Decade of Disillusionment

Mar 23, 2019
folder_opencategory: History

The world history is the set of numerous ups and downs, constant balancing between the prosperity and decline, peace and conflicts, traditions and progress. They seem to be an integral part of the social and economic development of humanity because only new critical challenges can provoke progressive transformation by the means of values’ reassessment. However, if such critical historical moments could be evaluated calmly from the perspective of the past centuries, it would be obvious that the people who happened to live at the time of crisis experienced a lot of contradictory emotions. Disillusionment is the strongest among them and mostly inherent to the historical turning points, especially if speaking about the war that in a moment can put upside down the world order as well as human consciousness. The paper seeks to analyze the aspects of postwar changes that occurred in the United States of America in the 1920s to find out whether the disenchantment prevailed among the social feelings or this period was called the decade of disillusionment unfairly.

Because of the geographical location of the United States of America, it managed to avoid being involved in numerous conflicts that were waged in different corners of the world. The Civil War was the greatest clash on the country’s territory, and its horrors people had already forgotten when the World War I began. Obviously, the majority of the Americans could not understand the expediency of nation’s participation in it. Despite the government had presented its decision as the matter of national interest, there were a lot of people who considered the war “dirty and unheroic” (Doeneke and Wilz 7). The number of such persons increased after war’s ending when the negative aftermath of the America’s participation became evident but the reasons to engage remained vague. Thus, the primary disappointment of American people was related to the government’s international policy and its inability to solve the numerous social and economic issues caused by the war. Many families lost their dearest persons; soldiers who returned home needed appropriate providing with work, social help, medical treatment; ordinary citizens strived for a decent level of living, but the country exhausted by the war could not overcome these challenges.

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Returning to the pre-war way of life became impossible because of the changes in the social structure, traditions, treatment of the daily aspects of human life, priorities distribution that occurred besides the disillusionment in government. New opportunities shifted the accent from traditions to the individual interests. People tried to customize everything to their vision; even the Holy Script was interpreted in the way justifying social transgressions. Thus, those who disenchanted in traditions rejected following them while, at the same time, numerous individuals apprehended the latest tendencies and strived to save traditions. Even the period of prosperity did not improve the situation but sharpened social indignation. Money flowed into the country, but it settled in the hands of businessmen causing no changes in ordinary people’s life. It was an additional reason for social disappointment. However, the feeling of disillusionment, how historians used to name the whole decade, was only the first social reaction on the modern tendencies and became the ground for the numerous progressive changes. Giving women the right to vote was the brightest example of the transition from social disillusionment to the concrete actions aimed at the adoption of the new reality. Emotions and experience of American people became the ground for the numerous literary works; spiritual protest of society caused appearing of the new music style that was jazz.

The decade after World War I in the history of the United States of America became one of the most productive, dynamic and brightest periods in many areas. That is why it could not be totally characterized as disillusionment. It was rather a reassessment of the values.

Post-War Periods: World War I and World War II

For the second time during one century the United States of America faced with the challenges World War II brought. As during the previous military experience, the country’s participation in the conflict did not cause the significant destructions of its territory because of geographical remoteness from the actions’ epicenter. However, directing all the industrial potential toward the military needs cannot help avoiding the crucial transformations in society. These changes were quite similar to those that had place in the United States of America in the post-World War I period.

While the other countries that participated in the war were suffering from the economic decline, the United States of America managed even to improve its financial potential and strengthen its positions on the international market after the Second World War. However, the affluence America attained got did not help it solve the internal problem, because, as it was after World War I, the ordinary people remained behind the achievements of the “prosperity” period. The situation repeated. Thus, the part of families which earned under $3,000 per year declined from the 49,4 % in 1947 to 21,7 % in 1960 (Bremner and Reichard).

Thus, such decrease in living standards promoted the process of suburbanization that made people look for the ways of reducing their spending (Boustan). This process had a place in the history of 1920s, so it was inherent to the period of 1945–1960. Moreover, the ethnic feature played a crucial role in both cases. When white population departed from the cities, black people moved to the big cities creating strong labor competition to its citizens with the low salaries they asked for their work. If this phenomenon only began to manifest itself in post-war period after WWI, during 1945–1960 the migration reached unprecedented scales. Thus, almost the century of suburbanization resulted in 72% of African Americans among the central cities’ population and only 33% of white metropolitans (Boustan 417).

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Lack of workplaces was one more reason of similarities between two post-war periods of the 1920s and 1945-1960. Numerous veterans who returned to their homes needed jobs to provide their families with a decent level of life in such complicated living conditions. Moreover, not only former military men wanted to work, but also their wives who used to survive using their individual efforts, and immigrants, too. In the situation when military production was curtailed, the number of workplaces reduced but the need for them, vice versa, increased. Depicting the mentioned difficulties of the ordinary people, Upton Sinclair wrote in his book The Jungle that “there was an economic crisis, the million or two of men who had been out of work in the spring and summer, and were not yet all black, by any means” (401).

As it was mentioned, the gender issue sharpened after World War II. It became the ongoing of women’s struggling for equal rights that started in the 1920s and sounded with the new loudness. Despite in the 1920s the government provided females with an ability to vote, the situation with their employment did not change. Women were replaced by men in their workplaces as soon as the war ended without considering their knowledge and skills. Moreover, if females managed to maintain their jobs, they suffered from awful employers’ treatment.

One can see that the character of the outcomes World War I and World War II brought is similar despite the differences in time periods. Thus, the problems related to the lack of the workplaces, necessity of the veterans employment, increasing racial segregation and sharpening of the gender struggle, which were the primary reasons of these similarities. They were on the front of daily crisis schedule in 1945–1960 as well as in the 1920s. Both crises were mostly related to the internal social life in the United States of America rather than to the economic capacity or country’s performance in the international affairs. Both of them became crucial preconditions for significant transformations in the structure of American society and substantial legislative changes in domestic policy.

New World Order

Two World Wars, which happened to be during the XX century, made the whole world community remain in the constant tension and military readiness for decades despite direct military actions were lasting only for less than ten tears together. All this time the challenges of the war period set the pace for developmental tendencies in each sphere of human life, starting from countries’ international policy and ending with their direction of state industries, the welfare of the population, and other aspects. Obviously, these tendencies were far from democracy, humanism and equality that caused the extremely high level of exhausting human resources, even higher than that of technological and economic capacities of the nation. The aspiration for stability, balance and recovering prevailed over the militant mood and promoted the creation of the new world order based on the principles of globalization and open market.

The process of establishing the dialog between two world superpowers started after 1980 when Americans elected the new president Ronald Reagan, who directed all his efforts toward the struggle with communism movement. Mikhail Gorbachov’s coming, who was interested in peaceful cooperation and democracy, became the second factor promoting the revision of world’s political priorities. After collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States of America remained the only superstate that should play the role of peaceful world arbiter to regulate the situation in the post-soviet space. Thus, establishing peace and the new division of the forces and influences created the ground for activating international cooperation and appearing of the new opportunities for economic and social progress. Opening the borders caused the fast development of transnational companies and promoted active migration of sources, including material objects and intellectual potential.

Such situation provoked new division of the labor, optimizing numerous processes of production, fast technological progress, and other factors. Many products and services that previously were not in the free access became available to the majority of the population. The level of human life began to rise gradually, and the numerous problems that existed in the United States of America in the post-war periods retreated into the past. The globalization also promoted the multicultural intercommunication establishing mutual understanding between the nations. Malcolm X, who was the representative of the black minorities in the United States of America, claimed that such interaction is “the road to a new sense of group identity, a self-conscious role in history and sense of men’s individual worth” (Haley 12).

Thus, ending of the Cold War and rejection of the bipolar force system in the world allowed establishing the peace and cooperation between the former enemies. Warming in the international relations became the substantial ground for activating economic processes and intercultural communication. Thus, the world changed, and these transformations reflected on the domestic policies of the countries, including the United States of America, shifting their political accents toward the democracy, social development, and economic prosperity. This situation significantly differed from the tendencies of the previous century, and indeed, between 1980 and 2000, the new order emerged in the United States of America as well as abroad. As Yoshiko Uchida admitted, the new order gave the birth to the new “generation for whom civil rights, ethnic equality meant more than just words” (149). This generation and their historical memory are the crucial factors for avoiding the tragedies like those which world wars brought to the humanity.

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