The United States, 1945-1995

Excerted from An Outline of American History (United States Information Agency, 1994). U. S. Embassy in Stockholm)



The United States dominated global affairs in the years immediately after World War II. Victorious in that great struggle, its homeland undamaged from the ravages of war, the nation was confident of its mission at home and abroad. U.S. leaders wanted to maintain the democratic structure they had defended at tremendous cost and to share the benefits of prosperity as widely as possible. For them, as for publisher Henry Luce of Time magazine, this was the "American Century."

For 20 years, most Americans remained sure of this confident approach. They accepted the need for a strong stance against the Soviet Union in the Cold War that unfolded after 1945. They endorsed the growth of government authority and accepted the outlines of the welfare state, first formulated during the New Deal. They enjoyed the postwar prosperity that created new levels of affluence in the United States.

But gradually some Americans began to question dominant assumptions about American life. Challenges on a variety of fronts shattered the consensus. In the 1950s, African Americans launched a crusade, joined later by other minority groups and women, for a larger share of the American dream. In the 1960s, politically active students protested the nation's role abroad, particularly in the corrosive war in Vietnam, and a youth counterculture challenged the status quo of American values. Americans from many walks of life sought to establish a new equilibrium in the United States.


The Cold War was the most important political issue of the early postwar period. It grew out of longstanding disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1918 American troops participated in the Allied intervention in Russia on behalf of anti-Bolshevik forces. American diplomatic recognition of the Bolshevik regime did not come until 1933. Even then, suspicions persisted. During World War II, however, the two countries found themselves allied and thus ignored their differences to counter the Nazi threat.

At the war's end, antagonisms surfaced again. The United States hoped to share with other countries its conception of liberty, equality and democracy. With the rest of the world in turmoil, struggling with civil wars and disintegrating empires, the nation hoped to provide the stability to make peaceful reconstruction possible. Unable to forget the specter of the Great Depression (1929-1940), America now fostered its familiar position of free trade, and sought to eliminate trade barriers both to create markets for American agricultural and industrial products, and to ensure the ability of West European nations to export as a means to generate economic growth and rebuild their economies. Reduced trade barriers, it was believed, would promote economic growth at home and abroad, and bolster stability with U.S. friends and allies.

The Soviet Union had its own agenda. The Russian historical tradition of centralized, autocratic government contrasted with the American emphasis on democracy. Marxist-Leninist ideology had been downplayed during the war but still guided Soviet policy. Devastated by the struggle in which 20 million Soviet citizens had died, the Soviet Union was intent on rebuilding and on protecting itself from another such terrible conflict. The Soviets were particularly concerned about another invasion of their territory from the west. Having repelled Hitler's thrust, they were determined to preclude another such attack. The Soviet Union now demanded "defensible" borders and regimes sympathetic to its aims in Eastern Europe. But the United States had declared the restoration of independence and self-government to Poland, Czechoslovakia and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe one of its war aims.


Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as president before the end of the war. An unpretentious man who had previously served as Democratic senator from Missouri, then as vice president, Truman initially felt ill-prepared to govern the United States. Roosevelt had not confided in him about complex postwar issues and he had little prior experience in international affairs. "I'm not big enough for this job," he told a former colleague.

But Truman responded quickly to new challenges. Impulsive, he proved willing to make quick decisions about the problems he faced. A sign on his White House desk, since famous in American politics, read "The Buck Stops Here," and reflected his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. His judgments about how to respond to the Soviet Union had an important impact on the early Cold War.


Origins of the Cold War The Cold War developed as differences about the shape of the postwar world created suspicion and distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. The first such conflict occurred over Poland. Moscow demanded a government subject to Soviet influence; Washington wanted a more independent, representative government following the Western model. The Yalta Conference of February 1945 had produced a wide-ranging agreement open to different interpretations. Among its provisions was the promise of "free and unfettered" elections in Poland.

At his first meeting with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, Truman revealed his intention to stand firm on Polish self-determination, lecturing the Soviet diplomat about the need to carry out the Yalta accords. When Molotov protested, "I have never been talked to like that in my life," Truman retorted, "Carry out your agreements and you won't get talked to like that." Relations deteriorated from that point onward.

During the closing months of World War II, Soviet military forces occupied all of Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow used its military power to support the efforts of the communist parties in Eastern Europe and crush the democratic parties. Communist parties beholden to Moscow quickly expanded their power and influence in all countries of the region, culminating in the coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia in 1948.

Public statements defined the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 Stalin declared that international peace was impossible "under the present capitalist development of the world economy." Winston Churchill, wartime prime minister of Great Britain, delivered a dramatic speech in Fulton, Missouri, with Truman sitting on the platform during the address. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic," Churchill said, "an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." Britain and the United States, he declared, had to work together to counter the Soviet threat.


Containment of the Soviet Union became American policy in the postwar years. George Kennan, a top official at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, defined the new approach in a long telegram he sent to the State Department in 1946. He extended his analysis after he returned home in an article published under the signature "X" in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. Pointing to Russia's traditional sense of insecurity, Kennan argued that the Soviet Union would not soften its stance under any circumstances. Moscow, he wrote, was "committed fanatically to the belief that with the U.S. there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted." Moscow's pressure to expand its power had to be stopped through "firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies...."

The first significant application of the containment doctrine came in the eastern Mediterranean. Great Britain had been supporting Greece, where communist forces threatened the ruling monarchy in a civil war, and Turkey, where the Soviet Union pressed for territorial concessions and the right to build naval bases on the Bosporus. In 1947 Britain told the United States that it could no longer afford such aid. Quickly, the U.S. State Department devised a plan for U.S. assistance. But support for a new interventionist policy, Senate leaders such as Arthur Vandenberg told Truman, was only possible if he was willing to start "scaring the hell out of the country."

Truman was prepared to do so. In a statement that came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, he declared, "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." To that end he asked Congress to provide $400 million for economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey, and the money was appropriated.

However, there was a price Truman himself and American society paid for his victory. To whip up American support for the policy of containment, Truman overstated the Soviet threat to the United States. In turn, his statements inspired a wave of hysterical anti-communism throughout the country and set the stage for the emergence of McCarthyism.

Containment also called for extensive economic aid to assist the recovery of war-torn Western Europe. With many of the region's nations economically and politically unstable, the United States feared that local communist parties, directed by Moscow, would capitalize on their wartime record of resistance to the Nazis and come to power. Something needed to be done, Secretary of State George Marshall noted, for "the patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate." Marshall was formerly the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces and credited as the chief organizer of the American military victory in World War II. In mid-1947 Marshall asked troubled European nations to draw up a program "directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." The Soviets participated in the first planning meeting, then departed rather than share economic data on their resources and problems, and submit to Western controls on the expenditure of the aid. The remaining 16 nations hammered out a request that finally came to $17 thousand million for a four-year period. In early 1948 Congress voted to assist European economic recovery, dubbed the "Marshall Plan," and generally regarded as one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy initiatives in history.

Postwar Germany was divided into U.S., Soviet, British and French zones of occupation, with the former German capital of Berlin (itself divided into four zones), near the center of the Soviet zone. The United States, Britain and France had discussed converting their zones into a single, self-governing republic. But the Soviet Union opposed plans to unite Germany and ministerial-level four-power discussions on Germany broke down. When the Western powers announced their intention to create a consolidated federal state from their zones, Stalin responded. On June 23, 1948, Soviet forces blockaded Berlin, cutting off all road and rail access from the West.

American leaders feared that losing Berlin was but a prelude to losing Germany and subsequently all of Europe. Therefore, in a successful demonstration of Western resolve known as the Berlin Airlift, Allied air forces took to the sky, flying supplies into Berlin. U.S., French and British planes delivered nearly 2,250,000 tons of goods, including food and coal. Stalin lifted the blockade after 231 days and 277,264 flights.

Soviet domination of Eastern Europe alarmed the West. The United States led the effort to create a military alliance to complement economic efforts at containment. In 1949 the United States and 11 other countries established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance based on the principle of collective security. An attack against one was to be considered an attack against all, to be met by appropriate force.

The next year, the United States defined its defense aims clearly. The National Security Council (NSC) undertook a full-fledged review of American foreign and defense policy. The resulting document, known as NSC-68, signaled a new direction in American security policy. Based on the assumption that "the Soviet Union was engaged in a fanatical effort to seize control of all governments wherever possible," the document committed America to assist allied nations anywhere in the world which seemed threatened by Soviet aggression. The United States proceeded to increase defense spending dramatically in response to Soviet threats against Europe and the American, British and French presence in West Berlin.


While seeking to prevent communist ideology from gaining further adherents in Europe, the United States also responded to challenges elsewhere. In China, Americans worried about the advances of Mao Zedong and his communist party. During World War II, the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek and the communist forces waged a civil war even as they fought the Japanese. Chiang had been a war-time ally, but even American support could not bolster a government that was hopelessly inefficient and corrupt. Mao's forces finally seized power in 1949, and when he announced that his new regime would support the Soviet Union against the "imperialist" United States, it appeared that communism was spreading out of control, at least in Asia.

The Korean War brought armed conflict between the United States and China. The Allies had divided Korea along the 38th parallel after liberating it from Japan at the end of World War II. The Soviet Union accepted Japanese surrender north of the 38th parallel; the United States did the same in the south. Originally intended as a matter of military convenience, the dividing line became more rigid as Cold War tensions escalated. Both major powers set up governments in their respective occupation zones and continued to support them even after departing.

In June 1950 North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel and attacked southward, overrunning Seoul. Truman, perceiving the North Koreans as Soviet pawns in the global struggle, readied American forces and ordered General Douglas MacArthur to Korea. Meanwhile, the United States was able to secure a U.N. resolution branding North Korea as an aggressor. (The Soviet Union, which could have vetoed any action had it been occupying its seat on the Security Council, was boycotting the United Nations to protest a decision not to admit the People's Republic of China.)

The war seesawed back and forth. U.S. and Korean forces were initially pushed far to the south in an enclave around the city of Pusan. A daring amphibious landing at Inchon, the port for the city of Seoul, drove the North Koreans back; but as fighting neared the Chinese border, China entered the war, sending massive forces across the Yalu River. U.N. forces, largely American, retreated once again in bitter fighting and then slowly recovered and fought their way back to the 38th parallel.

When MacArthur violated the principle of civilian control of the military by attempting to orchestrate public support for bombing China and permitting an invasion of the mainland by Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Chinese forces, Truman charged him with insubordination and relieved him of his duties, replacing him with General Matthew Ridgeway. The Cold War stakes were high, but the government's effort to fight a limited war caused frustration among many Americans who could not understand the need for restraint. Truman's popularity plunged to a 24-percent approval rating, the lowest of any president since pollsters began to measure presidential popularity.

Truce talks began in July 1951. The two sides finally reached an agreement in July 1953, during the first term of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman's successor.

Cold War struggles were also occurring in the Middle East. Strategically important as a supplier of oil, the region appeared vulnerable in 1946, when Soviet troops failed to leave Iran as promised, even after British and American forces had already withdrawn. The U.S. demanded a U.N. condemnation of Moscow's continued troop presence. When the United States observed Soviet tanks entering the region, Washington readied for a direct clash. Confronted by U.S. resolve, the Soviets withdrew their forces.

Two years later, the United States officially recognized the new state of Israel 15 minutes after it was proclaimed -- a decision Truman made over strong resistance from Marshall and the State Department. While cultivating close ties with Israel, the United States still sought to keep the friendship of Arab states opposed to Israel.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, who assumed the presidency in 1953, was different from his predecessor. A war hero, he had a natural, homey manner that made him widely popular. "I like Ike" was the ubiquitous campaign slogan of the time. In the postwar years, he served as army chief of staff, the president of Columbia University and finally head of NATO before seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Although he was skillful at getting people to work together, he sought to play a restrained public role.

Still, he shared with Truman a basic view of American foreign policy. Eisenhower, too, perceived communism as a monolithic force struggling for world supremacy. He believed that Moscow, under leaders such as Stalin, was trying to orchestrate worldwide revolution. In his first inaugural address, he declared, "Forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history. Freedom is pitted against slavery, lightness against dark."

In office, Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, argued that containment did not go far enough to stop Soviet expansion. Rather, a more aggressive policy of liberation was necessary, to free those subjugated by communism. But for all of the rhetoric, when democratic rebellions broke out in areas under Soviet domination -- such as in Hungary in 1956 -- the United States stood back as Soviet forces suppressed them.

Eisenhower's basic commitment to contain communism remained, and to that end he increased American reliance on a nuclear shield. The Manhattan Project during World War II had created the first atomic bombs. In 1950 Truman had authorized the development of a new and more powerful hydrogen weapon. Now Eisenhower, in an effort to keep budget expenditures under control, proposed a policy of "massive retaliation." The United States, under this doctrine, was prepared to use atomic weapons if the nation or its vital interests were attacked.

In practice, however, Eisenhower deployed U.S. military forces with great caution, resisting all suggestions to consider the use of nuclear weapons in Indochina, where the French were ousted by Vietnamese communist forces in 1954, or in Taiwan, where the United States pledged to defend the Nationalist Chinese regime against attack by the People's Republic of China.

In the Middle East, Eisenhower resisted the use of force when British and French forces occupied the Suez Canal and Israel invaded the Sinai in 1956, following Egypt's nationalization of the canal. Under heavy U.S. pressure, British, French and Israeli forces withdrew from Egypt, which retained control of the canal.


Not only did the Cold War shape U.S. foreign policy, it also had a profound effect on domestic affairs. Americans had long feared radical subversion, and during the Red Scare of 1919-1920, the government had attempted to remove perceived threats to American society. Even stronger efforts were made after World War II to root out communism within the United States. Foreign events and espionage scandals contributed to the anti-communist hysteria of the period. In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded its own atomic device, which shocked Americans into believing that the United States would be the target of a Soviet attack. In 1948 Alger Hiss, who had been an assistant secretary of state and an adviser to Roosevelt at Yalta, was accused of being a communist spy by Whitaker Chambers, a former Soviet agent. Hiss denied the accusation, but in 1950 he was convicted of perjury. Finally, in 1950, the government uncovered a British-American spy network that transferred to the Soviet Union materials about the development of the atomic bomb. The capture and trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for revealing atomic secrets furthered the perception of a domestic communist danger. Attorney General J. Howard McGrath declared there were many American communists, each bearing "the germ of death for society."

When Republicans were victorious in the midterm congressional elections of 1946 and appeared ready to investigate subversive activity, the president established a Federal Employee Loyalty Program. Workers challenged about past and present associations often had little chance to fight back.

Congress, meanwhile, embarked upon its own loyalty program. In 1947 the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigated the motion-picture industry to determine whether communist sentiments were being reflected in popular films. When some writers refused to testify, they were cited for contempt and sent to prison. In response, Hollywood capitulated and refused to hire anyone with a marginally questionable past.

But the most vigorous anti-communist warrior was Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin. He gained national attention in 1950 by claiming that he had a list of 205 known communists in the State Department. Though McCarthy subsequently changed this figure several times and failed to substantiate any of his charges, he struck a responsive public chord.

McCarthy gained power when the Republican Party won control of the Senate in 1952. As a committee chairman, he now had a forum for his crusade. Relying on extensive press and television coverage, he continued to charge top-level officials with treachery. Playing on his tough reputation, he often used vulgarity to characterize the "vile and scurrilous" objects of his attack.

But McCarthy went too far. Though polls showed half the public behind him, McCarthy overstepped himself by challenging the United States Army when one of his assistants was drafted. Television in its infancy brought the hearings into millions of homes. Many Americans saw McCarthy's savage tactics for the first time, and as public support began to wane, the Senate finally condemned him for his conduct.

Until then, however, McCarthy exerted enormous power in the United States. He offered scapegoats to those worried about the stalemate in Korea or about communist gains. He heightened fears aroused by the Truman administration's own anti-communist effort and legitimized tactics that were often used against innocent people. In short, McCarthy represented the worst domestic excesses of the Cold War.


As the Cold War unfolded in the decade and a half after World War II, the United States experienced phenomenal economic growth. The war brought the return of prosperity, and in the postwar period the United States consolidated its position as the world's richest country. Gross national product, a measure of all goods and services produced in the United States, jumped from about $200 thousand-million in 1940 to $300 thousand-million in 1950 to more than $500 thousand-million in 1960. More and more Americans now considered themselves part of the middle class.

The growth had different sources. The automobile industry was partially responsible, as the number of automobiles produced annually quadrupled between 1946 and 1955. A housing boom, stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning servicemen, fueled the expansion. The rise in defense spending as the Cold War escalated also played a part.

After 1945 the major corporations in America grew even larger. There had been earlier waves of mergers in the 1890s and in the 1920s; in the 1950s another wave occurred. New conglomerates-- firms with holdings in a variety of industries -- led the way. International Telephone and Telegraph, for example, bought Sheraton Hotels, Continental Baking, Hartford Fire Insurance, and Avis Rent-a-Car, among other companies. Smaller franchise operations like McDonald's fast-food restaurants provided still another pattern. Large corporations also developed holdings overseas, where labor costs were often lower.

Workers found their own lives changing as industrial America changed. Fewer workers produced goods; more provided services. By 1956 a majority held white-collar jobs, working as corporate managers, teachers, salespersons and office employees. Some firms granted a guaranteed annual wage, long-term employment contracts and other benefits. With such changes, labor militancy was undermined and some class distinctions began to fade.

Farmers, on the other hand, faced tough times. Gains in productivity led to agricultural consolidation, as farming became a big business. Family farms, in turn, found it difficult to compete, and more and more farmers left the land.

Other Americans moved too. In the postwar period the West and the Southwest continued to grow -- a trend that would continue through the end of the century. Sun Belt cities like Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, expanded rapidly. Los Angeles, California, moved ahead of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the third largest U.S. city. By 1963 California had more people than New York.

An even more important form of movement led Americans out of inner cities into new suburbs, where they hoped to find affordable housing for the larger families spawned by the postwar baby boom. Developers like William J. Levitt built new communities -- with homes that all looked alike -- using the techniques of mass production. Levitt's houses were prefabricated, or partly assembled in a factory rather than on the final location. The homes were modest, but Levitt's methods cut costs and allowed new owners to possess at least a part of the American dream.

As suburbs grew, businesses moved into the new areas. Large shopping centers containing a great variety of stores changed consumer patterns. The number of these centers rose from eight at the end of World War II to 3,840 in 1960. With easy parking and convenient evening hours, customers could avoid city shopping entirely.

New highways created better access to the suburbs and its shops. The Highway Act of 1956 provided $26 thousand-million, the largest public works expenditure in U.S. history, to build more than 64,000 kilometers of federal roads to link together all parts of the country.

Television, too, had a powerful impact on social and economic patterns. Developed in the 1930s, it was not widely marketed until after the war. In 1946 the country had fewer than 17,000 television sets. Three years later consumers were buying 250,000 sets a month, and by 1960 three-quarters of all families owned at least one set. In the middle of the decade, the average family watched television four to five hours a day. Popular shows for children included Howdy Doody Time and The Mickey Mouse Club; older viewers preferred situation comedies like I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best. Americans of all ages became exposed to increasingly sophisticated advertisements for products said to be necessary for the good life.


The Fair Deal was the name given to Harry Truman's domestic program. Building on Roosevelt's New Deal, Truman believed that the federal government should guarantee economic opportunity and social stability, and he struggled to achieve those ends in the face of fierce political opposition from conservative legislators determined to reduce the role of government.

Truman's first priority in the immediate postwar period was to make the transition to a peacetime economy. Servicemen wanted to come home quickly, but once they arrived they faced competition for housing and employment. The G.I. Bill, passed before the end of the war, helped ease servicemen back into civilian life by providing such benefits as guaranteed loans for home-buying and financial aid for industrial training and university education.

More troubling was labor unrest. As war production ceased, many workers found themselves without jobs. Others wanted pay increases they felt were long overdue. In 1946, 4.6 million workers went on strike, more than ever before in American history. They challenged the automobile, steel and electrical industries. When they took on the railroads and soft-coal mines, Truman intervened, but in so doing he alienated millions of working-class Americans.

While dealing with immediately pressing issues, Truman also provided a broader agenda for action. Less than a week after the war ended, he presented Congress with a 21-point program, which provided for protection against unfair employment practices, a higher minimum wage, greater unemployment compensation and housing assistance. In the next several months, he added other proposals for health insurance and atomic energy legislation. But this scattershot approach often left Truman's priorities unclear.

Republicans were quick to attack. In the 1946 congressional elections they asked, "Had enough?" and voters responded that they had. Republicans, with majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928, were determined to reverse the liberal direction of the Roosevelt years.

Truman fought with the Congress as it cut spending and reduced taxes. In 1948 he sought reelection, despite polls indicating that he had no chance. After a vigorous campaign, Truman scored one of the great upsets in American politics, defeating the Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, governor of New York. Reviving the old New Deal coalition, Truman held on to labor, farmers and black voters, and so won another term.

When Truman finally left office in 1953, his Fair Deal was but a mixed success. In July 1948 he banned racial discrimination in federal government hiring practices and ordered an end to segregation in the military. The minimum wage had risen, and social security programs had expanded. A housing program brought some gains but left many needs unmet. National health insurance and aid-to-education measures never made it through Congress. Truman's preoccupation with Cold War affairs hampered his effectiveness at home, particularly in the face of intense opposition.


Dwight Eisenhower accepted the basic framework of government responsibility established by the New Deal, but sought to limit the presidential role. He termed his approach "dynamic conservatism" or "modern Republicanism," which meant, he explained, "conservative when it comes to money, liberal when it comes to human beings." A critic countered that Eisenhower appeared to argue that he would "strongly recommend the building of a great many schools...but not provide the money."

Eisenhower's first priority was to balance the budget after years of deficits. He wanted to cut spending, cut taxes and maintain the value of the dollar. Republicans were willing to risk unemployment to keep inflation in check. Reluctant to stimulate the economy too much, they saw the country suffer three recessions in eight years.

In other areas, the administration transferred control of offshore oil lands from the federal government to the states. It also favored private development of energy sources rather than the public approach the Democrats had initiated. In everything the Eisenhower administration undertook, its orientation was sympathetic to business.

Eisenhower's inclination to play a modest role in public often led to legislative stalemate. Still, he was active behind the scenes pushing his favorite programs. And he was one of the few presidents who left office as popular as when he entered it.


During the 1950s, a sense of uniformity pervaded American society. Conformity was common, as young and old alike followed group norms rather than striking out on their own. Though men and women had been forced into new employment patterns during World War II, once the war was over, traditional roles were reaffirmed. Men expected to be the breadwinners; women, even when they worked, assumed their proper place was at home. Sociologist David Riesman observed the importance of peer-group expectations in his influential book, The Lonely Crowd. He called this new society "other-directed," and maintained that such societies lead to stability as well as conformity. Television contributed to the homogenizing trend by providing young and old with a shared experience reflecting accepted social patterns.

But not all Americans conformed to such cultural norms. A number of writers, members of the so-called "beat generation," rebelled against conventional values. Stressing spontaneity and spirituality, they asserted intuition over reason, Eastern mysticism over Western institutionalized religion. The "beats" went out of their way to challenge the patterns of respectability and shock the rest of the culture.

Their literary work displayed their sense of freedom. Jack Kerouac typed his best-selling novel On the Road on a 75-meter roll of paper. Lacking accepted punctuation and paragraph structure, the book glorified the possibilities of the free life. Poet Allen Ginsberg gained similar notoriety for his poem "Howl," a scathing critique of modern, mechanized civilization. When police charged that it was obscene and seized the published version, Ginsberg won national acclaim with a successful court challenge.

Musicians and artists rebelled as well. Tennessee singer Elvis Presley popularized black music in the form of rock and roll, and shocked more staid Americans with his ducktail haircut and undulating hips. In addition, Elvis and other rock and roll singers demonstrated that there was a white audience for black music, thus testifying to the increasing integration of American culture. Painters like Jackson Pollock discarded easels and laid out gigantic canvases on the floor, then applied paint, sand and other materials in wild splashes of color. All of these artists and authors, whatever the medium, provided models for the wider and more deeply felt social revolution of the 1960s.


African Americans became increasingly restive in the postwar years. During the war they had challenged discrimination in the military services and in the work force, and they had made limited gains. Millions of blacks had left southern farms for northern cities, where they hoped to find better jobs. They found instead crowded conditions in urban slums. Now, black servicemen returned home, intent on rejecting second-class citizenship, as other blacks began to argue that the time was ripe for racial equality.

Jackie Robinson dramatized the racial question in 1947 when he broke baseball's color line and began playing in the major leagues. A member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he often faced trouble with opponents and teammates as well. But an outstanding first season led to his acceptance and eased the way for other black players, who now left the Negro leagues to which they had been confined.

Government officials, and many other Americans, discovered the connection between racial problems and Cold War politics. As the leader of the free world, the United States sought support in Africa and Asia. Discrimination at home impeded the effort to win friends in other parts of the world.

Harry Truman supported the civil rights movement. He believed in political equality, though not in social equality, and recognized the growing importance of the black urban vote. When apprised in 1946 of lynchings and other forms of mob violence still practiced in the South, he appointed a committee on civil rights to investigate discrimination based on race and religion. The report, issued the next year, documented blacks' second-class status in American life. It asserted the need for the federal government to secure the rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Truman responded by sending a 10-point civil rights program to Congress. When Southern Democrats, angry about a stronger civil rights stance, left the party in 1948, Truman issued an executive order barring discrimination in federal employment, ordered equal treatment in the armed forces and appointed a committee to work toward an end to military segregation. The last military restrictions ended during the Korean War.

Blacks in the South enjoyed few, if any, civil and political rights. More than 1 million black soldiers fought in World War II, but those who came from the South could not vote. Blacks who tried to register faced the likelihood of beatings, loss of job, loss of credit or eviction from their land. Lynchings still occurred, and Jim Crow laws enforced segregation of the races in street cars, trains, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, recreational facilities and employment.


Blacks took matters into their own hands. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was determined to overturn the judicial doctrine, established in the court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, that segregation of black and white students in schools was constitutional if facilities were "separate but equal." That decree had been used for decades to sanction rigid segregation in the South, where facilities were seldom, if ever, equal.

Blacks achieved their goal of overturning Plessy in 1954 when the Supreme Court -- presided over by an Eisenhower appointee, Chief Justice Earl Warren -- handed down its Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The Court declared unanimously that "separate facilities are inherently unequal," and decreed that the "separate but equal" doctrine could no longer be used in public schools. A year later, the Supreme Court demanded that local school boards move "with all deliberate speed" to implement the decision.

Eisenhower, although sympathetic to the needs of the South as it faced a major transition, nonetheless acted quickly to see that the law was upheld. He ordered the desegregation of Washington, D.C., schools to serve as a model for the rest of the country, and sought to end discrimination in other areas as well.

He faced a major crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Just before implementation of a desegregation plan calling for the admission of nine black students to a previously all-white high school, the governor declared that violence threatened, and posted Arkansas National Guardsmen to keep peace by turning the black students away. When a federal court ordered the troops to leave, the students came to school, only to encounter belligerent taunts. As mobs became hostile, the black students left.

Eisenhower responded by placing the National Guardsmen under federal command and calling them back to Little Rock. He was reluctant to do so because federal troops had not been used to protect black rights since the end of Reconstruction, but he knew he had no choice. And so desegregation began with soldiers standing in classrooms to ensure the rule of law.

Another milestone in the civil rights movement occurred in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress who was also secretary of the state chapter of the NAACP, sat down in the front of a bus in a section reserved by law and custom for whites. Ordered to move to the back, she refused. Police came and arrested her for violating the segregation statutes. Black leaders, who had been waiting for just such a case, organized a boycott of the bus system. Martin Luther King Jr., a young minister of the Baptist church where the blacks met, became a spokesman for the protest. "There comes a time," he said, "when people get tired...of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression." King was arrested, as he would be again and again, but blacks in Montgomery sustained the boycott and cut gross bus revenue by 65 percent. About a year later, the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation, like school segregation, was unconstitutional. The boycott ended. The civil rights movement had won an important victory -- and discovered its most powerful, thoughtful and eloquent leader in Martin Luther King Jr.

African Americans also sought to secure their voting rights. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to vote, many states had found ways -- whether by a poll ("head") tax or a literacy test -- to circumvent the law. Eisenhower, working with Senate majority leader Lyndon B. Johnson, lent his support to a congressional effort to guarantee the vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first such measure in 82 years, marked a step forward, as it authorized federal intervention in cases where blacks were denied the chance to vote. Yet loopholes remained, and so activists pushed successfully for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which provided stiffer penalties for interfering with voting, but still stopped short of authorizing federal officials to register blacks.

Relying on the efforts of black Americans themselves, the civil rights movement gained momentum in the postwar years. Working through the Supreme Court and through Congress, civil rights supporters created the groundwork for an even more extensive movement in the 1960s.


By 1960 government had become an increasingly powerful force in people's lives. During the 1930s, The White House had initiated legislation and worked closely with Congress to ease the trauma of the Great Depression. New executive agencies were created to deal with many aspects of American life. The number of civilians employed by the federal government rose from 1 million to 3.8 million during World War II, then stabilized at 2.5 million throughout the 1950s. Federal expenditures, which had stood at $3.1 thousand-million in 1929, increased to $75 thousand-million in 1953 and passed $150 thousand-million in the 1960s.

Most Americans accepted government's expanded role, even as they disagreed about how far that expansion should continue. Democrats wanted the government to use its power to ensure growth and stability. They wanted to extend federal benefits for education, health and welfare. Republicans, while accepting government's basic and necessary responsibility, hoped to cap spending and restore a larger measure of individual initiative.


John F. Kennedy, Democratic victor in the election of 1960, was at 43 the youngest man ever to win the presidency. On television, in a series of debates with opponent Richard Nixon, he appeared able, articulate and energetic. In the campaign, he spoke of moving aggressively into the new decade, for "the New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not." In his first inaugural address he concluded with an eloquent plea: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." Throughout his brief presidency, Kennedy's special combination of grace, wit and style sustained his popularity and influenced generations of politicians to come.

Kennedy wanted to exert strong leadership to extend economic benefits to all citizens, but a razor-thin margin of victory limited his mandate. Even though the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress, conservative Southerners resisted plans to increase federal aid to education, provide health insurance for the elderly and create a new Department of Urban Affairs. And so, despite his rhetoric, Kennedy's policies were often limited and restrained.

One priority was to end a recession and restore growth. But Kennedy lost the confidence of business leaders in 1962, when he sought to roll back what the administration regarded as an excessive price increase in the steel industry. Though he succeeded in his immediate goal, he alienated an important source of support. When he later called for a large tax cut to provide capital and stimulate the economy, conservative opposition in Congress destroyed any hopes of passing the deficit measure.

The overall legislative record of the Kennedy administration was meager. The president made some gestures toward civil rights leaders but did not embrace the goals of the civil rights movement until nearly the end of his presidency. He failed in his effort to aid public education and to provide medical care for the elderly. He gained only a modest increase in the minimum wage. Still, he did secure funding for a space program, and established the Peace Corps to send men and women overseas to assist developing countries in meeting their own needs. Kennedy had planned an ambitious legislative program for the last year of his term. But then on November 22, 1963, he was assassinated while riding in an open car during a visit to Dallas, Texas. It was a traumatic and defining moment for a generation, just as the death of Franklin Roosevelt had been for an earlier one. In retrospect, Kennedy's liberal reputation stems more from his style and ideals than from the implementation of his policies; but because the agenda set out in the last year of his presidency was enacted in 1964-1966, he was seen as a liberal force for change after his death.


Lyndon Johnson, a Texan who was majority leader in the Senate before becoming Kennedy's vice president, was a masterful politician. He had been schooled in Congress, where he developed an extraordinary ability to get things done. He could plead, cajole or threaten as necessary to achieve his ends. As president, he wanted to use his power aggressively to eliminate poverty and spread the benefits of prosperity to all.

Johnson took office determined to secure the measures that Kennedy had sought. Immediate priorities were bills to reduce taxes and guarantee civil rights. Using his skills of persuasion and calling on the legislators' respect for the slain president, in 1964 Johnson succeeded in gaining passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Introduced by Kennedy, it was the most far-reaching piece of civil rights legislation enacted since Reconstruction. Soon Johnson addressed other issues as well. By the spring of 1964, he had begun to use the name "Great Society" to describe his reform program, and that term received even more play after his landslide victory over conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in the presidential election of that year. On the economic front, Johnson pushed successfully for a tax cut, then pressed for a poverty program Kennedy had initiated. "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he announced. The Office of Economic Opportunity provided training for the poor and established various community-action programs to give the poor themselves a voice in housing, health and education programs.

Medical care came next. Truman had proposed a centralized scheme more than 20 years earlier, but had failed to gain congressional passage. Under Johnson's leadership, Congress enacted Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly, and Medicaid, a program providing health-care assistance for the poor.

Similarly, Johnson succeeded in the effort to provide aid for elementary and secondary schooling where Kennedy had failed. The measure that was enacted gave money to the states based on the number of their children from low-income families. Funds could be used to assist public- and private-school children alike.

The Great Society reached even further. A new housing act provided rent supplements for the poor and established a Department of Housing and Urban Development. An immigration measure finally replaced the discriminatory quotas set in 1924. Federal assistance went to artists and scholars to encourage their work.

The Johnson administration also addressed transportation safety issues, in part because of the efforts of a young lawyer, lobbyist and consultant named Ralph Nader. In his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, Nader argued that many cars could cause death or damage in even low-speed accidents. Nader said that automobile manufacturers were sacrificing safety features for style, and he named specific models in which faulty engineering contributed to highway fatalities. In September 1966, Johnson signed into law two transportation bills. The first provided funds to state and local governments for developing safety programs, while the other set up federal safety standards for cars and tires. In all, the Great Society was the greatest burst of legislative activity since the New Deal. But support for the Johnson administration policies began to weaken as early as 1966. Some of Johnson's programs did not live up to expectations; many programs went underfunded. Still, the Great Society achieved some reductions in poverty -- between 1965 and 1968, for example, black-family income rose from 54 percent to 60 percent of white-family income.


In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States remained locked in bitter conflict with communist countries. Most American leaders throughout the period saw the world in Cold War terms and sought to counter the perceived threat of the Soviet bloc. Cuba became a battleground in the Kennedy years.

Ever since Fidel Castro's revolutionary army seized power in 1959 and gained the support of the Soviet Union, relations with Cuba had been strained. The United States broke diplomatic ties just before Kennedy assumed office, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began training Cuban exiles to invade their homeland and spark an uprising. The attack at the Bay of Pigs in the spring of 1961 failed miserably. Kennedy, who approved the plan initiated by the Eisenhower administration, accepted responsibility for the defeat.

The next year, seeking to recoup lost prestige, Kennedy stood firm when he learned the Soviet Union was secretly installing offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. After considering different options, he decided on a quarantine to prevent Soviet ships from bringing additional missiles to Cuba, and he demanded publicly that the Soviets remove the weapons. After several days of tension, during which the world was closer than ever before to nuclear war, the Soviets backed down. Supporters applauded Kennedy's courage; critics charged that he risked nuclear disaster when quiet diplomacy might have been more appropriate. In retrospect, however, the Cuban missile crisis marked a turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations as both sides saw the need to defuse tensions that could lead to direct military conflict. The following year, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed a landmark Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere.


Space became another arena for competition after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik -- an artificial satellite -- in 1957. Americans were chastened, for the Russians had beaten them into orbit with a rocket that could have easily carried a nuclear bomb. The United States only managed to launch its first satellite, Explorer I, in 1958. The public mood worsened when the Soviets placed the first man in orbit in 1961. Kennedy responded by committing the United States to land a man on the moon and bring him back "before this decade is out."

With Project Mercury, in August 1962 John H. Glenn Jr. became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth. In the mid-1960s, U.S. scientists used the Gemini program to examine the effects of prolonged space flight on man. Gemini, Latin for "twins," carried two astronauts, one more than the earlier Mercury series and one less than subsequent Apollo spacecraft. Gemini achieved several firsts, including an eight-day mission in August 1965 -- the longest space flight at that time -- and in November 1966, the first automatically controlled reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. Gemini also accomplished the first manned linkup of two spacecraft in flight as well as the first U.S. walks in space.

The Apollo project achieved Kennedy's goal. In July 1969, with hundreds of millions of television viewers watching around the world, Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

Other Apollo flights followed, but many Americans began to question the value of manned space flight. In the early 1970s, as other priorities became more pressing, the United States scaled down the space program. Some Apollo missions were scrapped; only one of two proposed Skylab space stations was built.


Indochina was still another Cold War battlefield. France had controlled Vietnam since the middle of the 19th century, only to be supplanted by Japan during the Second World War. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese communist, sought to liberate his nation from colonial rule and took the American War for Independence as his model. After the Allies defeated the Japanese in 1945, they still had to deal with Ho Chi Minh.

France, hoping to regain great-power status, insisted on returning to Vietnam. Ho refused to back down, and the war for liberation continued. The United States, eager to maintain French support for the policy of containment in Europe, provided France with economic aid that freed resources for the struggle in Vietnam. Even that assistance could not prevent French defeat in 1954. At an international conference in Geneva, Vietnam was divided, with Ho in power in the North and Ngo Dinh Diem, a Roman Catholic anti-communist in a largely Buddhist population, heading the government in the South. Elections were to be held two years later to unify the country.

Persuaded that the fall of Vietnam could lead to the fall of Burma, Thailand and Indonesia, Eisenhower backed Diem's refusal to hold elections in 1956 and began to increase economic and military aid. Kennedy increased assistance, and sent small numbers of military advisors, but still the struggle between North and South continued. Diem's unpopularity culminated in his overthrow and death in 1963.

The situation was more unstable than ever before. Guerrillas in the South, known as Viet Cong, challenged the South Vietnamese government, sometimes covertly, sometimes through the National Liberation Front, their political arm. Aided by North Vietnam, they gained ground, especially among the peasants in the countryside. Determined to halt communist advances in South Vietnam, Johnson made the Vietnam War his own. After a North Vietnamese naval attack on two American destroyers, Johnson won from Congress on August 7, 1964, passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the president to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." After his re-election in November 1964, he embarked on a policy of escalation. From 25,000 troops at the start of 1965, the number of soldiers -- both volunteers and draftees -- rose to 500,000 by 1968. A massive bombing campaign wrought havoc in both North and South Vietnam.

With grisly battles shown on television, Americans began to protest their country's involvement in the war. Such foreign policy specialists as George Kennan found fault with U.S. policies. Others argued that the U.S had no strategy for ending the war. Americans watched as the massive military campaign seemed to have no effect on the course of the war. Public dissatisfaction with U.S. policy, especially among the young, pressured Johnson to begin negotiating for peace.

Anti-war sentiment in 1968 led Johnson to renounce any intention of seeking another term. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, protesters fought street battles with police. The chaos in the Democratic Party, especially after the murder of Robert Kennedy in June; white opposition to the civil rights measures of the 1960s; and the third-party candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace (who won his home state, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia) helped elect Republican Richard Nixon, who ran on a plan to extricate the United States from the war and to increase "law and order" at home.

While slowly withdrawing American troops, Nixon ordered some of the most fearful bombing in the war. He also invaded Cambodia in 1970 to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines, which passed through there to South Vietnam. This led to another round of protests and demonstrations, as students in many universities took to the streets. In one such demonstration, at Kent State in Ohio, national guard troops who had been called in to restore order panicked and killed four students.

A cease-fire, negotiated for the United States by Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, was finally signed in 1973. Although American troops departed, the war lingered on into the spring of 1975, when North Vietnam consolidated its control over the entire country.

The war had a tremendous price. It left Vietnam devastated, with millions maimed or killed. The United States spent over $150 thousand-million in a losing effort that cost 58,000 American lives. The war also ended the Cold War foreign policy consensus. The public found that certain American military units had engaged in atrocities in Vietnam and that the government had lied about the circumstances surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. Many Americans were horrified at the invasion of Cambodia. The war led many young Americans to question the actions of their own nation and the values it sought to uphold.


As the war wound down, the Nixon administration was able to deal pragmatically with the major communist powers. The most dramatic step was opening ties to the People's Republic of China. In the two decades since Mao Zedong's victory, the United States had argued that the Nationalist government on Taiwan represented all of China. In 1971 and 1972, Nixon softened the American stance, eased trading restrictions and became the first American president ever to visit Beijing.

With the Soviet Union, Nixon was equally successful in pursuing a policy of detente. Several months after his trip to China, he visited the Soviet Union. He held several cordial meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in which they agreed to limit stockpiles of missiles, cooperate in space and ease trading restrictions. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) culminated in 1972 in an arms control agreement limiting the growth of nuclear arsenals and restricting anti-ballistic missile systems.


Nixon took office after eight years of Democratic rule. Vice president under Eisenhower before his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1960, Nixon embraced politics, but without the passion of President Johnson. Distant often appearing ill at ease, he was always calculating his next move. That helped him at first, but finally led to his downfall.

Although Nixon subscribed to the Republican value of fiscal responsibility, he recognized the need for government's expanded role and accepted the basic contours of the welfare state. He simply wanted to manage its programs better.

Nixon confronted a series of economic problems during his presidency. By 1973 the inflation rate was 9 percent; the Dow-Jones average of industrial stocks fell 36 percent between November 1968 and May 1970; and the unemployment rate reached 6.6 percent by the end of 1970. Nixon imposed wage-price controls in 1971, but they did little good.

Factors beyond Nixon's control undermined his economic policies. In 1973 the war between Israel, Egypt and Syria prompted Saudi Arabia to impose an embargo on oil shipped to Israel's ally, the United States. Other member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled their prices. Americans faced both shortages and rapidly rising prices. Even when the embargo ended the next year, prices remained high. Higher energy prices affected all areas of American economic life: in 1974 inflation reached 12 percent, causing disruptions that led to even higher unemployment rates. This era of recession and inflation ("stagflation") brought an end to the unprecedented economic boom America had enjoyed since 1948.

While trying to manage the economy, Nixon also sought to restore "law and order." Rising crime rates in American cities and political protests, increased drug use and more permissive views about sex in U.S. universities offended many Americans. Seeking to strengthen his own political constituency, Nixon chose to use government power to counter disruption. He lashed out at demonstrators, attacked the press for distorted coverage and sought to silence his opponents.

That strategy backfired in the Watergate affair. Facing Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress during his first term, Nixon wanted to win an overwhelming re-election victory in 1972 that would bring Republican congressional majorities and end the legislative stalemate. The Committee to Re-elect the President launched a massive fund-raising campaign to collect money before contributions had to be reported under a new law.

Early in 1972, Nixon's team proposed to tap the telephones of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C. The attempt failed. When the burglars, carrying money and documents that could ultimately be traced to The White House, were arrested, the administration decided to cover up its involvement. Six days after the discovery of the break-in, Nixon told the Central Intelligence Agency to order the Federal Bureau of Investigation to cease its investigation on the grounds that national security was at stake. In fact, the break-in was just one aspect of a campaign to locate and destroy people whom the administration considered its "enemies." These activities involved illegal wiretapping, break-ins and fundraising. Although Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected that year, the press, particularly the Washington Post, continued to investigate. As the scandal unfolded, the Democratic majority in the Congress instituted impeachment proceedings against Nixon. As the evidence of his involvement began to mount, he resigned on August 9, 1974.


Gerald Ford, an unpretentious man who had spent most of his public life in Congress, became Nixon's vice president following the resignation of the previous vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, after it was revealed that he had accepted bribes both before and during his term as vice president. Twenty months later, upon Nixon's resignation, Ford became president. His first priority was to restore trust in the government, which had been shaken by impeachment proceedings aimed at removing Nixon from office. Initially Ford enjoyed a great deal of confidence, but it quickly eroded when he pardoned Nixon and thus headed off any possible prosecution in the future.

In public policy, Ford followed the course Nixon had set. Economic problems remained serious, as inflation and unemployment continued to rise and the gross national product fell. Ford first tried to cajole the public, much as Herbert Hoover had done in 1929. When that failed, he imposed measures to curb inflation, which led to a 12-percent unemployment rate, and the most serious recession since the Great Depression. A tax cut, coupled with higher unemployment benefits, led to modest recovery, but still no end to economic difficulties. THE CARTER YEARS

Jimmy Carter, former Democratic governor of Georgia, won the presidency in 1976. Portraying himself during the campaign as an outsider to Washington politics, he promised a fresh approach to governing, but his very lack of experience at the national level complicated his tenure from the start. A naval officer and engineer by training, he often appeared to be a technocrat, when Americans wanted someone more vibrant to lead the way through troubled times.

In economic affairs, Carter at first permitted a policy of deficit spending. When the Federal Reserve Board, responsible for setting monetary policy, increased the money supply to cover deficits, inflation rose to 10 percent a year. Carter responded by cutting the budget to slow inflation, but cuts affected social programs at the heart of Democratic policy. By the end of his term, with deficits still high, the alienation of the business community could be seen in falling bond prices and rising interest rates.

Carter also faced criticism for his failure to develop an effective energy policy. He presented a comprehensive program, aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil, that he called the "moral equivalent of war." Opponents thwarted it in Congress.

Though Carter called himself a populist, his political priorities were never wholly clear. He endorsed government's protective role, but then began the process of deregulation -- the removal of governmental controls in economic life. Arguing that some restrictions over the course of the past century limited competition and increased consumer costs, he favored decontrol in the oil, airline, railroad and trucking industries.

Carter hoped to reestablish Democratic leadership, but his efforts failed to gain either public or congressional support. By the end of his term, his disapproval rating reached 77 percent, and Americans began to look toward the Republican Party again.


In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the United States continued to pursue an active policy in world affairs, addressing issues in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. However, in the late 1970s, serious problems emerged in relations with the Soviet Union, and particularly with Iran.

President Ford continued the Nixon administration policy of pursuing detente with the Soviet Union. In November 1974, Ford met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok. The meeting resulted in a preliminary agreement on further U.S.-Soviet arms control measures. It also helped pave the way for a multi-nation conference in Helsinki, Finland, in 1975.

The Helsinki Conference, the largest summit meeting in European history, was attended by the leaders of 35 European countries as well as the United States and Canada. The conference produced a historic 30,000-word Final Act, which incorporated some significant points championed by Western countries as well as some advocated by regimes in the Eastern bloc. It recognized the permanence of the changes in European borders after World War II -- an acknowledgment that Moscow had long sought. The Helsinki Final Act also contained pledges to respect individual rights and human liberties. Western nations hoped to increase pressure on Eastern bloc governments by getting them to sign the pledge. In fact, Western nations effectively used periodic "Helsinki review meetings" to call attention to various abuses of human rights by communist regimes of the Eastern bloc.

President Jimmy Carter helped to achieve a significant breakthrough between Egypt and Israel in which these countries ended 30 years in a state of war. Acting as both mediator and participant, Carter met in 1978 at Camp David, Maryland, the presidential retreat, with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to negotiate a peace settlement. Both leaders returned to the United States to sign the peace treaty at The White House in March 1979.

After protracted and often emotional debate, Carter also secured Senate ratification of treaties returning the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000. And he followed Nixon's lead as he extended formal diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China.

But Carter enjoyed less success with the Soviet Union. Though he assumed office with detente at high tide and declared that the United States had escaped its "inordinate fear of communism," his insistence that "our commitment to human rights must be absolute" antagonized the Soviet government. A SALT II agreement further limiting nuclear stockpiles was signed, but not ratified by the U.S. Senate, in part to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That same year Carter began a defense build-up that paved the way for the huge expenditures of the 1980s.

In 1979 Carter encountered even more trouble with Iran. After a fundamentalist revolution, led by Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, replaced a corrupt but friendly regime, Carter admitted the deposed shah to the United States for medical treatment. Angry Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Teheran and held 53 American hostages for more than a year. Despite his efforts, Carter could not secure their release, and his failure contributed to his electoral defeat.


The struggle of black Americans for equality reached its peak in the mid-1960s. After progressive victories in the 1950s, blacks became even more committed to nonviolent direct action. Groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), made up of black clergy, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), composed of younger activists, sought reform through peaceful confrontation.

In 1960 black college students sat down at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in North Carolina and refused to leave. Their sit-in captured media attention and led to similar demonstrations throughout the South. The next year, civil rights workers organized "freedom rides," in which blacks and whites boarded buses heading South toward segregated terminals, where confrontations might capture media attention and lead to change.

They also organized rallies, the largest of which was the "March on Washington" in 1963. More than 200,000 people gathered in the nation's capital to demonstrate their commitment to equality for all. The high point of a day of songs and speeches came with the address of Martin Luther King Jr., who had emerged as the preeminent spokesman for civil rights. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood," King proclaimed. Each time he used the refrain "I have a dream," the crowd roared.

But the rhetoric of the civil rights movement at first failed to bring progress. President Kennedy was initially reluctant to press white Southerners for support on civil rights because he needed their votes on other issues. But events forced his hand. When James Meredith was denied admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962 on account of his race, Kennedy sent federal troops to uphold the law. After protests aimed at the desegregation of Birmingham, Alabama, prompted a violent response by the police, he sent Congress a new civil rights bill mandating the integration of public places. Not even the "March on Washington," however, could extricate the measure from a congressional committee, where it was still bottled up when Kennedy was assassinated.

President Johnson was more successful. A Southerner from Texas, he became committed to civil rights as he sought national office. In 1963, he told Congress: "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill." Using all his authority, he persuaded the Senate to limit debate and secured the passage of the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations. The next year, he pressed further for what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It authorized the federal government to appoint examiners to register voters where local officials made black registration impossible. The year after passage, 400,000 blacks registered in the deep South; by 1968 the number reached 1 million and nationwide the number of black elected officials increased substantially. Finally, in 1968, the Congress passed legislation banning discrimination in housing.

For all of the legislative activity, some blacks became impatient with the pace of progress. Malcolm X, an eloquent activist, argued for black separation from the white race. Stokely Carmichael, a student leader, became similarly disillusioned by the notions of nonviolence and interracial cooperation. He preached the need for black power, to be achieved by whatever means necessary.

Violence accompanied militant calls for reform. Riots broke out in several big cities in 1966 and 1967. In the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King fell before an assassin's bullet. Several months later, Senator Robert Kennedy, a spokesman for the disadvantaged, an opponent of the Vietnam War and the brother of the slain president, met the same fate. To many these two assassinations marked the end of an era of innocence and idealism in both civil rights and the anti-war movements. The growing militancy on the left, coupled with an inevitable conservative backlash, opened a rift in the nation's psyche which took years to heal.

The federal commitment to civil rights diminished when Richard Nixon became president. Nixon was determined to consolidate his political base around conservative whites who felt that the movement for black equality had gone too far. The "Southern strategy" led the administration to reduce the appropriation for fair housing enforcement and in 1970, to prevent, unsuccessfully, the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that busing children was a permissible means of desegregating schools, Nixon denounced the ruling on television and sought a congressional moratorium or restriction. Though he failed to achieve his end, he made his position clear. Opponents of busing gained a victory in 1974 in Milliken v. Bradley, in which the Supreme Court invalidated efforts to transfer inner-city black students to suburban schools that were predominately white.

The backlash against preferential treatment for minorities became even more public in a Supreme Court case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white man, claimed that a quota reserving places for minority applicants was responsible for the rejection of his application to medical school in California. The court ordered his admission, arguing that quotas could no longer be imposed, but then upheld the consideration of race as one of the relevant factors in selection procedures.

Nevertheless, the controversy over busing and affirmative action sometimes obscured the steady march of many African Americans into the ranks of the middle class and suburbia throughout these tumultuous years.


During the 1950s and 1960s, increasing numbers of married women entered the labor force, but in 1963 the average working woman earned only 63 percent of what a man made. That year author Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, an explosive critique of middle-class patterns that helped millions of women articulate a pervasive sense of discontent. Arguing that women often had no outlets for expression other than "finding a husband and bearing children," Friedan encouraged readers to seek new roles and responsibilities, to seek their own personal and professional identities rather than have them defined by the outside, male-dominated society.

The women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. It was made up mainly of members of the middle class, and thus partook of the spirit of rebellion that affected large segments of middle-class youth in the 1960s. Another factor linked to the emergence of the movement was the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which in turn was sparked by the development and marketing of the birth-control pill.

Reform legislation also prompted change. During debate on the 1964 Civil Rights bill, conservatives hoped to defeat the entire measure by proposing an amendment to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender as well as race. First the amendment, then the bill itself, passed, giving women a legal tool to secure their rights.

Women themselves took measures to improve their lot. In 1966, 28 professional women, including Betty Friedan, established the National Organization for Women (NOW) "to take action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now." By the next year, 1,000 women had joined; four years later membership reached 15,000. NOW and similar organizations helped make women increasingly aware of their limited opportunities and strengthened their resolve to increase them.

Feminism, or organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests, reached high tide in the early 1970s. Journalist Gloria Steinem and several other women founded a new magazine, Ms., which began publication in 1972. Between 1971 and 1976, Our Bodies, Ourselves, a handbook by a woman's health collective, sold 850,000 copies.

Some activists pressed for ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. Passed by Congress in 1972, it declared, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." Over the next several years, 35 of the necessary 38 states ratified it. The courts also promoted sexual equality. In 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade sanctioned women's right to abortion during the early months of pregnancy -- a significant victory for the women's movement.

In the mid- to late 1970s, however, the women's movement stagnated. It failed to broaden its appeal beyond the middle class. Divisions arose between moderate and radical feminists. Conservative opponents mounted a campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, and it died in 1982 without gaining the approval of the 38 states needed for ratification.


In post-World War II America, Spanish-speaking groups faced discrimination as well. Coming from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Central America, they were often unskilled and unable to speak English. Some worked as farm laborers and at times were cruelly exploited while harvesting crops; others gravitated to the cities, where, like earlier immigrant groups, they encountered serious difficulties in their quest for a better life.

Chicanos, or Mexican-Americans, mobilized in organizations like the radical Asociacion Nacional Mexico-Americana, yet did not become confrontational until the 1960s. Hoping that Lyndon Johnson's poverty program would expand opportunities for them, they found that bureaucrats failed to respond to less vocal groups. The example of black activism in particular taught Hispanics the importance of pressure politics in a pluralistic society.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 had excluded agricultural workers from its guarantee of the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. But Cesar Chavez, founder of the overwhelmingly Hispanic United Farm Workers, demonstrated the efficacy of direct action in seeking recognition for his union. Taking on the grape growers of California, Chavez called for a nationwide consumer boycott that finally provided exploited migrant workers with union representation. Similar boycotts of lettuce and other products were also successful. Though farm interests continued to try to obstruct Chavez's organization, the legal foundation had been laid for representation to secure higher wages and improved working conditions.

Hispanics became politically active as well. In 1961 Henry B. Gonzalez won election to Congress from Texas. Three years later Elizo ("Kika") de la Garza, another Texan, followed him, and Joseph Montoya of New Mexico went to the Senate. Both Gonzalez and de la Garza later rose to positions of power as committee chairmen in the House. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pace of Hispanic political involvement increased, and by the time Bill Clinton became president, two prominent Hispanics were named to his cabinet: former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros as secretary of housing and urban development (HUD), and former Denver mayor Frederico Pena as secretary of transportation.


In the 1950s, Native Americans struggled with the government's policy of moving them off reservations and into cities where they might assimilate into mainstream America. Not only did they face the loss of land; many of the uprooted Indians often had difficulties adjusting to urban life. In 1961 when the policy was discontinued, the United States Commission on Civil Rights noted that for Indians, "poverty and deprivation are common."

In the 1960s and 1970s, watching both the development of Third World nationalism and the progress of the civil rights movement, Native Americans became more aggressive in pressing for their own rights. A new generation of leaders went to court to protect what was left of tribal lands or to recover that which had been taken, often illegally, in previous times. In state after state, they challenged treaty violations, and in 1967 won the first of many victories guaranteeing long-abused land and water rights. The American Indian Movement (AIM), founded in 1968, helped channel government funds to Indian-controlled organizations and assisted neglected Indians in the cities.

Confrontations became common. In 1969 a landing party of 78 Native Americans seized Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and held it until federal officials removed them in 1971. In 1973 AIM took over the South Dakota village of Wounded Knee, where soldiers in the late 19th century had massacred a Sioux encampment. Militants hoped to dramatize miserable conditions in the reservation surrounding the town, where half of the families were on welfare and alcoholism was widespread. The episode ended, after one Indian was killed and another wounded, with a government agreement to re-examine treaty rights, although little was subsequently done.

Still, Indian activism brought results. Other Americans became more aware of Native American needs. Officials in all branches of government had to respond to pressure for equal treatment that was long overdue. The Senate's first Native American member, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, was elected in 1992.


The agitation for equal opportunity sparked other forms of upheaval. Young people in particular rejected the stable patterns of middle-class life their parents had created in the decades after World War II. Some plunged into radical political activity; many more embraced new standards of dress and sexual behavior.

The visible signs of the counterculture permeated American society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hair grew longer and beards became common. Blue jeans and tee shirts took the place of slacks, jackets and ties. The use of illegal drugs increased in an effort to free the mind from past constraints. Rock and roll grew, proliferated and transformed into many musical variations. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British groups took the country by storm. "Hard rock" grew popular, and songs with a political or social commentary, such as those by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, became common. The youth counterculture reached its apogee in August 1969 at Woodstock, a three-day music festival in rural New York State attended by almost half-a-million persons. The festival, mythologized in films and record albums, gave its name to the era -- The Woodstock Generation.

The energy that fueled the civil rights movement and catalyzed the counterculture also stimulated an environmental movement in the mid-1960s. Many were aroused by the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which pointed to the ravages of chemical pesticides, particularly DDT. Public concern about the environment continued to increase throughout the 1960s as many became aware of other pollutants surrounding them - automobile emissions, industrial wastes, oil spills -- that threatened their health and the beauty of their surroundings. On April 22, 1970, schools and communities across the United States celebrated Earth Day. "Teach-ins" educated Americans about the dangers of environmental pollution.

But many resisted proposed measures to clean up the nation's air and water. Solutions would cost money to businesses and individuals, and force changes in the way people lived or worked. However, in 1970, Congress amended the Clean Air Act of 1967 to develop uniform national air-quality standards. It also passed the Water Quality Improvement Act, which made cleaning up off-shore oil spills the responsibility of the polluter. Then, in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created as an independent federal agency to spearhead the effort to bring abuses under control.



Shifts in the structure of American society, begun years or even decades earlier, had become apparent by the time the 1980s arrived. The composition of the population and the most important jobs and skills in American society had undergone major changes.

The dominance of service jobs in the economy became undeniable. By the mid-1980s, capping a trend under way for more than half a century, three-fourths of all employees worked in the service sector -- for instance, as retail clerks, office workers, teachers, physicians and other health care professionals, government employees, lawyers, and legal and financial specialists.

Service-sector activity benefited from the availability and increased use of the computer. This was the information age, with hardware and software that could aggregate previously unimagined amounts of data about economic and social trends. The federal government had made significant investments in computer technology in the 1950s and 1960s as part of its military and space programs. In the late 1970s, two young California entrepreneurs, working out of a garage, assembled the first widely marketed computer for home use, named it the Apple -- and ignited a revolution. By the early 1980s, millions of microcomputers had found their way into U.S. businesses and homes, and in 1982, Time magazine dubbed the computer its "Machine of the Year."

Meanwhile, America's "smokestack industries," such as steel and textiles, were in decline. The U.S. automobile industry reeled under competition from such highly efficient Japanese car makers as Toyota, Honda and Nissan -- many of which opened their own factories in the United States. By 1980 Japanese automobile manufacturers controlled a quarter of the American market. Only by the late 1980s and early 1990s did U.S. manufacturers begin to match the cost efficiencies and engineering standards of their Japanese rivals, and start winning back the share of the domestic car market they had ceded to imports over the previous two decades. Although consumers were the beneficiaries of this ferocious competition -- and in other highly competitive industries, as well, such as computers -- the painful struggle to cut costs meant the permanent loss of thousands of jobs in the U.S. auto industry.

Population patterns shifted as well. After the end of the postwar "baby boom," which lasted from approximately 1946 to 1964, the overall rate of population growth declined and the population grew older. Household composition also changed. In 1980 the percentage of family households dropped; a quarter of all groups were now classified as "nonfamily households," in which two or more unrelated persons lived together.

New immigrants changed the character of American society in other ways. The 1965 reform in immigration policy shifted the focus away from Western Europe, and the number of new arrivals from Asia and Latin America increased dramatically. Vietnamese refugees, for example, poured into the United States in the aftermath of the war. In 1980, 808,000 immigrants arrived, the highest number in 60 years, as the country once more became a haven for people from around the world.

In the 1980s, additional groups became active participants in the struggle for equal opportunity. Homosexuals, using many of the tactics of the civil rights movement, sought the same freedom from discrimination that other groups claimed. Often pressure brought results. In 1975, for example, the U.S. Civil Service Commission lifted its ban on employment of homosexuals, and many states enacted anti-discrimination laws. Inevitably, a backlash occurred, and incidents of hostility toward homosexuals surfaced as well.

Then, in 1981, came the discovery of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a devastating disease striking the body's immune system. AIDS is transmitted sexually or through blood; and in the United States it struck homosexual men and intravenous drug users with particular virulence, although the general population proved vulnerable as well. By 1992 more than 150,000 Americans had died of AIDS, with estimates of those carrying the AIDS virus ranging from 300,000 to more than one million. But the AIDS epidemic was by no means limited to the United States, and the effort to treat the disease encompassed physicians and medical researchers throughout the world. One of their earliest successes, largely the result of U.S. and French research, was to isolate the AIDS virus and develop tests to ensure protection of the blood supply.


For many Americans, the economic, social and political trends of the previous two decades -- ranging from crime and racial polarization in many urban centers, to the economic downturn and inflation of the Carter years -- engendered a mood of disillusionment. It also strengthened a renewed suspicion of government and its ability to deal effectively with the country's deep-rooted social and political problems.

Conservatives, long out of power at the national level, were well positioned to exploit this new mood. It was a time when many Americans were receptive to their message of limited government, strong national defense and the protection of traditional values against what were seen as the encroachments of a permissive and often chaotic modern society.

This conservative upsurge had many sources. A large group of fundamentalist Christians, who regard the Bible as the direct and inerrant word of God, were particularly concerned about an increase in crime and sexual immorality. One of the most politically effective groups in the early 1980s, called the Moral Majority, was led by a Baptist minister, Jerry Falwell. Another, led by Pat Robertson, built an organization called the Christian Coalition which by the 1990s was a potent force in the Republican Party. Like many such groups, they wanted to return religion to a central place in American life. Television evangelists like Falwell and Robertson developed huge followings.

Another galvanizing issue for conservatives was one of the most divisive and emotional issues of the time: abortion. Opposition to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman's right to an abortion in the early months of pregnancy, brought together a wide array of organizations and individuals. They included, but were not limited to, large numbers of Catholics, political conservatives and religious fundamentalists, most of whom regarded abortion under virtually any circumstances as tantamount to murder. They were prepared to organize in support of politicians who agreed with their position -- and against those who disagreed with it. Pro-choice and antiabortion demonstrations became a fixture of the political landscape.

Within the Republican Party, the right wing grew dominant once again. The right had briefly seized control of the Republican Party in 1964 with its presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, then faded from the spotlight. By 1980, however, with the use of modern fund-raising techniques, the right overtook the moderate wing of the party. Drawing on the intellectual firepower of such conservatives as economist Milton Friedman, journalists William F. Buckley and George Will, and research institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the New Right played a significant role in defining the issues of the 1980s.

Like other conservatives, or the "Old Right," the New Right favored strict limits on government intervention in the economy. But the New Right was willing to use state power to encourage its view of family values, restrict homosexual behavior and censor pornography. In general, the New Right also favored tough measures against crime, strong national defense, a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools, opposition to abortion and defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment for women.

The figure who drew all these disparate strands together was Ronald Reagan. Reagan, born in Illinois, achieved stardom as an actor in Hollywood movies and television before turning to politics. He first achieved political prominence with a nationwide televised speech in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater. In 1966 Reagan won the governorship of California, owing to a wave of voter reaction against the student rebellion at the University of California-Berkeley, and served until 1975. He narrowly missed winning the Republican nomination for president in 1976 before succeeding in 1980 and going on to win the presidency from Jimmy Carter. Reagan won overwhelming reelection in 1984 against Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale.

President Reagan's unflagging optimism and his ability to celebrate the achievements and aspirations of the American people persisted throughout his two terms in office. He was a figure of reassurance and stability for many Americans. Despite his propensity for misstatements, Reagan was known as the "Great Communicator," primarily for his mastery of television. For many, he recalled the prosperity and relative social tranquility of the 1950s -- an era dominated by another genial public personality who evoked widespread affection, President Dwight Eisenhower.

Reagan believed that government intruded too deeply into American life. He wanted to cut programs he contended the country did not need by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse." Throughout his tenure, Reagan also pursued a program of deregulation more thoroughgoing than that begun by Jimmy Carter. Reagan sought to eliminate regulations affecting the consumer, the workplace and the environment that he argued were inefficient, expensive and impeded economic growth.


President Reagan's domestic program was rooted in his belief that the nation would prosper if the power of the private economic sector was unleashed. A proponent of "supply side" economics, a theory which holds that a greater supply of goods and services is the swiftest road to economic growth, Reagan sought large tax cuts to promote greater consumer spending, saving and investment. Supply-side economists argued that a tax cut would lead to increased business investment, increased earnings and -- through taxes on these earnings -- increased government revenues. Despite only a slim Republican majority in the Senate and a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats, President Reagan succeeded during his first year in office in enacting the major components of his economic program, including a 25-percent tax cut for individuals to be phased in over three years. The Reagan administration also sought and won significant increases in defense spending to modernize the nation's military and counter what it felt was a continual and growing threat from the Soviet Union.

A recession marked the early years of Reagan's presidency, hitting almost all sections of the country. Real gross national product (GNP) fell by 2.5 percent in 1982, as the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent and almost one-third of America's industrial plants lay idle. Throughout the Midwest, major firms like General Electric and International Harvester released workers. The oil crisis contributed to the decline. As gains in U.S. productivity slowed, economic rivals such as Germany and Japan won a greater share of world trade. American consumption of goods produced by other countries rose sharply.

Farmers also suffered hard times. The number of farmers declined, as production became concentrated in the hands of a smaller number. During the 1970s, American farmers had helped India, China, the Soviet Union and other countries suffering from crop shortages, and had borrowed heavily to buy land and increase production. Then the rise in oil prices raised farm costs and a worldwide economic slump in 1980 reduced the demand for farm products. Farmers had major difficulties making ends meet.

But the deep recession throughout 1982 -- combined with falling oil prices -- had one important benefit: it curbed the runaway inflation that had started during the Carter years. Conditions improved for some segments of the economy in late 1983; by early 1984, the economy rebounded and the United States entered one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth since World War II. Japan agreed to impose a voluntary quota on its car exports to the United States. Consumer spending increased in response to the federal tax cut. The stock market climbed as it reflected the optimistic buying spree. Over a five-year period following the start of the recovery, GNP grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. The annual inflation rate remained between 3 and 5 percent from 1983 to 1987, except in 1986 when it fell to just under 2 percent -- the lowest level in decades. The nation's Gross National Product grew substantially during the 1980s; from 1982 to 1987, the U.S. economy created more than 13 million new jobs.

However, an alarming percentage of this growth was based on deficit spending. Under Reagan the national debt nearly tripled. Furthermore, virtually all the growth in national wealth took place in the highest income group. Many poor and middle-class families actually lost ground, as low- and semi-skilled jobs were eliminated from the economy, or failed to keep pace with the rest of society.

Steadfast in his commitment to lower taxes, Reagan signed the most sweeping federal tax-reform measure in 75 years during his second term. This measure, which had widespread Democratic as well as Republican support, lowered income tax rates, simplified tax brackets and closed loopholes, taking an important step toward taxing low-income Americans more equitably. Still, serious problems remained. The chronically poor failed to benefit as the economy improved. Farmers continued to suffer, and serious droughts in 1986 and 1988 compounded their distress.

The increased military budget -- combined with the tax cuts and the growth in government health spending -- resulted in the federal government spending far more than it received in revenues each year. Some analysts charged that the deficits were part of a deliberate administration strategy to prevent further increases in domestic spending sought by the Democrats. However, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress refused to cut such spending. From $74 thousand million in 1980, the deficit soared to $221 thousand million in 1986 before falling back to $150 thousand million in 1987. A stock market crash in late 1987 dramatized doubts about the stability of the economy.


In foreign policy, President Reagan sought a more assertive role for the nation, and Central America provided an early test. The United States provided El Salvador with a program of economic aid and military training when a guerrilla insurgency was threatening to topple its government. It also actively encouraged the transition to an elected democratic government, but efforts to curb the active right-wing death squads were only partly successful. U.S. support helped stabilize the government, but the level of violence in El Salvador remained undiminished and actually increased in late 1989. A peace agreement was reached, however, in early 1992.

U.S. policy toward Nicaragua was much more controversial. In 1979 revolutionaries calling themselves Sandinistas overthrew the repressive right-wing Somoza regime. The Sandinista government rejected U.S. demands to cut its military ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union and open its political system to democratic reforms. Regional peace efforts ended in failure, and the focus of administration efforts shifted to support for the anti-Sandinista resistance, known as the contras. Following intense political debate over this policy, the Congress ended all military aid to the contras in October 1984, but continued humanitarian assistance. Congress, under administration pressure, reversed itself in the fall of 1986, and approved $100 million in military aid for the contras. However, a lack of success on the battlefield, charges of human rights abuses and the revelation that funds from secret arms sales to Iran had been diverted to the contras undercut political support in Congress for continuing military aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.

Subsequently, the administration of President George Bush abandoned any effort to secure military aid for the contras. The Bush administration also supported the opposition political coalition, led by Violetta Chamorro, which won an astonishing upset election over the Sandinistas in February 1990.

The Reagan administration was more fortunate in witnessing a return to democracy throughout Latin America, from Guatemala to Argentina. The emergence of democratically elected governments was not limited to Latin America, however; in Asia, the "people power" campaign of Corazon Aquino overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, and elections in Korea ended decades of military rule.

By contrast, South Africa remained intransigent in the face of the Reagan administration's efforts to encourage an end to racial apartheid through the controversial policy of "constructive engagement." In 1986, frustrated at the lack of progress, the U.S. Congress overrode Reagan's veto and imposed a set of economic sanctions on South Africa. Only in December 1988, in the last weeks of the Reagan administration, did years of patient U.S. mediation contribute to an historic peace settlement and independence for the territory of Namibia in southern Africa.

Despite its outspoken anti-communist rhetoric, the Reagan administration's direct use of military force was relatively restrained. On October 25, 1983, U.S. forces landed on the Caribbean island of Grenada after an urgent appeal for help by neighboring countries. The action followed the assassination of Grenada's leftist prime minister by members of his own Marxist-oriented party. After a brief period of fighting, U.S. troops captured hundreds of Cuban military and construction personnel and seized caches of Soviet-supplied arms. In December 1983, the last American combat troops left Grenada, which held democratic elections a year later.

But military efforts in Lebanon, where the United States was attempting to bolster a weak, but moderate, pro-Western government, ended tragically, when 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist bombing in October 1983. In April 1986, U.S. Navy and Air Force planes struck targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, in retaliation for Libyan-instigated terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel in Europe.

In the Persian Gulf, the earlier breakdown in U.S.-Iranian relations and the Iran-Iraq war set the stage for U.S. naval activities in the region. Initially, the United States responded to a request from Kuwait for protection of its tanker fleet; but eventually the United States, along with naval vessels from Western Europe, kept vital shipping lanes open by escorting convoys of tankers and other neutral vessels traveling up and down the Gulf.


In relations with the Soviet Union, President Reagan's declared policy was one of peace through strength. Rooted in the Cold War tradition, he was determined to stand firm in dealing with the country he termed the "evil empire." Two events increased U.S.-Soviet tensions: the suppression of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland in December 1981, and the destruction of an off-course civilian airliner, Korean Airlines Flight 007, by a Soviet jet fighter on September 1, 1983. The United States also condemned the continuing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and provided aid to the mujahidin resistance there.

In Reagan's first term, his administration spent unprecedented sums for a massive defense buildup, including the placement of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe to counter Soviet deployments of similar missiles. And on March 23, 1983, in one of the most hotly debated policy decisions of his presidency, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research program to explore advanced technologies, such as lasers and high-energy projectiles, to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although many scientists questioned the technological feasibility of SDI and economists pointed to the extraordinary sums of money involved, the administration pressed ahead with the project.

After reelection in 1984, Reagan softened his rigid position on arms control. For its part, Moscow was amenable to agreement, in part because the Soviet economy was incapable of sustaining the level of expenditures necessary to compete with the U.S. defense build-up. In November 1985, Reagan held a summit meeting with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva. They agreed in principle to seek 50-percent reductions in strategic offensive nuclear arms as well as an interim agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces. In December 1987, President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty providing for the destruction of a whole category of nuclear weapons.


If the Strategic Defense Initiative was problematical for the Reagan administration, other efforts in space were more promising. In 1981 the U.S. launched the space shuttle Columbia -- the first reusable manned spacecraft. Between 1981 and 1985, the shuttle demonstrated extraordinary versatility, with astronauts conducting experiments, taking photographs, and launching, retrieving and repairing satellites while in orbit. But in January 1986, tragedy struck: the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, instantly killing six astronauts and a schoolteacher who was to have been the first ordinary citizen in space. Space shuttle missions were postponed indefinitely while NASA set out to redesign the shuttle for safety. By the time the United States successfully launched the shuttle Discovery in late 1988, there had been over 300 changes in the shuttle's launch systems and computer software.


The Reagan administration's most serious foreign policy problem surfaced near the end of the president's second term. In 1987 Americans learned that the administration had secretly sold arms to Iran in an attempt to win freedom for American hostages held in Lebanon by radical organizations controlled by Iran's Khomeini government. Investigation also revealed that funds from the arms sales had been diverted to the Nicaraguan contras during a period when Congress had prohibited such military aid.

The ensuing Iran-contra hearings before a joint House-Senate committee examined issues of possible illegality as well as the broader question of defining American foreign policy interests in the Middle East and Central America. In a larger sense, the Iran-contra hearings, like the celebrated Senate Watergate hearings 14 years earlier, addressed fundamental questions about the government's accountability to the public, and the proper balance between the executive and legislative branches of government.

The United States suffered an economic setback on October 19, 1987, so-called "Black Monday," when the value of stocks tumbled 22 percent -- immediately bringing back memories of the fabled stock market crash of 1929, which had been followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. The causes of the crash included anxiety about U.S. international trade and federal-budget deficits, concern about the high level of corporate and personal debt, and a new stock market innovation known as "program trading" in which computers automatically ordered the buying or selling of a large volume of shares when certain circumstances occurred.

Nevertheless, the nation recovered in a remarkably short time. Although many Americans turned from the stock market to safer forms of investment, a recession did not materialize. In fact, economic growth continued, with the unemployment rate dropping to a 14-year low of 5.2 percent in June 1988.


President Reagan enjoyed unusually high popularity at the end of his second term in office, but under the terms of the U.S. Constitution he could not run again in 1988. His political heir, the vice president during all eight years of his presidency, George Bush, benefited greatly from Reagan's popularity and was elected the 41st president of the United States.

Bush campaigned by promising voters a continuation of the prosperity Reagan had brought; he also argued that his expertise could better support a strong defense for the United States than that of the Democratic Party's candidate, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, claimed that less fortunate Americans were hurting economically and that the government had to help those people while simultaneously bringing the federal debt and defense spending under control. The public was much more engaged, however, by Bush's economic message: a promise of no new taxes. In the balloting, Bush finished with a 54-to-46-percent popular vote margin.

During his first year in office, Bush followed a conservative fiscal program, pursuing policies on taxes, spending and debt that were faithful to the Reagan administration's economic program. Yet, with an outsized budget deficit and a deficit-reduction law requiring that it be pared, Bush found himself locked into a program permitting few if any new budget items while requiring spending cuts. Thus, administration policies that would cost Washington the least progressed the furthest. On environmental protection and education -- issues in which private industry and local and state government pay most of the bills -- Bush introduced changes in policy. In November 1990, Bush signed sweeping legislation to impose new federal standards on urban smog, automobile exhaust, toxic air pollution and acid rain, but most of the costs were assigned to industrial polluters. He signed legislation ensuring physical access for the disabled, but the costs were transferred to business. The president also launched a campaign to encourage volunteerism for social beneficence, which he called, in a memorable phrase, "a thousand points of light."


Bush administration efforts to gain control over the federal budget deficit, however, were more problematic. One source of the difficulty was the savings and loan crisis. Fraud, mismanagement, lax regulation and economic downturns in certain regions of the United States in the early and mid-1980s led to widespread insolvencies among savings-and-loan institutions. Of more than 3,100 such institutions that existed in the late 1970s, only 2,453 remained as of June 30, 1990. By 1993 the total cost of selling and closing down failed thrifts -- whose deposits were guaranteed by the government -- was staggering: between $300 and $500 thousand million.

In January 1990 President Bush presented his budget proposal to Congress. Democrats argued that administration budget projections were far too optimistic, and that meeting the deficit reduction law would require tax increases and sharper cuts in defense spending. The budget negotiations dragged on, and by June -- in spite of his campaign promise -- President Bush told congressional leaders that changing circumstances in the national economy meant that tax increases would have to be part of any overall budget package.

Despite the budget agreement, the combination of economic recession, losses from the savings and loan industry rescue operation, and escalating health-care costs for Medicare and Medicaid offset all the deficit reduction measures and produced a shortfall in 1991 at least as large as the previous year's.


Superpower relations in the late 1980s were driven by political turmoil in Eastern Europe. The United States and the world watched as popular uprisings for democratic reforms resulted in the fall of communist governments throughout the region.

Despite a successful 1989 summit meeting between Bush and Gorbachev in Malta, few would have predicted the extraordinary achievements to be made in U.S.-Soviet relations in 1990. In his January State of the Union message, President Bush announced his intention to cut U.S. troops stationed in Europe to 195,000. In February, the Bush administration held discussions with the Soviets on arms control as well as the unification of East and West Germany. Within seven months, after numerous bilateral and multilateral discussions, the Soviet Union had renounced its wartime rights and accepted a unified Germany with full membership in NATO. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany was signed in Moscow on September 12.

President Bush and the heads of state of 21 other countries signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) on November 19, 1990, at a three-day summit meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CFE Treaty was one of the most complex and ambitious arms agreements ever concluded, covering thousands of tanks, aircraft and artillery pieces deployed by NATO and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains.

Then, on July 31, 1991, the United States reached its last major arms agreement with the Soviet Union when Presidents Bush and Gorbachev signed the long-negotiated Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Moscow, which mandated cuts of 30 to 40 percent in the nuclear arsenals of both sides. But even these cuts were dwarfed by President Bush's agreement with Boris Yeltsin, president of the new Russian Federation, to eliminate all multiple-warhead missiles completely by the year 2003. In combination, the two agreements would reduce the number of nuclear warheads by two-thirds, from approximately 21,000 to between 6,000 to 7,000. The disposal of nuclear materials, and the ever-present concerns of nuclear proliferation superseded the threat of nuclear conflict between Washington and Moscow.

The Cold War was indeed over.


The euphoria caused by the drawing down of the Cold War was dramatically overshadowed by the August 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Iraqi control of Kuwait and the danger it posed to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states threatened a vital U.S. interest, because the United States, and the West in general, remained dependent on this region for much of its oil supplies.

President Bush strongly condemned the Iraqi action and called for Iraq's immediate and unconditional withdrawal. An emergency session of the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to condemn Iraq, urge a cease-fire and demand the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Later in August, Iraq announced the annexation of Kuwait, ordered the closing of all embassies in that country, and began taking U.S. and British citizens in Kuwait hostage. On August 8, President Bush went on national television to announce the deployment of U.S. troops to the Middle East. The president then worked to assemble one of the most extraordinary military and political coalitions of modern times, with military forces from Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as the Middle East.

In the days and weeks following the invasion, the U.N. Security Council passed 12 resolutions condemning the Iraqi invasion and imposing wide-ranging economic sanctions on Iraq. The 12th resolution, issued on November 29, approved the use of force by U.N. member states if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. The new U.S.-Soviet relationship provided the necessary condition for the U.N. action to stem the Iraqi invasion. Without the new entente between the two countries, the United Nations would never have authorized military action against Iraq.

Members of Congress had publicly called on President Bush and the international community to exhaust all means for resolving the Gulf crisis peacefully. But the underlying issue was constitutional: the U.S. Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war. Yet in the second half of the 20th century, the United States has repeatedly become involved in armed conflicts without such a congressional mandate, most notably in Vietnam. Some members of Congress declared that Bush must get congressional backing before going to war. Others argued, however, that Congress really wanted a voice in where, when and under what conditions the United States goes to war -- not the responsibility of declaring war itself.

On January 12, 1991, three days before the U.N. deadline, Congress granted President Bush the authority he sought in the most explicit and sweeping war-making power given a president in nearly half a century.

War broke out less than 24 hours after the U.N. deadline. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait succeeded in liberating Kuwait with a devastating, U.S.-led air campaign that lasted slightly more than a month. It was followed by a massive invasion of Kuwait and Iraq by armored and airborne infantry forces. With their superior speed, mobility and firepower, the allied forces overwhelmed the Iraqi forces in a land campaign lasting only 100 hours.

The United States and its allies achieved their military goal, but the victory was incomplete. Saddam Hussein remained in power, savagely repressing the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, both of whom had risen in rebellion after the war. Hundreds of oil-well fires, deliberately set by the Iraqis, took until November 1991 to extinguish. Saddam's regime also attempted to thwart United Nations inspectors who, operating in accordance with Security Council resolutions, worked to locate and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear facilities and huge stocks of chemical weapons.

Indirectly, however, the Gulf War enabled the United States to persuade the Arab states, Israel and a Palestinian delegation to begin direct negotiations aimed at resolving the complex and interlocked issues that could eventually lead to a lasting peace in the region. The talks began in Madrid, Spain, on October 30, 1991. In turn, they set the stage for the secret negotiations in Norway that led to the historic agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed at the White House on September 13, 1993.


The president also received broad bipartisan congressional backing for the brief U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, that deposed dictator General Manuel Antonio Noriega. In the 1980s, addiction to crack cocaine reached epidemic proportions, and President Bush put the "war on drugs" at the center of his domestic agenda. The United States had compelling evidence that Noriega was involved in drug smuggling operations and by means of the invasion sought to bring Noriega to justice. But there were other reasons. One of Bush's aims was to replace Noriega with a government headed by Guillermo Endara, who had won a presidential election that Noriega subsequently annulled. Bush also told reporters that he ordered U.S. troops to Panama to safeguard the lives of American citizens, to help restore democracy and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties. Noriega eventually turned himself over to U.S. authorities, and he was later tried and convicted in U.S. federal court in Miami, Florida, of drug trafficking and racketeering.

The Bush administration marked progress on the economic front with the negotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, which became the focus of an intense ratification debate in the Clinton administration. Labor unions charged that NAFTA would encourage the export of U.S. jobs, and environmentalists expressed concern that the agreement provided incentives to industries to relocate to regions having lax controls on industrial pollution. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations, however, argued that NAFTA would permit a greater flow of goods and services at lower cost, and would make industry in all three countries more competitive in the global marketplace. NAFTA, which was approved by the Congress after a vigorous national debate in late 1993, is viewed by many as a testing ground for future trade agreements, which could eventually lead to free trade throughout the Western Hemisphere.


As the 1992 presidential election approached, Americans found themselves in a world transformed in ways almost unimaginable four years earlier. The familiar landmarks of the Cold War -- from the Berlin Wall to intercontinental missiles and bombers on constant high alert -- were gone. Eastern Europe was independent, the Soviet Union had dissolved, Germany was united, Arabs and Israelis were engaged in direct negotiations, and the threat of nuclear conflict was greatly diminished. It was as though one great history volume had closed and another had opened.

Yet at home, Americans were less sanguine -- and faced some deep and familiar problems. Once the celebrations and parades following the Gulf War ended, the United States found itself in its deepest recession since the early 1980s. Many of the job losses were occurring among white-collar workers in middle management positions, not solely among blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector who had been hit hardest in earlier years. Even when the economy began recovering in 1992, its growth was virtually imperceptible until late in the year, and many regions of the country remained mired in recession. Moreover, the federal deficit continued to mount, propelled most strikingly by rising expenditures for health care. Many Americans exhibited profound pessimism about their future, believing that their country was headed in the wrong direction.

Despite an early challenge by conservative journalist Patrick Buchanan, President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle easily won renomination by the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, defeated a crowded field of candidates to win his party's nomination. As his vice presidential nominee, he selected Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, generally acknowledged as one of the Congress's most knowledgeable and eloquent advocates of environmental protection.

But the country's deep unease over the direction of the economy also sparked the emergence of a remarkable independent candidate -- wealthy Texas entrepreneur H. Ross Perot. Perot, who earned a fortune in computers and data processing, tapped into a deep wellspring of frustration over the inability of Washington to deal effectively with economic issues, principally the federal deficit, and his volunteers succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. Although Perot squandered even a remote chance of winning the election by dropping out of the presidential contest in July only to reenter in the fall, his presence ensured that economic issues remained at the center of the national debate.

Every U.S. presidential election campaign is an amalgam of issues, images and personality; and despite the intense focus on the country's economic future, the 1992 contest was no exception. The Bush reelection effort was built around a set of ideas traditionally used by incumbents: experience and trust. It was in some ways a battle of generations. George Bush, 68, probably the last president to have served in World War II, faced a young challenger in Bill Clinton who, at age 46, had never served in the military and had participated in protests against the Vietnam War. In emphasizing his experience as president and commander-in-chief, Bush also drew attention to what he characterized as Clinton's lack of judgment and character.

For his part, Bill Clinton organized his campaign around another of the oldest and most powerful themes in electoral politics: change. As a youth, Clinton had once met President Kennedy, and in his own campaign 30 years later, much of his rhetoric challenging Americans to accept change consciously echoed that of Kennedy in his 1960 campaign.

As governor of Arkansas for 12 years, Clinton could point to his experience in wrestling with the very issues of economic growth, education and health care that were, according to public opinion polls, among President Bush's chief vulnerabilities. Where Bush offered an economic program based on lower taxes and cuts in government spending, Clinton proposed higher taxes on the wealthy and increased spending on investments in education, transportation and communications that, he believed, would boost the nation's productivity and growth and thereby lower the deficit. Similarly, Clinton's health care proposals to control costs called for much heavier involvement by the federal government than Bush's.

Clinton successfully hammered home the theme of change throughout the campaign, as well as in a round of three televised debates with President Bush and Ross Perot in October. On November 3, Bill Clinton won election as the 42nd president of the United States, despite receiving only 43 percent of the popular vote.


From its origins as a set of obscure colonies hugging the Atlantic coast, the United States has undergone a remarkable transformation into what political analyst Ben Wattenberg has called "the first universal nation," a population of almost 250 million people representing virtually every nationality and ethnic group on the globe. It is also a nation where the pace and extent of change -- economic, technological, cultural, demographic and social -- is unceasing. The United States is often the harbinger of the modernization and change that inevitably sweep up other nations and societies in an increasingly interdependent, interconnected world.

Yet the United States also maintains a sense of continuity, a set of core values that can be traced to its founding. They include a faith in individual freedom and democratic government, and a commitment to economic opportunity and progress for all. The continuing task of the United States will be to ensure that its values of freedom, democracy and opportunity -- the legacy of a rich and turbulent history -- are protected and flourish as the nation, and the world, approach the doorway of a new century.