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America's History in the Making

Postwar Tension and Triumph

In the Video

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Historical Perspectives

Historical Perspectives

Most soldiers returning from World War II benefited from the newly established GI Bill and accessed the professed American Dream in new suburban residences. After suffering racial segregation in Southern base camps, many African American soldiers found the same systematic barriers in place upon their return from war—despite the promise of a two-front war against segregation abroad and racism at home.

Though the vision of identical houses lined along a cul-de-sac conjures an image of American conformity, the isolation of life in the suburbs meant that white, middle-class Americans could customize their existence. The everpresent threat of Communist saboteurs, real or imagined, kept society ill-at-ease and suspicious of any deviation.

Faces of America

Faces of America

A Navajo and a Marine, Keith Little eagerly enlisted after learning of the bombing of Pearl Harbor at his Indian boarding school in Ganado, Arizona. The Marines soon selected Little and other natives for special assignment. Though Native Americans often found themselves in harm's way for their reputation as warriors, the job of code talker included the intellectual assignment of developing an intricate code that could not be deciphered by intercepting enemy combatants—a code based on the same native language earlier assimilation efforts had discouraged.

J. Robert Oppenheimer emerged as a rising star in the world of physics shortly before heading the effort to develop the atomic bomb. Following the successful detonation of the bomb at Los Almogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer began to question the application of science as a means of mass destruction. After proposing international oversight to the United States development of the hydrogen bomb, he found himself the subject of investigation for his dalliance with leftist ideology decades earlier. Capping an era of anti-Communist hysteria, the Atomic Energy Commission would strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance.

Rachel Carson has been called the mother of the environmental movement. Starting as a writer for the Bureau of Fisheries, her career married her twin passions of biology and literature. She published many books celebrating the natural world in a lyrical style that found appreciation from a wide readership. But her book Silent Spring challenged the powerful chemical lobby as it posited the dangers of DDT. She defended her findings before Congress and provided a clarion call for future environmentalists in the face of her critics.

Hands on History

Hands on History

What does hot-rod culture tell us about conformity/individualism and American culture during the Cold War?

The history of the hot rod provides a framework for interpreting the American mindset after World War II. Bruce Meyer, curator of the Petersen Auto Museum, explains the history of hot-rod culture and the process of creating a hot rod, and gives a guided tour of the birthplace of hot-rod culture—the So-Cal Speed Shop in Los Angeles, California. Read edited Hands on History interview with Bruce Meyer.

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