"I remember him stepping on the accelerator . . .
...I remember the roar of the engine. I remember the smile that spread across my face when he'd go fast ... and slow down ... and go through an S turn. It's a feeling I only had once in my lifetime. And it was a great feeling."
— Harley Earl
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— from the series America in the 20th Century
The white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society. Whatever history they have had is a history without events; whatever common interests they have do not lead to unity; whatever future they have will not be of their own making. If they aspire at all it is to a middle course, at a time when no middle course is available, and hence to an illusory course in an imaginary society. Internally, they are split, fragmented; externally, they are dependent on larger forces. Even if they gained the will to act, their actions, being unorganized, would be less a movement than a tangle of unconnected contests. As a group, they do not threaten anyone; as individuals, they do not practice an independent way of life. So before an adequate idea of them could be formed, they have been taken for granted as familiar actors of the urban mass.
— C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951)
The post-war years, often overshadowed by the Cold War, hold profound significance for understanding contemporary America. This period witnessed transformative changes in society, the economy, and culture during the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by a dynamic and continually evolving landscape. As we study this era, it's crucial to remember its proximity, allowing for ongoing reinterpretation and a reminder that historical judgments remain provisional.
Students must grasp the postwar economic boom, shaped significantly by scientific advances, leading to substantial shifts in education, consumer culture, suburban living, gender roles, corporate dynamics, and cultural norms—encompassing attire, language, music, film, television, family structures, leisure pursuits, and more.
These societal changes deeply intersected with politics. The era witnessed the revitalization of New Deal liberalism, gradually waning by the 1970s. During this period of liberal activism, leaders aimed to expand the state's role, advancing civil liberties and economic opportunities. This era also bore witness to the emergence of civil rights and women's movements, constituting the third major reform wave in American history. Conversely, conservative reactions emphasized restraining state growth, promoting free enterprise, and championing individual rights over group interests.
Post-War Years is the seventh volume in the award-winning video series America in the 20th Century. It explores the presidential administrations of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as the period of relative growth and affluence described as the "post war boom."
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