The American Century
IN LATE 1945 MOST AMERICANS WERE probably more concerned with what was happening at home than with foreign developments, and no one was more aware of this than Harry Truman. When he received the news of Roosevelt's death, he claimed that he felt as though "the moon, the stars, and all the planets" had suddenly fallen on him. Although he could not have been quite as surprised as he indicated (Roosevelt was known to be in extremely poor health), he was acutely conscious of his own limitations.
Truman was born in Missouri in 1884. After service with a World War I artillery unit, he became a minor cog in the Missouri political machine of boss Tom Pendergast. In 1934 he was elected to the United States Senate, where he proved to be a loyal but obscure New Dealer. The 1944 vice-presidential nomination marked for him the height of achievement.
As president, Truman sought to carry on in the Roosevelt tradition. Curiously, he was both humble and cocky, idealistic and cold-bloodedly political. He adopted liberal objectives only to pursue them sometimes by rash, even repressive means. Too often he insulted opponents instead of convincing or conciliating them. Complications tended to confuse him, in which case he either dug in his heels or struck out blindly, usually with unfortunate results. On balance, however, he was a strong chief executive and in many ways a successful one.
The Postwar Economy
Nearly all the world leaders were worried by the possibility of a serious postwar depression, and nearly all accepted the necessity of employing government authority to stabilize the economy and speed national development. The Great Depression and the successful application of the theories of John Maynard Keynes during the war had convinced most Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, that it was possible to prevent sharp swings in the business cycle and therefore to do away with serious unemployment by monetary and fiscal manipulation. "The agents of government must ... put a brake at certain points where boom forces develop ... and support purchasing power when it becomes unduly depressed," the newly created Council of Economic Advisers reported.
When World War II ended, nearly everyone wanted to demobilize the armed forces, remove wartime controls, and reduce taxes. Yet everyone also hoped to prevent any sudden economic dislocation, check inflation, and make sure that goods in short supply were distributed fairly. Neither the politicians nor the public was able to reconcile these conflicting objectives. Labor wanted price controls retained but wage controls lifted; industrialists wished to raise prices and keep the Ed on wages; farmers wanted subsidies but opposed price controls and the extension of social security benefits to agricultural workers.
President Truman failed to win either the confidence of the people or the support of Congress. On the one hand, he proposed a comprehensive program of new legislation that included a public housing scheme, aid to education, medical insurance, civil rights guarantees, a higher minimum wage, broader .social security coverage, additional conservation and public power projects patterned after the TVA, increased aid to agriculture, and the retention of anti inflationary controls. On the other hand, he ended rationing and other controls and signed a bill cutting taxes by some $6 billion. Whenever opposition to his plans developed, he vacillated between compromise and inflexibility.
Yet the country weathered the reconversion period with remarkable ease. The pent-up demand for homes, automobiles, clothing, washing machines, and countless other products, backed by the war enforced savings of millions of people, kept factories operating at capacity, Economists had feared that the flood of veterans into the job market would cause serious unemployment. But when the veterans returned, few were unoccupied for long. The demand for labor was large and growing. In addition, the government made an unprecedented educational opportunity available to veterans. Instead of a general bonus, in 1944 Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights, which subsidized veterans who wished to continue their education, learn a new trade, or start a small business. About 8 million veterans took advantage of these grants.
Cutting taxes and removing price controls did cause a period of rapid inflation. Food prices rose more than 25 percent between 1945 and 1947, which led to demands for higher wages and a wave of strikes-nearly 5,000 in 1946 alone. Inflation and labor unrest helped the Republicans win control of both houses of Congress in 1946 for the first time in two decades.
High on the Republican agenda was the passage of a new labor relations act. Labor leaders tended to support the Democrats, for they remembered gratefully the Wagner Act and other help given them by the Roosevelt administration during the labor management struggles of the 1930s. In 1943 the CIO had created a political action committee to mobilize the labor vote. But the strikes of 1946 had alienated many citizens because they delayed satisfaction of the demand for consumer goods. They even led President Truman, normally sympathetic to organized labor, to seize the coal mines, threaten to draft railroad workers, and ask Congress for other special powers to prevent national tie-ups.
This was the climate when in June 1947 the new Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over the president's veto. The measure outlawed the closed shop (a provision written into many labor contracts requiring new workers to join the union before they could be employed) and declared illegal secondary boycotts and strikes called as a result of disputes between unions over the right to represent workers. Most important, it authorized the president to seek court injunctions to prevent strikes that in his opinion endangered the national interest. The injunctions would hold for 80 days-a "cooling-off" period during which a presidential fact-finding board could investigate and make recommendations.
The Taft-Hartley Act made the task of unionizing unorganized industries more difficult, but it did not seriously hamper existing unions. Though it outlawed the closed shop, it permitted union shop contracts, which forced new workers to join the union after accepting employment.
Postwar Society: The Baby Boomers
The trend toward early marriage and larger families begun during the war accelerated when the conflict ended. In one year, 1946, more than 10 percent of all the single American females over the age of 14 got married. The birthrate soared.
Most servicemen had idealized the joys of domesticity while abroad, and they and their wives and sweethearts were eager to concentrate on "making a home and raising a family" now that the war had ended. People faced the future hopefully, encouraged by the booming economy and the sudden profusion of consumer goods. At the same time, perhaps because of the confusion produced by rapid change, people tended to be conformists, looking over their shoulders, so to speak, rather than tackling life head on.
The period was marked by "a reaffirmation of domesticity," Elaine Tyler May writes in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. "Nearly everyone believed that family togetherness, focused on children, was the mark of a successful and wholesome personal life." In 1955 a University of Michigan psychologist completed a study of 300 middle-class couples conducted over two decades. Many of the women queried were college graduates who had gone to college primarily to find a mate with a good future, but others had cheerfully sacrificed plans for a professional career because "the right man" had come along. Encouraged by magazines like the Ladies' Home Journal and Women's Home Companion and by films that described the trials and triumphs of family fife, many college-educated women made a career of home management and child development.
The men of this generation also professed to have found fulfillment in family fife. They stressed such things as the satisfactions gained by taking on the responsibilities that marriage and fatherhood entailed and "the incentive to succeed" produced by such responsibilities. For many men, however, these responsibilities provided a refuge from the competitive corporate world where they earned their livings. The need to subordinate one's personal interests to the requirements of "the organization," described in William Whyte's Organization Man (1956) and in novels like Sloan Wilson's Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), caused strains that could best be relieved in the warmth and security of one's family. Blue-collar workers and clerical employees were not subjected to these pressures to the same extent, but most held similar attitudes toward marriage and child rearing.
Government policies buttressed the inclinations of the people. Income tax deductions encouraged taxpayers to have children and to borrow money to purchase houses and furniture. Having a large family became a kind of national objective. Life was family centered, and family life was child-centered. Doctor
Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care (1946), which sold well over 20 million copies in 20-odd years, was not as "permissive" as has often been suggested. But Spock certainly emphasized the importance of loving care. "Children raised in loving families want to learn, want to conform, want to grow up," he explained.
Containment and the Marshall Plan
While ordinary people concentrated almost compulsively on their personal affairs, foreign policy issues continued to vex the Truman presidency. Stalin seemed intent on extending his power deep into war-devastated central Europe. The Soviet Union also controlled Outer Mongolia, parts of Manchuria, and northern Korea, and it was fomenting trouble in Iran. By January 1946, Truman had decided to stop "babying" the Soviets. "Only one language do they understand," he noted in a memorandum. "How many divisions have you?"
American and Soviet attitudes stood in sharp confrontation when the control of atomic energy came up for discussion in the UN. Everyone recognized the threat to human survival posed by the atomic bomb. In November 1945 the United States suggested allowing the UN to supervise all nuclear energy production, and the General Assembly promptly created the Atomic Energy Commission to study the question. In June 1946, Commissioner Bernard Baruch offered a plan for the eventual outlawing of atomic weapons. A system would be set up under which UN inspectors could operate without restriction anywhere in the world to make sure that no country was making bombs clandestinely. When, at an unspecified date, the system had been established, the United States would destroy its stockpile of bombs.
Most Americans thought the Baruch plan magnanimous, and some considered it positively foolhardy, but the Soviets rejected it. They would neither permit UN inspectors in the Soviet Union nor surrender their veto power over Security Council actions dealing with atomic energy. They demanded that the United States destroy its bombs at once.
"What struck most observers," the historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote, "was the utter imperviousness of Stalin's regime to the gestures of restraint and goodwill that emanated from the West." Unwilling under the circumstances either to trust the Soviets or to surrender what they considered their "winning weapon," the American leaders refused to agree. The resulting stalemate increased international tension.
Postwar cooperation had failed. By early 1946 a new policy was emerging. Many minds contributed to its development, but the key ideas were provided by George F. Kerman, a scholarly Foreign Service officer. Kennan, a student of Soviet history, believed that the Soviet leaders saw the world as divided into socialist and capitalist camps separated by irreconcilable differences. Nothing the United States might do would reduce Soviet hostility, Kennan claimed. Therefore, the nation should accept this hostility as a fact of life and wait for time to bring about some change in Soviet policy. A policy of "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment" based on the 11 application of counter-force" was the best means of dealing with Soviet pressures. The Cold War could be won if America maintained its own strength and convinced the communists that it would resist aggression firmly in any quarter of the globe. This proved correct.
Kennan's second alternative seemed both irresponsible and dangerous, whereas "getting tough" would find wide popular support. According to polls, a majority considered American policy "too soft." During 1946 the Truman administration gradually adopted a tougher stance. The decisive policy shift came early in 1947 as a result of a crisis in Greece, where communists were receiving aid from communist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Great Britain was assisting the monarchists but could no longer afford this drain on its resources. In February 1947 the British informed President Truman that they would have to cut off further aid to Greece.
The news shocked American policy makers because it made them realize that their European allies had not been able to rebuild their war-weakened economies. The Soviet "Iron Curtain" (a phrase coined by Winston Churchill) seemed about to ring down on another nation.
Truman therefore asked Congress to approve what became known- as the Truman Doctrine. If Greece or Turkey fell to the communists, he said, all the Middle East might be lost. To prevent this "unspeakable tragedy," he asked for $400 million for military and economic aid for Greece and Turkey. "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures," he said.
By exaggerating the consequences of inaction, Truman attained his objective. But once official sanction was given to the communism-versus-democracy approach to foreign relations, foreign policy began to dominate domestic policy and to become more rigid.
The communist threat loomed large. With western Europe, in Churchill's words, "a rubble-heap, a charnel house, a breeding-ground of pestilence and hate," the entire continent seemed in danger of falling into communist hands. For humane reasons as well as for political advantage, the United States felt obliged to help these nations regain some measure of economic stability.
How might this be done? George Kerman provided an answer. He proposed a broad program to finance European economic recovery. The Europeans themselves should work out the details, America providing the money, materials, and technical advice.
George C. Marshall, army chief of staff during World War II and now secretary of state, formally suggested this program, which became known as the Marshall Plan, in a commencement speech at Harvard in June 1947. The objective, he said, was to restore "the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries.... The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number [of] if not all European nations."
The European powers seized eagerly on Marshall's suggestion. Within six weeks 16 nations set up the Committee for European Economic Cooperation, which soon submitted plans calling for up to $22.4 billion in American aid. After protracted debate, much influenced by a communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, which drew still another country behind the Iron Curtain, Congress appropriated over $13 billion for the program. Results exceeded all expectations. By 1951 western Europe was booming.
Containment and the Marshall Plan were America's response to the power vacuum created in Europe by the debilitating effects of the war. just as the Soviet Union extended its influence over the eastern half of the continent, the United States extended its influence in the western. Both powers were driven by worry that the other was seeking world domination.
The Marshall Plan formed the basis for western European economic recovery and political cooperation. In March 1948, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed an alliance aimed at social, cultural, and economic collaboration. The western nations abandoned their understandable but self-defeating policy of crushing Germany economically. They instituted currency reforms in their zones and announced plans for creating a single West German republic with a large degree of autonomy.
These decisions further alarmed the Soviets. In June 1948 they retaliated by closing off surface access to Berlin from the west. For a time it seemed that the Allies must either fight their way into the city or abandon it to the communists. Unwilling to adopt either alternative, Truman decided to fly supplies through the air corridors leading to the capital from Frankfurt, Hanover, and Hamburg. American C-47 and C-54 transports shuttled back and forth in weather fair and foul, carrying enough food, fuel, and other goods necessary to maintain more than 2 million West Berliners. The Berlin Airlift put the Soviets in an uncomfortable position: If they were really determined to keep supplies from West Berlin, they would have to begin the fighting. They were not prepared to do so. In May 1949 they lifted the blockade.
Containment, some of its advocates argued, required the development of a powerful military force. In May 1948, Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, a prewar leader of the isolationists who had been converted to internationalism largely by President Roosevelt's solicitous attention to his views, introduced a resolution stating the "determination" of the United States "to exercise the right of individual or collective self-defense ... should any armed attack occur affecting its national security." The Senate approved this resolution by a vote of 64 to 4, proof that isolationism had ceased to be an important force in American politics.
Dealing with Japan and China
Containment worked well in Europe, at least in the short run; in the Far East, where the United States lacked powerful allies, it was both more expensive and less effective. V-J Day found the Far East a shambles. Much of Japan was a smoking ruin. In China chaos reigned: Nationalists under Chiang Kai
shek dominated the South, communists under Mao Tse-tung controlled the northern countryside, and Japanese troops still held most northern cities.
President Truman acted decisively and effectively with regard to Japan, unsurely and with unfortunate results where China was concerned. Even before the Japanese surrendered, he had decided not to allow the Soviet Union any significant role in the occupation of Japan. The four-power Allied Control Council was established, but American troops commanded by General MacArthur governed the country.
The Japanese, revealing the same remarkable adaptability that had made possible their swift westernization in the latter half of the 19th century, accepted political and social changes that involved universal suffrage and parliamentary government, the encouragement of labor unions, the breakup of large estates and big industrial combines, and the deemphasis of the importance of the emperor. Japan lost its far-flung island empire and all claim to Korea and the Chinese mainland. It emerged economically strong, politically stable, and firmly allied with the United States.
The difficulties in China were probably insurmountable. Few Americans appreciated the latent power of the Chinese communists. When the war ended, Truman tried to bring Chiang's nationalists and Mao's communists together. He sent General Marshall to China to seek a settlement, but neither Chiang nor Mao would make significant concessions. Mao was convinced-correctly, as time soon proved-that he could win all of China by force, while Chiang, presiding over a corrupt and incompetent regime, grossly exaggerated his popularity among the Chinese people. In January 1947, Truman recalled Marshall and named him secretary of state. Soon thereafter, civil war erupted in China.
The Election of 1948
In the spring of 1948 President Truman's fortunes were at low ebb. Public opinion polls suggested that a majority of the people considered him incompetent or worse. The Republicans seemed sure to win the 1948 presidential election, especially if Truman was the Democratic candidate. Governor Dewey, who again won the Republican nomination, ran confidently, even complacently, certain that he would carry the election with ease.
Truman's position seemed hopeless because he had alienated both southern conservatives and northern liberals. The southerners were particularly distressed because in 1946 the president had established the Committee on Civil Rights, which had recommended anti lynching and anti-poll-tax legislation and the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. When the Democratic convention adopted a strong civil rights plank, the southern delegates walked out. Southern conservatives then founded the States' Rights ("Dixiecrat") party and nominated J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president.
As for the liberals, in 1947 a group of them had founded Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and sought an alternative candidate for the 1948 election. A faction led by former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, which believed Truman's containment policy a threat to world peace, organized a new Progressive party and nominated Wallace. Most members of ADA, however, thought Wallace too pro-Soviet; in the end the organization supported Truman. Yet with two minor candidates sure to cut into the Democratic vote, the president's chances seemed minuscule.
Truman launched an aggressive campaign, making hundreds of informal but hard-hitting speeches. He excoriated the "do-nothing" Republican Congress, which had rejected his program and passed the Taft-Hartley Act, and he warned labor, farmers, and consumers that if Dewey won, Republican "gluttons of privilege" would do away with all the gains of the New Deal years.
Millions were moved by his arguments and by his courageous fight against great odds. The success of the Berlin Airlift during the presidential campaign helped him considerably. The Progressive party fell increasingly into the hands of communist sympathizers, driving away many liberals who might otherwise have supported Wallace. Dewey's smug, lackluster campaign failed to attract independents. The president was therefore able to reinvigorate the New Deal coalition, and he won an amazing upset victory on election day. He collected 24.1 million votes to Dewey's 21.9 million, the two minor candidates being held to about 2.3 million. In the electoral college his margin was a thumping 303 to 189.
Truman's victory gave ADA considerable influence over what the president called his Fair Deal program. ADA leaders took a middle-of-the-road approach, well described in a book by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Vital Center (1949), that left room for individualism and social welfare, government regulation of the economy, and the encouragement of private enterprise. The approach fitted well with Cold War conditions, which favored both massive military output and continued expansion of the supply of civilian goods. Economic growth would solve all problems, social as well as material. Through growth, the poor could be helped without taking from the rich. The way to check inflation, for example, was not by freezing prices, profits, or wages but by expanding production.
However, relatively little of Truman's Fair Deal was enacted into law. Congress approved a federal housing program and measures increasing the minimum wage and social security benefits, but these were merely extensions of New Deal legislation.
Containing Communism Abroad
During Truman's second term the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, and more broadly between what was seen as "democracy" and "communism," dominated the headlines and occupied a major part of the attention of the president and most other government officials. To strengthen ties with the European democracies, in April 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Further disturbed by the news, released in September 1949, that the Soviet Union had produced an atomic bomb, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion to arm NATO, and in 1951 General Eisenhower was recalled to active duty and placed in command of all NATO forces.
The success of containment was heartening but not without price; every move evoked a Soviet response. The Marshall Plan led to the seizure of Czechoslovakia, the buildup of Germany to the Berlin blockade, the creation of NATO to the multilateral military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. George Kerman, the "father" of containment, now downplayed the Soviet military threat. He called the rearmament of Europe a "regrettable diversion" from the task of economic reconstruction. In any case, both sides contributed by their actions and their continuing suspicions to the heightening of Cold War tensions.
In Asia the effort to contain communism exploded into war. By the end of 1949 Mao's communist armies had administered a crushing defeat to the nationalists. The remnants of Chiang's forces fled to the island of Formosa, now called Taiwan. The "loss" of China to communism strengthened right-wing opponents of internationalism in the Republican party. They and other critics charged that Truman had not backed the nationalists strongly enough and that he had stupidly underestimated Mao's dedication to the cause of world revolution. Despite a superficial plausibility, neither charge made much sense. American opinion would not have supported military intervention, nor could any American action have changed the outcome in China.
The attacks of his American critics aroused Truman's combativeness and led him into serious miscalculations elsewhere in Asia. After the war, the province of Korea was taken from Japan and divided at 38* north latitude into the Democratic People's Republic (North Korea), backed by the Soviet Union, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), backed by the United States and the UN. Both powers withdrew their troops from the peninsula, the Soviets leaving behind a well-armed local force in the north, whereas the army in the south was weak and ill trained.
American strategists seeking to "contain" communism in the Far East decided that the Asiatic mainland was too difficult to defend. In January 1950, Dean Acheson, Marshall's successor as secretary of state, deliberately excluded Korea from the "defensive perimeter" of the United States in Asia. It was up to the South Koreans, backed by the UN, to protect themselves. This they were unable to do when a North Korean army struck suddenly across the 38th parallel in June 1950.
At this point President Truman exhibited his finest qualities: decisiveness and courage. With the backing of the UN Security Council (but without asking Congress to declare war), he sent American planes into battle.* Ground troops soon followed.
Nominally, the Korean War was a struggle between the invaders and the United Nations. General MacArthur, placed in command, flew the blue UN flag over his headquarters, and no less than 16 nations supplied troops for his army. However, more than 90 percent of the forces employed were American. At first the North Koreans pushed them back rapidly to the southern tip of Korea. Then MacArthur executed a brilliant amphibious flanking maneuver, striking at the west coast city of Inchon, about 50 miles south of the 38th parallel. Outflanked, the North Koreans retreated in disorder. By October the battlefront had moved north of the 1945 boundary.
General MacArthur now proposed the conquest of North Korea, the bombing of "privileged sanctuaries" on the Chinese side of the Korean border, and the redeployment of Chinese nationalist troops on the mainland. Most of Truman's civilian advisers, led by George Kennan, opposed any advance beyond the 38th parallel, fearing intervention not only by the Red Chinese but also by the Soviets.
Faced with conflicting advice, Truman authorized MacArthur to advance as far as the Yalu River, the boundary between North Korea and China, but to avoid war with China or the Soviet Union at all cost. It was a momentous and unfortunate decision, an example of how power, once unleashed, gets out of hand. As the advance progressed, ominous rumblings came from the Chinese that they would not "supinely tolerate seeing their neighbors being savagely invaded by imperialists." Chinese "volunteers" began to turn up among the captives taken by UN units. Alarmed, Truman flew to Wake Island in the Pacific to confer with MacArthur, but the general assured him that the Chinese would not dare to intervene. If they did, MacArthur added, his army would crush them easily; the war would be over by Christmas.
Seldom has a general miscalculated so badly. On November 26 a total of 33 Chinese divisions suddenly smashed through the center of MacArthur's line. Overnight a triumphant advance became a disorganized retreat. MacArthur now justified his earlier confidence by claiming, not without reason, that he was fighting "an entirely new war."
The UN army rallied south of the 38th parallel, and by the spring of 1951 the front had been stabilized. MacArthur then urged that he be permitted to bomb Chinese installations north of the Yalu. He also suggested a naval blockade of the coast of China and the use of Chinese nationalist troops in Korea. When Truman rejected these proposals on the grounds that they would lead to a third world war, MacArthur attempted to rally Congress and the public against the president by criticizing administration policy openly. Truman ordered him to be silent, and when the general persisted, the president removed him from command.
At first the Korean "police action" had been popular in the United States, but as the months passed and the casualties mounted, many citizens became disillusioned and angry. To Americans accustomed to triumph and fond of oversimplifying complex questions, containment seemed, as its costs in blood and dollars mounted, a monumentally frustrating policy.
But in time the fundamental correctness of Truman's policy and his decision to remove MacArthur became apparent. Military men backed the president almost unanimously. General Omar N. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that a showdown with the Chinese "would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy." In June 1951 the communists agreed to discuss an armistice in Korea, and though the negotiations dragged on, with interruptions, for two years while thousands more died along the static battlefront, both MacArthur and talk of bombing China subsided.
The Communist Issue at Home
The frustrating Korean War highlighted the paradox that at the pinnacle of its power, the influence of the United States in world affairs was declining. Its monopoly of nuclear weapons had been lost. China had passed into the communist orbit. Elsewhere in Asia and throughout Africa, new nations, formerly colonial possessions of the western powers, were adopting a "neutralist" position in the Cold War. Despite the billions poured into armaments and foreign aid, the safety and even the survival of the country seemed far from assured.
Internal as well as external dangers loomed. Alarming examples of communist espionage in Canada, Great Britain, and in the United States itself convinced many citizens that clever conspirators were everywhere at work undermining American security. Both the Republicans and Democratic critics were charging that Truman was "soft" on communists.
There were relatively few communists in the United States, and party membership plummeted after the start of the Cold War. However, the possibility that a handful of spies could do enormous damage fueled a kind of panic that could be used for partisan purposes. In 1947, hoping to defuse the communists-in-government issue by being more zealous in pursuit of spies than his critics, Truman established the Loyalty Review Board. Even sympathy for a long list of vaguely defined "totalitarian" or "subversive" organizations was made grounds for dismissal. During the following ten years about 2,700 government workers were discharged, hardly any for legitimate reasons. A much larger number resigned.
In 1948 Whittaker Chambers, an editor of Time who had formerly been a communist, charged that Alger Hiss, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Department official, had been a communist in the 1930s. Hiss denied the charge and sued Chambers for libel. Chambers then produced microfilms purporting to show that Hiss had copied classified documents for dispatch to Moscow. Hiss could not be indicted for espionage because of the statute of limitations; instead he was charged with perjury. His first trial resulted in a hung jury; his second, ending in January 1950, in conviction and a five-year jail term.
The Hiss case fed the fears of people who believed in the existence of a powerful communist underground in the United States. The disclosure in February 1950 that a respected British scientist, Klaus Fuchs, had betrayed atomic secrets to the Soviets heightened these fears, as did the arrest and conviction of his American associate, Harry Gold, and two other American traitors, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, on the same charge.
Although the information the Rosenbergs revealed was not very important, they were executed for treason, to the consternation of many liberals. However, information gathered by other spies had speeded the Soviet development of nuclear weapons. This fact encouraged some Republicans to press the communists-in-government issue hard.
In February 1950, Senator of Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin casually introduced this theme in a speech before the Women's Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. The State Department, he said, was "infested" with communists. He had no shred of evidence to back up this statement, as a Senate committee headed by the conservative Democrat Millard Tydings of Maryland soon demonstrated. He never exposed a single spy or even a secret American communist. One reporter quipped that McCarthy could not tell Karl Marx from Groucho Marx. But thousands of people were too eager to believe him to listen to reason. Within a few weeks he was the most talked-about person in Congress. Inhibited neither by scruples nor by logic, he lashed out in every direction, attacking international experts like Professor Owen Lattimore of Johns Hopkins and diplomats such as John S. Service and John Carter Vincent, who were already under attack for having pointed out the deficiencies of the Chiang regime during the Chinese civil war.
When McCarthy's victims indignantly denied his charges, he distracted the public by striking out with still more sensational accusations directed at other innocents. The "big he" was McCarthy's most effective weapon; the enormity of his charges and the status of his targets convinced thousands that there must be some truth to what he was saying. Fainthearted members of Congress dared not incur his wrath, and large numbers of Republicans found it hard to resist the temptation to take advantage of his voter appeal.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
As the 1952 presidential election approached, Truman's popularity was again at a low ebb. Senator McCarthy attacked him relentlessly for his handling of the Korean conflict and his "mistreatment" of General MacArthur. In choosing their candidate, the Republicans passed over the twice-defeated Dewey and their most prominent leader, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, an outspoken conservative, and nominated General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower's popularity did not grow merely out of his achievements in World War Il. After the bristly, combative Truman, his genial tolerance and evident desire to avoid controversy proved widely appealing. His reluctance to seek political office reminded the country of Washington, and his seeming ignorance of current political issues was no more a handicap to his campaign than the similar ignorance of Jackson and Grant in their times. People liked "Ike" for his personality-he radiated warmth and sincerity-and because his management of the Allied armies reassured them that he would be competent as head of the complex federal government. His promise to go to Korea if elected to try to bring the war to an end was a political master stroke.
The Democrats nominated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, whose grandfather had been vice-president under Cleveland. Stevenson's unpretentiousness and his witty, urbane speeches captivated intellectuals. In retrospect, however, it is clear that he had not the remotest chance of defeating the popular Eisenhower. Disillusionment with the Korean War and a widespread belief that the Democrats had been too long in power were added handicaps. His foes turned his strongest assets against him, denouncing his humor as frivolity, characterizing his appreciation of the complexities of life as self-doubt, and tagging his intellectual followers ,,eggheads," an appellation that effectively caricatured the balding, slope-shouldered, somewhat endomorphic candidate. "The eggheads are for Stevenson," one Republican pointed out, "but how many eggheads are there?" There were far too few to carry the country, as the election revealed. The result was a Republican landslide: Eisenhower received almost 34 million votes to Stevenson's 27 million, and in the electoral college his margin was 442 to 89.
On the surface, Eisenhower seemed the antithesis of Truman. The Republicans had charged the Democratic administration with being wasteful and extravagant. Eisenhower planned to run his administration on sound business principles and to eschew increases in the activities of the federal government. He spoke scornfully of "creeping socialism," called for more local control of government affairs, and promised to reduce federal spending in order to balance the budget and cut taxes. He believed that by battling with Congress and pressure groups over the details of legislation, his immediate predecessors had sacrificed part of their status as chief representative of the American people. Like Washington, he tried to avoid being caught up in narrow partisan conflicts. Like Washington, he was not always able to do so.
Having successfully managed the complexities of military administration, Eisenhower used the same kind of staff system as president. He gave his Cabinet officers more responsibility than many other presidents because he did not like to devote time and energy to administrative routine. This did not mean that he was lazy or politically naive. He knew that if he left too many small decisions to others, they would soon be controlling, if not actually making, the large decisions as well.
Some economists claimed that he reacted too slowly in dealing with business recessions and that he showed insufficient concern for speeding the rate of national economic growth. Yet he adopted an almost Keynesian approach to economic problems; that is, he tried to check downturns in the business cycle by stimulating the economy. In his memoir Mandate for Change (1963), he wrote of resorting to "preventative action to arrest the downturn [of 1954] before it might become severe" and of being ready to use "any and all weapons in the federal arsenal, including changes in monetary and credit policy, modification of the tax structure, and a speed up in the construction of... public works" to accomplish this end. He approved the extension of social security to an additional 10 million persons; created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and in 1955 came out for federal support of school and highway construction.
Eisenhower's somewhat doctrinaire belief in decentralization and private enterprise reduced the effectiveness of his social welfare measures, but on balance, he proved to be a first-rate politician. He knew how to be flexible without compromising his basic values. His "conservatism" became first "dynamic conservatism" and then "progressive moderation." He summarized his attitude by saying that he was liberal in dealing with individuals but conservative "when talking about ... the individual's pocketbook."
The Eisenhower-Dulles Foreign Policy
After the 1952 election Eisenhower kept his pledge to go to Korea. His trip produced no immediate result, but the truce talks, suspended before the election, were resumed. In July 1953, perhaps influenced by a hint that the United States might use small "tactical" atomic bombs in Korea, the communists agreed to an armistice. Korea remained divided, its people far worse off than when the fighting began. The United States had suffered more than 135,000 casualties, including 33,000 dead. Yet aggression had been confronted and fought to a standstill.
The American people, troubled and uncertain, were counting on Eisenhower to find a way to employ the nation's immense strength constructively. The new president shared the general feeling that a drastic change of tactics in foreign affairs was needed. He counted on Congress and his secretary of state to solve the practical problems.
Given this attitude, his choice of John Foster Dulles as secretary of state seemed inspired. Dulles's experience in diplomacy dated to 1907, when he had served as secretary to the Chinese delegation at the Second Hague Conference, and he was later an adviser to Wilson at Versailles. More recently he had been a representative of the United States in the UN General Assembly.
Dulles combined strong moral convictions with amazing energy. Only "the force of Christianity," he said, could solve "the great perplexing international problems" of the day. His objectives were magnificent, his strategy grandiose. Instead of waiting for the communist powers to make a move and then "containing" them, the United States should put more emphasis on nuclear bombs and less on conventional weapons. Such a "New Look" would prevent the United States from becoming involved in "local" conflicts like the Korean War and save money too. Potential enemies would know that "massive retaliation" would be the fate of any aggressor. With the communists immobilized by this threat, positive measures aimed at "liberating" eastern Europe and "unleashing" Chiang against the Chinese mainland would follow. Dulles professed great faith in NATO, but he believed that if America's allies lacked the courage to follow its lead, the nation would have to undertake an "agonizing reappraisal" of its commitments to them.
Despite his determination, energy, and high ideals, Dulles failed to make the United States a more effective force in world affairs. Massive retaliation made little sense when the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons as powerful as those of the United States. In November 1952, America had won the race to make a hydrogen bomb, but the Soviets duplicated this feat in less than a year. Thereafter, the only threat behind massive retaliation was the threat of human extinction.
Actually, the awesome force of hydrogen bombs, the smallest of which dwarfed the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, provided both powers with a true deterrent. Willy-nilly, nuclear power had established itself as a formidable force for world peace.
Dulles's saber-rattling tactics were badly timed. While he was planning to avert future Koreas, the Soviet Union was shifting its approach. Stalin died in March 1953, and after a period of internal conflict within the Kremlin, Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the new Soviet master. Khrushchev set out to obtain his objectives by indirection. He appealed to the anti western prejudices of countries just emerging from the yoke of colonialism, offering them economic aid and pointing to Soviet achievements in science and technology, such as the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite (1957), as proof that communism would soon "bury" the capitalist system without troubling to destroy it by force. The Soviet Union was the friend of all peace-loving nations, he insisted.
Khrushchev was a master hypocrite, yet he was a realist too. While Dulles, product of a system that made a virtue of compromise and tolerance, insisted that the world must choose between American good and Soviet evil, Khrushchev, trained to believe in the incompatibility of communism and capitalism, began to talk of "peaceful coexistence."
Dulles failed to win the confidence of America's allies or even that of the State Department. Senator McCarthy moderated his attacks on the department not a jot when it came under the control of his own party. In 1953 its overseas information program received his special attention. He denounced Voice of America broadcasters for quoting the works of "controversial" authors and sent Roy M. Cohn, youthful special counsel of his Committee on Governmental Operations, on a mission to Europe to ferret out subversives in the United States Information Service.
Dulles did not come to the defense of his people. Instead he seemed determined to out-McCarthy McCarthy in his zeal to get rid of "undesirables" of all sorts. He sanctioned the discharge of nearly 500 State Department employees, not one of whom was proved to have engaged in subversive activities. By making "concessions" to McCarthy, Dulles hoped to end attacks on the administration's foreign policy. The tactic failed; its only result was to undermine the morale of Foreign Service officers.
But McCarthy finally overreached himself. Early in 1954 he turned his guns on the army. After a series of charges and countercharges, he accused army officials of trying to blackmail his committee and announced a broad investigation. The resulting Army-McCarthy hearings, televised across the country, proved the senator's undoing. For weeks his dark scowl, his blind combativeness, and his disregard for every human value stood exposed for millions to see. After the hearings ended, the Senate, with President Eisenhower quietly applying pressure behind the scenes, at last moved to censure him in December 1954. This reproof completed the destruction of his influence. Although he continued to issue statements and wild charges, the country no longer listened. In 1957 he died of cirrhosis.
Asian Policy After Korea
While the final truce talks were taking place in Korea, new trouble was erupting far to the south in French Indochina. Since December 1946 nationalist rebels led by the communist Ho Chi Minh had been harassing the French in Vietnam. When Communist China recognized the rebels and supplied them with arms, Truman, applying the containment policy, countered with economic and military assistance to the French. When Eisenhower succeeded to the presidency, he continued and expanded this assistance.
Early in 1954 Ho Chi Minh's troops trapped and besieged a French army in the remote stronghold of Dien Bien Phu. Faced with the loss of 20,000 soldiers, France asked the United States to commit its air force to the battle. Eisenhower, after long deliberation, refused. Since the communists were "secreted all around in the jungle," he said, "how are we, in a few air strikes, to defeat them?"
In May the garrison at Dien Bien Phu surrendered, and in July, while the United States watched from the sidelines, France, Great Britain, the USSR, and China signed an agreement at Geneva dividing Vietnam along the 17th parallel. France withdrew from the area. The northern sector became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, controlled by Ho Chi Minh; the southern remained in the hands of the emperor, Bao Dai. An election to settle the future of all Vietnam was scheduled for 1956.
When it seemed likely that the communists would win that election, Bao Dai was overthrown by a conservative anticommunist, Ngo Dinh Diem. The United States supplied the new South Vietnamese government liberally with aid. The planned election was never held. Vietnam remained divided. Dulles responded to this diplomatic setback by establishing the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in September 1954, but only three Asian nations-the Philippine Republic, Thailand, and Pakistan-joined this alliance.*
The Middle East Cauldron
Dulles also faced trouble in the Middle East. American policy in that region, aside from the ubiquitous problem of restraining Soviet expansion, was influenced by the huge oil resources-about 60 percent of the world's known reserves-and by the conflict between the new Jewish state of Israel (formerly the British mandate of Palestine) and its Arab neighbors. Although he tried to woo the Arabs, President Truman had consistently placed support for Israel before other considerations in the Middle East.
Angered by the creation of Israel, the surrounding Arab nations tried to destroy the country, but the Israelis drove them off with relative ease. With them departed nearly a million Palestinian Arabs, thereby creating a desperate refugee problem in nearby countries. Truman's support of Israel and the millions of dollars contributed to the new state by American Jews provoked much Arab resentment of the United States.
Dulles and Eisenhower tried to redress the balance by deemphasizing American support of Israel. In 1952 a revolution in Egypt had overthrown the dissolute King Farouk. Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser emerged as the strongman of Egypt. The United States promptly offered Nasser economic aid and tried to entice him into a broad Middle East security pact. But it would not sell Egypt arms; the communists would. For this reason Nasser drifted steadily toward the communist orbit.
When Eisenhower withdrew his offer of American financial support for the giant Aswan Dam project, the key element in an Egyptian irrigation and electric power program designed to expand and modernize the country, Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal. This move galvanized the British and French; without consulting the United States, they decided to take back the canal by force. The Israelis, alarmed by repeated Arab hit-and-run raids along their borders, also decided to attack Egypt.
Events moved swiftly. Israeli armored columns crushed the Egyptian army in the Sinai peninsula in a matter of days. France and Britain occupied Port Said, at the northern end of the canal. Nasser blocked the canal by sinking ships in the channel. In the UN the Soviet Union and the United States introduced resolutions calling for a cease-fire. Both were vetoed by Britain and France.
Then Khrushchev threatened to send "volunteers" to Egypt and launch atomic missiles against France and Great Britain if they did not withdraw. President Eisenhower also demanded that the invaders pull out of Egypt. On November 6, only nine days after the first attack, British Prime Minister Eden announced a cease-fire. Israel withdrew its troops. The crisis subsided as rapidly as it had arisen.
The United States had won a measure of respect in the Arab countries, but at what cost! Its major allies had been humiliated. The ill-timed attack had enabled the Soviets to recover much of the prestige lost as a result of their brutal suppression of a Hungarian revolt that had broken out a week before the Suez fiasco. Britain and France believed that Dulles's futile attempt to win Arab friendship without abandoning Israel had placed them in a dilemma and that the secretary had behaved dishonorably or at least disingenuously in handling the Egyptian problem.
The bad feeling within the western alliance soon passed. When the Soviet Union seemed likely to profit from its "defense" of Egypt in the crisis, the president in January 1957 announced the Eisenhower Doctrine, which stated that the United States was "prepared to use armed force" anywhere in the Middle East against "aggression from any country controlled by international communism."
Eisenhower and the Khrushchev
In Europe the Eisenhower and Dulles policies differed little from those of Truman. When Eisenhower announced his plan to rely more heavily on nuclear deterrents, the Europeans drew back in alarm, believing that in any atomic showdown they were sure to be destroyed. Khrushchev's talk of peaceful coexistence found receptive ears, especially in France.
The president therefore yielded to European pressures for a diplomatic summit conference with the Soviets to discuss disarmament and the reunification of West and East Germany. The meeting, held in Geneva in July 1955, produced no specific agreement, but with the Soviets talking of peaceful coexistence and with Eisenhower pouring martinis and projecting his famous charm, observers noted a softening of tensions that was dubbed the "spirit of Geneva." In 1956 Eisenhower was reelected, defeating Adlai Stevenson even more decisively than he had in 1952. Despite their evident satisfaction with their leader, however, the mood of the American people was sober. Hopes of pushing back the Soviet
Union with clever stratagems and moral fervor were fading. America's first successful earth satellite, launched in January 1958, brought cold comfort, for it was much smaller than the earth-circling Soviet Sputniks.
In 1957 Dulles underwent surgery for an abdominal cancer, and in April 1959 he had to resign; a month later he was dead. Eisenhower then took over much of the task of conducting foreign relations himself. Amid the tension that followed the Suez crisis, the belief persisted in many quarters that the spirit of Geneva could be revived if only a new summit meeting could be arranged. World opinion was insistent that the great powers stop making and testing nuclear weapons, for every test explosion was contaminating the atmosphere with radioactive debris that threatened the future of all life. Unresolved controversies, especially the argument over the divided Germany, might erupt at any moment into a globe-shattering war.
Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union dared ignore these dangers; each, therefore, adopted a more accommodating attitude. In the summer of 1959 Vice-President Richard M. Nixon visited the Soviet Union and in September Khrushchev came to America. At the end of his stay, he and President Eisenhower agreed to convene a new four-power summit conference.
The meeting never took place. On May 1, 1960, high over Sverdlovsk, an industrial center deep in the Soviet Union, an American U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire. The pilot of the plane survived the crash and confessed to being a spy. When Eisenhower assumed full responsibility for the mission, Khrushchev accused the United States of "piratical" and "cowardly" acts of aggression. The summit was canceled.
Latin America Aroused
Events in Latin America compounded Eisenhower's difficulties. During World War II the United States, needing Latin American raw materials, had supplied its southern neighbors liberally with economic aid. In the period following victory, an era of amity and prosperity seemed assured. A hemispheric mutual defense pact was signed at Rio de Janeiro in September 1947, and the following year the Organization of American States (OAS) came into being. In the OAS, decisions were reached by a two-thirds vote; the United States had neither a veto nor any special position.
The United States tended to neglect Latin America during the Cold War years. Economic problems plagued the region, and in most nations reactionary governments reigned. Radical Latin Americans accused the United States of supporting cliques of wealthy tyrants, and indeed, checking communism continued to receive first priority. Eisenhower, eager to improve relations, stepped up economic assistance. Nevertheless, he continued to support conservative regimes kept in power by bayonets.
That there was no easy solution to Latin American problems was demonstrated by events in Cuba. In 1959 a revolutionary movement headed by Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista, one of the most noxious of the Latin American dictators. Eisenhower recognized the Castro government, but the Cuban leader soon began to criticize the United States in highly colored speeches and to seize American property in Cuba without adequate compensation. Castro entered into close relations with the Soviet Union. After he negotiated a trade agreement with the USSR in February 1960 that enabled the Soviets to obtain Cuban sugar at bargain rates, the United States retaliated by prohibiting the importation of Cuban sugar into America.
Khrushchev then announced that if the United States intervened in Cuba, he would defend the country with atomic weapons. "The Monroe Doctrine has outlived its time," he warned. Shortly before he left office, Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The Politics of Civil Rights
During Eisenhower's presidency a major change occurred in the legal status of American blacks. Eisenhower had relatively little to do with this change, which was part of a broad shift in attitudes toward the rights of minorities in democracies. After 1945 the question of racial equality took on special importance because of the ideological competition with communism. Evidence of color prejudice in the United States damaged the nation's image, particularly in Asia and Africa, where the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for influence. An awareness of foreign criticism of American racial attitudes, along with resentment that almost a century after the Emancipation Proclamation they were still second-class citizens, produced a growing militancy among American blacks. At the same time, fears of communist subversion in the United States led to the repression of the rights of many whites, culminating in the excesses of McCarthyism. Both these aspects of the civil rights question divided Americans along liberal and conservative lines.
As we have seen, the World War II record of the federal government on civil rights was mixed. As early as 1940, in the Smith Act, Congress made it illegal to advocate or teach the overthrow of the government by force or to belong to an organization with this objective. The law was used in the Truman era to jail the leaders of the American Communist party.
In 1950 Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which made it unlawful "to combine, conspire or agree with any other person to perform any act that would substantially contribute to the establishment ... of a totalitarian dictatorship." The law required every "Communist-front organization" to register with the attorney general. Members of such organizations were barred from defense work and from traveling abroad. Aliens who had ever been members of any "totalitarian party" were denied admission to the United States, a foolish provision that prevented many anticommunists behind the Iron Curtain from fleeing to America; even a person who had belonged to a communist youth organization was kept out by this provision.
As for blacks, besides setting up the Committee on Civil Rights and beginning to desegregate the armed forces, Truman sought to establish a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. Congress, however, did not pass the necessary legislation.
Under Eisenhower, while the McCarthy hysteria reached its peak and declined, the government compiled a spotty record on civil rights. The search for subversive federal employees continued. Eisenhower did complete the formal integration of blacks in the armed forces and appointed a Civil Rights Commission, but he was temperamentally incapable of a frontal assault on the racial problem. This was done by the Supreme Court, which interjected itself into the civil rights controversy in dramatic fashion in 1954.
For some years the Court had been gradually undermining the "separate but equal" principle laid down in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. First it ruled that in graduate education, segregated facilities must be truly equal. In 1938 it ordered a black student admitted to the University of Missouri law school because no law school for blacks existed in the state. This decision gradually forced some southern states to admit blacks to advanced programs. In 1950, when Texas actually attempted to fit out a separate law school for a single black applicant, the Court ruled that truly equal education could not be provided under such circumstances.
In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed California's Governor Earl Warren Chief Justice of the United States. Convinced that the Court must take the offensive in the cause of civil rights, Warren succeeded in welding his associates into a unit on the question. In 1954 an NAACP-sponsored case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, came up for decision. This case challenged the "separate but equal" doctrine at the elementary school level. Speaking for a unanimous Court, Warren reversed the Plessy decision. "In the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place," he declared. "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The next year the Court ordered the states to proceed "with all deliberate speed" in integrating their schools.
Despite these decisions, few districts in the southern and border states tried to integrate their schools. White citizens' councils dedicated to all-out opposition sprang up throughout the South. In Virginia the governor announced a plan for "massive resistance" to integration that denied state aid to local school systems that wished to desegregate. When the University of Alabama admitted a single black woman in 1956, riots broke out. University officials forced the student to withdraw and then expelled her when she complained more forcefully than they deemed proper.
President Eisenhower thought equality for blacks could not be obtained by government edict. "The fellow who tries to tell me you can do these things by force is just plain nuts," he said. But in 1957 events compelled him to act. When the school board of Little Rock, Arkansas, opened Central High School to a handful of black children, the governor called out the National Guard to prevent them from attending. Unruly crowds taunted the children and their parents.
Eisenhower could not ignore the direct flouting of federal authority. After the mayor of Little Rock informed him that his police could not control the situation, the president dispatched 1,000 paratroopers to Little Rock and summoned 10,000 National Guardsmen to federal duty. The black children then began to attend classes. A token force of soldiers was stationed at Central High for the entire school year to protect them.
Extremist resistance strengthened the determination of blacks and many northern whites to make the South comply with the desegregation decision. Besides pressing cases in the federal courts, leaders
of the movement organized a voter registration drive among southern blacks. As a result, the administration introduced what became the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It authorized the attorney general to obtain injunctions to stop election officials from interfering with blacks seeking to register and vote. The law also established the Civil Rights Commission with broad investigatory powers and a civil rights division in the Department of Justice. Enforcing the Civil Rights Act was another matter. A later study of a typical county in Alabama revealed that between 1957 and 1960 more than 700 blacks with high school diplomas were rejected as unqualified by white election officials when they sought to register.
The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Warren did not limit itself to protecting the rights of black people. It reinstated the "clear and present danger" principle that had been undermined in a case upholding the Smith Act ban on merely "advocating" the overthrow of the government by force. The rights of persons accused of crimes were enlarged in cases providing free legal counsel for indigent defendants, requiring the police to inform accused persons of their right to remain silent, and giving accused persons the right to have a lawyer present while being questioned by the authorities.
In Baker v. Carr (1962), Lucas v. Colorado (1964), and other decisions, the Court declared that unequal representation in state and local legislative bodies was unconstitutional, thus establishing the principle known as "one man, one vote." In a different area, the Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down a Connecticut statute banning the use of contraceptives on the ground that it violated individuals' right of privacy.
The Election of 1960
As the end of his second term approached, Eisenhower somewhat reluctantly endorsed Vice-President Nixon as the Republican candidate to succeed him. Richard Nixon had skyrocketed to national prominence by exploiting the public fear of communist subversion. "Traitors in the high councils of our government," he charged in 1950, "have made sure that the deck is stacked on the Soviet side of the diplomatic tables." In 1947 he was an obscure young congressman from California; in 1950 he won a seat in the Senate; two years later Eisenhower chose him as his running mate.
Whether Nixon believed what he was saying at this period of his career is not easily discovered; with his "instinct for omnidirectional placation," he seemed wedded to the theory that politicians should slavishly represent their constituents' opinions rather than hold to their own views. Frequently he appeared to count noses before deciding what he thought. He projected an image of almost frantic earnestness, yet he pursued a flexible course more suggestive of calculation than sincerity.
Reporters generally had a low opinion of Nixon, and relatively few independent voters found him attractive. He was always controversial, distrusted by liberals even when he supported liberal measures. But his defense of traditional American values made him popular with conservatives.
The Democrats nominated Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, with his chief rival at the convention, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, the Senate majority leader, as his running mate. Kennedy was the son of a wealthy businessman and promoter who had served as ambassador to Great Britain under Franklin Roosevelt. As a PT boat commander in World War II, he was severely injured in action. In 1946 he was elected to Congress. Besides wealth, intelligence, good looks, and charm, Kennedy had the advantage of his war record and his Irish Catholic ancestry, the latter a particularly valuable asset in heavily Catholic Massachusetts. After three terms in the House, he moved on to the Senate in 1952 by defeating Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
After his landslide reelection in 1958, only Kennedy's religion seemed to limit his political future. No Catholic had ever been elected president, and the defeat of Alfred E. Smith in 1928 had convinced most students of politics that none ever would be elected. Nevertheless, influenced by his victories in the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries-the latter establishing him as an effective campaigner in a predominantly Protestant region the Democratic convention nominated him.
Kennedy had not been a particularly liberal congressman. He was friendly with Richard Nixon and admitted frankly that he liked Senator Joseph McCarthy and thought that "he may have something" in his campaign against supposed communists in government. However, as a presidential candidate, he sought to appear more forward-looking. He promised to open a "New Frontier" and accused the Republicans of neglecting national defense and losing the Cold War. Nixon ran on the Eisenhower record, which he promised to extend in liberal directions.
A series of television debates between the candidates, observed by some 76 million viewers, helped Kennedy by enabling him to demonstrate his warmth, maturity, and mastery of the issues. Where Nixon appeared to lecture the unseen audience like an ill-at-ease schoolmaster, Kennedy seemed relaxed, thoughtful, and confident of his powers. Although both candidates laudably avoided it, the religious issue was important. His Catholicism helped Kennedy in eastern urban areas but injured him in many farm districts and throughout the West. On balance, it probably hurt him more than it helped. Nevertheless, he won. His margin of victory, 303 to 219 in the electoral college, was paper-thin in the popular vote, 34,227,000 to 34,109,000. Kennedy carried Illinois by fewer than 9,000 votes out of nearly 4.8 million, and it is possible that the Democratic machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago supplied that margin by unlawful means.
Although Kennedy was rich, white, and a member of the upper crust by any definition, his was a victory of minority groups (Jews, blacks, and blue collar "ethnics" as well as Catholics gave him overwhelming support) over the "traditional" white Protestant majority, which went as heavily for Nixon as it had four years earlier for Eisenhower.
Kennedy's New Frontier
Kennedy made a striking and popular president. He projected an image of originality and imaginativeness combined with moderation and good sense. He flouted convention by making his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy attorney general. (When critics objected to this appointment, the president responded with a quip, saying that he had "always thought it was a good thing for a young attorney to get some government experience before going out into private practice.")
Kennedy had a genuinely inquiring mind. He kept up with dozens of magazines and newspapers and consumed books of all sorts voraciously. He invited leading scientists, artists, writers, and musicians to the White House. Jefferson had sought to teach Americans to value the individual regardless of status. Kennedy seemed intent on teaching the country to respect its most talented minds.
Kennedy seemed determined to change the direction in which the nation was moving. He hoped to revitalize the economy and extend the influence of the United States abroad. His inaugural address was a call for commitment: "Ask not what your country can do for you," he said. "Ask what you can do for your country." But he was neither a Woodrow Wilson nor a Franklin Roosevelt when it came to bending Congress to his will. Perhaps he was too amiable, too diffident and conciliatory in his approach. A coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats resisted his plans for federal aid to education, for urban renewal, for a higher minimum wage, for medical care for the aged.
The president reacted mildly, almost ruefully, when opponents in Congress blocked proposals that in his view were reasonable and moderate. He seemed to doubt at times that the cumbersome machinery of the federal government could be made to work. Even to some of his warmest supporters he sometimes appeared strangely paralyzed, unwilling either to exert strong pressure on Congress or to appeal to public opinion. Pundits talked of a "deadlock of democracy" in which party discipline had crumbled and positive legislative action had become next to impossible.
During the presidential campaign Kennedy had promised to "get the country moving again." The relatively slow growth of the economy in the Eisenhower years had troubled some economists. Three recessions occurred between 1953 and 1961, each marked by increases in unemployment. In the latter years of Eisenhower's presidency the rate of inflation began to rise.
During the recessions the Eisenhower administration reacted in the orthodox Keynesian manner, cutting taxes, easing credit, and expanding public works programs. However, liberal economists argued that it was not employing the Keynesian medicine in large enough doses.
At first Kennedy rejected proposals for increasing government spending. But in January 1963 the economist Walter Heller persuaded him to try a different approach. If personal and corporate income taxes were lowered, Heller argued, the public would have more money to spend on consumer goods and corporations could invest in new facilities for producing these goods. Federal expenditures need not be cut because the increase in economic activity would raise private and corporate incomes so much that tax revenues would rise even as the tax rate was falling.
Although the prospect of lower taxes was tempting, Kennedy's call for reductions of $13.5 billion ran into strong opposition. Republicans and conservative Democrats thought the reasoning behind the scheme too complex and theoretical to be practicable. It went nowhere.
The Cuban Crises
Kennedy's curious lack of determined leadership also marred his management of foreign affairs, particularly during his first year in office. He hoped to reverse the Truman-Eisenhower policy of backing reactionary regimes merely because they were anticommunist. Recognizing that American economic aid could accomplish little in Latin America unless accompanied by internal reforms, he organized the Alliance for Progress, which committed the Latin Americans to land reform and economic development projects with the assistance of the United States. At the first sign of pro-Soviet activity in any Latin American country, however, he tended to overreact.
His most serious mistake involved Cuba. Anti Castro exiles were eager to organize an invasion of their homeland, reasoning that the Cuban masses would rise up against Castro as soon as "democratic" forces provided a standard they could rally to. Under Eisenhower the Central Intelligence Agency had begun training some 2,000 of these men in Central America.
Kennedy was of two minds about this plan, and his advisers were split on the question. But after much soul-searching, he authorized the attack. The exiles were given American weapons, but no planes or warships were committed to the operation.
The invaders struck on April 17, 1961, landing at the Bay of Pigs, on Cuba's southern coast. But the Cuban people failed to flock to their lines, and they were soon pinned down and forced to surrender. Since America's involvement could not be disguised, the affair exposed the country to all the criticisms that a straightforward assault would have produced without accomplishing the overthrow of Castro. Worse, it made Kennedy appear impulsive as well as unprincipled. Castro soon acknowledged that he was a Marxist and tightened his connections with the Soviet Union. For his part, Kennedy imposed an economic blockade on Cuba, and he appears to have gone along with a CIA attempt to assassinate Castro.
In June, Kennedy met with Premier Khrushchev in Vienna. During their discussions he evidently failed to convince the Russian that he would resist pressure with determination. In August, Khrushchev abruptly closed the border between East and West Berlin and erected an ugly wall of concrete blocks and barbed wire across the city to check the exodus of dissident East Germans. Resuming the testing of nuclear weapons, Khrushchev exploded a series of gigantic hydrogen bombs, one with a power 3,000 times that of the bomb that had devastated Hiroshima.
When the Soviets resumed nuclear testing, Kennedy followed suit. He expanded the American space program,* vowing that an American would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and called on Congress for a large increase in military spending. At the same time he pressed forward along more constructive lines by establishing the Agency for International Development to administer American economic aid throughout the world and the Peace Corps, an organization that mobilized American idealism and technical skills to help developing nations.
These actions had no observable effect on the Soviets. In 1962 Khrushchev devised the boldest and most reckless challenge of the Cold War-he moved military equipment and thousands of Soviet technicians into Cuba. U-2 reconnaissance planes photographed these sites, and by mid-October, Kennedy had proof that they were approaching completion. The president faced a dreadful decision. When he confronted Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, the Russian insisted that only "defensive" (antiaircraft) missiles were being installed.
Kennedy decided that he must take strong action. On October 22 he went before the nation on television. The Soviet buildup was "a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo," he said. The navy would stop and search all vessels headed for Cuba and turn back any containing "offensive" weapons. Kennedy called on Khrushchev to dismantle the missile bases and remove from the island all weapons capable of striking the United States. Any Cuban-based nuclear attack would result, he warned, in "a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."
For days, while the world held its breath, work on the missile bases continued. Then Khrushchev backed down. He withdrew the missiles and cut back his military establishment in Cuba to modest proportions. Kennedy then lifted the blockade.
Critics have argued that Kennedy overreacted to the missiles. There was no evidence that the Soviets were planning an attack, and they already had missiles in Siberia capable of striking American targets. The Cuban missiles might be seen as a deterrent against a possible attack on the Soviet Union by United States missiles in Europe, and by demanding their withdrawal Kennedy risked triggering a nuclear holocaust as much as Khrushchev did. Yet he probably had no choice once the existence of the sites was known to the public. (In some respects this is the most frightening aspect of the crisis.)
For better or worse, Kennedy's firmness in the missile crisis repaired the damage done to his reputation by the Bay of Pigs affair. It also led to a lessening of Soviet-American tensions. Khrushchev agreed to the installation of a telephone "hot line" between the White House and the Kremlin so that in any future crisis the leaders of the two nations could be in instant communication. The arms race continued, but in July 1963 all the powers except France and China signed a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.
Tragedy in Dallas
Although his domestic policies were making little progress, Kennedy retained his hold on public opinion. Most observers believed he would easily win a second term. Then, while visiting Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, he was shot in the head by an assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, and died almost instantly.
This senseless murder precipitated an extraordinary series of events. Oswald had fired on the president with a rifle from an upper story of a warehouse. No one saw him pull the trigger, but a mass of evidence connected him with the crime. Before he could be brought to trial, however, he was himself murdered by the owner of a Dallas nightclub while being transferred, in the full view of television cameras, from one place of detention to another.
This amazing incident, together with the fact that Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and then returned to the United States, convinced many people that some nefarious conspiracy lay at the root of the tragedy. Oswald, the argument ran, was a pawn, his murder designed to keep him from exposing the masterminds who had engineered the assassination. An investigation by a special commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren came to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone, yet doubts persisted in many minds.
Kennedy's election had seemed the start of a new era in American history. Instead, his assassination marked the end of an old one. The three postwar presidents had achieved, at minimum, the respect of nearly everyone. There were critics who felt that the job was too big for Truman, others who considered Eisenhower a political amateur and Kennedy a compulsive, even reckless womanizer and too much a showman. But their honesty and patriotism were beyond question. This was not to be said of their immediate successors.