1945-2001

"Two Minute Warning," confrontation between Selma police and marchers 03/07/1965. Photo: U.S. Department of State.


Cold War

USA spillede en kæmpe rolle i den globale verden i årene efter 2. verdenskrig, især igennem landets indflydelse på de nyoprettede verdensorganisationer: FN (De Forenede Nationer) og NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Det største politiske og diplomatiske problem i den tidlige efterkrigstid blev den kolde krig, som var resultatet af langvarige uenigheder mellem USA og Sovietunionen, om hvilken styringsform og økonomisk system der producerede mest frihed, lighed og velstand.

På siderne herunder kan du læse om den kolde krigs vigtigste grundlag samt begyndelse.

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 – and most difficult – test case was Poland, the eastern half of which had been invaded and occupied by the USSR in 1939. 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 an agreement on Eastern Europe open to different interpretations. It included a promise of “free and unfettered” elections.

Meeting with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov less than two weeks after becoming president, Truman stood firm on Polish self-determination, lecturing the Soviet diplomat about the need to implement 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 suppress the democratic parties. Communists took over one nation after another. The process concluded with a shocking 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.”  Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a dramatic speech in Fulton, Missouri, with Truman sitting on the platform. “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.

The nation’s new chief executive, Harry S. 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. Roosevelt had not discussed complex postwar issues with him, and he had little experience in international affairs. “I’m not big enough for this job,” he told a former colleague.

Still, Truman responded quickly to new challenges. Sometimes impulsive on small matters, he proved willing to make hard and carefully considered decisions on large ones. A small sign on his White House desk declared, “The Buck Stops Here.” His judgments about how to respond to the Soviet Union ultimately determined the shape of the early Cold War.

Disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States developed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Soviet Communist Party under V.I. Lenin considered itself the leader of an international movement that would replace the existing political orders in the West and throughout the world. In 1918 American troops participated in the Allied intervention in Russia on behalf of anti-Bolshevik forces. American diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union did not come until 1933 and even then, suspicions persisted. During World War II, however, the two countries found themselves allied and downplayed their differences to counter the Nazi threat.

After WWII, antagonisms between the U.S. and the Soviet Union resurfaced. From the American perspective, the political disengagement and economic protectionism in the U.S. after WWI contributed to the rise of dictatorships in Europe and elsewhere. The United States attempted to correct these perceived mistakes by promoting the concepts of liberty, equality, and democracy following World War II. America now advocated open trade for two reasons: to create markets for American agricultural and industrial products, and to ensure the ability of Western European nations to export as a means of rebuilding their economies. Reduced trade barriers, American policy makers believed, would promote economic growth at home and abroad, bolstering U.S. friends and allies in the process.

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. They demanded “defensible” borders and “friendly” regimes in Eastern Europe and seemingly equated both with the spread of Communism, regardless of the wishes of native populations. However, the United States had declared that one of its war aims was the restoration of independence and self-government to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

  • What does NATO stand for? What purpose does it serve?
  • What did the US and Russia disagree over?
  • Who is Lenin and what did he lead?
  • What concepts did the US try to promote around the world?
  • What concepts did Russia try to promote?

Civil Rights

Selvom meget ændrede sig for USAs minoriteter efter borgerkrigen i 1860’erne, stod det ret skidt til med borgerrettigheder i USA. Borgerretsbevægelsen, ført an af folk som Malcolm X og Martin Luther King, ændrede dette, men ikke uden ofre.

Mange minoriteter i USA har kæmpet for bedre rettigheder, herunder afroamerikanere, kvinder, indianere og – i den seneste tid – homoseksuelle. I afsnittene herunder kan I læse om de mange historiske sejre for alle borgeres lige rettigheder og om de debatter, der stadig finder sted.

African American equality became an increasingly prominent issue in the postwar years. During the war, African Americans had challenged discrimination in the military services and in the work force and made limited gains. Millions of African Americans had left Southern farms for Northern cities, where they hoped to find better jobs. They found instead crowded conditions in urban slums. Now, African American servicemen returned home, many intent on rejecting second-class citizenship.

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 African American 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 obstructed the effort to win friends in other parts of the world.

Harry Truman supported the early civil rights movement. He personally believed in political equality, though not in social equality, and recognized the growing importance of the African American urban vote. When informed in 1946 of a series of lynchings and anti-black violence in the South, he appointed a committee on civil rights to investigate discrimination. Its report, To Secure These Rights, issued the next year, documented African Americans’ second-class status in American life and recommended numerous federal measures to secure the rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Truman responded by sending a 10-point civil rights program to Congress. Southern Democrats in Congress were able to block its enactment. A number of the angriest, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, formed a States Rights Party to oppose the president in 1948. Truman then 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, which was largely ended during the Korean War.

In the South, African Americans in the 1950s still enjoyed few, if any, civil and political rights. In general, they could not vote. Those who tried to register faced the likelihood of beatings, loss of job, loss of credit, or eviction from their land. Occasional lynchings still occurred. Jim Crow laws enforced segregation of the races in streetcars, trains, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, recreational facilities, and employment.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took the lead in efforts to overturn the judicial doctrine, established in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, that segregation of African American and Caucasian students was constitutional if facilities were “separate but equal.” That decree had been used for decades to sanction rigid segregation in all aspects of Southern life, where facilities were seldom, if ever, equal.

African Americans 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 to see that the law was upheld in the face of massive resistance from much of the South. He faced a major crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, when Governor Orval Faubus attempted to block a desegregation plan calling for the admission of nine black students to the city’s previously all-white Central High School. After futile efforts at negotiation, the president sent federal troops to Little Rock to enforce the plan.

Governor Faubus responded by ordering the Little Rock high schools closed down for the 1958-59 school year. However, a federal court ordered them reopened the following year. They did so in a tense atmosphere with a tiny number of African American students. Thus, school desegregation proceeded at a slow and uncertain pace throughout much of the South.

Another milestone in the civil rights movement occurred in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American 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-only. Ordered to move to the back, she refused. Police came and arrested her for violating the segregation statutes. African American 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 boycotters 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; a bomb damaged the front of his house. But African Americans in Montgomery sustained the boycott. About a year later, the Supreme Court affirmed 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 to evade the law. The states would impose a poll (“head”) tax or a literacy test – typically much more stringently interpreted for African Americans – to prevent poor African Americans with little education from voting. 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 African Americans were denied the opportunity 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 African Americans.

Relying on the efforts of African Americans themselves, the civil rights movement gained momentum in the postwar years. Working through the Supreme Court and through Congress, civil rights supporters had created the groundwork for a dramatic yet peaceful “revolution” in American race relations in the 1960s.

The 1960’s was an exciting and tumultuous time in the United States. A generation of youngsters rebelled against the status quo of government, lifestyle, gender roles, discrimination, and many others cultural norms. The 1960s was a time for musical, sexual, and chemical experimentation for many, culminating at Woodstock in 1969. In this era, protests and anti-war sentiment increased. Minorities and many college-aged activists took a stand against discrimination. The 1960s was a time of self-expression and change in America for some, for others, it was seen as an indecent, amoral uprising.

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

In 1960 African American 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 African Americans 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 the 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.

The level of progress initially achieved did not match the rhetoric of the civil rights movement. President Kennedy was initially reluctant to press white Southerners for support on civil rights because he needed their votes on other issues. Events, driven by African Americans themselves, forced his hand. When James Meredith was denied admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962 because 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 free the measure from a congressional committee, where it was still bottled up when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was more successful. Displaying negotiating skills he had so frequently employed during his years as Senate majority leader, Johnson persuaded the Senate to limit delaying tactics preventing a final vote on the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations. The next year’s Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized the federal government to register voters where local officials had prevented African Americans from doing so. By 1968 a million African Americans were registered in the deep South. Nationwide, the number of African American elected officials increased substantially. In 1968, the Congress passed legislation banning discrimination in housing.

Once unleashed, however, the civil rights revolution produced leaders impatient with both the pace of change and the goal of channeling African Americans into mainstream white society. Malcolm X, an eloquent activist, was the most prominent figure arguing for African American separation from the white race. Stokely Carmichael, a student leader, became similarly disillusioned by the notions of nonviolence and interracial cooperation. He popularized the slogan “black power,” to be achieved by “whatever means necessary,” in the words of Malcolm X.

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 Jr. was assassinated. 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. The growing militancy on the left, coupled with an inevitable conservative backlash, opened a rift in the nation’s psyche that took years to heal.

By then, however, a civil rights movement supported by court decisions, congressional enactments, and federal administrative regulations was irreversibly woven into the fabric of American life. The major issues were about implementation of equality and access, not about the legality of segregation or disenfranchisement. The arguments of the 1970s and thereafter were over matters such as busing children out of their neighborhoods to achieve racial balance in metropolitan schools or about the use of “affirmative action.” These policies and programs were viewed by some as active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment, and by others as reverse discrimination.

The courts worked their way through these problems with decisions that were often inconsistent. In the meantime, the steady march of African Americans into the ranks of the middle class and once largely white suburbs quietly reflected a profound demographic change.

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 Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, an explosive critique of middle-class living patterns that articulated the discontent that Friedan asserted was felt by many women. Arguing that women often had no outlets for expression other than “finding a husband and bearing children,” Friedan encouraged her readers to seek new roles and responsibilities and to find their own personal and professional identities, rather than have them defined by a 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.

Reform legislation also prompted change. During debate on the 1964 Civil Rights bill, opponents 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 valuable legal tool.

In 1966, 28 professional women, including 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.” While NOW and similar feminist organizations boast of substantial memberships today, arguably they attained their greatest influence in the early 1970s, a time that also saw the journalist Gloria Steinem and several other women found Ms. magazine. They also spurred the formation of counter-feminist groups, often led by women, including most prominently the political activist Phyllis Schlafly. These groups typically argued for more “traditional” gender roles and opposed the proposed “Equal Rights” constitutional amendment.

Passed by Congress in 1972, that amendment declared in part, “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 moved to expand women’s rights. In 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade sanctioned women’s right to obtain an abortion during the early months of pregnancy – seen as a significant victory for the women’s movement – but Roe also spurred the growth of an anti-abortion movement.

In the mid- to late-1970s, however, the women’s movement seemed to stagnate. 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, Americans of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent had faced discrimination. New immigrants, coming from Cuba, Mexico, and Central America – often unskilled and unable to speak English – suffered from discrimination as well. Some Hispanics 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 difficulties in their quest for a better life.

Chicanos, or Mexican Americans, mobilized in organizations like the radical Asociación 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 African American 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 to organize and bargain collectively. But César Chávez, founder of the overwhelmingly Hispanic United Farm Workers, demonstrated that direct action could achieve employer recognition for his union. California grape growers agreed to bargain with the union after Chávez led a nationwide consumer boycott. Similar boycotts of lettuce and other products were also successful. Though farm interests continued to try to obstruct Chávez’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. González won election to Congress from Texas. Three years later Eligio (“Kika”) de la Garza, another Texan, followed him, and Joseph Montoya of New Mexico went to the Senate. Both González 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. Several prominent Hispanics have served in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets.

In the 1950s, American Indians struggled with the government’s policy of moving them off reservations and into cities where they might assimilate into mainstream America. Many of the uprooted people often had difficulties adjusting to urban life. In 1961, when the policy was discontinued, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that, for American 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, American Indians 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 those 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 American Indian controlled organizations and assisted neglected American Indians in the cities.

Confrontations became more common. In 1969 a landing party of 78 American Indians 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 the poverty and alcoholism in the reservation surrounding the town. The episode ended after one American Indian was killed and another wounded, with a government agreement to re-examine treaty rights.

Still, American Indian activism brought results. Other Americans became more aware of American Indian needs. Government officials responded with measures including the Education Assistance Act of 1975 and the 1996 Native-American Housing and Self-Determination Act. The Senate’s first American Indian member, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, was elected in 1992.

While some aspects of gay rights remain controversial in the United States, trends favor tolerance and understanding.

Gallup Polls of public opinion have been measuring American attitudes toward gays for many years. In a recent poll, 69 percent of Americans favored allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, versus 43 percent in favor in 1993. A CNN poll puts support at more than 80 percent.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked his views on gay marriage at a June 1 event at the National Press Club in Washington. “I think that freedom means freedom for everyone,” Cheney said. “I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish.” He added, however, that he does not support federal legislation on gay marriage. “It has always been a state issue and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis.”

Five states are or will soon be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Several other states offer some form of domestic partnership or civil union to same-sex couples.

President Obama has said he supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

As of 2007, the overwhelming majority of Americans (89 percent) believe homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. Three-fifths of Americans today believe homosexual relationships should be legal, as opposed to only one-third in the mid-1980s. Almost as many view homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

The United States is joining 66 other United Nations member states in condemning the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.“The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world,” Robert Wood, State Department acting spokesman, said in a statement released March 18. “[W]e will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.”

The U.N. Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity calls on all member states and relevant international human rights mechanisms “to commit to promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The statement further urges all states to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity “may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.”

Read more?

If you want to read more about the current debate concerning gay rights in the US her are a few links: