The Truman and Eisenhower Administration
The Truman Administration
President Harry S Truman faced numerous challenges, including the threat of nuclear war abroad and anti-Communist hysteria at home. However, Truman, a plain-spoken, solidly middle-class Midwesterner, was not the man to back down when faced by a challenge: he was stubborn, determined, and steadfast in his convictions.
Truman supported the GI Bill of Rights, which provided money for veterans to go to college, start businesses, or buy farms or houses. Millions of Americans from the lower classes became the first in their families to get a college education; in the past, most college graduates had been wealthy or upper middle class. In effect, this made American society far more democratic than it had previously been. Truman also ended racial segregation in the armed forces and the federal bureaucracy, and supported repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1952. White southern Democrats, outraged by Truman’s support for African Americans, vowed not to vote for him in 1948. Truman campaigned vigorously and, in a major upset in American political history, defeated Thomas A. Dewey by more than two million votes. Truman was one of the few who thought, the day before election day, that he would win; one Chicago newspaper even printed the next day’s early edition with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” without waiting for the official results.
During his second term, Truman proposed the “Fair Deal,” a series of pro- grams modeled on the New Deal. His programs had limited success in a Congress that was no longer as heavily Democratic as it had been under FDR. However, the minimum wage went up and Social Security was expanded to cover millions more people.
The Eisenhower Administration
Popular World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom everyone called “Ike,” was elected president in 1952. Eisenhower described himself as fiscally Republican, but socially Democratic. He reduced the size of the federal bureaucracy and cut farm subsidies, but he also expanded Social Security and unemployment benefits, increased the minimum wage, and increased spending on education.
Until 1949, the United States was the only nation that had the technology to make nuclear weapons. However, Soviet scientists, following the same research path as their Western counterparts, had developed their own bomb by 1949. A nuclear arms race ensued; by 1960, the United States had about five times as many nuclear weapons as the Soviets. Nuclear weapons were enormously expensive, and the U.S. economy thrived under Eisenhower.
The possession of nuclear weapons made both superpowers very cautious. The United States had dropped nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, so the world knew exactly how destructive such weapons were. Neither side in the Cold War wanted to cause a nuclear holocaust. However, both superpowers played key roles in two conventional wars, one in Korea and the other in Vietnam.
The Korean War
Japan had occupied Korea during World War II; during the war, the Soviet Union had fostered a Korean Communist Party within the USSR. In 1945, the victorious Allied leaders agreed to divide Korea geographically. The Soviets occupied the industrial North, which was proclaimed the Korean Democratic People’s Republic under Chairman Kim Il Sung in 1948. Despite its name, North Korea was a one-party Communist state. The Americans occupied the agricultural South, which became the Republic of Korea under President Syngman Rhee in 1949.
The United States and the Soviet Union pulled their armies of occupation out of Korea in 1949 without resolving the tension between the two Koreas, which were bound to clash, given their different systems of government. North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, with the goal of uniting the nation under Communist rule. United Nations forces, primarily Americans, fought on the side of South Korea, while Communist China sent troops to aid the North Koreans.
Eisenhower campaigned on a pledge to end the Korean War. By July 1953, with Eisenhower threatening to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, both sides agreed to an armistice. The terms restored the status quo that had existed before the war: Korea was divided along the 38th parallel, with the northern half under Communist rule and the southern half under democratic rule.
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