Themes and Issues in American History – 1919-1945
Themes and Issues in American History/4 October 13, 2006 1919-1945 President Wilson’s friend, George L. Record wrote him in early 1919 “that something would have to be done about economic democracy to meet this menace of Socialism. ” This era became one of increasing paranoia about the effects of Socialism on society. Even as the Courts and Congress enforced suppression of certain ideas and acts, the class war in a supposedly class-less society was beginning to take shape.
Strikes continued to plague the country and even with the jailing and suppression of union leadership, the Socialist support of the unions continued to attract more members and sympathy. The Seattle Strike of 1919 was seen as an attempt at revolution. It was defeated after five days by Federal troops who proceeded to trample on constitutional rights, by arresting and persecuting the Socialist and union leadership. In addition, printing plants were shut down and anti government propaganda destroyed.
As revolutionary forces and sentiments gathered overseas, there was more and more pressure on the government to control the people or as James Madison stated in Federalist #10, the “violence of faction”. The government used various means of subversion in their attempts to break the morale and purpose of the strikers and Socialist. Conditions were put in place that resulted in many of the workers, and members of the party, to be deported back to their home countries as illegal or undesirable aliens. This petrified and demoralized many of the workers and membership, as the majority of the members were first generation immigrants.
Racial hatreds were encouraged by promising jobs and positions to other non-union and politically unaffiliated newly arrived immigrants. Blacks were used as strikebreakers as they were denied union memberships and thus had no loyalties. By the mid-twenties, The IWW was destroyed and the Socialist party falling apart. The economy was doing better and more people were able to benefit. The Congress passed immigration quotas in an effort to control the influx of Marxist and the revolutionary passions that were sweeping the world.
Quotas were based on color, creed, and politics. Countries that were predominantly Socialist had their quotas decreased. The “Roaring Twenties” promised prosperity and fun. Unemployment was down and wages were up. Forty percent of the people were consumed with consumerism and the stock market. They turned a blind selfish eye to the plight of the tenant farmer and immigrant families trapped in the tenements of the big cities. Prosperity was concentrated at the top of the economic scale with 42 % of the people making less than $1,000. 0 per year. Every year in the twenties, 25,000 workers were killed and 100,000 permanently disabled. There were a few triumphs of the 1920’s, such as the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment affirming the rights of the long suffering women to vote, but few politicians spoke out for the poor. In 1923, the “Mellon Plan” was passed that further eroded the people’s faith in unbiased government, by reducing the rates of taxation for the rich. Communist Party members were continuing to stir up labor unrest whenever and wherever possible.
The stock market crash of 1929 was attributed to unhealthy banking and corporate structures, unsound foreign trade, economic speculation and misinformation, and bad distribution of income. This plunged the country into the Great Depression and a period of unpredictability and instability. Thousands of banks and businesses closed as millions of people were unemployed, homeless, and helpless. These people were becoming dangerous as they became more desperate, and the spirit of rebellion was growing. Thousands of the unemployed and disillusioned WWI veterans converged on Washington in protest.
They were crushed by Federal troops led by Patton, MacArthur, and Eisenhower. The government’s inaction in the economy, and the swift and brutal repression of the protesters, helped lead to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. His support and the passage of much needed reform legislation became known as the New Deal. It promised stability of markets, relief, and the creation of jobs. Its main goal was to give enough hope to the lower classes to curb their tendency to revolution and the taking of property for survival.
Legislative action was also necessary to control the strikes that were crippling the economies ability to repair it self. The passage of the Wagner Act of 1935 was enacted to try and stabilize labor unrest. Congress responded to strikes and organization of unions by enacting more legislation aimed at control. One of the forgotten aspects of the New Deal is that for most blacks and poor tenant farmers the system remained unchanged, as they did not qualify for many of the benefits created for them.
Discrimination and repression still flourished in the South. The armed forces were segregated and the Federal government did little to change the status quo. The Communist Party radicals attempted to organize the workers to break the racial barriers. The fear of the Communist threat would soon be replaced by the march of Fascism to the east, and Japanese Imperialism and attacks to the west. The “peoples war” had begun and with it the organization of all people, races and political parties against the evil and totalitarian aggression of the Axis Party.
However, as the Allied governments espoused patriotism and purpose, the world’s western powers were preparing to redistribute global wealth and fashion public opinion on politics (the Atlantic Charter) based on fear and uncertainty. The League of Nations or the United Nations was created during the war to act as an international buffer to the conflicts of the future. It was however, directed and controlled by the Western Governments through the Security Council memberships and simple majority of vote.
This assured that the western democracies maintained the “bully pulpit” for the world. American business flourished during the war and profits hit record numbers as programs such as “lend-lease”, and foreign aid added to the coffers of capitalism. The loss of liberty was most pronounced during this time as immigrants were rounded up and detained based on race (Executive order 9066), subversive political elements held in check by legislation (1940 Smith Act and 1917 Espionage Act), and wartime freedom of the press controlled by the government through censorship.
American workers were further put down by the no strike pledges of the AFL-CIO, and the Negros discrimination in the armed forces put into perspective by such practices as blood segregation and other acts of racism. The American worker continued to strike without the union’s approval, and more strikes were organized during the war than at any other time in American history. It became necessary in order to prove to the world and the seducing call of the new imperial power to the east, that America was strong in both military power and influence.
On August 6, 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was used in war. As true history shows, it was not necessary to drop the bomb in order to defeat Japan, but it was necessary to show to the world that the United States had post war prominence. It was the first major operation against Russia, in what would become known as the “Cold War”. It would show to the world the power of democracy and split the world politically between the Imperialist Democracies of the west and the Communist Totalitarian rule of the east.
The Truman Doctrine would help formulate the political post war strategy of the United States. By warning of the dangers of Communism in the post war atomic world, the United States would embark on a mission of providing economic and military assistance abroad, and create thousands of postwar jobs in the defense industries at home. The “Iron Curtain” had fallen on the world. The war had rejuvenated American capitalism and stifled rebellion at home. The old lesson, of war solving problems of control, had been taught once again.