I was initially a bit hesitant on whether the period from 1945 to 1960 could be considered a golden age for the US but ultimately decided against it for a number of reasons. For one, there were lots of issues glossed over and outright ignored in the early Baby Boomer years, with young men coming home from world war two to take up positions in corporations and industry and shoving women back into the role they’d initially held before the war and letting them be the dotting, ever loving housewife. There was also the whole racial thing that deserves more than a mere blurb so I’m not going to bring it up other than a brief statement and save the rest for another time.
The reason I call this era the silver age is because it’s the era that the United States earned its status as a superpower, eclipsing England as the dominant power in the western hemisphere. The massive amount of industry built up to combat Germany and Japan was now turned to producing goods for public consumption, with military vehicles becoming so cheap that almost anyone could afford a car in some way, shape or fashion. The money people had been forced to save during the war due to rationing and a lack of general goods meant they had money to burn and an entire new range of luxury goods to spend all their money on. It truly was a silver age, but it left a legacy that is unfortunately taking its toll on the here and now.
See, it’s in this silver era that we have the Truman Doctrine, a plan of action that would define the entire Cold War. The Truman Doctrine was the plan to oppose Soviet domination by containing communist countries and preventing their spread, hoping that the pressure exerted against them would let democracy and freedom sink in and break the system from the inside out. It started with the non-starter Korean War and grew to also encompass the Vietnam War. It’s also here that a piece of legislation got introduced allowing the president permission to send troops to any foreign theater of operation without a congressional declaration of war, though the catch was that at the end of 60 days, the president had to appeal to Congress for permission to continue having boots on the ground. Since then, it’s become a rubber stamp, letting the president deploy troops wherever he wants without an official declaration of war. The idea was to allow the president to react quickly to developing situations but after several disastrous wars, it’s plain to see that idea is broken.
Another legacy is the expanded infrastructure that is now falling down around our ears. The Interstate System and the revamping of American highways cost quite a bit of money, but was sustainable because the government was investing a hefty chunk of the annual budget into it. However, since raising taxes is as unpopular as admitting that babies are tasty with a good wine, most politicians decided that it and the money coming in from payments to Social Security could be put to better use here and now, rather than waiting for it to come due later, since the idea was that the baby boomers would themselves have numerous children and thus perpetuate money flowing into the system. This backfired when baby boomers decided they didn’t want quite as many kids, thus creating a bulge in the pipeline that is now hitting Congress square in the face. With a massive infrastructure in place but with no money for it or a rapidly aging population, it’s come as no surprise that there’s a major discrepancy between income and output. This is not to be confused with the Regan era’s debt problem but that’s another discussion.
There’s also that lovely Segregation issue. While black units were starting to get integrated into the military during the war (See any of the now popular titles out like Red Tails to see why that’s awesome), it wasn’t until Truman’s executive order that ended segregation of the military. Blacks and whites were on the front lines together during the Korean and Vietnam wars, but back home they were told they had to be separate but technically equal in the same way that if you butter the toast, one side clearly enjoys the butter while still being equally toasted. This of course led to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.
All in all, there was some good to come out of the era, but there were also a few problems that, as much as we hate to admit it, stem directly from that era. It’s taken many, many years for people to come to grips with the idea that JFK was a womanizer and probably not that great a president, but it’s something that people are letting slip in. Popular video games are now starting to tackle the Vietnam War instead of beating World War II to death, and we’re starting to demand the system that allowed the excesses of the 50s and early 60s to cause us so many problems be fixed so that we don’t have to deal with them again.
Some would say the sun is setting on the United States, and I agree, but only in that it’s setting on what used to be, dawning onto a new era. The problems of today can be traced back to the past, but they’re not broken to the point they can’t be fixed. I imagine that should the US finally get its act together and reaches for a true goal, the United States might finally find itself looking at a true golden age, one that will make anyone looking back on the 50s turn green with envy.
Stay classy, America.