A History of World Societies,
Recovery and Crisis in Europe and the Americas
From 1945 to the end of the twentieth century, Europe and the
Americas underwent broad and sweeping transformations. The economies of Western
Europe and the United States recovered brilliantly from the ravages of World
War II. This prosperity vastly expanded the middle class and allowed governments
to build strong welfare states along the lines the United States, Great Britain,
and Sweden had experimented with during the Great Depression (see Chapter 31,
"The Age of Anxiety in the West"). When economic growth slowed after
1970, there was no return to 1930s living standards for most people. The Soviet
Union and its satellite nations in Eastern Europe experienced similar rates
of growth early on, although living standards did not match those in the West.
The economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, however, led to the revolutions
that overthrew communism after 1989. Millions of people in Latin America also
enjoyed rising living standards in the last half of the century, yet the region
overall lagged behind the others. Each area was unique. The United States, Western
Europe, Eastern Europe, and Latin America each pursued different paths in their
quest for economic expansion and social justice. Nor did each area cooperate
with each other. Until 1989, for example, the Cold War threatened to plunge
the United States and the Soviet Union into nuclear confrontation. Despite these
differences, by the year 2000 there was remarkable convergence between these
societies. With some exceptions, the nations of Europe and the Americas have
all developed open, pluralistic political and economic systems. Culturally,
they have grown toward each other, not apart. Nowhere was this cultural convergence
more pronounced than with the development of a common "youth culture."
The following Internet activities will expand upon these issues and themes.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different
sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions
detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking
on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details
- The Cold War, or the tense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet
Union, dominated global affairs from the end of World War II until 1991
and the collapse of the Soviet empire. Go to Library
of Congress Soviet Archives Exhibit and click the arrow below "The
Soviet Union and the United States." Continue to review this exhibit
until you reach the entrance page again, being sure to read the primary
sources that are linked to each page. After completing the tour, develop
a timeline that traces the history of Soviet-American relations over the
life of the Soviet Union, 1919-1991. Divide your time line into key periods.
For example, from 1917 on the United States did not recognize the Soviet
Union, yet Americans aided the country during the famine after the Russian
Civil War and many American businesses had strong ties with the Soviet regime
during the 1920s. During World War II, the two countries were allies against
- Identify important factors that led to the hostility between the Soviet
Union and the United States after World War II. For example, what behavior
on the part of each nation led to mutual distrust? What issues did they
quarrel over? Over hat regions did they compete with each other for influence?
Also consider ideological perceptions and the behavior and personalities
of individual leaders. Make an exhaustive list that identifies each factor.
Explain your answer.
- The Cold War had a dramatic impact on the development of Europe after
World War II. Because of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, the United
States was determined to rebuild a strong, anti-Communist West. One of the
most important acts of foreign policy in world history during the twentieth
century was the Marshall Plan, introduced in 1947. Go to For
European Recovery: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan. Continue
through this exhibit until you reach the page "A Danish Celebration
of the Marshall Plan." Be sure to examine the primary sources linked
to each page. While touring the site, keep the following questions in mind.
What motivated the United States promotion of the Marshall Plan? What were
economic and social conditions like in Europe in 1947? How did tensions
with the Soviet Union lead to the Marshall Plan? How did the memory of the
Great Depression influence the Marshall Plan? What conditions did the United
States place on nations receiving Marshall Plan funds? What kinds of leaders
did President Truman appoint to oversee the Marshall Plan? What international
institutions emerged as a result of the Marshall Plan, both directly and
indirectly? After completing these questions, write an essay that explains
the goals of the Marshall Plan and analyzes how successfully
they were fulfilled.
- The Marshall Plan demonstrates how the threat of communism fostered cooperation
between the United States and Western Europe after World War. This development
profoundly contrasted with the discord of the interwar years. Another source
of this cooperation was a new kind of political party and a new breed of
leader in western Europe after World War II. Go to Christian
Democratic Union: Successful Policies For Over Fifty Years and History of the Labour
Party (give special attention to "War and the 1945 Landslide").
These sites give a brief overview of the German Christian Democratic party
and the British Labour party and their role in reshaping each country after
World War II. What were their overall goals? What did they want to accomplish
at home? What grand foreign policy designs did they have? Analyze how these
political parties and their leadership fostered the spirit of the Marshall
Plan. Summarize your answer in a long paragraph.
- These new attitudes in western Europe helped to foster regional cooperation
for the first time during the twentieth century. These efforts have culminated
in the formation of the European Union in 1993. For a history of this institution,
go to Seven
key days in the making of Europe. List the functions of the European
Union and the laws and rules that govern its participants. For example,
what economic policies are required for membership? How is each member represented?
What organizations preceded the European Union?
- For the United States's response to European integration, go to Modern
History Sourcebook: United States Department of State Press Statement: On
the European Common Market And The Free Trade Area, January 15, 1957.
Describe the official American reaction to the creation of the European
Common Market. How did it foster American goals during the Cold War? What
potential problems did it present for the United States?
- The evolution of the European Union has promoted economic prosperity in
western Europe and eliminated military tensions between member nations.
Yet the Union poses several problems. Go to Three
testimonies about 40 years of European Union and read each testimony.
According to these experts, what goals has the European Union achieved?
What problems still lie in the future? Do you believe the European Union
will evolve into a federated nation like the United States? Why or why not?
Summarize your answer in a brief essay (3-4 paragraphs).
- The Soviet Union refused to join in these efforts at greater economic
integration and political cooperation. Joseph Stalin, the nation's leader
from 1928 to 1953, viewed the West suspiciously. Go to Modern
Stalin: Reply to Churchill, 1946. This speech was a reply to former
Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill's "Iron
Curtain Speech." How did Stalin view the strong ties between Britain
and the United States that continued after World War II? By extension, how
do you think he viewed the close relationship between the United States
and western Europe? Stalin thus turned inwards to rebuild the Soviet Union's
economy and military. The planned economy and harsh political repression
of the 1930s returned. (See web activities, Chapter 32, "Dictatorships
and the Second World War," Activities One and Two.)
- Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, who ruled from 1956 to 1964, changed
paths. Khrushchev secretly denounced Stalin at a Communist party meeting
in 1956. Go to Modern
History Sourcebook: Nikita Khrushchev: Secret Speech, 1956. What aspects
of Stalin's rule did Khrushchev denounce? Did he target specific policies,
such as collectivization of agriculture, that Stalin began, or other aspects
of Stalin's rule?
- Khrushchev and his successors eased up on political repression and tried
to target the production of more consumer goods for the Soviet people, but
they refused to alter the basic economic and political structures Stalin
had created during the 1930s. Go to Soviet
Economic Development - 1928-1967. After reading this essay, analyze
the economic performance of the Soviet Union after World War II. What were
its achievements? What were its shortcomings? After completing all of these
exercises, write an essay that describes the changes in the Soviet Union
from 1945 to 1967, being sure to consider political and economic developments.
- Despite the changes in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin, his
successors refused to consider self-determination in Soviet-controlled nations
in Eastern Europe. Review Modern
History Sourcebook: Joseph Stalin: Reply to Churchill, 1946. Why did
the Soviet Union consider friendly Communist regimes in Eastern Europe necessary
for their security? Visit Radio Prague:
1968 Locate the section beginning with "In modern Czech history,"
then read parts I-III of the account of the "Prague Spring." What
was the Prague Spring? What issues was the Czechoslovakian government attempting
to address? Why did these reforms frighten the leaders of the Soviet Union
and other Communist bloc nations? Read Leonid Brezhnev's defense of intervention
in Czechoslovakia at Modern
Brezhnev Doctrine, 1968. How did he justify intervention? What warning
did this signal to other Eastern European leaders and peoples?
Western culture was not only evolving during the 1950s and
1960s but was also expanding its influence with the growth of radio, television,
and film after World War II. With the postwar baby boom, a different youth
culture emerged. No other phenomenon best symbolized this trend than the popularity
of rock and roll music among young people in the United States, western Europe,
and increasingly the Eastern bloc. Go to The
History of Rock -n- Roll: The Golden Decade, 1955-1964
. To review this
site, click on the links in the left-hand frame and tour the exhibit. (Begin
with "Roots and Influence.") When finished, click on "Real
Audio Files" in the left frame and listen to your choice of music. Where
did rock music begin? What cultural influences did it represent? What new
instruments and styles did it reflect? Why did it appeal to the postwar youth
- The appeal of rock music had no borders. Some of the most influential
entertainers of the twentieth century were Elvis Presley, an American, and
the Beatles, a British rock band. For Elvis Presley during the 1950s, go
100: Remembering Presleymania. For the Beatles during the 1960s, go
100: The Beatles. (Be sure to watch the QuickTime Clip of the Beatles
on the bottom of the first page. Notice the reaction of the fans.) What
was the appeal of these entertainers? Who was their audience? Why were they
so popular on both sides of the Atlantic? Analyze how they symbolize the
growth and influence of the emerging youth culture in the West. You might
want to review "Youth and the Counterculture" on pages 1081 in
McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Summarize your
answers in a brief essay (3-4 paragraphs).
- The economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s prompted many Western governments
to rethink the postwar welfare states in the West. Read the essays at Time
100: Margaret Thatcher and Grolier
Online: Ronald Reagan, paying attention to the economic philosophies
and specific domestic policies these leaders put into place. What was their
attitude towards the welfare state? How did they combat the problems of
stagflation? How successful were they? Thatcher and Reagan, although two
of the more extreme cases, represented a trend among Western governments
to reduce government spending and the power of labor unions, and to streamline
inefficient government programs in order to combat the economic malaise
of the West.
- The economic crisis that plagued the West was even more severe in the
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. For the Soviet government's response, go
Cold War: Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. How did Gorbachev attempt to
deal with the economic stagnation in the Soviet Union? How did his policies
differ from those of Khrushchev during the 1950s? (See Activity Five.) Analyze
the statement "Throughout his six years in office, Gorbachev always
seemed to be moving too fast for the party establishment, which saw its
privileges threatened, and too slow for more radical reformers, who hoped
to do away with the one-party state and the command economy."
- Czechoslovakia provides a good example of this dilemma. Gorbachev encouraged
reform and innovation throughout Eastern Europe. Go to The
Velvet Revolution. For the continued influence of Western popular culture
on Czechoslovakia, see Timeline:
Prague's Velvet Revolution. What impact did Gorbachev's reform efforts
in the Soviet Union have in Czechoslovakia? Why did they lead to ultimate
collapse of the Communist government there? Who led the revolt against the
Communists? Why do you think Gorbachev refused to invoke the Brezhnev Doctrine?
(See Activity Six.)
- Eastern Europe received complete independence from the Soviet Union in
1990. In 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed and broke into several
republics. Go to Europe
1999 to see the new map of Europe after the revolutions of 1989-1991.
- Latin American nations experienced their own transition during the 1980s
and 1990s. After years of military rule, most governments reverted to democracy
during this time period. They also shifted economic strategies. Go to The
World Bank: Regional Strategies: Latin America and describe the evolution
of economic policy during this period. How similar were these changes to
reforms taken in Western countries during the 1980s? (See Activity Nine.)
- Many of these nations moved toward greater economic cooperation and integration
with the United States. Read the article Looking
toward the Free Trade Area of the Americas. What hurdles stand in the
way of this goal? Do you think that Latin American nations and the United
States can achieve the kind of integration in the twenty-first century that
western Europe did in the twentieth century? (See Activity Four.)