8.1 Context: U.S. as a Global Leader

7 min readjanuary 3, 2023

Robby May

Robby May

AP US History 🇺🇸

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Period 8 (1945-1980) is a MASSIVE unit, making up 10-17% of the exam. So while it’s getting towards the end of the school year and you’ve just been about APUSHed off a cliff, don’t give up now! 

The Cold War


The Cold War was a period of political and military tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from the end of World War II in 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was called the Cold War because the two sides never directly engaged in military conflict, but rather engaged in a number of proxy wars and arms races as they sought to spread their respective ideologies and gain allies around the world.
The origins of the Cold War can be traced back to the end of World War II, when the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the dominant global powers. The two sides had been allies during the war, but they had very different ideologies and visions for the post-war world. The United States promoted democracy and capitalism as the ideal forms of government and economic systems, while the Soviet Union promoted communism as the ideal form of government and economic system.

Wars Fought but Never Won

As the two sides competed for global influence and control, they engaged in a number of proxy wars and arms races, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and developed large nuclear arsenals in an effort to deter each other from direct military conflict. The Cold War also had a significant impact on domestic politics in the United States, as the fear of communism and the threat of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union led to the proliferation of anti-communist sentiment and the development of a number of government programs designed to protect the country from external threats.
The world’s two sole superpowers (and nuclear powers), the United States and the USSR, faced off over and over again between 1945 and 1992. Dangerous nuclear threats in Cuba and Latin America popped up due to tensions between communist leaders and the United States. Both nations continued to amp up arms production and entered a race for both arms and space. 

Social Changes within the United States

Inside the country, the US was going through massive changes as well. as a mass population boom occured dubbed the "baby boom". The baby boomer generation contained a massive number of young people in the population, leading to a surge in demand for educational resources and an increase in the number of young people entering the workforce. The Baby Boom also had a profound effect on the housing market, as the large number of young families created a need for new homes and suburban development outside of urban cities, where at the time a majority of the population lived.
The Baby Boom generation was also known for its rebellious and countercultural tendencies. Many young people in the Baby Boom generation rejected traditional values and authority, leading to a number of significant social and cultural changes, including the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the anti-war momvement, and the counterculture of the 1960s.

Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights movement was a social movement in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans and other minority groups. It aimed to fulfill Reconstruction-era promises of equality and freedom for all Americans, not just those who were white. The movement began in the late 1940s and early 1950s with various small protests and legal challenges, but it gained significant momentum in 1954 after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. This decision, along with other factors such as the emergence of charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and the growing frustration of African Americans with the slow pace of change, led to a wave of protests and civil unrest that became known as the civil rights movement. The movement achieved many notable victories, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and ensured voting rights for African Americans and other minorities.

Feminist Movement

This time period sparked the second wave of feminism. It was a continuation of the earlier women's suffrage movement, which had secured the right to vote for women in the United States in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
During this time period, feminists in the United States worked to address a wide range of issues, including reproductive rights, domestic violence, equal pay, and sexual harassment. The movement also sought to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations, such as women being relegated to housewives and homemakers instead of in the workforce and leadership positions in society, and challenges conservatives norms regarding sex and sexuality (i.e. the sexual revolution).
A portion of the movement aimed to shed light to the ways in which women's oppression intersected with other forms of discrimination, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism, otherwise known as intersectional feminism. This portion of the movement clashed with white, middle class feminists that had no interest in challenging other forms of minoritization due to wanting to hold on to what little privilege they held in society.
Some of the key events and milestones of the feminist movement during this time period included the publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963, which is often credited with sparking the second wave of feminism, the writings of Audre Lorde, who is regarded as the mother of Intersectional Feminism, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included provisions banning sex discrimination in the workplace, the establishment of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, and the massive Women's Strike for Equality in 1970, which marked the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage and was organized by NOW.

Anti-War Movement

The anti-war movement was a social and political movement that opposed the U.S. government's military actions and policies for the Vietnam War, Korean War, and other world-wide conflicts the US engaged in. It emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s in opposition to the Korean War, and continued through the Vietnam War and beyond.
The anti-war movement was diverse and included people from a variety of political and social backgrounds. It included pacifists, who opposed all forms of violence and war, civil rights activists, who saw the wars as a distraction from the fight for racial justice, and students and youth, who were often drafted to fight in the wars and saw them as a waste of lives and resources.
The anti-war movement took many forms, including protests, sit-ins, and civil disobedience. Some of the most notable events of the movement include the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in 1969, which saw hundreds of thousands of people across the country participate in protests, the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, in which the U.S. government's classified documents on the Vietnam War were leaked to the press; and the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, which prompted widespread protests on college campuses across the country.
The anti-war movement ultimately played a significant role in shaping public opinion and policy related to the wars in Vietnam and other conflicts. It contributed to the U.S. government's decision to end its involvement in the Vietnam War and to adopt a more cautious approach to military intervention in the future.

Counterculture of the 1960s

"Counterculture" refers to the social and cultural movement characterized by a rejection of mainstream values and a desire for social and political change.was fueled by a number of factors, including the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the sexual revolution. Norms regarding gender, sexuality, and race were challenged through a critical lens, advocating for equity and an end to societal oppression.. It was also associated with the hippie movement, which consisted of people who embraced a countercultural lifestyle that rejected materialism, traditional norms, and anything mainstream.
The counterculture movement was also closely tied to the music of the time, with bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Grateful Dead becoming symbols of the movement. The counterculture also had a significant impact on fashion, with tie-dye and other bright colors, frayed denim, and other unconventional styles becoming popular.

Economic Changes within the United States

There were a number of significant economic changes in the United States from 1945-1980. Some of the most notable include:
  1. Post-World War II economic boom: After World War II, the United States experienced an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity, which became known as the post-war economic boom. This was due in part to the fact that the United States emerged from the war as the world's dominant economic power, with a strong industrial base and a stable political system.
  2. Rise of the service sector: During this time period, the service sector of the economy grew significantly, with more and more people working in service industries such as healthcare, education, and finance.
  3. Rise of the middle class: The post-war economic boom and the growth of the service sector helped to create a large and prosperous middle class in the United States. This middle class was characterized by high levels of education, relatively high incomes, and a high standard of living.
  4. Growth of multinational corporations: In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of large multinational corporations, such as IBM and General Electric, emerged and began to dominate the global economy. These corporations were able to expand their operations and influence through the use of new technologies.
  5. Increasing role of the federal government: The federal government played an increasingly active role in the economy during this time period, implementing a number of policies and programs to promote economic growth and stability. These included the Marshall Plan, which provided economic aid to Western Europe after World War II, and the creation of the interstate highway system, which facilitated the movement of goods and people across the country.
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