America is not a better country than it was in the 1950s
There are many people in the United States that claim the country is better today than it has ever been. The country has undergone two centuries of transformation, as people have increasingly gained more and more rights and freedoms, technology has made the lives of all Americans markedly easier, and its citizens have elected its first African-American president only a century after slavery ended. However, despite all this progress, it comes with a significant cost as people are forced to deal with threats like terrorism, unchecked scientific experimentation, and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.
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It seems that much of the current line of thought in the American public came during the social revolution of the 1960s, when sex, drugs, and rock and roll were used in conjunction with far more important social issues. The social rebellion of the 1960s, along with the unpopular war in Vietnam, gave way to the depressing decade of the 1970s, and the selfishness of the 1980s, which still seem to have the public in its grasp in the quest for empty consumerism. For a look back at a time when America represented the ideals that country was founded upon, one would have to look all the way back to the 1950s.
During this decade, America took its place as a respected world leader, family values were still strongly in place, consumerism and technology were used to advance the country and humanity in general, and while there were still threats to the safety and well being of American citizens, there were far fewer threats than each American is forced to deal with today. In evaluating the position of the United States in the world today, it is still a world leader. However, many of the events of recent years have only made the country a target of derision, criticism, and worse, even from its allies.
In the 1950s, the world was still reeling from the horrors of the Second World War. America emerged from the turmoil as one of the world’s great superpowers, along with the Soviet Union. America was seen as the champions of democracy, responsible for allowing the Allies to win the war and bringing freedom and peace to millions around the world. However, much of this good will and power have been slowly eroded in the decades since, and almost completely removed after the events of the past decade.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, America had the good will and support of the entire world. However, poor leadership quickly led these same supporters to accuse America of being imperialistic and ignorant. President George W. Bush did little to help dissuade this view, and in fact contributed to America’s decline more than any president since Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Though the election of Barack Obama has brought a fair amount of good will back to America, the damage done by Bush is long and lasting.
While Christian conservatives supported Bush, his personal beliefs seriously held up scientific discoveries in the way of stem cell research by refusing to support federal funding; he denied social advancements to people fighting for equal rights; he spearheaded a renewed campaign to take away women’s rights; he also was instrumental in creating a new paranoia over immigration, despite being the president of a country made of immigrants; and, the gap between the rich and the poor continued to grow until the country found itself poised on the brink of depression.
But, his greatest shortcomings were concerning the war on terror, which needlessly expanded, and his flippant abuse of federal power concerning the privacy of U. S. citizens. For a president that used the word “freedom” so frequently, he did more than most presidents to take it away from his fellow countrymen. A man who avoided serving in Vietnam, Bush learned none of the lessons and started a war in Iraq that has been compared by many as the Vietnam War of this generation. For someone that touted simple American values and hard work, Bush and his administration did a great deal to hurt America and make it weaker.
This is very different than the strong leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower who used his military experience and knowledge to make sure that America remained strong and vigilant in the postwar world. Additionally, Eisenhower’s presidency also saw the emergence of a modern American system of strong family values that have all but disappeared in recent years. American family values have certainly fallen off since the 1950s, and things like divorce as well as drug use have grown to epidemic numbers.
One of the key differences is the fact that couples are no longer staying together, divorce rates have gone through the roof, and the traditional nuclear family no longer seems to exist. According to an analysis of new census figures by The New York Times, married couples, whose numbers have been declining for decades as a proportion of American households, have slipped into a minority in the United States. The American Community Survey, released in October by the Census Bureau, found that 49. 7 percent, or 55. 2 million, of the nation’s 111.
1 million households in 2005 were made up of heterosexual married couples — with and without children — just shy of a majority and down from more than 52 percent five years earlier (Hurley). This trend shows that less and less heterosexual couples are choosing to get married, instead preferring to cohabitate and have children without marriage. These figures do not include divorce rates. In the United States, it is widely believed that one in two marriages will end in divorce, though these figures are debatable.
This rate has since been revised downward to roughly 43% by the National Center for Health Statistics but was moved back up to around 50% by the Census Bureau in 2002. Most recently, according to the New York Times, it has been revised downward to just over 40% (“Divorce Rates”). This lower figure could be due to the fact that less people are getting married, but it cannot be denied that in a society of increasing equality and civil rights, less people are getting and staying married than ever before.
This is quite different than the 1950s, when the nuclear family was something that most people aspired to create: “Nearly all accounts of the 1950s stress the great importance attached to home, family, and children… Indeed, widely read authors and commentators and well-known political leaders in the 1950s all extolled the virtues of a traditional family life. Women’s magazines published a steady stream of articles praising the homemaker and warning women of the perils of trying to combine marriage and childbearing with work outside the home” (Cherlin 35).
Today, usually just to make ends meet, parents are often both forced to work, leaving very little room for the simple family activities that were so valued in the 1950s. This leads to a society that is increasingly more isolated from each other and living with more fear and anxiety than ever before. This has also led to an increase in the amount of drugs that Americans consume, something which was virtually unheard of in the 1950s. The war on drugs was started in the 1980’s helped along by Nancy Reagan’s slogan, “Say no to drugs.
” While this continues to apply to illegal drugs, in the years since Americans have answered with a resounding “yes” to legalized drugs. This displays how the war on drugs is not really how it sounds and is really a hypocritical creation. Drugs have become a part of the American fabric, and that is no more apparent than the recent explosion of popular legal drugs. Today, Americans use drugs to remedy everything from receding hairlines, to erectile dysfunction, to the boredom of everyday life.
Federal regulations are strict in regards to advertisements of such legal drugs like cigarettes and alcohol, but not pharmaceuticals. Ads for various legal drugs seem to be all over the television, print media, and the internet. In America, the war on drugs could really be renamed “the war on drugs deemed undesirable by the government,” because there remain many, many potentially harmful and addictive drugs in the public marketplace. In 1998, Americans spent $66 billion on these drugs, including $39 billion on cocaine, $12 billion on heroin, $2.
2 billion on methamphetamine, and $11 billion on marijuana (ONDCP). During that same year, Americans spent more than $120 billion dollars on legal drugs, not including the staples alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine, and this number has only continued to grow. And while America is fighting a war on drugs that was not even a concept in the 1950s, it is also fighting an open-ended war on terrorism. Few things show the differences between today and the 1950s as the state of international terrorism and the fear it invokes in people. Even in the 1950s, where the U. S.
fought in Korea and there was a constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the level of fear that American citizens felt during that decade pales in comparison to what it feels in the post-9/11 world. The entire country has been in a frightened and angry state, with the threat of terrorism going hand and hand with government intrusion, religious hatred, and economic failure. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, “fear of terrorism became something of a way of life for government, first responders, and many citizens, even though no additional attacks on the American mainland have occurred” (Smelser 124).
The threat of terrorism has not only affected the American psyche, but it has also led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers who are busy fighting the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, unfortunately, there appears to be no end in sight for either war, and casualties only continue to mount on both sides. Despite all the international turmoil that followed the Second World War, there was always stability and confidence in America.
Now that the confidence is eroding, one can only hope that stability can continue to be achieved. The United States was far better off in the 1950s than the country is today. While it had the Soviet Union to contend with, there was hardly more fear than there is today over the faceless and suicidal terrorists that threaten the very fabric of everyday life. In addition to all the added fears, there are not even the traditional support systems to help alleviate any of the anxiety, as family values are at an all-time low.
People are choosing to no longer get married and when they do get married, they are getting divorced at a pace that continues to grow each passing year. With the drug epidemic, war, moral decay, and fear in the current America, one can only think back on the simpler and more stable times that marked the 1950s. Works Cited: Cherlin, Andrew. Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981 “Divorce Rates. ” Divorce Reform Page. 2009. Americans for Divorce Reform. 12 July 2009. <http://www. divorcereform. org/rates.
html>. Hurley, Dan. “Divorce Rate: It’s Not as High as You Think. ” The New York Times. 19 April 2005. 13 July 2009. <http://www. divorcereform. org/nyt05. html>. Office of National Drug Control Policy. “What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs 1988– 1998. ” ONDCP Publications. 4 March 2002. 13 July 2009. <http://www. whitehousedrugpolicy. gov/publications/drugfact/american_users_spend/exec_summ. html>. Smelser, Neil J. The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007