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B2 1940s De Zwaan

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MYP Unit Question: How did culture, events and leadership shape and reflect post-WWII America?



Business & the Economy

     World War II had helped to bring America out of the recession from the 1930's. During the war America had made huge profit off of selling war supplies to the Allies. When America joined the war, demand for goods increased and this helped to stimulate the economy and reverse the cycle of depression. After the war due to the sudden influx of military servicemen the government passed the GI Bill which helped soldiers get jobs upon the arrival back home.

     According to Did America Live Happily Ever After?, in the 1940's Americans had an average per capita income of $11,450. this know disposable income was used for several things such as entertainment and leisure. the electronics and automobile markets, benifited from people know being able to buy their goods. Overall inn the post-WWII world Americans were very wealthy and there was a period of economic growth







     The 1940s brought great change to American education.  Before, schools were not organized well, were underfunded, and were inefficient.  But throughout the decade, they became better organized, properly funded and standardized.  World War II was the reason behind many of the changes.  Millions of men were rejected from the army because they were illiterate, and it became transparent to the army that there were many differences in education from region to region in America. 

     Curriculum itself took a turn for the better in the 1940s.  Community colleges used to only be classes one would take before going to a university, but when the need for technical and vocational training increased, community colleges became very similar to trade schools.  After the war, the military had more needs and requirements and with the invention of the atomic bomb, colleges had to update the material taught to students who were studying technical and science work.

     Other changes in education were not connected to the war.  In the 1940s, there was a lot of secularization in schools, and students were taught religious beliefs in public schools.  Before, this was considered to be normal material taught to students, but after the war, people became more aware about the issue.  In 1945, the McCollum vs. Board of Education case ruled that it was unconstitutional for religious instruction to be taught in public education 




     The styles and fashions were affected by WWII. The money that America started making after the end of the Depression went to the war. Clothing materials such as wool, cotton, silk and nylon went to the war for uniforms, parachutes, and supplies. The government discouraged fashion because they wanted the main focus to be on the war, so they made a restriction on how much fabric could be used on dresses: ¾ a yard. The clothing styles of both men and women were simple. Men wore plain two-piece suits in dark colors and the women wore solid, basic dresses but accessorized their suits with hats, bags and heels.


      Two big fads of the 1940s were bobby socks and the Zoot suit. Bobby socks are white cotton socks that were often worn by young women, children, and teenage girls. These ankle-length socks were created in the previous decade but became especially popular by girls in the 40s, mostly because of Frank Sinatra. When he first performed with them in 1942, all the girls fell in love, and obsessed over them. The girls became known as “bobbysoxers”. The Zoot Suit, worn by Black and Hispanic males was a popular style that was comfortable for dancing and was a symbol of their colorful cultures. Their suits caused issues with the white people, who did not approve of the colored ethnicities expressing their cultures. There was a riot in June 1943 in Los Angeles, California when hundreds of white sailors and marines attacked those wearing the Zoot suits and tore it off of them, similar to the Race Riots, police barely did anything to help as it lasted for two weeks.  Zoot suits are often related with jazz clubs and the new jive talk.


Film and theater


     The 1940s was a high point in the film industry. The biggest studios at the time put out a new film every week. There were restrictions in the movies; the PCA or Production Code Association made it so that the outcomes of all movies would have the good guys win, there would be limited sexuality discussion and no talk about social issues. The censorship was to ensure that the same large amount of people that regularly went to the movie would continue to go; but as possibilities of war circulated around America and the public started to agree with going to war, the movies changed and movies became less censored. Yet, the majority of the popular movies in the 40s had nothing to do with war.  Some well-liked films were Citizen Kane, Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Philadelphia Story, Disney’s Fantasia, and Pinocchio. Also, a new genre of films became popular: film noir. The “dark cinema” was grim movies that were based on detective stories from the past two decades. Still, by the mid 40s, movie attendance decreased because more Americans had television sets at home.


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Food &  Drink


     Since the Great Depression was officially finished, more people could buy more developed, processed food. Eating out became more popular because it was more convenient and quicker. Instead of having to cook themselves and clean up afterwards, families went to restaurants like pizzerias, Stuckey’s and McDonald’s.  Between work, employees could go on break and grab some coffee or a snack like at the new, popular franchise of “Dunkin’ Donuts”. Also, m&m's were invented and after originally being used as snacks for soldiers in the army, they were brought back and became popular in America.


The first Dunkin' Donuts (pictured above) was opened in Quincy, Massachusetts.


Print Culture

     For the first half of the decade, the print media was dominated by serious articles due to the Second World War. Most newspapers wanted to bring news about the war to the American people, who were anxious to know what was going on across the ocean.   In the newspapers, there were pictures of the soldiers and the battles, and these allowed people to understand the realities of war.

     However, after the war, there was a turn in print culture and comic books became more popular.  Many well-known superhero comics came into being, including the Green Lantern and Captain America.  In contrast to these superhero comics, comics, such as Archie comics, were made about the lives of normal, everyday characters, created purely for the sake of comedy.


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     In addition to comic books, magazines and picture books became popular with the youth.  For young children, pictures books and Highlights magazine, which tried to promote reading, were created.  For female teenagers, the magazine Seventeen offered advice about everyday life, and this magazine is still popular today.

     Print culture for adults also took a turn in this decade.  Before, pulp fiction, or inexpensive fiction, was very popular but later in the decade, these magazines lost the appeal they had in the 1920's and 1930's.  Pulp fiction soon disappeared, as adults of the 1940s now opted to read longer novels that had more of a plot.  These novels usually contained sentiments from the war.  Two popular novels by George Orwell are Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.  One main event in Animal Farm was the "Battle of the Windmill" and it is said that this battle is supposed to mirror World War II. 




Sports &  Games

     Much of the 1940’s American culture was changed, due to the wars of the decade, including the sports of the 1940’s. Prior to the Pearl Harbor American sports were doing well. However, as the wars began, the activity of sports went down. Since America needed men out on the Battle fields and women in the factories, there was a very small amount of people that were available to keep the American sports alive. In fact, by 1945, 509 active major league baseball players had served time in the military. About two hundred different colleges ended their football programs because players went to war. And 400,000 boxers quit their passion to go to war, including five world champions. Some examples of players who joined the forces were Hank Greenberg, a Major League Baseball professional, and two professional football players by the names of Dave Smulker and Chuck Gelatka. Although it seems that the 1940’s was a decade that had close to no sports, it indeed had some sports.



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     Baseball was probably the most famously played sport in the 1940’s. Many people played it professionally, and even more people watched it. In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black to play Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers, and earned the Most Valuable Player award in 1949. Jackie Robinson contributed greatly to both the advancement of sports in America, and the advancement of African Americans. Boxing was another widely played sport in America during the 1940’s.  Some of the famous boxers of the 1940’s include Joe Louis from Detroit Michigan, and Rocky Grazaino.


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      There were two main genres of music in the 1940s that evolved many new popular types of music. Blues brought jazz, R&B, be-bop, and boogie-woogie with many new dances. Musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dean Martin, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, Billy Holliday, Frank Sinatra, and Miles Davis rose to fame in jazz clubs mostly in Chicago and Manhattan. In the jazz clubs, new dances became popular such as the jitterbug, swing dancing. Country music carried on to swing and bluegrass music. The folk/country music was trendier to rural people and their songs had a theme of talking about the depressing sides of America, things that came from the Great Depression along with regrets and personal issues.  All of these music styles helped initiate rock and roll music which would rise to popularity in the 50s with the King of Rock, Elvis. People were able to listen to music more often because it was available in more places other than jazz clubs. It could be heard on the radio and could be bought on tape recorders.


 Dizzy Gillespie, a popular musician in the 40s, was famous for how big his cheeks blew up when he played the trumpet.



"The Way We Lived"

     The 1940’s was an American Decade unique from all the rest. After the end of the Second World War all the men fighting the war came home. Prior to the war, most men quickly got married before they were shipped off to the battle fields. When the men returned home, their wives were very happy to have them back. As a result of this happiness, many couples began to start their own families, this period was known as the Baby Boom. Since the men were home and the war was over, everyone’s spirits went up. Americans were happy and they were living wonderful lives. According to the book, Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America, by Sarah and Tom Pendergast, “people began buying things. Homes, cars (not just family sedans, but hot rods), electric appliances, and other once-luxuries were purchased or financed. People began vacationing more.” All people began getting more jobs, they began to purchase more products and services, thus stimulating the economy and improving the American life. All in all, Americans in the 1940’s were living happier lives, now that the economy was prospering, and violence was decreasing.


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     As people began getting more money, they began vacationing more to places such as Las Vegas Nevada. Las Vegas prospered greatly in the 1940’s. Las Vegas began to build more hotels and casinos, more Americans were able and willing to travel to Las Vegas. Las Vegas helped increase happiness in American spirits, and Americans were able to live the American dream.


 A view of the Las Vegas strip in 1953. Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

                                       Las Vegas in the 1940's



Government & Politics

      The latter half ot the 1940's was one of the most influential times in American history, with the death of FDR in 1945, Truman took over the office of the president. In domestic policy, Truman continued many of FDR's programs and wanted to continue FDR's work. As a democrat Truman  gave help to middle class americans, he allowed unions to pursue higher wages and better working conditions. By the end of the 1940's, Americans had begun to grow tired of the New Deal. The democrats had been in power for 16 years and prospects looked good for the republicans. In the 1948 presidential election, Truman made one of the biggest comebacks in history and won the presidency. Despite victory in the presedential race, republicans won majority in the congress. Truman called this the "Do Nothing" Congress because they opposed many of the bills from FDR's administration. They also opposed many of Truman's "Fair Deal" bills which were aimed at economic and social development.

     After the end of WWII, the USSR became one of America's number one concerns. Much of america's foreign policy revolved around preventing the spread of communism in the world and defeating the USSR; this period became known as the Cold War. The public hysteria over anti-communism led the government to have the power to investigate suspected communist activity. In politics of the 1940's, politicians accused  opponents of communism without fully knowing what the term meant.

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     America in the 1940’s was a land that needed great leadership, and the tragically sudden death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt only further complicated things. According to Modern America: The USA, 1865 to the Present, by Joanne Pennington, the leaders of the wartime coalition such as Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had a respect for each other, but Harry Truman’s foreign policy inexperience created stress in a crucial time. Many people compare Truman to the typical hot-blooded American, but on the inside, he was a generous and loving leader. Truman was put in one of the most difficult positions in American history, when he had to take office. Now that the Second World War was over, the only superpowers leading the world were America and the Soviet Union. Because of his lack of experience with foreign policies, many people believed that Truman would crumble to pieces. However, with the help of many other American leaders, Truman was able to control communism, dictators, and he was finally able to put an end to the Cold War, thus save democracy. All in all, when looking at the extremely difficult position Harry S. Truman was left in, one can believe that he did a wonderful job at following up FDR and being a great American leader and president.


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Law &  Justice

   In the 1940's the role of the courts began to change, For example the Supreme Court would not alter any consitutional law to meet the crisis of the war. The Supreme Court also affirmed right of segregation in a time when African Americans did not have civil rights. In this time period, there was no law and justice for all, and instead, there was a bias against minorities and immigrants, and the "pure" Americans would try to use the courts against them.  The Supreme Court's decisions were not enforced on a state level.



     Church attendance had declined greatly during the Depression, but the after math of World War II brought on an increase in church membership and the number of new congregations.  Before the war, 43% of the American public went to church, whereas more that 55% of people attended church by the end of the decade.  According to polls taken in 1947, compared to politicians and businessmen, religious leaders were thought of more highly by the public. 

     The three main faiths in the United States were Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. There was a lot of tension between the religions, but as the war went on, the lines of religion became less clear.  This brought many changes, “harmonizing the essence of their doctrines with the innovative intellectual concepts and mores of modern society” (“The 1940s: Religion: Overview”).  However, even if one of the main faiths was Judaism, anti-Semitism was still a problem in the United States, and by the end of the decade, it was a part of anti-Communism beliefs.


Positive Political Cartoon

In the time of World War II, Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), a renowned childrens book author, produced many political cartoons depicting his views on the war and on other issues.  In the above cartoon, Dr. Seuss illustrates the need for America to rid their minds of racial prejudices.


Negative Political Cartoon

In the above cartoons, Dr. Seuss illustrates the public view of the Jewish community, and how they did not care about their treatment under Hitler's rule.  It was during this time that anti-Semitism, or hostility towards Jews, was an issue in the United States.  So many people did not believe that these "foreign" people deserved help.





MYP Unit Question: How did culture, events and leadership shape and reflect post-WWII America?


     The 1940s was a decade of great change, from the culture of the American people, to the events that had occurred, to the very leaders of the nation.  The war was over, and everyone seemed to be happier in general; husbands, fathers, and sons were back from the war and people were living successful, content lives.  The culture, events, and leadership of the 1940s no doubt helped to shape and reflect post-WWII America.   


            The latter half of the 1940s was a time of happiness and success.  After the war, men returned to their homes, and began to settle down to start their own families.  The spirits of all the citizens were high, as the war was over and the United States was relatively successful in its war efforts.  According to Sarah and Tom Pendergast, authors of Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America, people began to spend larger amounts of money, buying goods that were once considered to be luxuries and vacationing more in places such as Las Vegas.  During the war, fashion trends changed a lot, and due to government restrictions on the amount of cloth used, men and women wore simpler clothing.  These restrictions were not lifted even after the war, but for the most part, fashion returned to the way it was before WWII.  Zoot suits were popular back then, and were often associated with jazz clubs and the new jive talk.  So all in all, the culture shaped post-WWII America because after the war, people started spending their money more freely, and tried to enjoy their lives to the fullest.


            Events such as World War II and the Cold War no doubt shaped post-WWII America.  After the events of WWII and the hardships everyone was facing, many people became more open-minded and became more determine to live happy lives and fulfill the American Dream.  But WWII led to the Cold War, during which America became concerned about the Soviet Union and the issue of communism.  People became paranoid about communism, and the government started investigating those that could be connected to the spread of communism.  This may have led to anxiety and paranoia in the post-WWII America, causing people to want to be “normal” and not stand out in a way that would attract negative attention.  On a more positive note, upon their arrival back home after fighting in the war, men started to settle down to start families.  This led to the Baby Boom, a time when the nation’s birth rate increased dramatically.  The Baby Boom led people to believe that the worst was finally over, and that once again, people can live as they used to, before the war and before the Great Depression.  Due to the baby boom, houses and cars became essential for families, creating new markets for homes and automobiles, and also markets for food, clothing, and children’s toys (Pennington “Did America Live Happily Ever After?”).  Therefore, events, including WWII, the Cold War, and the Baby Boom, had a large role in shaping and reflecting on post-WWII America.


            Leadership was very important in the 1940s because it was a decade of change and in order for the course of the decade to run smoothly, a good leader was absolutely necessary.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly in the early 1940s, the nation was in turmoil.  People were worried about the future, and the new president, Harry Truman, did not seem up to the task of being the leader of the country, due to his lack of experience in making foreign policies.  But Truman turned out to be a caring leader, much different than the “typical hot-blooded American” image people thought of him as.  Though Americans assumed that Truman would not be able to handle the aftermath of WWII, he fared remarkably well and helped end the Cold War.  So the leadership of America definitely had a large impact upon post-WWII America, helping citizens move on from the war to a time of prosperity.


            All in all, the post-WWII period was influenced by the decade’s culture, events, and leadership.  By helping the citizens cope with repercussions of the war and allowing them to live in happiness, people were able to continue with their lives and only look back at the war with, albeit painful, memories. 




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