From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society

By Neil A. Wynn | Go to book overview
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8
The Aftermath of War
Reconstruction, Red Scare,
and the 1920s

The race riots that shook America in 1919 were not isolated events but part of a general outbreak of social disturbance, which affected the whole country as the wartime dislocations continued and as doubts and uncertainties about the postwar world surfaced. Across the nation anxieties and tensions exploded in violence and hysteria following the sudden, and unexpected, coming of peace. Labor unrest, strikes, radical demonstrations, and a wave of bombings in turn produced repression and intolerance culminating in the "Red Scare" and an outburst of xenophobia on an unprecedented scale. The final outcome was a mood of disillusion and conservatism and a general attempt to return to something called "normalcy." This story has already been well told in a number of studies. 1 However, it is important to see these events in the light of both the pre-war and war years, and in the wider context of world affairs. America was not alone in suffering postwar difficulties and disturbances. Defeat and the collapse of empires in central and eastern Europe created enormous problems and was to leave a legacy of instability that was in the long run to help produce a second world war. But even the victorious powers felt the adverse effects of the war, and emerged economically weaker and torn by new political and social forces produced by the war experience. The young American Progressive Raymond Fosdick described the post‐ war chaos in Europe as a consequence of "the forces this war has let

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