Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Aftershock: World War I and its Political, Social and Economic Legacy to America Essay

Though the major fighting in World War I was largely confined to a relatively limited area (Western Europe, the Balkan peninsula, Russia and the Alpine frontier of Austria-Hungary and Italy, and what is now known as the Middle East), millions people all over the world felt the effects of war. In its wake, the war left over10 million people dead, with the men lost in combat leaving a deep chasm in the socio-economic milieu of the post-war world (Ellis and Cox 20). On the American home front, significant changes were forged upon the nation. Primarily World War I created labor shortages, which led thousands of African Americans to migrate to the North and work on its steel mills, ammunition plants and stockyards (Tucker 250). This migration in turn provoked racial tensions and led to rioting in some cities, as was the case in Illinois, when race riots erupted in East Saint Louis (July 1917) and Chicago (July 1919). The labor shortages also profoundly altered the traditional roles of men and women, as men were called to the battlefields and women had to step up into traditionally male occupations in industries – women learned to become railroad workers, shipbuilders, among others. They thus achieved a certain degree of independence and self-reliance through the opportunities provided by the war, and ultimately mustered enough support for women suffrage with the 19th Amendment finally passed by Congress in 1919, granting women the right to vote (Venzon 118). On the political front, the war had greatly increased the responsibilities of the federal government, leading to the creation of new government agencies to persuade the public’s voluntary compliance in support of the U.  S. cause. New ways for revenue generation in order to finance the war were also in order, leading the federal government to increase income and excise taxes, the institution of a war-profit tax, and selling of war bonds (Venzon 128). With countries involved having to borrow heavily to pay for the war, either from their own citizens of foreign lenders, such deficit-financing led to high levels of inflation, which in turn impoverished many citizens earning fixed incomes. Such pressures wrought by the war evoked hostility and suspicion, particularly antagonism toward immigrants, especially those of German and Italian descent. Repressive laws were passed by Congress for fear of sabotage and retaliation, such as the Espionage Act of 1917, followed by the Sedition Act of 1918, resulting in thousands of arrests and convictions for antiwar activities (Venzon 1995). People on the left were hard pressed, following wartime concerns on dissent and hostility toward the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia. Fear of radicalism, horror at Soviet communism, and the impact of wartime hysteria led to a series of attacks on radicals, i. e. the Palmer Raids of January 1920 led to arrests of thousands in 33 cities. Though the postwar Red Scare eventually abated, suspicion of foreigners, dissenters, and nonconformists prevailed well into the 1920s (Venzon 1995). The spirit of vindictiveness among the Allies influenced the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, leaving Germany shackled by the armistice and angered by the peace treaty (Taylor 291). The deplorable conditions in postwar Germany would later give rise to a fascist leadership in the 1930s, which would ultimately plunge the world to another war of a greater scale. The American experience of the Great War, brief and distant from the nation’s shores as it might have been, proved the turning point for the United States to realize its might – it had effectively mobilized its industrial forces and held its own in world affairs. At the end of the war, the U. S. was recognized as a world power (Taylor 315). While Europe tried to rebuild from the ashes of war, the U. S. ained overseas territories, access to markets and raw materials to fuel its industries. On the domestic front, the economy expanded with improvements in assembly-line production. The gains from improved auto production spread beyond car factories into the steel, glass, rubber and petroleum industries (Taylor 326). The federal government funded programs to build roads and highways, with previously isolated rural areas filled with tourist cabins and gas stations, leading to a growth in the construction industry as new suburbs rose at the outskirts of cities, transforming the nation’s landscape. The 1920s became characterized by mass consumption, particularly in the leisure and culture industries, easy credit, and advertising (Venzon 135). Yet even as profits soared, American zeal for reform waned, and business and government resumed their long-term affinity, and not everyone benefitted from these gains of economic prosperity. The mixture of economic change, political conservatism, and cultural conflict made the 1920s a decade of contradictions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.