hen Harry S. Truman became president, many Americans underestimated this seemingly ordinary, blunt, unpretentious man. In his eight years of leadership from 1945-1953, however, America moved through momentous events from the end of World War II to the beginning of the cold war, from segregation as the norm to the dawning of civil rights.
Truman's orders to bomb the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 finally brought World War II to an end. The winds of the cold war began to blow almost immediately. Sir Winston Churchill articulated the free world's concern, saying, "I view with profound misgivings the descent of an Iron Curtain between us and everything to the eastward." The iron curtain was communism. Under the Marshall Plan, America contributed millions of dollars to rebuild nations ravaged by the war and enable citizens of these countries to choose free governments. In 1947, President Truman established The Truman Doctrine that told the world that the United States would fight communism anywhere and everywhere. Soon this policy drew the United States into the Korean Conflict.
President Truman made determined efforts to advance civil rights by desegregating the armed forces and urging Congress to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation. In 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African American player to break the color line of major league baseball.
Believing that he had unfinished business, Truman reluctantly ran for his own full term in 1948. To everyone's surprise but his own, he won. He added to Roosevelt's New Deal his own Fair Deal. Some citizens viewed these government programs as too socialist, or perhaps even worse, communist. A fear of communism seized the nation; Senator Joseph McCarthy gained notoriety playing on this fear.
Following Truman into the White House, war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over increasing prosperity for many Americans, a burst of suburban life, technology, television, and rock and roll. The unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education moved African Americans yet another step closer to equality.
The events of the decade following World War II and Truman's and Eisenhower's decisions shaped American domestic and foreign policy for the next half century. The United States struggled not only to move toward freedom at home, but also to defend liberty around the world.