When talking about the pre-war and post-war United States of America, one needs to understand that the nation’s mentality had experienced a significant shift from one set of values to another. Some of these new ways of thinking were drastically different from those that were previously shared by Americans for centuries. The changes happened not only on an individual level, but also on a national level. It can be claimed that World War II marked a paradigm shift in the American way of thinking. A paradigm can be defined as a model, a pattern of perception, or thinking, which is dominant in a society during a certain period of time. Therefore, a paradigm shift is a move from old models of thinking and explaining the surrounding reality as a new one. It can be achieved through various ways: revolution, metamorphosis, slow and gradual transformation, enlightenment, and so on.
In the middle of the 20th century, the USA, still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, experienced serious shifts in its cultural paradigm. The country stood isolated, claiming a policy of Laissez Faire, which freed America from any responsibility from the world’s conflicts. The USA’s focus was understandably inward; logic dictated that the country should take care of its own first; however, on December 7, 1941, the day Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, the Laissez Faire foreign policy ended abruptly. World War II, together with a complex of other factors created an internationally-responsible America, with the society sharing a dominant ideology of consumerism, while embracing the role of women in the workplace and military.
World War II stimulated a stale economy in America, and as the end of the war neared, many Americans feared another detrimental downturn in the financial state of the country. Instead, Americans discovered that “pent-up consumer demand fueled exceptionally strong economic growth in the post war period” (U.S. Department of State). Consumerism thrived and with it the country. Factories that had been centered on the manufacturing of war equipment suddenly returned to the production of automobiles. A housing market boomed, and the country’s gross national product doubled in one decade. The economic state of America boomed in the post-war era, and a country that recently stood on the precipice of economic failure soon became the financial powerhouse of the world.
These factories also facilitated another paradigm shift in the American mentality. Prior to America’s entrance into the World War II theater, women were often associated with all kinds of domestic work, raising children, and cooking, but with the surge of men sent overseas into battle, women were asked to fill the vacancies left behind. They were called upon to work in the factories and do the jobs once reserved for men. “By 1945, nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home” (American Women in World War II, 2012). This paradigm shift continues today in American culture.
Prior to America’s entrance into World War II, the country was inwardly focused and its workforce consisted mainly of men. The War united the country and changed its foreign policy priorities, stimulated its economy, and opened a plethora of opportunities for women in the marketplace. Since that time, America has refused to look backwards.
American Women in World War II. (2012). The History Channel website. Retrieved 7:00, November 4, 2012, from http://ww.history.com/topics/american-women-in-world-war-ii.
U.S. Department of State. (2012). >The Post-war Economy: 1945-1960. About.com Economics. Retrieved from http://economics.about.com/od/useconomichistory/a/post_war.htm.
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