Historical Perspective

A The Eisenhower Years

Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956 to continue his leadership of an America that had emerged literally overnight as the most awesome industrial military complex the world had ever seen. At the start of World War II, while Hitler was invading Poland, there were more men employed in Henry Ford’s car plants than in the Army. However, the U.S. had what nobody else on the planet did-an incredible surplus of electric power. The Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams had just been completed with the result that immediately in 1942 the European skies were full of American planes-planes that could be instantly replaced. All this wartime manufacture was retooled for the domestic economy to produce record numbers of cars, jeeps, appliances, track housing, and a whole range of consumer items to be seen in glossy magazines like Life and Playboy. The Broadway hit about the Holocaust, The Diary of Anne Frank, was awarded the Pulitzer and on the television Elvis could only be shown from the waist up while singing the hit song “Blue Suede Shoes.” Real wages and the GNP were up.

Taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the military industrial strength were thousands of GI’s who returned from war, went to school, and by the mid-1950s were settled in suburban housing developments. This led to new myths of domesticity. The dependence on the car was immediately born and Congress passed the Federal Highway Act authorizing the construction of 42,500 miles of roads. Along with the car, the mythological love affair with the nuclear family was born and defined. It was more of a geographical definition necessitated by the sudden separation brought by suburbia to the extended family complex. Underneath the jubilation of this prosperity there was a growing anxiety over the Soviet Union and an increasing volume of dissent from America’s minorities.

B Cold War

The phrase “Cold War” was first used to describe U.S.-Soviet relations in 1947. But in 1956 there were evident signs of this war as well as a distinct development of an independent Chinese socialism. The most famous of Cold War signs became Nikita Kruschchev’s welcome of Western ambassadors on November 17 when he said “History is on our side. We will bury you!” In turn Kruschchev’s repudiation of the Stalinist era opened a rift between Soviet communism and that occurring in China. Mao Zedong reacted to Kruschchev with his speech “On the Ten Great Relationships.” There he outlined a peasant- and agrarian-focused structure in which the peasant would have economic consuming power. Thus, he rejected the Soviet emphasis on heavy industry.

This personal exchange was in the fall of a year that saw acceleration in the arms race. After Soviet authorities suppressed Polish and Hungarian revolts in February, the Soviets occupied Hungary and used this as an excuse to install intermediate ballistic missiles whose range put southern Europe on guard. Eisenhower offered asylum to all Hungarian “freedom fighters” but made no other move. The U.S. military answered the Soviet missile deployment by exploding its first airborne hydrogen bomb in May and carrying out a series of nuclear tests in the Pacific. The U.S. also developed the Polaris missile; it is a nuclear warhead that can be launched from a submarine.

C Middle East

Israel accepted a UN-proposed truce with Jordan that was soon followed by cease-fire agreements with Lebanon and Syria. However, the Soviets refused to allow either U.S. or British troops to patrol the cease-fire. Soviet threats were not taken too seriously. Meanwhile, an alliance formed between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt. For Israel it was a tense year but a decade of peace followed-broken by the 1967 Six Day War over the Sinai.

In early summer 1956, President Nasser of Egypt announced the Suez Canal Company’s concession would not be renewed in 1968. A few weeks later, after British troops departed, he declared the company illegal and ordered its seizure. British and French nationals left Egypt while their prospective ambassadors submitted the matter of the canal to the UN. The Suez Crisis also had the delayed effect of a whole community of Jews being expelled from Egypt. In the fall of 1956, Britain, France and Israel militarily reacted to Egyptian actions. The result was a complete grounding of the Egyptian air force, occupation of the Sinai by British and French troops, and a low in Anglo-American relations. By January of 1957, however, the Suez was restored to Egypt and France was reconciled to the US.

D Human Political Relations

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in April and, soon after, the bus boycott of Montgomery began after the insubordination of Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King accepted leadership of the boycott and the Civil Rights movement went full speed ahead.

The Nationalist government of South Africa admitted its plan to remove 60,000 mixed-blood “colored” from the voting rolls of Cape Province. In late summer, 100,000 non-whites were forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for whites.

In China, the killings continued. From 1949 to 1960, it is estimated that 26.3 million people were killed for resisting communization.

E Technology

The first successful videotape recorder is demonstrated in Redwood City, California. Nuclear power is seen as the way of the future as well as a necessary component of a nuclear weapons arsenal. Uranium deposits found north of Saskatchewan’s Lake Athabasca make that Canadian province the number one uranium producer in the world. Canada pledges to assist India with its nuclear power program so long as the plants are not used for the development of weapon grade plutonium.

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