in spite of Japan’s recent defeats, over one-half of all the American casualties in the Pacific war had occurred during April, May, June, and July of 1945. The weaker Japan had gotten, the deadlier she had become. To Truman and his advisors, the alternatives to the bomb failed the smell test. When Japan suddenly surrendered on V-J Day, August 14, 1945, most of the world rejoiced following a collective sign of relief. And President Truman was spared the responsibility for dropping a third bomb.

America and her Allies – including Great Britain and the Soviet Union – had won the war. But only the most optimistic and the least informed believed that the world had finally been made safe for democracy (the reason Americans had fought in World War I). Much of Eurasia was now occupied by communist troops led by their dictator, Joseph Stalin. Where was the democracy in that? And, from the strictly geopolitical sense, Britain’s Sir Halford Mackinder, in his famous Heartland Theory, warned in 1942 that, He who rules East Europe rules the Heartland, and he rules the Heartland may soon rule the world.² In 1943, a former Professor of International Relations at America’s Yale University, Nicholas J. Spykman, took Mackinder’s Heartland theory a step farther. According to Spykman, prior to his death in 1944, the key to Soviet world-dominance was not the Heartland; it was the Heartland (the USSR and Eastern Europe) and the Rimland – most of Western Europe, the Middle East, India, and China.³ Spykman’s Rimland theory scared the hell out of serious American geopolitical strategists even before the end of the war. What if the Soviets gained control of the Rimland? Adios.

As a new and terrifying Atomic Age began, the sixty-four dollar question became, Would the Free World and the Soviet Union be able to coexist in peace? Two relative Unknowns, President Harry S. Truman and Prime Minister Clement Attlee, had replaced Roosevelt and Churchill at Potsdam. Were the new leaders of the Free World up to the enormous and potentially deadly challenges Joseph Stalin and his rapidly growing Soviet Empire would surely pose? To be even more blunt, Could Harry Truman handle the heat?

II. Harry Who?

Love him or hate him, Franklin D. Roosevelt had dominated the American political landscape since 1932. First, as political leader of his party and his New Deal, and then, as the result of the uniting affect of Pearl Harbor, the military commander of the Free World, FDR was never more powerful than he was in April 1945. Then suddenly, he was gone. Much of the world mourned his passing. And just as suddenly, the leader of the Free World was, Harry Who?

Who was Harry S. Truman? S wasn’t just his middle initial – it was his middle name. S was all he had. In the case of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his D was for Delano – a famous patrician name in up-state New York. Except for their mutual loyalty to Roosevelt’s New Deal, the two men could not have differed more. Roosevelt was born rich; Truman never became rich. Roosevelt was a child of the Eastern aristocracy who spent much of his childhood in Europe; Truman grew up down on the farm and in tiny Independence, MO – once the Gateway to the Santa Fe Trail. Roosevelt led a life of luxury and privilege with style; Truman struggled financially most of his life. Roosevelt graduated from Harvard; Truman graduated from high school. Roosevelt avoided books; Truman devoured them. Roosevelt had a roving eye; Truman was a monogamist. Roosevelt always had a zest for politics; Truman once studied to become a concert pianist. Roosevelt had a history of clashing with big-city political bosses; Truman had been a loyal soldier in the notorious Pendergast Machine of Kansas City. As President, Roosevelt felt right at home in the crumbling and dowdy White House; Truman had it rebuilt and redecorated. Roosevelt cared little about his clothes; Truman always looked like a salesman in a prosperous, mid-western men’s clothing store (he once owned one until it failed). During his long career in public service, Roosevelt was nearly always the masterful politician – calculating, circumspect, circuitous, Machiavellian – and a marvelous public speaker. As a public servant, Truman was friendly, direct, and likeable – sometimes blunt. Truman was, at this best, an average public speaker. He was often loyal to a fault, fiercely partisan, and generally honest. His motto as President? The Buck Stops Here! Harry S. Truman was no Franklin D. Roosevelt. But could he do the job?

III. Truman’s Reconversion Plan

Following the widely-broadcast Japanese surrender ceremonies led by General Douglas MacArthur on board the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, President Truman would have done well had he taken a page out of former President Warren Harding’s post-war political playbook and called for a return to normalcy. Instead, Truman chose the nanny-state approach. He proposed a massive government intrusion into domestic matters. In the fall of 1945, most Americans still held on to a loving memory of FDR as the happy warrior. But they were sick of foreign wars and domestic reforms. Instead of sensing America’s malaise towards reform, Truman sent a highly ambitious (and, to many, radical) set of domestic proposals to Congress in September 1945. Many members of Congress were shocked.

While both houses of Congress in September 1945 were still controlled by the Democrats, many of those Democrats were Southern conservatives who, over time, had come to oppose much of FDR’s New Deal domestic agenda, just as an earlier Congress had come to oppose President Wilson’s New Freedom reforms and his League of Nations following World War I. Many of America’s defense workers and most G.I.’s returning from the battlefields of Europe and Asia wanted to go back to a kinder, gentler time. Get married. Raise families. Buy homes. Forget poverty, death, and destruction. Live normal lives. And to hell with wars and reforms! President Truman, eager to lead the nation into a war-free future through Federally-controlled Domestic Reconversion, could not have misjudged the public’s mood more than when he quickly issued his twenty-one point Reconversion Plan to Congress. To the amazement of his former colleagues in the Senate, it seemed that President Truman was not only trying to carry on with Roosevelt’s New Deal; he was trying to out-do-it in one fell swoop with twenty-one proposals, including Federal aid for a million homes per year, higher taxes, an immediate increase in the minimum wage, and continued Federal control of business and industry. Why? In the Congress that fall, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats rebelled, and Truman’s honeymoon as the new President ended with a thud. Of Truman’s twenty-one proposals, one survived: His proposal that the government should be responsible for maintaining full employment. On February 20, 1946, President Truman signed the Full Employment Act, which created the Council of Economic Advisors to ensure high national employment and a robust economy.

IV. The Long Telegram

By early 1946, the kindly Uncle Joe Stalin of the Potsdam Conference of April 1945 was beginning to show his true colors. Rather than allow free elections and self-determination to those nations liberated from Nazi tyranny by the Red Army – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and East Germany – as agreed upon by the Allied Powers, Soviet military occupation became permanent across Eastern Europe. As Winston Churchill would later point out in his famous (and, at the time, highly controversial) speech in Fulton, Missouri, it was as if an Iron Curtain had dropped, trapping these Eastern European nations within the Soviet orbit as communist satellites – colonies for a new Czarist Russia.⁴ At Potsdam, the only time Truman and Stalin met face-to-face, Truman liked Stalin. He saw Stalin as bright, kindly, thoughtful, and, at five-feet-four, a man of his word – far different from the murderous monster he had been warned about. Truman believed the two could make progress together towards world peace. Conversely, Stalin thought Truman was simply inferior to Roosevelt. To Stalin, Truman was a putz.

Harry Truman, a man whose ancestral roots were grounded in the show-me state, stubbornly clung to his initial assessment of Stalin as someone he could trust. For months after his closest foreign policy advisors on the Soviet Union, including our Ambassador to Russia, Averell Harriman, and his chargé d’affaires in Moscow, George Kennan, had steadfastly warned him otherwise, Truman held firm in his personal assessment of Stalin’s character. He was O.K. Then, on February 22, 1946, George Kennan sent an eight-thousand-word classified document that has come to be known as the Long Telegram to Ambassador Harriman at the State Department in Washington, D.C. In short, here is what the scholarly Kennan concluded:

• Stalin was a thug who could not be trusted.

• The communists in the Kremlin utilized the same modus operandi as the old czars: Conceal internal weakness and corruption by emphasizing external military expansion to keep Mother Russia secure from her foreign enemies.

• The Soviet Union was a neurotic empire that believed peaceful coexistence with the United States was impossible.

• As a result of the Soviet’s position, the only way to coexist with Stalin, his Kremlin buddies, and their neurotic worldview was through strength. America must get tough. America must contain them in a Cold War, or risk World War III.

Ambassador Harriman shared Kennan’s Long Telegram with Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. Forrestal, who later became America’s first Secretary of Defense in 1947, believed that Kennan’s thesis was so accurate and profound that he shared it with President Truman and distributed copies to all those responsible for foreign and military affairs. Kennan’s Long Telegram soon became the basis for America’s Cold War strategy of containment for the next four decades, from President Truman’s administration through that of George H.W. Bush and the final collapse of the Soviet Empire on Christmas Day, 1991.

V. The G.I. Bill

By mid 1946, the armed forces of the United States, in a return to normalcy, had been reduced from over twelve million to approximately three million men and women. By 1947, their numbers bottomed out at one-and-one-half million in uniform around the world. Meanwhile, at home, the so-called G.I. Bill (officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) was in full swing. The G.I. Bill provided many benefits to veterans of World War II, including medical treatment at veterans’ hospitals, vocational rehabilitation, unemployment compensation, low-cost mortgages for homes, and government stipends for veterans enrolled at colleges, universities, and trade schools. Millions of servicemen (and women) took advantage of the G.I. Bill. Home ownership rose, and America’s average college population suddenly grew older – and some said, more serious – by several years. Suddenly, over one million G.I.’s were enrolled in colleges across the country. Many public institutions exploded in size, while the more expensive private colleges scrambled to keep pace.

VI. The Truman Doctrine

America’s momentary monopoly on atomic weapons (secrets shared with British and Canadian scientists who were part of the highly-classified Manhattan Project), did little to lessen fears that the Russians might get the bomb. While some Americans still viewed Joseph Stalin as our kindly old uncle and ally, many more – including our President – had come to realize the threat posed to peace by what Churchill had called the Iron Curtain. By 1946, it was becoming increasingly clear that hundreds of millions of people had survived the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe only to fall under harsh Soviet rule. Through little or no fault of their own, they had simply traded tyrants – the jackboots of the Germans for the jackboots of the Russians. In this humorless exchange, there was nothing to laugh about, unless one delights in leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

On December 20, 1945, by a vote of 65 to 7 in the Senate and 344 to 15 in the House, the Congress of the United States passed the United States Participation Act, making the United States a part of the United Nations. Optimism was still in the air. Soon, however, the American public became increasingly alarmed that the Soviet Union, a fellow member of the UN and a permanent member of its Security Council, would learn the secret of how to make an atomic bomb. In the Congressional elections of November 1946, many Democrats, including President Truman, were accused of being soft on communism. Republicans gained thirteen new seats in the Senate and fifty-five new seats in the House, giving the Republican Party a solid majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since Herbert Hoover had begun his Presidency.

On July 4, 1946, President Harry S. Truman granted the Philippines their independence. His action on the date of our own Declaration of Independence gave a strong signal to the world that the United States had no intent to maintaining a foreign empire. The Soviet Union made no such gesture. Instead, Soviet-backed communist forces were actively threatening the sovereignty of Greece and Turkey. Stalin was attempting to expand Russia’s Rimland by adding Greece and Turkey to his newly acquired collection of satellite nations. Great Britain, physically and financially drained following World War II, had been helping both Greece and Turkey to resist the communists. The British informed President Truman in early 1947 that they could no longer afford to continue their active support of these two strategic nations – keys to the control of the Mediterranean and the gateway to the Middle East. Greece, the ancient cradle of democracy, and Turkey, the once-proud seat of the Ottoman Empire, were in eminent danger of disappearing behind the Iron Curtain and into the grasp of the Russians. He who rules the Rimland soon rules the world, Spykman had warned. Truman knew he must act.

On March 12, 1947, President Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress and urged approval of his plan to come to the aid of Greece and Turkey, and to help finance the defense of all free states against attacks by totalitarian regimes, including terrorist activities led by communists. Congress quickly granted his request, and the Truman Doctrine was soon recognized as a sharp new turn to the right in American foreign policy – a policy of containment directed toward the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine became the worldwide equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine, and our major strategy for combating the Cold War. To further silence those who claimed he was soft on communism, President Truman also issued an executive order on March 21, 1947, that required a loyalty investigation of all three million Federal employees, including a search of FBI files, military and naval intelligence files, House Committee on un-American Activities files, local law-enforcement files, and former employers’ files. Some critics called it a Witch-Hunt. Many more believed the Loyalty Oath was a necessity in such a dangerous time. Communists should not be government employees.

VII. The Marshall Plan

President Harry S. Truman had four different men serve as Secretary of State during his two administrations: Edward R. Stettinius, James F. Byrnes, George C. Marshall, and Dean G. Acheson. But it was George C. Marshall, serving Truman and the nation from January 1947 to January 1949, who helped save Western Europe from communism by spearheading its post-war economic recovery through his Marshall Plan. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State Marshall was the featured speaker at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony. While most commencement addresses are soon forgotten, the speech given by Secretary Marshall that day was more than memorable – the plan he suggested would soon save Europe, and make much of Germany a genuine ally.

Secretary of State Marshall was fully aware of the extent of the physical destruction caused by the Allied Armies and the retreating Germans during World War II. As Chief of Staff of the Army under President Roosevelt and an active participant in all the major Allied war-strategy conferences – Casablanca, Québec, Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam – he shared direct responsibility for much of that destruction. Marshall informed the graduates that it was now time to rebuild Western Europe – including Germany. According to Marshall, a free, peaceful, and prosperous Europe was essential to world peace and was in America’s own best interest. A European Recovery Program was absolutely necessary.⁵ As he told the graduates,

The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next 3 or 4 years of foreign food and other essential products – principally from America – are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character.

The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole. The manufacturer and the farmer throughout wide areas must be able and willing to exchange their products for currencies the continuing value of which is not open to question.

Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured place. Our policy is directed not against any county or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.

* * * * * * *

… It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe. The role of this country should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of later support of such a program so far as it may be practical for us to do so. The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all European nations.

If Europe devised a cooperative, long-term rebuilding program, the United States would help fund it.

Great Britain and France called for representatives of other European nations, including the Soviet Union, to attend the European Economic Recovery Conference in Paris. The Russians, however, soon left the conference after the United States insisted on an open accounting of how funds would be spent. The bulk of American funds later went to Great Britain, France, Italy, and West Germany (the Russians had isolated East Germany from the rest of the country) in that order. By the end of the decade, Western Europe’s industrial production, thanks to the Marshall Plan, exceeded pre-war levels.

Perhaps most important of all, the generosity of the Marshall Plan affected the German psyche with positive results. For decades, French apologists for the many needless deaths caused by the Emperor Napoleon’s wars of conquest could always rationalize his excesses by citing the fact that Napoleon was Corsican, not French. Likewise, German apologists for Hitler’s Third Reich could claim that Hitler was really Austrian, not German.⁶ Both arguments were factual (if irrelevant). But the most haunting, overwhelming fact of all always remained: The French chose to follow Napoleon, and the Germans chose to follow Hitler! Most Frenchmen still glorify Napoleon. In Germany today, the antithesis is true: Hitler is hated. Thanks in part to the Marshall Plan (and to the horrors of the Holocaust), Germany’s post-war youth branded Hitler a demonic monster whose brand of National Socialism was evil. Period. Hitler was evil. Period. Post-war Germans in general decided to move on to a better future via a democratic, free economy, much to the chagrin of the Soviets. Soon, East Germans (and other captive populations) trapped behind the Iron Curtain risked arrest, and even death, to escape to the West. So great had the contrast between life in the East and the West become that the Soviets were reduced to the use of armed force to keep their people in.

VIII. The Taft-Hartley Act

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 had been a major victory for organized labor and had solidified union support for FDR, the New Deal, and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. While the Congress remained under the Democrats’ control, labor unions would hold the upper hand in labor-management disputes. The Republican-controlled 80th Congress of 1947 changed all that. The Taft-Hartley Act of June 23, 1947, passed over President Truman’s veto, placed strict limitations on the conduct of labor unions in labor-management disputes. The Taft-Hartley Act (also called the Labor-Management Act of 1947) included the following: The Taft-Hartley Act

• Banned the closed shop.

• Permitted employers to sue unions for breaking contracts.

• Prohibited unions from contributing to political campaigns.

• Required unions to give sixty days’ notice before striking.

Republicans hailed the Taft-Hartley Act as a victory for free-enterprise and the American people. President Truman called it a slave-labor bill. America’s labor unions immediately launched a campaign to overturn the act.

VIII. Civil Rights, the National Security Act, And Recognition of Israel

On June 29, 1947, Harry S. Truman became the first President of the United States to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). While Truman’s appearance before the NAACP on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial angered many Southern Democrats, his support of civil rights won him nearly all of the so-called Black vote in the upcoming 1948 Presidential election. Meanwhile, the President’s Commission on Civil Rights actively lobbied against segregated schools, job discrimination, racial restrictions on mortgages, and for anti-lynching laws and anti-poll tax laws, further alienating segregationist Southern Democrats.

On July 26, 1947, the Democratic President and the Republican Congress both agreed on the passage of the National Security Act. The National Security Act of 1947 created the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States Air Force (separate from the Army Air Force), and the Cabinet position of Secretary of Defense. The act represented a major reorganization and expansion of the Federal Government to counteract the threat of Soviet global expansion.

The history of the modern nation of Israel did not begin in British-controlled Palestine; it began in Basel, Switzerland. It was in Basel in 1897 that Theodore Horzl, the father of modern Zionism, called for the establishment of a legal homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. As the Zionist movement grew, so did the Jewish population of Palestine. The region’s predominantly Arab population opposed both British rule and the growing Zionist movement, resulting in an unsuccessful three-year Arab revolt (1936-39) on the eve of World War II. During the war, as a result of Adolf Hitler’s policies of persecution and liquidation of Europe’s Jews, Zionist demands for a new Jewish homeland in Palestine increased. Tel Aviv became Palestine’s largest city. Increasing violence from both Jews and Arabs against British rule caused the British, exhausted by World War II, and spread painfully thin across their global empire, to decide to call it quits in Palestine. In 1947, the British decided to pull out of Palestine by the following year, and asked the United Nations to settle the matter of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The UN, in November 1947, created a two-state solution to the Palestinian question – Palestine would be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Immediately, the Arabs protested the UN’s decision, and civil war broke out between Arabs and Jews. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared itself an independent nation, and the United States immediately recognized it as such. On the very next day, the first Arab-Israeli War broke out when the brand-new state of Israel was attacked by forces from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and by Palestinian Arabs. Against enormous odds, Israel won its War for Independence.

X. The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

At the Potsdam Conference in early August 1945, Berlin – Germany’s largest city and Hitler’s former capital – was divided into four zones of occupation: American, British, French,

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