Anthropology in the Postwar Era, 1945–1973
Optimism greeted the war's end in 1945. The GI Bill of Rights of 1944 guaranteed veterans college educations and low-interest loans to purchase homes, and the Full Employment Act of 1946 promised jobs for everyone. American corporations, whose factories had reaped enormous profits from the war effort, would soon collaborate with the federal government to rebuild the destroyed economies of capitalist Europe and Japan, and this postwar reconstruction, once under way, promised even greater profits for such companies. However, there were threats to these optimistic visions of the future. The military was slow to discharge soldiers and sailors for fear of flooding the labor market, and more than 600 strikes in 1946 alone threatened corporate profits.
By the spring of 1947, a number of Americans took these as omens of the fact that civilization itself was in peril. In their view, the threat was both internal and external. A communist “Fifth-Column” threatened America at home, and the Communists' seizure of power in Czechoslovakia and China as well as the Soviet Union's efforts to thwart the creation of an independent state in West Germany imperiled civilization abroad. After the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949, they spoke even more passionately of the need to contain the threats they perceived. The government assented to their demands, narrowed free political discussion, and trampled the rights of thousands of citizens and foreigners alike as it implemented policies of containment. In the process, the government spent trillions of dollars fueling corporate profits, and the military stockpiled weapons of every imaginable kind. For the next fifty years, every American was caught up in an eerie movie simultaneously directed by optimism and by the fear of nuclear annihilation.
The Cold War, precipitated by the United States and England and adopted by the other capitalist countries to halt the advance of socialism, was one of the two shaping features of the postwar era (Montgomery 1997). The other was decolonization. The colonial subjects of the United States, Britain, France, and the Netherlands used the opportunities provided by the overall weakness of the imperial states in the wake of the Second World War to proclaim political independence or to launch popular movements, armed and otherwise, to gain autonomy. By 1960, more than 1.3 billion people - more than a third of the world's population at the time - had gained independence as a result of successful national liberation movements. If the socialist