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Unit 8

8.0 Overview of Period 8 (1945-1980)

5 min readmay 20, 2021


AP US History 🇺🇸

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8.1: Overview of Period 8 (1945-1980)

Following World War II, the United States was the strongest military and economic power in the world ☝The economy exploded through the 1960s with suburbs and Baby Boomers. Cold War tension with the Soviet Union heated up, with incidents occurring all over the world. Civil Rights issues ✊🏾dominated the 1950s and 60s. The 1970s saw America suffer a crisis in confidence as oil shortages and a hostage crisis shook the nation’s confidence. Ronald Reagan became the president in 1980, representing a monumental change in Cold War diplomacy.

Post-war America

Levittown suburbs sprouted all across the US, especially in the blossoming sunbelt, leading to the baby boom👰👪 Returning vets settled down for a simple life, capitalizing on the GI Bill to help finance college tuition and low-interest home loans.  “Keeping up with the Joneses” kept the department stores in business and televisions brought news and sitcoms into living rooms. For many, it appeared to be “the good life” 👌

Cold War in the Post-War World

The good life was shrouded by perpetual fear of a nuclear war. Tensions with the Soviet Union ran high as the Iron Curtain descended upon Eastern Europe🔒 The Truman Plan, Eisenhower Doctrine, and NATO attempted to contain communism prior to 1960. Events like the Korean War abroad and McCarthyism back home kept most people on edge. Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs 📂 had people believing there were communists on every block. Joseph McCarthy’s accusations caused widespread panic and pitted neighbor against neighbor. The Second Red Scare had arrived 😬

Eisenhower’s Diplomacy

Eisenhower’s policy rested on the idea of Massive Retaliation. Relying on John Foster Dulles’, Eisenhower instituted his New Look foreign policy. Covert operations by the CIA took place in the Middle East and Asia. However, the launching of Sputnik 🚀by the Soviets challenges America’s academic superiority, and the U-2 ✈️ event leaves Americans second-guessing their Commander in Chief.

JFK’s New Frontier

President Kennedy swaggers into the Whitehouse ready to combat communism through his Flexible Response. Unfortunately, the Bay of Pigs 🐖 is a huge fiasco and the building of the Berlin Wall is a slap in the face. Incredibly, Kennedy redeems his diplomatic reputation with his skillful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis 🚢

Johnson and Vietnam

Although Johnson inherited “advisors” in Vietnam, he supersized America’s presence there following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson escalated the war and misinformation created a Credibility Gap, dampening the communication between President Johnson and his people. The TET Offensive 💥😣shakes people’s confidence in the war, and anti-war demonstrators call for bringing the troops home.

Nixon’s Detente

Nixon immediately begins the process of Vietnamization to turn the conflict in Vietnam over to the South Vietnamese. Nixon and Henry Kissinger negotiate through Ping Pong Diplomacy effectively and opening talks with Mao relieve tension with the Soviet Union👍 However, news of the My Lai massacre, Kent State Shootings, and Pentagon papers serve to shadow the otherwise positive foreign diplomacy.  Ultimately, the Watergate Scandal seals Nixon’s fate in history 👎

Carter’s Foreign Policy

Carter may have excelled in human rights diplomacy and negotiating the Camp David Accords, but he is remembered for his failure to return the Hostages from Iran. In addition, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan smothers any positive achievements 😒 

Civil Rights and Black America

Following WWII, Jackie Robinson ⚾breaks the color barrier in baseball while young, black children learn in segregated schools. Judge Warren issues the verdict in Brown vs. Board of Education, requiring schools to desegregate with all deliberate speed. As a result, schools take their time and Little Rock, Arkansas becomes a showdown as nine Black students are escorted by troops to their classes. 

Southern Resistance

The Southern Manifesto encourages the blocking of integration at the local level. Meanwhile, the SCLC, CORE, and SNCC begin to peacefully challenge the notion in Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham. Violent attacks on the peaceful protestors caught on film in Birmingham spur a call to reform by President Kennedy. Martin Luther King, Jr. plans his March on Washington to demand stronger civil rights legislation ✊

Johnson’s Great Society

Kennedy’s assassination opens the door for Johnson’s liberal social reform package.  Welfare programs, Medicare, and Medicaid provide much-needed benefits to many struggling Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provide more protections for minorities in society and at the polling booth. Further decisions such as Miranda vs. Arizona by the Warren Court create further protections for those under arrest 🔗

Social Revolutionaries

The political protests spawn a new group of young people rebelling against societal norms. Experimenting with drugs and a sexual revolution challenge traditional values. Hippies protest the war, and Woodstock becomes a musical sensation featuring artists such as Jimi Hendrix 🎸and Janis Joplin 🎤

Social Movements

Women-led movements by Betty Friedan and her Feminine Mystique defy the Cult of Domesticity by insisting upon equal opportunity in the workplace. The Gay and Lesbian Movement 🏳️‍🌈gains speed following the incident at the Stonewall Inn. Hispanic America sees gains under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, and the American Indian Movement stages fish-ins while demanding increased tribal rights and economic opportunity.

Main Events

1945: End of World War II
1947: Truman Doctrine
1949: NATO created
1950: Korean War
1952: Eisenhower Elected
1954: Brown vs. Board of Education
1955: Montgomery Bus Boycott
1957: Little Rock Nine / Sputnik launched
1960: Kennedy Elected
1962: Cuban Missile Crisis
1963: Birmingham Riots / Kennedy Assassinated / Johnson President
1964: Civil Rights Act
1965: Voting Rights Act
1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy Assassinated / TET offensive
1968: Nixon Elected
1973: Roe vs. Wade
1974: Nixon Resigns
1976: Carter Elected
1979: Iranian Hostage Crisis begins
1980: Reagan Elected
 

Major Themes

  • The United States will take a front-seat position in global leadership in creating a stable world following World War II.
  • Efforts to expand the government will result in far-reaching social and political changes following World War II.
  • Post-war societal and economic changes will lead to two decades of prosperity.
  • Civil Rights Reform is demanded following World War II and results in massive progress toward equality.
  • Cold War tensions spark economic, educational, and societal change as competition with the Soviets leads to massive changes.
  • Tensions from within are manifested in massive riots and protests as people battle political, social, and economic inequalities.
  • Trust in government is compromised by misleading politicians and scandals leading to a crisis in confidence of our political leaders.

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🌽Unit 1: Early Contact with the New World (1491-1607)
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🥶Unit 8: The Postwar Period and Cold War (1945-1980)
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