Post-war society: Social life in 1950’s

What are you thinking when you see a pictures of your parents or grandparents back in 50’s? Old black and white photos, people in simple clothing, sitting on the sofas with strange (looks almost shabby!!) upholstery, but, somehow, they seems happy. Life in the early 1950’s was still very strict and simple. Women were still obligated to the status of housewife and men were the main breadwinners in the family. Children, including teenagers, were to be seen and not heard but by the mid-1950’s, that was becoming more difficult because of newfound freedoms, rock and roll music, and other outlets teenagers had available to them.

Family gathered around the radio
In USA, segregation and racism was still part of life and although there were some major changes to erase both like in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools were unconstitutional, there were still problems forcing blacks to take drastic measures for equality and inclusion like in 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus.
Rosa Parks arrested in 1955
Korean War

The decade is remembered in world history as one of struggle and strife for families living in Korea and Vietnam. In the rest of the world, the unhealthy competitions between provisional and coalition governments hit family life with inflation and unrest. Subsequent humiliation of the defeated states did symbolize the end of colonialism, but also led to racial segregation in many parts of the world. Families were torn apart by partitions in many places and battled the hardships of a refugee existence. Political and cultural implications surfaced in the form of juvenile delinquency and crime arising out of poverty. Government policies such as unionization, social spending and hiked taxes, especially in the newly liberated nations and those exploited as the ‘spoils of war’, took a toll on family life. In the west, while most governments adopted more liberal and moderate politics, the orient was a battlefield for the old War. Family life here was grim and predecessors of the hippie movement that was to set in a little later. The counterculture influence generated in the family man the hope for a technological future, amidst racial tension.

Moscow street in 1950’s
Protests because of the prosecution of  so called “Hollywood Ten” group

Family life in the 1950s was different from any phase this institution had ever survived. The unit was affected by the onslaught of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. The post World War II economic downturn, the influx of culture from decolonized nations, inflation and a general ‘calm before the storm’ sensitivity tore the very foundations of most families around the world. Without restricting the analysis to the few wealthy homes that could boast about remaining buoyant even through the war or certain countries or regions, the common man and the ‘family’ went through a trying time. It was a period of readjustment mixed with a preparedness for inevitable political turmoil. This decade culturally earned the stigma: ‘least musical’.

The Jukebox
Families lived on frugal means and even those in the west structured investments and adhered to budgets. The youth were influenced by the lyrics and music popularized by Patti Page, Johnnie Ray, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher and Guy Mitchell. Jazz musicians were prominent and seemed to clear the rostrum for change that was to set in by the middle of the decade in the form of Rock and Roll. Families were introduced to a facet of entertainment that reflected their struggles and the irony of the Cold War after a major world war that lasted for 6 long years.
Typical members of youth street gang in 1950’s movies
Television was welcomed by the 1950s family and also set in a trend of reduced access to theatres. This in turn rippled on to a revolution in the world of cinema. Film making techniques were improvised and developed. Blockbusters and Hollywood biggies like The Robe, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur were the outcome. Parents and children enjoyed the spectacular attempts made to attract them back to the theatres and viewed films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, The War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet as reflections of what would be the probable outcome of the growing animosity between the capitalist and communist nations. The dynamics of race and class was never more explored or exploited as they were in the 1950s. Teen violence and rebellion defied the morality and the traditional values that the older generations were tying to cling on to and pass down the ages.
Hungarian people on the Soviet tank during a short-lived revolution in 1956

The wealthier societies (USA, Western Europe)  have had a chance to move on quickly – the improvement of family life in 50’s was a big excitement. The new things in the field of technology, that made everyday life easier for everyone, were welcome and extensively used. Easter European countries, USSR, and countries that were much poorer, even in 50’s still felt consequences of the World War II. Also, a great deal of influence on the society development had a political, not just economical, development of the country.

Selection of political events of the 1950s:

  • President Truman advised the Atomic Energy Commission to go ahead with the development of the hydrogen bomb.
  • Physicist Klaus Fuchs, a communist, was declared privy to the atomic bomb design and construction. He was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment.
  • Analyst of the U.S. Department of Justice – Judith Coplon and Valentin A. Gubitchev, a United Nations staff employee were declared guilty of spying for Russia. They were arrested and tried for espionage.
  • Marshal Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov declared Russian possession of an atomic bomb, amidst the freshly ignited Cold War.
  • President Truman was tipped off that the Kremlin was fast becoming militant and desired world domination. This triggered a U.S. military buildup.
  • King of the Belgians, Leopold III, announced his 19 year old son Baudouin successor. Baudouin took over and remained in power until his father’s death in 1993.
  • Sweden’s monarchy shifted from Gustav V to his 66-year-old son, until 1973.
  • Britain, France, and the United States declared a tripartite for immediate action if Israel’s frontiers were violated. In counter-support, five Arab League Nations signed a security pact, denying the use of the Suez Canal by Israel.
  • Iraq’s Nuri as-Said annulled the nation’s alliance with Britain, within the Baghdad Pact.
  • The 395-article Indian Constitution took effect, outlining the structure and powers of the central and state governments.
  • A Sino-Soviet treaty pledged joint action against the US and Japan.
  • With the communist army of North Korea entering South Korea, the 3 year Korean War commenced. While Josef Stalin ensured that the United States did not aid Chiang Kai-Shek, Dean Acheson the U.S. Secretary of State declared that the United States would not support South Korea.
  • UN forces took over Seoul, but were unable to trap the North Korean army. Mao Zedong submitted to Moscow politics and sent Chinese forces across the Yalu. 300,000 Chinese and North Korean forces counter attacked UN lines at the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, inflicting heavy losses. With the retreat of the US troops, the army abandoned, with more than 90,000 civilians from North Korea fleeing the Chinese invasion.
  • The United States Government backed the Bao Dai Government of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and supplied arms within a military mission to ensure that the Vietnamese signed a pact of military assistance with France, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • Manchurian emperor Kang Te was released from prison and educated politically.
  • Tibet was invaded by Chinese Red Army forces, when the Beijing offer to assure regional autonomy in Tibet was rejected. The Chinese army forged forward through Ladakh, Shanghai and Szechuan. Tibetan monasteries were destroyed and brought on protests from across the globe. Beijing or Peking proclaimed Tibet to be part of China and fanned the cinders of disharmony, domestic and global.
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy declared a ‘witch-hunt’ for communists and fueled political upheaval by referring to the Democrats as ‘party to treason’. Sen. McCarthy went on to make baseless and reckless charges against communists who were supposed to be taking over the State Department.
  • U.S. Naval Intelligence officer Vincent W. Hartnett and FBI agents Theodore Kirkpatrick and Kenneth Bierly named Red Channels (communists) amidst producers, directors, actors, playwrights, musicians, choreographers and screenwriters, who were barred on suspicion of using the media for communist propaganda.
  • In Colombia, right-wing leader Laureano Eleuterio Gómez was elected President after his return from exile in Spain.
  • The Puerto Rican Commonwealth Bill declared provisions for an autonomous, self-government. It maintained US economic ties. However, Puerto Rican nationalists demanded independence and President Truman escaped a politically-associated assassination.