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After World War II, the United States of America faced a lot of new political, economic, social, and cultural transformations. Economically, the U.S. faced the consequences of the Great Depression and the war. Politically, it had to develop a new strategy as to how to respond to USSR’s militarization, prevent future conflicts and establish itself as a military and political superpower. Moreover, the USA was aimed at stopping communism from spread all over the world. Socially, during this time, the migration of African Americans increased, and the Civil Rights movement started taking its lead, which resulted in the destabilization of American society. Liberalism violated old conservative traditions in the USA.
As a result, new movements and ideologies appeared, which resulted in the creation of new unconventional traditions and values in American society. Therefore, this paper seeks to discuss social, intellectual, and cultural developments in postwar America, analyzing their depiction in Mickey Spillane’s detective novel I, The Jury and Grace Metatious’ Peyton Place. Moreover, it gives an insight into how nuclear weapons impacted American foreign policy in the 50s.
Social, Intellectual, and Cultural Developments in Postwar America
During the 1950s, American culture and society underwent a lot of transformations. On the one hand, class and race dynamics started shifting. The population movement has become a defining characteristic, as old community institutions started disappearing, and people were moving from one place to another because they worked and lived in different places. Moreover, the Great Migration of the African American people began to take place as a result of World War II, which provided a background for the Civil Rights Movement. Due to the continued Great Migration, the number of African Americans increased, which influenced the whites to migrate to the suburbs (King, 1994).
On the other hand, during the 1940s, the restrictive racial covenants, which were aimed at preventing owners from selling their property to people of other races, were declared unconstitutional. Consequently, this legally stopped the segregation in main cities; however, the segregation was still practiced de facto through both violent and non-violent methods in different cities throughout the USA. The widespread hostility and violence were rather popular among the white population, as they refused to accept African Americans in their communities. The destruction of property, death threats, and physical attacks were implied in various cities to stop the integration of cultures.
This new level of violence in American society during the 1950s was depicted by Mickey Spillane in his detective novel I, The Jury. He describes America whose postwar population did not live up to expectations. He writes about people, who returned from the war as righteous, passionate, yet flawed and even disturbed. The author is concerned with people’s lust for money, political corruption, and other social evils in American society.
The main character of the book, Mike Hammer, embodies the dark side of postwar society and culture. He speaks for a generation, who had returned to a world they saved, but which was changed into something pre-war people never wanted. The author describes American society as immoral, with excessive violence and immorality (Spillane, 1975).
Mike Hammer faces dilemmas of social change without complications, and he directly demonizes his foes and annihilates them, the same as the wartime propaganda. In a society, where murderers are considered temporarily insane, Hammer is a representative of those, who are threatened by the insanity that the authority has failed to punish. He carries the 1950s’ prejudice and conservatism. He cannot stand “fat greasy people”, “rich jokers of smut and filth” and those, who enjoyed “exotic and sadistic sex”. Hammer believes that such people disrupt the prewar society that was defended by veterans of the war. Therefore, he blames women, gays, African Americans, and other foreigners for all social problems (Spillane, 1975).
The main character also depicts the anti-Communist views influenced by the Cold War. He supports the American troops who were fighting against Communists in Korea. In fact, the book reveals a powerful sense of duty and compassion for human suffering.
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This is how he describes the ideal woman of the 1950s: “little housewives in modest New Look skirt length, buttoned-up blouses, white glace gloves, afternoon tea hats, and the obligatory handbag”. Therefore, he opposes the “pin-up” girls and prostitutes as he thinks they are also a social evil of society (Spillane, 1975).
Another depiction of the 1950s society and cultural values gives a book written by Grace Metatious Peyton Place. This book touches on the problem of gender inequality, self-determination, and women’s dissatisfaction with their roles in the family. However, it is controversial whether the author is a conservative, who describes problems of society, or supports the revolutionary process of shifting the gender roles. Although considering the trends described in other printed materials of the 1950s, her duality in considerations is not surprising (Metatious, 1999).
One of the social problems represented in Peyton Place is a portrayal of a single woman, who has never been married. Even though today the negative portrayals of such characters seem outrageous, they were quite normal during the 1950s, when over 70% of all men and women were married. The character of Miss Goodale is representative of a single woman. She is described as outrageously treated by society, strange and weird. She is also considered a witch who is “only waiting to die” only because she is not married. It is obviously seen that a woman who was not married was considered to have no purpose in life, as the most important task for every woman was to raise children and take care of a husband (Metatious, 1999).
There is also a depiction of hatred towards men, which is reserved as a source for radical feminists. Nelly Cross, one of the characters, calls men “sonsofbitches, all of ‘em” throughout the novel. She clearly hates men, but she is depicted as an ugly and crazy woman (Metatious, 1999).
The character of Allison represents the author’s dialogue in support of the idea that children and family are not the main indicators of a woman’s success. Allison criticizes her friend’s plans of “getting married, buying a house, and having a dozen children,” which was a popular course of action for young women in the postwar 1950s. On the contrary, she wants to devote her life to her career and claims that she will never get married. She also states that “marriage is for clods” and characterizes it as “confining”, “stultifying” and “binding”. She considers that following the pattern of getting married, buying a house, and having children are stupid and not obligatory for all (Metatious, 1999).
Moreover, the author addresses the gender ideology of the ’50s based on Freudian ideas, which state that women’s role in society is limited only to reproduction. Norman represents this ideology in the book and tells Alison that “the natural function of a woman is bearing of children”. Obviously, the author created Allison’s character to reflect the young women of the postwar era of the 1950s, who were not satisfied with the prospects of a home and family (Metatious, 1999).
In her novel, Metalious touches on the problem of sex. She presents the idea that during the 1950s, sex was considered as negative if it was outside marriage and not pleasurable to women. The most obvious controversial representation of sex is the intimate encounter between Tom and Constance. Tom treats her brutally and applies force.
Other inappropriate sexual behavior is depicted in Norman’s relationships with Allison, where he wanted her to play a sexually passive role in their relationship. The author mentions that when he kissed her, Allison wanted to burst into tears, because that was not the way she wanted him to kiss her. This is the representation of a stereotype that women have to be passive, while men should be more socially active. Allison was also disappointed with Norman’s views on making sex pleasurable for women. She names sex that is not pleasurable for the woman an “intellectual love” (Metatious, 1999).
It is obvious throughout the novel that the author is against pleasurable sex because of numerous representations, such as a disturbing event that takes place in the backyard of the Card residence, which seems inappropriate for all characters. This unconventional form of sex resulted in Miss Goodale’s death and Norman’s strangling his cat. As a matter of fact, the Card people were outsiders, as they had recently moved to Peyton Place. However, the depiction of sex outside of marriage was extremely revolutionary during the 1950s (Metatious, 1999).
The author might not have planned to undermine the postwar culture of the 1950s, but the novel certainly belongs to conflicting materials of the time. Furthermore, the novel, though written in the 1930s and 1940s, gives very little information about the effects of the Depression and World War II, as the author was either incapable of establishing a historical framework or not interested in it. Peyton Place presents an obvious and stereotyped picture of the complete domination in a small company town.
Impact of Nuclear Weapon on the American Foreign Policy in the 50s
The foreign policy of the USA during the 1950s faced an unenviable task, which was to determine a military defense strategy against communism in the context of the Cold War. This political course was called the containment policy. As the main ideological background, the policy was established in response to the political movement of the Soviet Union, which targeted spreading its influence to China, Eastern Europe, Africa, Korea, and Vietnam. The main ideas of the doctrine were established by George F. Kennan, the U.S. diplomat, in 1946. The containment policy is strongly associated with Harry Truman’s (1945-1953) foreign political course, as well as with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) establishment during the 1950s (Oakley, 1986).
The increase in superpower tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union influenced the foreign policy of the U.S. in a way that it became related to the defense policy, which later transformed into the nuclear policy. The advancements of nuclear weapons fractured the already not stable military and political balance of power in the post-war era. Nevertheless, the magnitude, to which nuclear weapons could affect the American foreign policy decisions with regards to the Soviet Union and their allies, remained not clear. One can see that nuclear weapons and a threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union defined their foreign policy and other events such as involvement in the war with Korea, militarization, and others.
The American nuclear power was demonstrated during World War II during the bombing of Hiroshima, which made the United States a leading nuclear state. However, soon after the war, the Soviets also succeeded in detonating their first nuclear bomb, which forced the United States to develop its nuclear weapons.
Another conflict of interest between the superpowers took place during the Korean War. The USSR assisted in helping North Korea, and the United States assisted Southern Korea. In 1953, President Eisenhower became the President of the USA and announced to stop the war in Korea. He based his election campaign around this policy, as he thought that the war was not benefitting the United States in economic and political terms. Furthermore, he stressed that there was a need for cooperation with allies and developing nuclear weapons instead of ground military troops.
Despite the evidence, he did not intend to use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. Instead, he proposed to develop a program “Atoms for Peace”, which was aimed at improving the U.S. nuclear potential in terms of productive and peaceful use (Oakley, 1986).
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It is obvious that during the 1950s, the U.S. nuclear strategy was characterized by avoiding the use of nuclear weapons; however, there were possibilities of conflicts, which showed that the nuclear strategy was not adequate and could have led to catastrophic results. One of the main principles of deterrence is that the nuclear war has a no-win scenario. It was clearly seen that deterrence could become the neutralizing force during the Cold War (Oakley, 1986).
Besides the USSR, in 1950, China officially proved that it also took part in developing nuclear weapons. Consequently, in 1958, the U.S. Air Force tried to consider a plan to use a nuclear weapon on China during a battle over Taiwan, but the plan was not used. In fact, it prevented the nuclear war between the superpowers.
The American policy of deterrence was aimed at applying its commitment to the Cold War dynamic to have resources and power to hit the enemy back in case of attack. As a matter of fact, to maintain the balance of power in terms of the reactionary system and weapons, it would require not only military development and production but also costs to maintain the long-term readiness to use weapons when needed. Therefore, the balance of power was not short-term oriented and automatic.
Because nuclear weapons gave an aggressor an ultimate power and advantage, without a proper understanding of consequences, stability could not be possible. Nuclear technology was developing extremely fast, so it required an urgent and long-term effort (Oakley, 1986).
During the 1950s, elaborate warning systems were developed in the U.S. to detect incoming attacks from the Soviet Union and coordinate strategies for a response. During the same time, intercontinental ballistic missile systems were coordinated, which were able to deliver a nuclear bomb in large distances, which made the U.S. capable of hitting the USSR. Moreover, shorter-range weapons were fielded in Western Europe, including nuclear artillery. The development of nuclear weapon systems allowed the nuclear submarines to launch missiles at different targets, which made it virtually impossible for the USSR to launch a first successful attack against the USA (Oakley, 1986).
Because deterrence was the main concern to the American foreign political course during the 1950s, it brought another share of inadequacies. An adequate response in case of an attack was not established. The question remained if the USA was able to respond in its full force if the attack was limited, perhaps even accidental. Such a response would be particularly irresponsible and would only escalate the conflict, resulting in devastating consequences.
This shows another limitation in the deterrence approach – the rational enemy. Therefore, deterrence must be a part of the foreign political course, nationally established, and rational, as the risk of the irrational nuclear war is extremely dangerous. Therefore, the numerous multiplication and spread of nuclear weapons during the 1950s, its dramatic increase in readiness of the weapons, and the lack of time to make decisions inevitably increased the risk of nuclear war.
Oakley (1986) stated that deterrence was useless in terms of addressing issues of limited provocation. In fact, the risks of nuclear war were extremely high. When the USSR developed its nuclear weapon, the American nuclear monopoly was ended, and it was no longer possible to use nuclear power at an acceptable cost. The inadequate nature of the policy of deterrence was predominantly connected to the fact that it relied mostly on the policy of non-use.
Nuclear weapons have, thus, served as a substitute for other conventional forces. In the past, NATO and the U.S. substituted nuclear weapons for conventional ones.
After World War II, as a result of political, economic, social, and cultural transformations, the United States of America underwent foreign and national policy shifts. Economically, the U.S. faced the consequences of the Great Depression and the war and had to spend more material resources on expanding its military power. Politically, it developed a new strategy as to how to respond to the USSR’s militarization, prevent future conflicts and establish itself as a military and political superpower, which was depicted in the policy of containment and deterrence. Moreover, the USA was aimed at stopping communism from spread all over the world. Socially, during the 1950s, the migration of Africa Americans rose, and the Civil Rights movement started spreading, which resulted in the destabilization of American society. Liberalism immensely influenced old conservative traditions in the USA.
Consequently, new movements and ideologies appeared, which caused new unconventional traditions and values in American society. American writers started to write about things never mentioned before such as feminist ideas, gender equality, and sexuality.
Some writers, such as Mickey Spillane, expressed their disappointment in the American society, reminiscing about the prewar American culture and blaming African Americans and other foreigners for all social evils of society.
Other writers, such as Martin Luther King, were standing for liberalization and the Civil Rights movement. This shows that the American society in the 1950s was still in transition, it was developing, as the old conservative views of the pre-war society were opposing the liberal views. As far as the American foreign policy during the 1950s is concerned, it managed to maintain peace and prevent the use of nuclear weapons in the confrontation between the superpowers.