American History - a snapshot…
Native Americans arrived on the North American continent in about the 9th millennium
BC, give or take 5,000 years, and dominated the area until the influx of European
settlers began in the early 17th century. Colonial America was defined by ongoing
battles with Native Americans, a severe labor shortage which birthed forms of
unfree labor such as slavery and indentured servitude, and a British policy
of benign neglect which permitted the development of an American spirit and
culture which was distinct from that of its European founders.
In the late 1700's, the United States won its independence from the Kingdom
of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War and established itself
as the United States of America.
The part of American history during which the United States began its rise
to international power began in the 1800's. A ceaseless flood of European immigrants
and the development of an industrial base the likes of which the world had not
yet seen, had begun. During most of this period right up to the late 1920s the
United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity: prices for agricultural
commodities and wages fell at the end of the war while new industries (radio,
movies, automobiles, and chemicals) flourished.
The boom however, was reflected by the extension of credit to a dangerous degree,
including in the Stock Market, which rose to dangerously inflated levels. Then,
the Stock Market crash in 1929 and the ensuing economic depression have been
endlessly debated, often along ideological lines.
With millions unemployed, political ferment and discontent greatly increased
among the working classes. An unsympathetic or repressive response from the
U.S. government might well have sparked a socialist uprising, but President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, implemented a number of programs to
aid the poor and unemployed.
The nadir of the Great Depression was in 1933, but the economy showed very
little improvement through the end of the decade, and remained grim until it
was dramatically reshaped through America's involvement in World War II.
After the second world war, America experienced a period of great economic
growth. The United States
financed the reconstruction of Germany and Japan and eventually turned the former
foes into allies. The post-war era in the United States was defined by the ever
more challenging Cold War, the arms race and the space race. Meanwhile, the
American people completed their great migration from the farms into the cities,
began shifting the economy from an industrial base to a service economy, and
enjoyed the prosperity of triumphalist America.
As the Cold War dragged on, the United States entered the Vietnam War, found
itself fragmenting socially as women, minorities and young people rebelled against
the status quo, and therein faced its greatest crisis since the Civil War. And
then suddenly, it was all over and the country found itself in the doldrums
of the 1970s, battling stagflation, Watergate and the first appearances of international
terrorism. As the Soviet Union collapsed and the Eastern bloc shattered, the
wealth of the United States grew to unprecedented proportions, as did its debt
and international entanglements. Social change continued, albeit more slowly
than in the 1960s, as the baby boomers put the finishing touches on their revolution.
And what of the present day situation? The American saga continues…