From the end of World War II to the 1970’s, America had an economic boom. It was ostensibly a time of peace, plenty, and prosperity. For those who had lived through the Great Depression, this time seemed a blessing, stimulating the country’s economy and supposedly bringing the country together in peace.
Many believed that this ‘golden period’ would stretch on forever. However, in reality, during this period a number of groups and protestors were activating at their fullest, and they seriously threatened not only the serenity of the time, but also the long held tradition of American Democracy.The way they were persecuted against the ideals of democracy and the way they furthered their own cause using the rights granted under a democracy must both be considered if we are to decide which of the groups posed the biggest threat to democracy in America. Before a study can be launched of each individual group, the basic (and more famous) rights and freedoms granted under a democracy must be listed and scrutinised.The freedom of employment, combined with the freedom of education, allows for ‘The American Dream.
‘The American Dream’ consists of the belief that it should be possible for anyone, no matter what their starting position in life, should be able to pull themselves up to become great doctors, lawyers, presidents of companies, and the ultimate, the president. The freedom of thought allows every person to have and believe in their own thoughts, and the freedom of speech and media allows them to freely discuss these thoughts throughout the country without fear of persecution from opposing groups.The freedom of property and ownership allows anyone to own whatever property or goods they wish as long as they can afford it and the goods are not already belonging to another person or are illegal. The freedom of religion allows anyone to practice freely whatever religion they wish, and the freedom of representation and choice allows anyone classed as an adult (but not criminals, for obvious reasons) to vote for the president. Finally, equal civil rights are guaranteed for all civilians, and people are subjected to the same law under a fair trial.
Having established the basic rights of citizens under democracy, we shall progress to the first group that was maltreated. This group of people was the blacks, and the maltreatment took place during World War II. Black Americans in WWII were not allowed freedom of employment, as they were given the lowest paid and most dangerous jobs.
They did not fight at all in the war until 1943, before which they were used only as cooks or for menial labour. Because of this, they were often referred to as ‘mules’.Their median income was also half that of white Americans, and they were refused the freedom to vote, had less equality before the law, unequal civil rights, and were segregated in movement, property, and education. They could thus not even partake in the ‘American Dream’. The blacks’ first attempt to improve themselves was based using the freedom of employment, and when they were finally allowed to fight in the war, they fought bravely to show their worth. The 332nd Fighter Squadron, an all black squadron, was highly decorated for bravery in the war.
Two other groups were also refused primary rights during World War II, one of which was the Japanese Americans, especially those living in California. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour by Japanese aircraft, a slow but steady build-up of anti-Japanese feelings resulted in them being forced into internment camps, regardless of their background. They were also forced to give away their property, or at least sell it for very low prices. These actions blatantly violated their freedom of movement, their freedom of property and ownership, and their claim to equal rights.Although they did not really use democratic methods to promote their aims and goals, many showed amazingly fierce shows of American patriotism and hoisted flags and sung the anthem every day, even when in the internment camps. The final group that suffered inequality under democracy in WWII were the women.
They had no right to vote, undermining their freedom to representation and choice, and they were not welcome in ‘men’s’ workplaces, if not strictly forbidden.They were thus robbed of their right to education, and their chance at partaking in the ‘American Dream’, and many were thus forced to work at home or as nurses or in childcare services. In 1940, only 35% of married women worked. However, they got their chance at freedom of employment during the middle and latter stages of the war, when, as men went off to the army, they worked more and more in factories, or jobs such as ambulance drivers. By 1945, 50% of married women worked.During WWII, the Soviet Union (Russia) and the USA had been allies, yet after the war ended, suspicion grew between them and they became major enemies, giving rise to a period of tension known as the Cold War. During this time, the USA looked unfavourably upon the communists, and soon the tension gave rise to a movement known as McCarthyism, and led to the Red Scare. Joseph McCarthy was an American politician, who led a campaign against Communist subversion in the early 1950s.
McCarthy’s charges were often not well substantiated, but they did lead to mass public hysteria and a fear of Communists.Communists living at that time in America were subjected to humiliating and downright violent verbal, legal, and even physical attacks. Many were blacklisted, and many were said to be security risks, thus forcing them out of their jobs and destroying their freedom of employment. Also undermining the freedom of employment was the McCarran act, which said that no communist could work in the defence industries. The McCarran Act was a prime example of a case of unequal civil rights.Equality before the law also seemed to be completely bypassed, as the Rosenberg cases, the Alger Hiss case, and countless others were handled in a remarkably careless way, before convincing evidence could be found. Finally, their freedom of thought was shattered, as communists were harassed and persecuted simply because they were communists. Communists, especially the famous ‘Hollywood Ten’ pleaded with the US Constitution’s guarantee of equality before the law and fair trials, and many also used the freedom of speech and media to write in newspapers, journals, and magazines.
The blacks had not totally succeeded in their goals in WWII, and even in the 1960s were being persecuted and denied the freedoms of democracy. They did not have equal civil rights, as they did not have the freedom to vote. They were also unequal before the law, as many southern states especially had white biased judges who hated blacks. Their freedom of movement was highly restricted as well, as illustrated by the Selma march, where they were stopped halfway from Selma to Montgomery, and forced to turn back, and also by the segregation in transport, especially buses.They did not have the freedom of property either, as they found it immensely hard to gain respectable property.
Martin Luther King himself said that ‘the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. ‘ Their freedom of employment was still highly restricted, again mostly in southern states, and also their freedom of education was undermined, as segregation in education was used. Therefore, they were still unable to partake in the ‘American Dream’. Although they were denied many rights, they used many of the rights they had or were promised to further their campaign.They used the freedom of speech and media a lot, as their plight was reported in newspapers, TVs. They also gained publicity from using the freedom of movement in demonstrations, and marches, especially the Washington March, where Martin Luther King led thousand of blacks to the Washington Memorial and gave the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Also, sit-ins and freedom-riders used the freedom of movement when campaigning.
Although they were restricted by certain whites after they finally got the right to vote, they formed groups and did their best to support each other at voting polls.They also used the guarantee of equal civil rights to their advantage to press forth a Civil Rights Bill, and eventually gained rights to non-segregated education, transport, employment, housing and marriages. One major group of the 60’s were the women, who still were not at an equal footing with men.
They were still lacking in their freedom of employment (only 4% of doctors were women, only 5% of company managers were women etc) and they earned only around 50-60% of men’s wages, even for the same work. They were also denied equal civil rights. For example, they could still be dismissed from work when they married.Because of the claustrophobic enclosure around women’s employment opportunities, they could not take part in the ‘American Dream’.
To promote their aims and goals, they borrowed tactics heavily from the Black Civil Rights Movement, and used the freedom of movement for demonstrations in the street, and the freedom of speech and media for high publicity stunts such as crowning a sheep Miss World and bra burnings. They started purposefully using their freedom of education to gain access to better employment and they went to court for an Equal Rights Amendment, thus using their guarantee to equal civil rights.Yet another protest movement of the 60’s was the student’s protest, which was mainly opposed to the Vietnam War, but also the education system, politicians, and the ‘machine’, which they had to abide by. The hippies especially were an influential group, and they used the freedom of speech and media to publicise their campaigns for peace, putting flowers in guns and having huge music festivals. They also used their freedom of movement in demonstrations in universities across the USA.Political assassinations were a worrying factor in this time of troubles and three highly influential leaders were assassinated within a short time of each other, underlining the threats to US democracy. They were John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X.
The brutal assassinations all have one thing in common: hints of conspiracy by a large group rather than a single killer. These assassinations seriously undermine their and the country’s freedom of thought, belief and representation. To effectively conclude which of these groups posed the largest threat to democracy, quality rather than quantity must be taken into account.From careful observation from both points of view, I believe the McCarthyism and the Red Scare episode to be the biggest threat to democracy in the USA. I have chosen this because at a certain point, it seemed as if all the rights granted under a democracy were being systematically broken with respect to communists, and the whole episode shook the country, and deeply divided it.
With the fear of the USSR, the tension of the cold Warm and the threat of nuclear weapons adding to this, the McCarthyism episode must have profoundly threatened the system of democracy in the USA.