This paper examines the period between 1900 and 1940’s where significant events occurred and which represent part of the history of the American society. The paper shall focus on such events including the Progressive movement, cultural disputes in the 1920’s, President Roosevelt’s Second New Deal and the World War II in terms of how racism affected the war.
The Progressive Movement
Also called the progressive era, it was the period in the history of the United States between 1890 and 1920 where varied reforms took place. These reform issues were related to education, working conditions, child labour and urbanization among others. By 1900, many labourers in the US faced harsh working conditions and the country was almost heading for rebellion. That is where the progressive movement rose to address the problems facing the society and get rid of immorality. The leaders of the movement believed that the government was responsible for solving the problems of the society and protect the welfare of Americans.
There were several factors which led to the growth of the progressive movement. The first one was increased bribery and corruption among political leaders who controlled towns and cities. Citizens therefore were not given a chance to participate in governance through democracy. Discrimination was also a factor; it was based on the grounds of race, religion, gender and ethnic background. Black citizens were not allowed to take responsibilities on some duties so their jobs were often low paying. The number of female workers was very small and they were denied rights to own property due to discrimination. It was also during this period when rapid urbanization took place. Some of the results of this urbanization were emergence of poor working conditions in the workplaces poor living conditions in the towns and cities due to lack of proper planning. It also brought unethical business practices and increase in the number of crimes in the cities. There was also the need for conservation of the environment. There were activists who fought to protect the natural resources against pollution, wastage and destruction. All these factors prompted the leaders of the progressive movement to come up with action plans so as to stabilise the society.
The movement had some major objectives, the first one being to bring about political reform and elimination of bribery and corruption. The reforms were to allow more public participation towards law making. Therefore, many states passed laws allowing the public to propose new laws and strike down inappropriate ones through referendums. The corrupt officials were publicly exposed by journalists and were removed from office through recall. These reforms were also to give more rights to women, allowing them to vote, own property and even take leadership positions (Leonard 1). Another major goal was prohibition. It was aimed at discouraging the consumption of alcohol in so as to curb its social effects such as child abuse and poverty. The Prohibition Act passed in 1918 forbade the manufacture and sale of any drink containing more than 2% alcohol content in the United States. This move was however not very successful due to high consumer demand which led to emergence of illegal sources of alcohol and smuggling of alcoholic drinks. The other goal was reform on labour rights where everyone would get equal opportunities for jobs including women, ban child labour to protect children and establish the minimum wage for each worker.
From my own perspective, the reform was a legacy because it facilitated economic growth through regulating the power of large businesses and corporations. It helped to raise the living standards of many Americans through passing of labour rights. Gender equality was also enhanced where women were given more rights with the right to vote being amongst them. The progressive movement also promoted democracy in governance.
Cultural Disputes of the 1920’s
The 1920’s were a period of significant social and cultural change characterized by prosperity, leisure and consumerism due to the great economic advancements in the US industries. This led to huge differences among people in their way of living and these divisions often led to disputes. Prohibition of alcohol presented a major dispute. It was a national ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol which occurred between 1920 and 1930. The mob and gangs took advantage of this situation and began a black market for liquor which flourished. These gangs became more powerful and began bribing the authorities so as to smuggle alcohol between countries. Some of these drinks were not up to standard and those who consumed such could go blind or even die. Therefore, the Prohibition Act which was meant to curb alcohol consumption led to increase in the consumption, even more than when alcohol was legal. The cities were transformed into battlefields between opposing gangs and the number of crimes such as theft, assaults and homicide rose significantly. This led to the extremes where even drug stores would offer medical subscriptions with high alcohol content.
Immigrants were the major cause of cultural dispute. This is because they came along with their lifestyles and culture thus leading to disputes. Many people came to America with the hopes of securing a better future but it lead to competition for jobs thus many natives viewed the immigrants as a threat to their economic status as well as social and religious values. The increasing number of immigrants prompted the government to come up with a Quota Law which was to limit their numbers. Racism was high during this period and there was development of a hate group called The Ku Klux Klan which targeted the non-natives. They harassed them, boycotted their businesses and even killed the immigrants. This led to the immigrants living in crowded places with poor conditions. Also, the government policies and attitude towards these immigrants were racist.
The other cause of cultural dispute was the change in lifestyles. This was largely portrayed by women because of weakened social restrictions. They changed their way of dressing and hairstyles also changed. They also abandoned social taboos and began drinking, smoking and sexual activities. This made the people in rural areas felt threatened by this secular culture and some rural areas limited their residents to Christians only. This division went further where the rural residents created their own independent subculture with schools and radio ministries of their own. They also supported the prohibition of alcohol, unlike in the urban areas where alcohol was generally accepted.
Roosevelt’s Second New Deal
The second new deal was an expansion of the original deal program which was enacted in 1935 by Franklin Roosevelt who was the US president at the time. It went further in terms of government involvement and was aimed to help unions and the unemployed people. The other major reasons why Roosevelt shifted to the political left were the need to improve the use of local resources and security against illness and old age. During the second new deal, there was creation of a series of some important programs to redistribute wealth and income favouring labour unions and the poor.
The first program was the Social Security Act. It established a framework for retirement pensions, unemployment and insurance benefits so as to help those unemployed retired persons to become self sufficient and give financial aid to the unemployed or those injured on the job. It was to be funded by taxes so as to give people the legal right to collect their benefits. The other program was the Work Progress Administration. It was to provide jobs the unemployed and the jobs were mainly the government infrastructure projects such as construction of roads, airports and government parks. A sub section of this program was the Rural Electrification Administration which was meat to provide electricity to rural areas. The National Labour Relations Act was also another major program aimed at regulating labour unions. It outlawed unfair labour practices and gave unions the right to organize and bargain with their employers. The unions were required to hold elections and there was establishment of a government body to oversee and deal with any allegations of wrongdoing. This resulted in a significant growth of membership in labour unions.
Another important program that was developed was the Federal Housing Authority which subsidized the construction of public housing by use of federal loans. It was meant to abolish slums. This helped the low income families to secure a home through the loans thus leading to dramatic increase in sales of homes and this was a major contributor to the general economy of the US.
There are several long term impacts or legacies of the second new deal. One of them is that it resulted into an activist state that extended the powers of the government especially in the economy. The government regulated the wild swings of the business cycle and recognized a level of subsistence where citizens should not fall. The new deal readjusted the political loyalties. The group of voters was diverse, and included farmers, African Americans and union members who continued to support Roosevelt. The other important legacy was formation of a new political philosophy, liberalism, to which many citizens remained attached for long even after the end of the second new deal. Other reforms in the area of labour and public works still continue into recent years.
Impact of the Second New Deal
President Roosevelt’s second new deal had some social and economic impacts for the people of America. The second new deal helped to create employment opportunities for people. Those needy unskilled people could participate on a large scale of government projects such as schools, roads and hospitals. It also created employment opportunities for women including appointment of more women to the federal government. Under Roosevelt, women were given chances to serve in key positions under department of labour and some even served as ambassadors. It helped to set up minimum wages for the workers so as to ensure that the workers could access their basic needs from the wages they got. This resulted to the increase in GNP of the US. It also helped to curb the effects of the Great Depression although it did not fully negate those effects. However, it assisted to soften the blow of the Great Depression. The second new deal helped to secure homes for the American citizens through a program called the United States Housing Authority which gave out subsidies to reduce costs of constructing new homes. The second new deal helped to protect the rights of workers. This was through the passing of National Labour Relations Act which limited the means which employers would react to workers who created labour unions and took part in strikes or any other form of concerted activity in support of their demands. The law also defined and prohibited some unfair labour practices, some which exist up to date. Other economic impacts included the improved use of national resources and security against old age and illness
The major social effect was the change of the relationship between the citizens and the federal government. Earlier before, there was a general stereotype among the Americans that the government could not help them. They generally did not expect any assistance from the authorities. After the second new deal, the government was practically involved in every aspect of the economy in an attempt to help the citizens both individually and as a whole. Also, the Social Security program which is one of the most notable programs that was created ensured that the interests of the citizens and their well being were protected. This led the Americans to a greater reliance on the federal government. It also raised their expectations that the government would be involved in most aspects of the economy.
In my own view, the second new deal brought more positive impacts towards the lives of the American citizens. It helped to raise the economic standards of the United States through provision of employment opportunities and passed laws to protect the rights of workers. However, many of these jobs were short term projects and so during the period of the Great Depression, America was still hit and many citizens were left without jobs. The Social Security Act also helped the lives of many people including the unemployed, widows and the old people.
Racism and the World War II
During the war, African American population pushed for equality and incorporation in the US army which insisted to remain in accordance with the customs of the white people thus keeping the two races separate. The Americans believed that in order for the military to remain efficient and effective, it would have to continue with its policy of segregation ( Pike 5) This tells us that racism was a key aspect of World War II. African Americans were viewed not eligible to serve in the military because they were believed to be careless, irresponsible and secretive by the US army. This stereotyping and discrimination meant that these black soldiers were never placed in important roles (Hodges 5). Instead, they were assigned mostly to labour intensive jobs with little responsibility because they were also believed to be hard to coordinate. In addition, no African American would receive the medal of honour during the war due to discrimination. Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans had long been seen as a threat to the United States. Prejudice against them included laws preventing them from owning land despite considering themselves as loyal and patriotic Americans. Public discrimination against Japanese Americans was very common particularly in the West Coast where majority of them lived. Additionally, President Roosevelt signed an executive order which authorised exclusion of all people of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast. Many of them were forced out of their homes to relocate to other parts and some of them were sent to internment camps. This was absolute racism. This is because the United States was at war not only with Japan but also with Germany and even though German Americans were present throughout the US, there were no internment camps for the German Americans.
However, the attitude towards race changed and in 1940, The Selective Training and Service Act became law where it established the protocol for drafting and training of eligible persons into the US. There was also the amendment of the law which called for the abolishment of discrimination against any person in regard to race or colour. This meant that the non-native Americans were slowly gaining recognition. This led to an increase in the number of African Americans serving in the army. In 1948 the US army was desegregated.
The United States’ use of Atomic Bomb on Japan
In August 1945 the decision was made to drop an Atomic bomb on two cities of Japan, during the final stage of the Second World War. This led to the end of the war and there are some who argue that the bombing of the two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki was completely cruel and unnecessary.
The following are the pros of dropping the Atomic Bomb: it prevented a massive loss of life to the citizens of the United States because the war would have probably continued. This was especially to the US soldiers. It showed the world that America is a superpower because of possession of catastrophic weapons and thus, talks of peace were much easier to develop due to the fear of bomb dropping. The bombing also prompted Japan to surrender and this made the war to end faster.
The cons of dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan include: it lead to development of more atomic weapons because other countries had seen the type of power held by them so they also wanted to have their own. There was a massive loss of lives among the Japanese, many of which were innocent. It is estimated that the bombing wiped out around 90% of the population in the cities. There were also the effects of radiation from the bombing which affected even the future generations of the Japanese. It also led to spending of millions of dollars by the United States in trying to come up with and test the effectiveness of the Atomic Bomb. Japan was also close to surrendering anyways, therefore the dropping of the atomic bomb led to unnecessary loss of lives. This could create a great amount of anger and enmity between the two nations which could exist even in the present day.
In my opinion, I do not justify the use of the Atomic Bomb on Japan by the US because that loss of life was too much capable of leaving a scar among the Japanese for decades. Secondly, as we have already learned, Japan was almost surrendering so there was no need at all to bomb the innocent people. Lastly, if the United States were to use the bomb they would have dropped it on Japanese army bases where fighting was taking place and not in the open cities full of innocent women and children.
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