Term papers writing service


Hoe the two worlds wars and the great depression affected the lives of americans

Each respectively distilled the experience and defined the historical legacy of a century. Each embraced a pair of episodes with lastingly transformative impacts. From 1776 to 1789 the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitution brought national independence and established the basic political framework within which the nation would be governed ever after.

To understand the logic and the consequences of those three moments is to understand much about the essence and the trajectory of all of American history. To a much greater degree than in the earlier cases, the changes set in motion by the Great Depression and World War II had their origins outside the United States—a reminder of the increasing interdependency among nations that was such a salient feature of the twentieth century.

The Great Depression was a worldwide catastrophe whose causes and consequences alike were global in character.

Economists and historians continue to this day to debate the proximate causes of the Great Depression. The war exacted a cruel economic and human toll from the core societies of the advanced industrialized world, including conspicuously Britain, France, and Germany.

The lingering distortions in trade, capital flows, and exchange rates occasioned by the punitive Treaty of Versailles, as the economist John Maynard Keynes observed at the time, managed to perpetuate in peacetime the economic disruptions that had wrought so much hardship in wartime. To those abundant physical and institutional ills might be added a rigidly doctrinaire faith in laissez-faire, balanced national budgets, and the gold standard. The United States had participated only marginally in the First World War, but the experience was sufficiently costly that Americans turned their country decidedly inward in the 1920s.

Congress in 1922 effectively closed the American market to foreign vendors with the Fordney-McCumber Tariff, among the highest in United States history, and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff eight years later.

Washington also insisted that the Europeans repay the entirety of the loans extended to them by the US Treasury during the war. Among those eventually excluded though none could yet know it were thousands of Jewish would-be fugitives from Nazi persecution. Militarily, diplomatically, commercially, financially, even morally, Americans thus turned their backs on the outside world.

American prosperity hoe the two worlds wars and the great depression affected the lives of americans the 1920s was real enough, but it was not nearly as pervasive as legend has portrayed. And well before the Great Depression, almost as soon as the Great War concluded in 1918, a severe economic crisis had beset the farm-belt. It did not entirely lift until the next world war, more than twenty years later. Virtually none enjoyed such common urban amenities as electricity and indoor plumbing.

Other maladies began to appear, faintly at first, but with mounting urgency as the Depression began to unfold. Some twenty-five thousand banks, most of them highly fragile "unitary" institutions with tiny service areas, little or no diversification of clients or assets, and microscopic capitalization, constituted the astonishingly vulnerable foundation of the national credit.

As for government—public spending at all levels, including towns, cities, counties, states, and the federal government itself, amounted only to about 15 percent hoe the two worlds wars and the great depression affected the lives of americans the gross domestic product in the 1920s, one-fifth of which was federal expenditures.

Ideology aside, its very size made the federal government in the 1920s a kind of ninety-pound weakling in the fight against the looming depression. Then in the autumn of 1929, the bubble burst. The Great Crash in October sent stock prices plummeting and all but froze the international flow of credit. Banks failed by the thousands. Businesses collapsed by the tens of thousands. Herbert Hoover, elected just months earlier amid lavish testimonials to his peerless competence, saw his presidency shattered and his reputation forever shredded because of his inability to tame the depression monster—though, again contrary to legend, he toiled valiantly, using what tools he had and even inventing some new ones, as he struggled to get the upper hand.

By 1932, some thirteen million Americans were out of work, one out of every four able and willing workers in the country. Even those horrendous numbers could not begin to take the full measure of the human misery that unemployment entailed. Given the demography of the labor force and prevailing cultural norms that kept most women—and virtually all married women—out of the wage-paying economy, a 25 percent unemployment rate meant that, for all practical purposes, every fourth household in America had no breadwinner.

Many Americans came to believe that they were witnessing not just another downswing of the business cycle, but the collapse of a historic economic, political, and social order, perhaps even the end of the American way of life.

Yet curiously, as many observers noted, most Americans remained inexplicably docile, even passive, in the face of this unprecedented calamity. Among those who were perplexed by the apparent submissiveness of the American people as the Depression descended was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Repeatedly he spoke of this, saying that it was enormously puzzling to him that the ordeal of the past three years had been endured so peaceably.

Those elusive but deep-seated and powerful American cultural characteristics go a long way toward explaining the challenge that faced any leader seeking to broaden the powers of government to combat the Depression. FDR and the New Deal Elected to the presidency in 1932 on a platform that promised "a new deal for the American people," Franklin Roosevelt now took up that challenge. He faced a task of compound difficulty: FDR was destined to hold office for more than a dozen years.

He was thrice re-elected, a record matched by no previous incumbent and forbidden to all future presidents by the passage of the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution in 1951. FDR was then and has remained ever since a surpassingly enigmatic figure. His personality perplexed his contemporaries and has challenged his biographers ever since.

His long-serving secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, called him "the most complicated human being I ever knew. It is appropriate to call it a vision: Roosevelt, like Hoover before him, never did find a remedy for the Great Depression.

American History: Life Between the World Wars

It hung heavily over the land for nearly a dozen years of suffering and anxiety without equal in the history of the republic. For the decade of the 1930s as a whole, it averaged 17 percent. They gave birth to other institutions as well, including the Federal Housing Authority FHA and the Federal National Mortgage Association "Fannie Mae" to make mortgage lending more secure, thereby unleashing the money and the energy that made a majority of Americans homeowners and built the suburbs of the Sunbelt after World War II.

They passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, abolishing at last the scourge of child labor and establishing minimum wage guarantees. Most famously, with the Social Security Act of 1935 they erected a comprehensive system of unemployment and old-age insurance to protect laid-off workers and the elderly against what FDR called "the hazards and vicissitudes of life.

They sought not to nationalize core industries as commonly occurred in European statesnor even to attempt central direction of the national economy, but rather to use federal power in artful ways to make the private economy function more efficiently and less riskily as well as more fairly. The New Deal serves to this day as a political talisman, invoked variously by Left or Right to promote or denounce activist government or an enlarged public sphere.

So by what historical standard should the New Deal be judged? If appraised on grounds of swiftly achieving economic recovery, despite some modest success, the New Deal must be declared a failure. And on those grounds the New Deal can be said to have succeeded handsomely. Roosevelt most explicitly acknowledged that larger ambition in his second Inaugural Address in 1937, when he boasted that "our progress out of the depression is obvious," but then added the startling observation that "such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster.

What could Roosevelt have meant when he linked economic recovery with political disaster? He was talking, rather, about those farmers and immigrants and African Americans who had long languished on the margins of American life and whom he hoped to usher into its main stream. If FDR had somehow found the solution to the Depression by, say, the end of the fabled but in the last analysis scarcely consequential Hundred Days in 1933, would there have been a New Deal as we hoe the two worlds wars and the great depression affected the lives of americans it?

  1. Table 2 shows the peak-to-trough percentage decline in annual industrial production for countries for which such data are available. But those years were filled with important changes in American politics, culture and traditions.
  2. Ideology aside, its very size made the federal government in the 1920s a kind of ninety-pound weakling in the fight against the looming depression.
  3. And wages for workers increased as well. The Speeches of Winston Churchill Boston.
  4. Beginning in 1940, the government extended the income tax to virtually all Americans and began collecting the tax via the now-familiar method of continuous withholdings from paychecks rather than lump-sum payments after the fact. Labor Unions Labor unions and their members benefited especially.

Save only FDIC, all the reforms mentioned above date from 1934 and thereafter. If the economy had been immediately restored to full health, it is at least arguable that business as usual would have meant politics as usual, and the United States would have missed what FDR called its "Rendezvous with Destiny"—that is, its chance to tame at last the volatile and destructive demon of no-holds-barred industrial capitalism whose unchecked gyrations had ravaged lives—and fortunes—for nearly a century before the 1930s.

Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt came to power within weeks of one another.

  1. It also ushered in numerous social changes, including the movement of women into previously male-only jobs.
  2. US forces relentlessly closed in on the Japanese home islands, culminating in months of intensive firebombing raids against Japan and ultimately the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which clinched the Japanese decision to surrender.
  3. Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects designed great buildings for American cities. Some twenty-five thousand banks, most of them highly fragile "unitary" institutions with tiny service areas, little or no diversification of clients or assets, and microscopic capitalization, constituted the astonishingly vulnerable foundation of the national credit.

Hitler was installed as the German chancellor on January 30, 1933; Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States just thirty-three days later, on March 4. The challenges of the Great Depression and the accomplishments and shortcomings of the New Deal, and of FDR, cannot be understood outside of that framework. The Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, brought the United States into the war as a formal belligerent—more than two years after the war had begun with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

Yet while it has become a commonplace to note that the Pearl Harbor attack dramatically extinguished American isolationism, the fact is that traditional isolationist sentiment was by that time already markedly diminished—and that anxieties about its possible revival animated American leaders throughout the conflict and well into the postwar period. At the outset of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had not challenged the isolationist mood of his countrymen, declaring in his first Inaugural Address that "our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy.

He chafed increasingly under the restrictions of the several "Neutrality Laws" that Congress passed between 1935 and 1939, and succeeded at last in securing passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, committing the vast economic resources of the United States to the war against the so-called Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Hitler, correctly, deemed the Lend-Lease Act tantamount to a declaration of war.

The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945

To be sure, the United States took nearly sixteen million men and several thousand women into uniform, fielded a ninety-division ground force, floated a two-ocean navy, built a gigantic strategic bomber fleet, and suffered 405,399 military deaths. Yet the greatest American contribution to the war effort was neither manpower nor heroism, but cash and weapons. As the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin cynically but accurately observed, the United States adhered to a policy of fighting with American money, and American machines, and Russian men.

In a war with the dubious historical distinction that it inflicted more civilian than military deaths, the American toll of civilian deaths attributable to enemy action in the forty-eight continental states was six—a young woman and five schoolchildren killed together by a crude Japanese balloon-borne fire bomb that exploded in south-central Oregon on May 5, 1945. Thus if the response to the question "who won World War II?

Great Depression

Yet if one means which country most benefited from victory, the equally unambiguous answer is the United States. Not only were American war deaths, proportionate to population, about one-sixtieth those in the Soviet Union, and one-fourth those in Great Britain, but among all the major belligerents, the United States alone managed to grow its civilian economy even while producing prodigious quantities of armaments and other supplies for itself and its allies.

The civilian economies of both the Soviet Union and Great Britain shrank by nearly one-third during war time. In the United States civilian consumption expanded by nearly 15 percent. The war forever banished the Depression and ignited the economic after-burners that propelled the American economy to unprecedented heights of prosperity in the postwar decades.

How did the Americans manage to fight a war so different from the war that so horribly punished so many other peoples?

Geography—or, more precisely, the conjunction of geography with the technologies available in the mid-twentieth century—is surely part of the answer. Four great principles lay at the core of that grand strategy: The much-debated "unconditional surrender" formula that FDR announced at Casablanca in January 1943 was primarily intended to reassure the Soviets that the Americans and British, too, were committed to seeing the war through to the extinction of the Nazi regime, which eventually came on May 8, 1945.

The war against Japan, originally conceived as a purely defensive affair to hold the Japanese at bay in the mid-Pacific until Germany was defeated, took an unexpected turn in June 1942 when the Imperial Japanese Navy lost four aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. Though the war against Germany still had the higher priority, the door now opened for American offensive actions in the Pacific. US forces relentlessly closed in on the Japanese home islands, culminating in months of intensive firebombing raids against Japan and ultimately the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which clinched the Japanese decision to surrender.

In that same month Winston Churchill declared that the triumphantly victorious United States, restored to economic health, flush with energy, morally and politically self-confident, stood "at the summit of the world. Viking, 1968295.

Viking, 19463. Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937 http: The Speeches of Winston Churchill Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989282.