In 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that Americans had a "rendezvous with destiny." The war years turned that prophecy into a reality as America emerged from its traditional isolationism and became an imperialist, interventionist nation-the most powerful nation in the world. The political energy that had once gone into the struggle against the Depression was now concentrated on the war effort. And that undertaking granted to many people on the home front a sense of purpose, exhilaration, and community that was rare in American history. 1
The same energy and optimism that helped bring about victory carried over into the postwar years. However, this optimism had more to do with people's material well-being (in the 1940s the average American enjoyed an income fifteen times greater than the average foreigner) 2 and national pride than with any new political and social commitments. In fact, most Americans had become weary of the long years of economic depression and foreign wars and, in general, bored with politics. Constricted by the enforced savings of World War II, Americans wanted to enjoy their newfound prosperity and victory. A new era seemed about to open, offering ordinary Americans not only increased income, but a chance for education and greater social and economic status.
One of the driving forces behind this new mood was the GI Bill of Rights, which became law in 1944, helping returning veterans to borrow money to set up businesses and attend universities that they had once viewed as preserves of the upper middle class. In addition, a baby boom gave evidence that Americans felt freed from the social anguish of the