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Victory and Cold War: 1946-1960

From the outside, the United States seemed like the place to be in the autumn of 1945. With the help of its allies, the nation had won a stunning victory in battles beyond both its oceans' shores (see Chapter 17).

Unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, the U.S. suffered little damage to its cities. American farms and factories were in full production, and labor had never been so highly paid. People finally felt safe. The U.S. was, briefly, the only country in the world with the atomic bomb. Prosperity continued, but the feeling of safety didn't last for long. This chapter covers the years after World War II, particularly the Cold War and its effects on the nation and the rest of the world.


World War II had been a four-year roller coaster ride of war for the U.S. As exciting and wonderful as it felt to be victorious, however, Americans couldn't forget that before those four years had come more than ten years of economic calamity in the Great Depression. With no more wartime jobs, folks had to wonder whether hard times were going to return.

President Harry S Truman took over when Franklin Roosevelt died just as the war with Germany was ending; nobody knew whether he could fill Roosevelt's shoes. Even more worrisome was the Soviet Union, which seemed to be morphing from ally to enemy even before the last round of toasts at the victory party.

The baby boom

The baby boom started after World War II. War families were reunited, and people felt optimistic enough about the future to want to bring more children into the world. Before the war, birth rates had been down and suicide rates up, due largely to the corrosive effects of the Depression years on Americans' sense of optimism and resilience.

After victory and years of good pay, people felt much better. The postwar baby boom formed a ten-year population bulge that helped invent '50s rock-and-roll, '60s protest, '70s attitude, and '80s yuppies. By the second decade of the 21st century, the baby boomers were poised to make retirement an active sport.

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