Nuclear Proliferation and the Cold War
World War II ended in 1945 when Germany and Japan surrendered to the Allied forces but, unfortunately, the war's end set the stage for a major struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. These countries had very different goals for the post-World War II world. The United States supported free market capitalism while the Soviet Union believed in a communist society in which property and resources are owned by the nation as a whole, and production is controlled by the national government. Each country's people thought that their own political and economic system was the best, and they were very suspicious of outsiders. The Soviet Union was particularly wonied because the United States had used nuclear bombs during the war. The Soviets were also concerned about the United States being the only superpower to have nuclear capabilities, so they quickly began to develop their own nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union successfully tested its first atomic bomb in 1949, long before the United States expected the Soviets to have the capability of creating such a device. The United States also learned that the Soviets had stolen state secrets in order to accelerate their nuclear weapons program. A state of deep paranoia developed in both countries and this feeling of competition and threat began what came to be known as the cold war. The war gained this name because even though there was a struggle between the two superpowers, their armies never fired a shot at each other. The Cold War lasted for more than forty years.
The Red Scare
During the cold war, many Americans were afraid that the Communists were infiltrating the country, and they began to try and seek out and punish Communist sympathizers. This fear of Communism became known as the "Red Scare" and it pervaded all areas of American life. In 1947 the United States government formed the House Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC) to investigate whether Communists had infiltrated Hollywood. A series of hearings were led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in which he questioned artists who were suspected of being Communist sympathizers. Many careers were ruined during these hearings. The United States also became concerned that the government itself had been infiltrated. In 1950, Alger Hiss, a State Department employee, was accused of selling state secrets to the Soviets. He was tried and convicted of lying to Congress.
The Korean War
One country in which the Cold War played out very specifically was Korea. After World War II ended, the Soviets controlled the northern part of the country, while the United States controlled the south. On June 24, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. President Harry Truman immediately ordered American troops to aid South Korea. Soon after that, the Chinese sent troops to help North Korea. The two pushed each other back and forth until they finally ended with a face-off at the 38th parallel of latitude, where the war had originally begun. An uneasy truce was in place for the next eighteen months. In July, 1953, the two sides came to an agreement that they would consider the whole thing a draw.
The Move to the Suburbs
After World War II, suburban housing developments began to spread across the United States. Many families now could afford an automobile, which allowed them to live further from the city. People could now own a home in a quiet suburban community and commute to work downtown.
Pulps were popular magazines that were printed on cheap gray wood pulp paper. They were inexpensive and were extremely popular among young readers. Each pulp fiction magazine grouped stories by genre. There were western pulps, sports pulps, romance pulps, horror pulps and science fiction pulps, among others. They were usually very sensationalistic and had titles such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. The proliferation of the pulp fiction magazines throughout the 1940s gave many writers their first chance to publish their work. Numerous writers began their careers by selling stories to these publications.
Television became an important force in American life during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Through the medium of television, viewers could see sights from around the world that they were never able to see before. In 1951 the program See It Now broadcast simultaneous live images of the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges. At this time, approximately one-fourth of American households owned a television set. Television quickly became a major force in popular culture across the country. In 1951 I Love Lucy debuted and established Lucille Ball as a national television star.