The end of World War significantly shifted the balance of power in Europe and globally, leaving a void that both the United States and the Soviet Union sought to fulfill. In the months and years after WWII, both countries attempted to establish their presence and influence in continental Europe. While the United States did this through political and economic means such as the Marshall Plan that fueled economic aid to countries that were friendly to the US.
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Meanwhile, the Soviet Union used force, increasingly building up military presence in Eastern Europe and attempting to isolate it from American influence. The biggest heated point was based in politics. The United States adopted the Truman Doctrine, aimed specifically at limiting Soviet and Communist expansion. Meanwhile, the Soviet ideology was strongly anti American as well. This clash of values, economic and military provocations, and failure of political resolutions led to the postwar heating of tension and ideological warfare known as the Cold War (Moss and Thomas 2012, 20-22).
Towards the end of WWII, both the United States and the Soviet Union restructured their industrial capabilities towards the production of military equipment. Furthermore, significant technological developments were made in the arms industry, particularly the creation and detonation of the nuclear bomb by the United States. As tensions escalated soon after the end of the war, both countries continued to expand their military capabilities, effectively beginning an arms race.
The Soviet Union, threatened by nuclear weaponry, began to develop its own nuclear and hydrogen weaponry, soon matching the United States nuclear arsenal. The primary strategy of the Cold War was nuclear deterrence, a principle that one country would not attack the other if there is a risk of nuclear retaliation and annihilation (Harding 2018). Therefore, both superpowers focused significant resources on building both conventional and nuclear militaries in a display of power.
When Truman came into office after the death of Roosevelt and his subsequent reelection in 1946, he sought to pursue a similar line of socially-friendly policies. Many from FDR’s cabinet remained and helped a relatively inexperienced Truman transition. Initially, Truman focused strongly on economics and labor, attempting to achieve a healthy transition from a wartime economy to a consumer-driven one. He created the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), a federal agency which guides Presidents on economic issues to this day. Truman attempted to remove price controls, but the low amount of consumer goods caused prices to skyrocket.
There was significant deficit initially, on even the basic commodities. He continued to make crucial errors in managing the economy. Another aspect Truman attempted to address, building off FDR’s legacy, is labor. He wanted to pass a legislation for a new public works program which guaranteed full employment and an increased minimum wage among other benefits. Truman’s objectives were not met as only the Employment Act of 1946 was passed, a legislation on full employment which had no enforcement ability. Many in Congress, including from Truman’s own party, opposed his socio-economic domestic policies (Hamby n.d.).
In his domestic policy, Truman also sought to address civil rights. As part of his labor legislation, he wanted to prevent discrimination of African Americans. In 1947, he openly voiced support of the NAACP and began to push civil rights legislation to Congress. He used his available resources and voice to advocate for civil rights in all aspects of life, ranging from employment and minimum wage to housing and health insurance. He was able to achieve some progress such as desegregating the military (Brown 2018). However, due to limited support, Truman’s civil right policies remained more rhetorical rather than practical as society was not ready to adopt such significant changes.
Brown, DeNeen L. “How Harry S. Truman went from being a racist to desegregating the military.” The Washington Post, 2018. Web.
Hamby, Alonzo L. ” Harry S. Truman: domestic affairs.” UVA Miller Center. Web.
Harding, Rebecca. “How the end of the Second World War led to a nuclear arms race.” Imperial War Museums. Web.
Moss, George D., and Evan A. Thomas. Moving on: The American people since 1945 (5th ed.). London: Pearson, 2012.