From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast

Episode 14A - Recapping Our Show So Far

May 31, 2021 Logan Rogers Season 2
From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast
Episode 14A - Recapping Our Show So Far
Show Notes Transcript

This show summarizes all of our past episodes so far, providing our listeners with a refresher course on life in the USA during the Truman & Eisenhower Administrations (from 1946 to 1959). This episode will be a good resource for anyone who just wants a "Cliff Notes" or "Spark Notes" version of this mid-century era of Modern US History. By listening to this episode, you will get all the general backstory & historical context you need in order to prepare for our upcoming episodes about the wild & turbulent 1960s.

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            From Boomers to Millennials is a Modern US History Podcast, providing a fresh (or in the case of this episode, a reheated) look at each year since the end of World War II. Welcome to Episode 14A, also known as “Recapping Our Show So Far.” The title is self-explanatory; we are going to summarize all of our past episodes, providing listeners with a refresher course on life in the USA during the Truman & Eisenhower Administrations. This episode will be a good resource for anyone who only has the interest level (or attention span) for a Spark Notes version of the history. After listening this program, you will have the general backstory you need for our upcoming episodes about the wild & turbulent 1960s. So, let’s return to the very beginning of this podcast (way back in 2019) without further ado:

Episode 0 - Introductory Episode: Justifying Our Existence

This inaugural episode introduced the host & described the vision behind the podcast. We emphasized that the purpose of the From Boomers to Millennials Podcast is not to bash or glorify Boomers, Gen-X, or Millennials, but rather to understand these generations by examining their history. It’s a timeless historical truth that every nation has a checkered past; for that reason, we will examine the good, the bad, & the ugly in Modern US History. We explained that we leave it up to our listeners to judge the individuals, movements, and generations described in our historical narratives. We concluded by expressing our hope that the show would both entertain you & help you better understand what caused the various features and problems of the United States in the 21st Century.

Episode 1 - 1946: Understanding the Baby Boomers' Parents

To understand the Baby Boomer generation, one first needs to understand the forces that shaped their parents & their childhoods. This episode examined the so-called “Greatest generation” that experienced the Great Depression & World War II before giving birth to the Boomers. We described the impact of U.S. postwar prosperity, suburbanization, the G.I. Bill, and the departure of women from the wartime workforce. The year 1946 also contained often-forgotten tensions and conflicts, including a period of economic instability during the transition from wartime to peacetime, as well as major clashes over labor relations and race relations. President Harry S Truman received a major setback to his domestic agenda when Republicans surged into power during the year’s midterm Congressional elections, thanks in part to backlash against the year’s labor unrest. The US government attempted to mitigate an unstable international situation, including a postwar humanitarian & refugee crisis in Europe. Meanwhile, British leader Winston Churchill’s delivered his famous 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech, expressing the ideological tensions that would soon lead the USA & the Soviet Union to face off in a Cold War.

Episode 1A - 1946: The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

This supplemental episode examined the post-World War II trials in Nuremberg, Germany, in which US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson led the prosecution against prominent Nazi leaders such as Hermann Goering & Albert Speer. Some of the USA’s WWII allies had recommended executing or imprisoning these infamous figures without trial, but the Americans believed that it was important for them to get a fair trial that would publicly prove their guilt & expose their crimes. Dozens of high-ranking Nazi officials were charged with & convicted of waging aggressive war, violating laws of war, & engaging in atrocities against civilians (including the Holocaust). We discussed the similar war crimes trials held in Tokyo in order to judge the culpability of the Imperial Japanese military leaders. The episode concluded by discussing how the US federal government has granted fewer legal rights to foreign foes (such as suspected terrorists) during the 2000s than it did for even fascist Axis leaders during the 1940s.

Episode 2 - 1947: Scaring the Hell Out of the American People

Tensions between the US & USSR had been building even during their awkward wartime alliance, but it was in 1947 that the Cold War became a staple feature of the post-WWII American political & diplomatic scene. This episode provided a short, simplified history of the Soviet Union, and explored the numerous causes of the souring of US-Soviet relations. The 2 countries had diametrically opposed ideologies & were consumed with mutual suspicion, which caused a cycle of actions & reactions that ratcheted up international tensions. A slew of US governmental policies began in the early Cold War (including the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency & National Security Council, the passage of the Truman Doctrine's anti-Communist military aid to Greece & Turkey, & the ambitious Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild all of Western Europe). The capitalist Western powers engaged in international attempts to politically & financially stabilize the postwar world via the founding of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, & the World Bank. The US successfully imposed a democratic system upon the former Japanese Empire at this time. Domestically, President Truman went to bat for Big Labor against the new GOP Congress’s anti-union Taft-Hartley bill, but the bill ended up passing anyway. Boundaries were broken in ’47: Jackie Robinson's baseball stardom shattered the color barrier in professional sports; and pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a high-tech aircraft (at least by 1940s standards). We concluded the episode by exploring the moral paradoxes of America's new role of anti-Communist superpower, and by previewing the effect of the Cold War on future US political discourse & electoral outcomes.

Episode 3 - 1948: From Accidental President to True Man of the People

(True man, Truman, you see what we did there?) In this overview of the key events of ‘48, we took a closer look at the unlikely presidency of Harry S Truman. Three presidential challengers: Republican Thomas Dewey, Progressive Henry Wallace, & Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond all attempted to defeat Truman in the 1948 election. Instead, Truman shocked the pundits by fending off all of these challengers in a dramatic comeback re-election victory. Meanwhile, Americans successfully faced down the most serious crisis of the Cold War so far, overcoming a Soviet blockade of Western forces in Germany with a massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin. As a result, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin failed in his attempt at a Communist takeover of the entire City of Berlin.  In response to international tensions, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring all American males to register for a potential military draft. The British departure from Palestine led to the controversial foundation of the nation of Israel, which would be a matter of long-term geopolitical importance for the world, but also of short-term political importance to the Truman administration. President Truman also broke new ground on civil rights by issuing an executive order that desegregated the American military. On the cultural front, the ailing British novelist George Orwell completed his final dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, offering a lasting warning to the world about the dangers of totalitarian government.

Episode 3A - Suburbanization Supplemental & Podcast Update

The late 1940s witnessed the birth of modern suburbia. Economic prosperity & declining inequality combined with newly-generous lending policies to allow millions of Americans to own their own homes for the first time in their lives. American families in an ascendant middle class could now afford cars, which began to transform the residential & commercial landscape of the nation. So-called "white ethnic" immigrant groups (such as Italian, Jewish, & Polish Americans) that had previously faced discrimination gained more acceptance & assimilation in the suburbs, but developers & residents drew the line at selling homes to African-Americans. Instead, blacks were usually left behind in economically declining inner cities. Many suburban areas of the 40s & 50s began with a tight-knit community spirit (sometimes ridiculed as oppressive & conformist by critics), but over the decades that followed, longer work hours & changing cultural attitudes made the suburbs less neighborly & more individualistic. This episode examined the recent revival of high-density urban living. It concluded by considering why Millennials now are often giving up on the suburban dream, and it speculated about whether the suburbs are destined to stagnate & decline in the future.

Episode 4 – 1949: The Curse of the Cold War

In ‘49, a re-elected Pres. Harry Truman attempted to pass the so-called “Fair Deal,” which was a package of liberal domestic reforms, but he had little success getting those programs through Congress. Instead, the US government’s attention fixated upon the “Red” threat after a Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War & the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb. As a charter member of the new NATO military alliance, the United States committed itself to counter these Marxist gains by crushing Communist influences, both at home & abroad. The spies apprehended in the subsequent search for “enemies within” included the dapper Alger Hiss, the doomed Rosenbergs, the rebellious Elizabeth Bentley, the devious Kim Philby, & the brilliant Klaus Fuchs. This episode also introduced a young & ruthless anti-Communist politician from Southern California by the name of Richard M. Nixon. The Red Scare ended up costing many innocent people their jobs based only upon them having previous left-wing political affiliations, & the Lavender Scare resulted in federal employment discrimination against gay & lesbian Americans based upon the dubious notion that they were all somehow “security risks.” The curse of the Cold War was the fear that gripped people throughout the USA, as they came to dread that their neighbor might be a Commie traitor, that their co-worker could get them fired by smearing them as a Red, & that a nuclearized World War III may be just around the corner.

Episode 4A - 1949: Sayyid Qutb's Bad Trip

In the late 1940s, a middle-aged Egyptian writer & civil servant named Sayyid Qutb went to study in the United States. He had recently established himself as a critic of the Egyptian government, & he traveled abroad in part to escape a potential crackdown on dissidents by Egypt's monarchy. However, Qutb soon found that he loathed American society even more than he disliked the Egyptian regime. He found New York, Washington DC, & California to be dens of iniquity. He even regarded a conservative small town in Colorado where he lived for several months to be a hotbed of materialism, racism, sexual permissiveness, & spiritual emptiness. He also condemned US foreign policy as having a pro-Israel bias. Qutb returned to Egypt in 1950 with more radical views than ever, & he soon published a written account filled with his negative observations about American society. He then joined the Muslim Brotherhood movement that sought to overthrow Egypt’s government. A revolution then arrived, but it was led by the military leader Gamal Abdul Nasser. His regime prioritized Arab-nationalist ideology & socialist economics instead of Qutb's preference for Islamic theocracy. The Muslim Brothers tried to assassinate Nasser, but they failed. As a result, Qutb became one of many Islamist radicals who were tortured & eventually executed by Nasser's regime. However, Qutb's posthumous influence grew; his writings from prison inspired Al-Qaeda leaders Osama Bin Laden & Ayman Al-Zawahiri to wage "holy war" against secular Middle Eastern governments. They eventually directed Al-Qaeda to engage in the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Episode 5 - 1950: Plunging Back Into War

Cold War tensions finally boiled over into a heated military conflict during the Summer of 1950, when Soviet-allied North Korea invaded US-aligned South Korea. In response, President Truman called up General Douglas MacArthur, who had been administering the American occupation of Japan, to lead a fight against the Communists on the Korean Peninsula. MacArthur's bold military strategies allowed the Americans to recapture South Korea for the forces of capitalism, but the general underestimated the danger of militarily occupying North Korea in his attempts to totally defeat the Korean communist movement. MacArthur ignored warnings advising him not to send forces near the Chinese border with Korea. Meanwhile, back on the homefront, we profiled labor leader Walter Reuther, who negotiated the "Treaty of Detroit" between the United Auto Workers union & the General Motors car company, which helped bring more Americans into the middle class. The Red Scare continued to loom large over domestic politics, as Senator Joe McCarthy accused many Americans of having Communist sympathies, & Senator Patrick McCarran attempted to limit the liberties of people who were thought to be potential subversives. The final months of 1950 were unpleasant for US officials; the year's wild finish included a failed assassination attempt against Truman, a red-baiting Senate election campaign, & an ill-advised presidential threat sent to a music critic. The year ended with a Chinese Communist intervention in Korea that created great suffering for US troops & South Korean civilians. Mao Zedong sent overwhelming numbers of Chinese soldiers across the Korean border, forcing the American forces into a southward retreat out of North Korea. This offensive wiped out most of the US military progress for the year & made the outcome of the war uncertain. 

Episode 5A - Special: Thoughts on "OK Boomer" & the Late 1940s

This episode investigated the intergenerational argument over the trending phrase "OK Boomer" that spread on social media during late 2019. Was it a well-justified Millennial pushback against bossy, out-of-touch Boomers? Or was it just an excuse for younger generations to be dismissive of older people? We examined the evidence & tried reach a balanced verdict. Then, we mapped out a whirlwind overview of the period between 1946 & 1950, including such topics as: the rise of the imperial presidency; the strange unpopularity of Pres. Truman; the decline of third-party movements during the 2nd half of the 20th Century; the ways in which increased economic prosperity was transforming American daily life; the racial divides of the era between blacks, whites, Hispanics, & Asian Americans; the rise & fall of women in the workplace from the 20s to the 50s; the stigmatization of outsiders during this conformist era; the impact of the Red Scare on the arts; and the cultural debate surrounding the nuclear proliferation among the superpowers. This episode really can’t be adequately condensed within this review, so you’ll have to just give Episode 5A a listen to gain a deeper understanding of the aforementioned topics.

Episode 6 - 1951: Firing a Caesar

The Korean War, which had bogged down in a bloody stalemate by Spring ’51, reached a key turning point when President Harry Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur as the conflict's top strategic commander. MacArthur provoked the decision with his statements and actions that undermined the Truman Administration's military policies. As commander-in-chief, Truman had the clear constitutional authority to remove the general for insubordination. Nevertheless, the American public was outraged that an unpopular politician like Truman could end the career of a revered war hero like MacArthur. Republicans leaders pressed for impeachment amid this popular outcry, but they then backed down when top military & diplomatic officials consistently testified in Congressional hearings that the president's decision had been proper & well-justified. Yet the legislative branch still limited presidential power in 1951 by pushing through the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limited chief executives to 2 elected terms. In terms of domestic policy, accusations that new government programs were "socialistic" continued to nix new political reforms. American society shifted in a more devout direction due to a growing revival of religious participation. The nation’s cultural institutions increasingly reflected & responded to the public's fears during the Cold War. Politicians pressured prominent figures in Hollywood to “name names” of suspected Communists, and those who refused were often blacklisted within the movie industry. We concluded the ’51 episode with a consideration of these tough decisions faced by artists about whether they should criticize the anti-Communist crusade or cooperate with it. 

Episode 7 - 1952: The End of the Truman Show & the Rise of Eisenhower

President Harry Truman couldn't seem to catch a break during his final year in office. His attempts to bring an end to the Korean War were going nowhere, and his administration was embarrassed by corruption scandals. Truman created further controversy when he took drastic measures to prevent a steel strike from threatening the American war effort. He ordered the federal government to temporarily take over the steel factories in order ensure that weapons manufacturing was not disrupted by the strike. But a couple months later, the US Supreme Court ruled that the president did not have the power to take such heavy-handed executive action without Congressional approval. Meanwhile, the Republican presidential primary pitted veteran conservative Senator Robert Taft of Ohio against the relatively moderate General Dwight D. Eisenhower of Kansas. Eisenhower's popularity as a World War II hero helped him win the contest, but he then had to select the more right-wing Senator Richard Nixon as a running-mate, & make nice with red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, all in order to appease the party's conservative faction. Ike's moderate economic & foreign policy views nevertheless helped him to prevail in the November ‘52 general election over the erudite but uncharismatic Democratic nominee, Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. The episode concluded with a preview of the Eisenhower Administration's plan to create a more placid & prosperous USA during the 1950s.

Episode 8 - 1953: Chipping Away at Jim Crow

In '53, President Eisenhower managed to reach his goal of resolving the Korean War, thanks in part to a leadership change in the Soviet Union caused by the death of Stalin. However, with both superpowers successfully testing massively destructive hydrogen bombs, the Cold War still presented serious dangers. Meanwhile, Ike's own Republican Party was soon creating headaches for him in Congress. Sen. Joseph McCarthy insisted on continuing his accusations of Communist affiliation against federal employees even during the Eisenhower Administration, & Sen. John Bricker created an amendment that would reduce the president's power to make diplomatic agreements with foreign nations. Ike defied this pressure from the Right, tacking to the Center by picking moderate Governor Earl Warren of California as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But Eisenhower grew concerned when Warren took the court in a more liberal direction than he had expected. Warren engineered a unanimous decision by the Court to declare racial segregation unconstitutional. The story of Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most famous Supreme Court cases in US history, also featured Thurgood Marshall, the crusading civil rights lawyer, Justice Hugo Black, the repentant ex-Klansman, & a reluctant Justice Robert Jackson, who helped broker the compromise that decided the case. However, there was a nasty backlash by supporters of the Jim Crow system in the aftermath of the Brown decision. They vowed to resist integration by any means necessary. The mid-20th Century battle for integration & civil rights in the USA was far from over - it was actually just beginning.

Episode 8A - 1953: Exit Stalin, Enter Khrushchev

In March ‘53, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died of a stroke after several decades as the dominant figure in the USSR. This supplemental episode first briefly outlined the history of the paranoid & merciless Stalin’s notorious rise to power. American leaders responded to his death by becoming hopeful but apprehensive, given the now-uncertain future of their chief Cold War opponent. The major question was, who would be Stalin’s successor? The dictator’s demise led rival high-ranking officials within the communist state to engage in a competition for leadership of the Soviet government. These figures included the bland Georgi Malenkov, the blunt Nikita Khrushchev, the disciplined Marshal Zhukov, & the predatory Laventry Beria. Eventually, dark horse Khrushchev would surprise the world by winning this power struggle, overcoming the diabolical Beria & his secret police. Khrushchev then broke with international Communist orthodoxy by publicly criticizing Stalin & his legacy of totalitarianism & terror. Nevertheless, the USSR would remain an autocratic & illiberal society, & Khrushchev's aggressive leadership would eventually cause challenges for US foreign policy during the 60s.

Episode 9 - 1954: Pulling Strings Around the World

This globe-trotting episode began with a brief look at the successful 1953 expedition by New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary & Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay to summit Mount Everest; they capped off an age of discovery by successfully ascending the world’s highest peak for the first time in human history. The program then pivoted to some less inspiring international intrigue. Cold War fears led the USA to meddle in the internal politics of Iran, Guatemala, & Vietnam, among other nations. John Foster Dulles's leadership of the State Department & his brother Allen Dulles's direction of the Central Intelligence Agency pushed forward a newly aggressive approach in US foreign policy, which often tossed aside the more cautious "containment" doctrine of the Truman Administration. American efforts at winning international hearts & minds ranged from propagating persuasive propaganda on the one hand (via the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, & the Congress for Cultural Freedom), to pursuing coercive regime change on the other, with coups removing democratically-elected Iranian & Guatemalan leaders). The CIA even dabbled in outright mind control in the case of Project MK-Ultra, hoping that manipulating people with psychedelic drugs would somehow give them an edge in Cold War espionage efforts. In domestic politics, Senator Joe McCarthy (& his sidekick Roy Cohn) would finally fall from power & prominence after they unsuccessfully targeted the US Army. President Dwight Eisenhower approved an expansion of Social Security in the mid-50s, but he avoided creating new social programs. Finally, in the 1954 Congressional elections, Democrats regained control of the federal legislative branch, which surprisingly eased political headaches for Republican President Eisenhower, who'd been clashing with GOP conservatives over his moderate agenda.

Episode 9A - 1954: The Defeat & Legacy of the Bricker Amendment

We began this supplemental by discussing the historical pattern of reluctance by many Americans to get involved in international affairs. For centuries, US citizens hoped to avoid the wars & problems of the Old World. But after the Pearl Harbor attacks brought the USA into World War II, the isolationist mentality quickly changed. Americans co-founded & joined the United Nations to preserve world peace after the war. But isolationist sentiments soon re-emerged in the form of suspicion of the UN, particularly among Midwestern politicians like Ohio Republican John Bricker. Senator Bricker proposed a constitutional amendment designed to limit the power of international treaties & reduce the president's power to make executive agreements. At first, it looked like the proposed Bricker bill would easily pass, but then President Dwight Eisenhower came out against it & Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson also worked to defeat it behind the scenes. This episode did a deep dive into the drama surrounding the details of the so-called Bricker Amendment. The anti-internationalist bill was finally defeated for good, thanks to a last-minute scramble to get the vote of an (allegedly) drunken West Virginia Senator during February 1954. This episode concluded with a discussion of the lasting legacy of the Bricker Amendment, which helped cement a persistent & pervasive American suspicion of UN human rights treaties & other international agreements.

Episode 9B - Special: Reform in a Time of Cold War

This supplemental episode analyzes social reform movements during the Cold War Era, giving an overview of long-term cultural trajectories. The Red Scare of the early Cold War years cast reformers who challenged existing institutions as potential subversives. After World War II, US society valued traditional gender roles; the supposedly “happy American housewife” was regarded as freer than the Soviet woman who was required to work. Southern politicians attacked black civil rights activists as Communistic agitators. However, despite these obstacles, reformers eventually found success during the Cold War Era by learning to work within the quote-unquote “liberal consensus” that favored a government safety net at home & tough anti-Communist policies abroad. Even conservative politicians like Vice-President Richard Nixon became persuaded that the US had to reduce racial discrimination in order to improve America’s image among non-white nations during the Cold War. Reform efforts had a brief golden age in the 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights & antiwar movements. New federal laws passed to protect minorities from racial discrimination, & the social changes of the 60s also opened up new career & lifestyle choices for women. Federal “Great Society” programs attempted to reduce poverty during that time, but in subsequent decades, advocates of progressive economic reform had less success. A New Left during the 60s & 70s called for liberation of marginalized groups & cultural transformation, in contrast to the Old Left’s focus upon economic class struggle. By the late 1970s, social changes sparked conservative backlash & motivated New Right activists. During the last decade of the Cold War, major political changes came to an end, even as many Americans individually evolved toward greater acceptance of diverse populations.

Episode 10 - 1955: Daily Life for a Boomer Kid

The year 1955 featured events of economic, social, medical, & cultural importance. Perhaps the year's biggest story was Dr. Jonas Salk's development of a successful vaccine to prevent the terrifying childhood disease known as polio. The economy remained strong, overcoming a scare from Pres. Eisenhower's heart attack. The AFL-CIO merger marked a landmark in labor history. Commercial enterprises like McDonald's debuted that took advantage of the growing car culture. The Baby Boom had created a new market for family entertainment, as evidenced by the success of a new Southern California theme park known as Disneyland. On a darker note, fear of the Soviet Union’s growing nuclear arsenal caused schools to require Boomer children to hide under their desks in "duck-and-cover" drills. Rock & roll music gained popularity as part of a growing youth culture, but many older adults became increasingly fearful of "juvenile delinquency” due to the proliferation of violent comic books, movies about street gangs, & rebellious film stars such as James Dean (who tragically died in '55). Westerns & quiz shows dominated the fast-growing medium of television. Women's social roles & fashion choices remained highly limited amid the gender conservatism of Fifties culture. Popular religious fervor encouraged some government officials to blur the lines between church & state; Congress voted to add the words “In God We Trust” to all US currency in 1955. Some communities remained outside the growing prosperity in the US, including poor whites in Appalachia, Latinos in the Southwest, & African-Americans in both the rural South & urban North. The brutal murder of black teenager Emmett Till sparked a new wave of civil rights activism, eventually leading Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King to take leadership roles in the rising Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Episode 11 - 1956: Trouble in the Promised Land

The key events of ‘56 include a civil rights milestone, a presidential election, & an international crisis. The 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi was just one manifestation of Southern resistance to the challenge to white supremacy posed by growing efforts toward desegregation. Organized defenses of Jim Crow formed, ranging from the plebeian parts of Southern white society (who often gravitated to the Ku Klux Klan) all the way to its upper-crust elements (local elites formed White Citizens' Councils & Dixiecrat Senators issued the Southern Manifesto). Nevertheless, during ‘56, African-American activists including Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King Jr. defied the racist establishment with a successful boycott of the segregated bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. Their nonviolent but determined resistance would serve as a model & a launching pad for future civil rights campaigns. Meanwhile, a strong economy helped Republican President Dwight Eisenhower cruise to an easy victory over Democratic retread candidate Adlai Stevenson in November '56. Behind the Iron Curtain, new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ruthlessly crushed a popular Hungarian rebellion against hardline Communism in Budapest. The US disapproved, but it was powerless to stop this repression in Eastern Europe without risking nuclear war. Further south, Egypt's nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser succeeded in his revolt against the vestiges of British colonialism in '56. Nasser seized the Suez Canal, and was eventually able to parry British, French, & Israeli efforts to recover it from him. The incident temporarily strained relations between the US government & some of its strongest European allies. Strangely, the Soviets & the Americans found themselves on the same side of an effort to resolve this crisis in the Middle East.

Episode 12 - 1957: The Blessings of the Cold War?

After a brief reflection on troubling recent events in the USA, this episode looked back at a seemingly simpler time - Eisenhower's second term as President. By the late 50s, Cold War pressures led the US government to build major defense & infrastructure projects, to invest heavily in education & scientific research, & to undertake modest steps in the direction of greater racial equality.  The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 was a public works program that created jobs & democratized interstate travel, but it also displaced many urban residents. The USSR's launch of the Sputnik satellites in ’57 convinced many Americans that they were falling behind the Communists in technological advancement. This public outcry led the US government to invest in science via the National Defense Education Act (or NDEA), & it also motivated the creation of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (better known as NASA), which sought to beat the Soviets in a Space Race. New defense spending spurred further southwestern migration, & this population shift enabled the Dodgers & Giants franchises of Major League Baseball to relocate to the West Coast. In 1957, a new civil rights act passed the United States Senate for the first time in nearly a century. However, the biggest racial justice milestone of the year occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 9 black students courageously faced down jeering protesters & bullying classmates to integrate that city’s Central High School. Arkansas's segregationist governor, Orval Faubus, tried to prevent the Little Rock 9 from attending their classes, but once President Eisenhower finally decided to send in federal troops to protect these African-American students, racist politicians & local vigilantes backed off of their most blatant intimidation tactics.

Episode 13 - 1958: The Rise of Cold War Liberalism

In ‘58, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower grew fearful that Middle Eastern revolutions were posing a threat to America's military & economic interests, so he flexed US muscles by sending troops to Lebanon in what turned out to be an uneventful beachside deployment. Meanwhile, Vice-President Nixon received a more menacing reception while on tour in South America; he had to escape an angry mob that surrounded his motorcade in Venezuela. In domestic politics, the big story of the late 50s was the rise of Cold War Era Liberalism, which became possible once the fears of McCarthyism subsided & Americans began dreaming of major reforms. A new avant-garde emerged in the arts, as figures such as Jack Kerouac & Lenny Bruce were not afraid to challenge conventions. The United States Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren issued rulings protecting civil liberties. John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society" & other non-fiction bestsellers made the case for more government funding to public education & social services.  In the 1958 Congressional elections, Democrats gained significant ground in both houses of Congress, thanks in part to an economic recession that was widely blamed upon Eisenhower & the Republicans. Senator John F. Kennedy began laying the groundwork for his own upcoming bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. Meanwhile, figures on the Right during the 50s (such as National Review publisher William F. Buckley, Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand, & John Birch Society founder Robert Welch) began developing their own institutions to challenge Eisenhower's moderation with a conservative Republicanism. We discussed how conservative gender expectations at mid-century limited opportunities for American female politicians, as exemplified by the sabotaging of Representative Coya Knutson. Finally, the episode closed by explaining how the United States expanded its official borders to new frontiers on the fringes of the North American continent by granting statehood to both Alaska & Hawaii.

Episode 13A – Special Supplemental: Defining Liberalism

After spending our last episode discussing the rise of Cold War Liberalism, we took time out during this supplemental episode to explain the origins of the "liberal" political label, to identify why it became popular during the mid-20th-Century in the US, & to track how the term became so stigmatized by the American Right Wing (& also the Far Left) that the label declined in popularity by the 21st Century. This episode ventured all the way back to the American & French Revolutions of the 18th Century, which were inspired by Enlightenment ideals proposing individual rights as a check upon the power of absolute monarchs. A growing bourgeoisie of middle-class merchants & professionals in Europe called themselves liberals. They agitated to obtain more power for themselves, hoping to bring an end to the era when the political sphere was dominated the by a hereditary aristocracy. Most liberals were committed to free trade & free markets, but the problems of the industrial age persuaded many to convert to a more economically interventionalist approach. We documented that middle-class liberals & working-class socialists sometimes cooperated, but more often than not clashed, in 19th Century Europe. On the other hand, because the Socialist movement here in the US was relatively weak, an American Left-Liberal coalition was able to remain united during the Progressive reform era. Unlike in Europe, American middle-class professionals & working-class laborers often operated within the same political party (the Democrats) during the 20th Century. This so-called "New Deal" coalition remained intact until the economic problems & culture wars of the late 20th Century finally weakened the coalition & allowed American conservatives to turn "liberal" into a dirty word. Today, the "liberal" label is often used more by the American center-left's enemies than its advocates, but liberal philosophies have nevertheless left a major lasting impact on the modern United States. In this episode we also briefly discussed different contexts in which the word “liberal” has been used, such as to describe centrist & center-right parties in modern Europe, & also as a general non-ideological term for tolerant & legalistic governments around the world.

Episode 14 - 1959: Coping with Cuba

This episode first examined the Great Leap Forward in China, an instance of bad Maoist policies creating mass starvation in the world’s most populous nation. We then discussed diplomatic exchanges between the 2 major superpowers in ‘59, including the Kitchen Debate in Moscow between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev & Vice-President Richard Nixon, as well as Khrushchev's mostly cordial tour of the USA later that same year. But the main portion of this show focused on a dramatic political revolution in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba that turned out to be a key turning point in the Cold War. US support of dictator Fulgencio Batista, alongside the heavy influence by American corporations & organized criminal syndicates on the island, led many Cubans to distrust the United States. A group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro & Che Guevara overthrew Batista & seized power in early 1959. These rebel leaders eventually pursued an alliance with the capitalist Americans' archrival, the Communist Soviet Union. The new regime’s radical policies caused many wealthy & middle-class Cubans to flee to the US state of Florida. The emergence of a Communist nation just 90 miles from US coastal borders alarmed the Eisenhower Administration. In response to the emergence of this Marxist regime in Cuba, the USA attempted to adopt more humane policies toward other Latin American nations (in an attempt to prevent similar left-wing revolutions), but it simultaneously took a very hard line against the Cuban government led by Castro. By 1960, the CIA was training anti-Castro Cuban exiles to invade the island & topple its leftist regime. In the early 60s, tensions over the fate of Cuba would bring the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war. 

 

OK, any questions? That covers the full chronology of our story so far. But before we go, we also have to acknowledge those episodes where we really got sidetracked by the headlines. In a separate category, outside of our main historical narrative set in the mid-20th Century, were those two special supplemental episodes that reacted to unusual developments in recent current events. We mention them too because we think many listeners will be interested in these still-relevant explorations of very recent US history. Let’s go ahead & outline the content of these episodes as well:

Episode 9C – Special Supplemental: Living Through History

We created this supplemental episode to help listeners understand the origins of the social unrest of May & June 2020. The massive turnout & widespread enthusiasm for the Black Lives Matter protests occurred because of numerous social developments that had been emerging for decades: growing police militarization, continuing racial inequities, a dysfunctional US health care system, escalating economic inequality, & media-driven political polarization. In addition to discussing these long-term & short-term causes of the protest movement, this episode addressed conflicts between protesters, counter-protesters, & law enforcement, and examined the public perceptions of these massive demonstrations, including reactions to the minority of protests that involved vandalism, looting, or violence. The program concluded with informed speculations about possibilities for police reforms & about the Black Lives Matter movement's likely impact on the future of American politics & society.

Episode 10A – Special Supplemental: An Anti-Conspiratorial Podcast Update

On Halloween 2020, our show returned from hiatus to preview Season 2 of the podcast, & also to discuss the frightening topic of conspiracy theories in world history, which were re-emerging in a big way during that year’s coronavirus crisis. We recounted the dark history of pandemic-stricken societies seeking to blame alleged conspirators & scapegoats. These far-fetched conspiracy theories have had a wide appeal during troubled times throughout history, despite the fact that they often paint a bleak picture of a world controlled by shadowy elites. Factors such as declining trust in mainstream journalism & rising influence of social media algorithms have recently made modern Americans more susceptible to conspiratorial beliefs. We considered some of the wild & implausible ideas that have spread across the United States since the rise of the COVID-19 epidemic, & we outlined some of the negative real-world consequences that such beliefs can have on public health & safety. We also discussed the political danger posed by online conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which have led directly to offline, real-world acts of violence perpetrated by disturbed individuals who have been radicalized by their false beliefs. Finally, we noted the difficulty of dealing with friends & relatives who have fallen prey to conspiracy-promoting propaganda, & we offered advice on how to protect oneself from disinformation.

 

            That’s it! We just summed up the entire podcast so far! If any of the historical narratives that we outlined in today’s show particularly piqued your interest, we encourage you to go back & listen to the full-episode version of that story. Otherwise, you are now all caught up on the years between ’46 & ’59 and are ready to move on to the episodes about the transformational Sixties. We welcome any questions or feedback you’d be willing to share with our show at [email protected], & as always, thank you all for listening.