Postwar Political and
Social Changes
Science and Technology
• After 1940, theoretical science and practical or
applied science were effectively joined on a
massive scale
– University scientists worked on top-secret projects to
help fight the war. Their efforts produced radar,
electronic computers, and eventually the atomic
bomb
Science and Technology
• The spectacular results of directed research
during WWII inspired a new model of scientific
research called “Big Science”
– Big Science combined theoretical work with
sophisticated engineering in a large organization
– Capable of tackling large or difficult problems, but
was also very expensive, necessitating large-scale
funding from governments and private corporations
Science and Technology
• Science was not demilitarized after the war, and
scientists remained a critical part of every major
military establishment
– Both the US and the Soviet Union heavily financed science
– After 1945, roughly 25% of all men and women trained in
science and engineering in the West and the Soviet Union
were employed in weapons research
– Big Science, government spending, and military needs all
came together in the Space Race, which led to the first moon
landing in June 1969
Science and Technology
• The changes brought by Big Science changed the
scientific community
– The expansion of government-funded research in the US
attracted many of Europe’s best scientists in the 1950s and
1960s
– The scientific community became larger than ever before
– Scientists became highly specialized, and scientists now
worked as part of a team and as part of large, bureaucratic
organizations
– Modern science became brutally competitive
The Changing Class Structure
• Rapid economic growth helped create a new, more
mobile and more democratic society in Europe after
WWII
• Due to rapid industrial and technological expansion, the
middle class grew massively and became less defined
– In the 19th century, the middle class had consisted of
independent, self-employed individuals, and the key to wealth
had been family ties and property
– After 1945, the middle class consisted of managers and
technological experts valued for their ability to serve large
organizations
• Often had backgrounds in engineering or accounting
• Increasingly came from all social classes
The Changing Class Structure
• The lower class also became more flexible and
open
– Mass exodus from farms and rural areas
– Industrial working class declined as opportunities for
white-collar and service jobs increased
– Resembled the new middle class in that the new
working class were also better educated and more
specialized
The Changing Class Structure
• European governments reduced social tensions by
introducing social security reforms
– Some measures, like unemployment benefits and old-age
pensions, simply strengthened reforms first introduced by
Bismarck
– Some were new, like comprehensive national health care,
family allowances for the poor, maternity grants, and
inexpensive public housing
• Reforms promoted equality by raising the standard of
living and by taxing the rich to pay for social security
measures
The Changing Class Structure
• The rising standard of living and the spread of
standardized consumer goods also helped ease
class tensions
– Car ownership became widely available in Western
Europe, going from 5 million cars in 1948 to 44
million in 1968
– “Gadget revolution” and the new social security net
made people more willing to take on debt to buy
consumer goods
– Post-war Europe saw a huge boom in leisure travel
Youth and the Counterculture
• Influenced by economic prosperity and a more democratic class
structure, the generations born after WWII developed a distinct
and international youth culture
• Developed first in the United States
• In the 1950s, young people were called the “Silent Generation”
for being quiet and docile, but there was still some youth
rebellion
– Idolized celebrities like Elvis Presley and James Dean
– Beat movement expanded on the theme of revolt and restlessness felt by
young people in the ’50s
– Developed a new subculture that combined radical politics, new artistic
styles, and personal experimentation
Youth and the Counterculture
• This new subculture soon spread to major American
and Western European cities
• Tied together partly by rock music
– Grew out of the music culture of African-Americans,
particularly rhythm and blues
– Musicians like Bob Dylan expressed the radical political and
cultural aspirations of the younger generation
– Music expressed the differences between the pre-and-postWWII generations; the new youth were increasingly
discontent with middle-class conformity, racial injustices and
imperialism
Youth and the Counterculture
• Sexual behavior of young people changed
drastically in the 1960s and the 1970s
– More young people were having sex earlier and more
often
– A growing number of unmarried young people lived
together without getting married and having children
Youth and the Counterculture
• Several factors contributed to the development of an
international youth culture:
– Mass communications and youth travel linked different
countries together
– Postwar baby boom meant that young people were an
unusually large part of the population
– Post-war prosperity gave young people the necessary
purchasing power to set their own trends and mass fads
– Availability of good jobs meant young people didn’t fear
punishment for unconventional behavior
Youth and the Counterculture
• Youth culture and counterculture fused together in the
1960s
– Student protestors embraced romanticism and revolutionary
idealism and condemned materialism and imperialism
• The Vietnam War – many students believed it to be immoral war, and
student opposition intensified as the war went on
• In Western Europe, students also demonstrated against
problems with higher education
– The rapid expansion of higher education after WWII caused
problems of overcrowding and fierce competition for grades
– Many students felt that they were not getting the kind of
education they needed and that university reforms were
necessary
Youth and the Counterculture
• May 1968
– The tensions within the university system exploded in the late
1960s and early 1970s, when European university students
challenged both their universities and their governments
– The revolt with the most far-reaching consequences was the
one that occurred in France in 1968
• Students occupied buildings which led to violent clashes with the
police
• Students demanded to have a say in the running of their schools
• Appealed to industrial workers for help; in May 1968 the workers
responded with spontaneous strike across France
Youth and the Counterculture
• De Gaulle’s response
– Moved troops to Paris and called for new elections
– Fearful of a revolution and communist takeover, the
masses of France voted in favor of de Gaulle’s party
– Workers ended the strike and the revolt collapsed
– De Gaulle resigned within the year
The United States and Vietnam
• US involvement in Vietnam was driven by the Cold War and the
ideology of containment
• Toward the beginning of the 1950s, efforts to contain
communism shifted to Asia
– The Korean War (1950-1953) ended in a stalemate and the establishing
the states of North and South Korea
– After the French defeat in Vietnam in 1954, Eisenhower supported South
Vietnam with military aid and Kennedy greatly increased the number of
military advisors
– In 1964, Johnson greatly expanded the role of America in the Vietnam
conflict, hoping to escalate the war but not to the point it alarmed the
Communist bloc
• South Vietnam received military aid, American forces in Vietnam reached a
half million men, and the US heavily bombed Vietnam
The United States and Vietnam
• The US strategy backfired, and divided the
nation
– Nightly television brought the war into people’s
homes
– Anti-war movement developed on college campuses
and joined forces with socialists, New Left
intellectuals, and pacifists to protest the war
– The Tet Offensive (Jan. 1968), while technically a
failure for the Vietcong, convinced many that a
quick victory was nowhere in sight
The United States and Vietnam
• Richard Nixon, elected in 1968, attempted to disengage
America from Vietnam
– Nixon increased bombardment while pursuing peace talks
with North Vietnam
– Suspended the draft
– Cut American forces from 550,000 to 24,000 in the next four
years
– Journeyed to China in 1972 and reached a limited
reconciliation
• Elected again in 1972, Nixon reached a peace
agreement with N. Vietnam
The United States and Vietnam
• Watergate undermined Nixon’s successes
– Forced to resign in 1974
– Caused a major shift of power away from the
Presidency to Congress in foreign affairs
• Congress refused a military response to the invasion of
South Vietnam by the North in 1974
– Vietnam was reunited as harsh dictorial state
• Left America divided and uncertain about its role in world
affairs
Détente or Cold War?
• Détente: the progressive relaxation of cold war tensions
• West Germany took the lead in creating genuine peace
in Europe, led by Chancellor Willy Brandt (1913-1992)
– Became Chancellor in 1969
– Reconciled with Poland
– Negotiated treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, and
Czechoslovakia that formally accepted existing state
boundaries in return for a mutual renunciation of force
– Entered into direct relations with East Germany
Détente or Cold War?
• High point of détente was the Helsinki Conference in
1975
– Signed by Canada, the US, and all European nations except
Albania
– Agreed that Europe’s existing political boundaries could not
be changed by force and accepted numerous provisions on
human rights and political freedoms
– Confidence in the agreement eroded as the Soviet Union
continued to ignore the human rights provisions and EastWest competition remained outside of Europe
Détente or Cold War?
• Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 further flamed fears that
the oil-rich states of the Middle East might be next
– During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the Atlantic alliance was not able to act
together and decisively against the Soviet Union
– They again failed to act when the Solidarity movement arose in Poland
• The swing toward conservatism in the 1980s brought Ronald
Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl to office in the
US, Britain, and W. Germany
– Thatcher and Reagan were forceful advocates for a stronger Atlantic
alliance, and the pro-American Kohl effectively co-coordinated military
and political policy with the US
The Troubled Economy
• On top of political and social changes and instability,
the economic crisis of the early 1970s brought the most
serious challenges to the average person
– The postwar monetary system was based on the American
dollar
– Due to the billions sent overseas by the American
government because of wars and foreign aid, the US had
only $11 billion worth of gold, compared to Europe, which
had $50 billion
– When people rushed to exchange their dollars for gold,
Nixon halted the sale of American gold
– The value of the dollar dropped sharply, causing inflation
world-wide
The Troubled Economy
• Even more damaging to the economy was the dramatic
reversal in the price and availability of energy
– The postwar boom had been fueled by cheap oil from the
Middle East, especially in Western Europe
– By 1971, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) decided to reverse the trend of declining oil prices
by presenting a united front against oil companies
– During the fourth Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, OPEC
declared an embargo on oil shipments to the US, causing the
price of crude oil to quadruple
– The US was all but immobilized by Watergate, and the Soviet
Union profited as an oil exporter
The Troubled Economy
• Combined with the upheavals in the international
monetary system, the oil shock plunged the world into
the worst economic decline since the 1930s
– Energy-intensive industries that had once led the economy
forward now dragged it down, and unemployment rose as
standards of living dropped
– The 1979 revolution in Iran created another oil shock as oil
production in the country collapsed, causing unemployment
and inflation to rise dramatically
The Troubled Economy
• Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, observers worried that
the Common Market would collapse and halt steps to
European unity
• However, the European Economic Community
continued to attract new members
– 1973 – Denmark, Britain and Iceland
– 1981 – Greece
– 1986 – Spain and Portugal
• The EEC also began cooperating more closely on
international undertakings
Society in a Time of Economic
Uncertainty
• The most pervasive consequences of the
economic stagnation in the 1970s and early ’80s
were psychological, as optimism and
romanticism gave way to pessimism and realism
• On the whole, however, the welfare system
prevented mass suffering and degradation
– The responsive, socially concerned national state
undoubtedly contributed to the preservation of
political stability and democracy
Society in a Time of Economic
Uncertainty
• The government’s response to social needs
explains the sharp increase in total government
spending in most countries during this time
– People in general were willing to see their
governments spend more, but not raise taxes
– Led to the rapid growth of budget deficits, national
debts, and inflation
– Western governments had to introduce austerity
measures to slow down the growth of public
spending
Society in a Time of Economic
Uncertainty
• Scientific projects were often singled out for
cuts in government spending
• These reductions helped spur the growth of the
computer revolution
– This revolution thrived on the diffusion of ever
cheaper computational and informational capacity to
small research groups
Society in a Time of Economic
Uncertainty
• Individuals felt the impact of austerity early and in both
Europe and North America the result was a leaner,
tougher lifestyle
– People paid more attention to health, nutrition, and exercise
– Economic troubles strengthened existing family trends:
• Both men and women in Western countries postponed marriage until
they had stable careers
• More women entered or remained in the workforce after marriage;
poor and middle-class wives had to work outside the home out of
necessity
• Students of the 1980s were serious and practical
because of the fear of unemployment or
underemployment
The Changing Lives of Women
• The growing emancipation of women in Europe and North
America is one of the significant changes of the entire cold war
era
• The struggle for women’s rights goes back to the French
Revolution, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century
did the first wave of organized women’s movements win some
rights
• Two important factors led to the rise of a strong and effective
women’s movement:
– Long-term changes in motherhood and work outside the home
– A new wave of feminist thinkers and organizers demanded gender
equality and mobilized a militant women’s movement
Motherhood and Work Outside the
Home
• Before the Industrial Revolution, most men and
women married late or not at all
• With the growth of industry and urban society,
people began to marry earlier and as industrial
development resulted in higher standards of
living, more children lived to adulthood
• This trend continued in the 20th century; in the
1950s and ’60s, women in the West married early
and had children quickly
Motherhood and Work Outside the
Home
• Early marriage, early childbearing, and small
families meant that pregnancy and childbearing
occupied a much smaller part of a woman’s life
– Despite this, opportunities to work outside the home
for women were very limited
– At the same time, women were participating in the
post-war education revolution, and despite limited
positions there was a sharp rise in the number of
married women in full- or part- time positions
The Woman’s Movement
• The 1970s saw the birth of a grassroots, broad-based
women’s movement devoted to promoting the interests
of women
• Three basic reasons for this development:
– Ongoing changes in paid work and motherhood
– A new generation of feminist intellectuals created powerful
critiques of gender relations
– Following the example of the civil rights movement and
student protests, dissatisfied women realized they had to band
together to influence politics
The Woman’s Movement
• Simone Beauvoir created the first and one of
the most influential works produced by secondwave feminism, The Second Sex (1949)
– Argued that women were in essence free, but that
they had almost always been trapped by inflexible
and limiting conditions
– Only by taking action and through self-assertive
creativity could a woman escape the role of the
inferior “other” that men had constructed
The Woman’s Movement
• Betty Friedan reopened serious discussion of women’s
issues in the US through The Feminine Mystique (1963)
– Calling it “the problem that has no name”, she concludes that
many educated women were extremely dissatisfied because
they were not allowed to become mature adults and human
beings
– Instead, they were expected to conform and devote their lives
to their husbands and children
• Friedan founded the National Organization for Women
(NOW) in 1966 to press for women’s rights
The Women’s Movement
• The movement generally shared a common strategy of
entering politics and changing laws regarding women
– Advocated for laws against discrimination in the workplace,
equal pay, and maternity leave
– Concentrated on family questions like the right to divorce,
legalize abortion, the needs of single parents, and protection
from rape and physical violence
• The movement became more diffuse in the 1980s and
early ’90s, partially a victim of its own success and the
rise of antifeminist opposition
• Women’s movement inspired other minority groups to
form their own political movements
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Postwar Social Transformations