The “War to End all Wars” took place between 1914 and 1918. After this time, Americans (and the rest of the world) would never be quite the same. Millions of casualties occurred and hundreds of thousands were left injured or crippled. The United States did not enter the war until 1917, as they had vowed to remain neutral. The sinking of the Lusitania, which killed several American passengers, spurred President Wilson into action. This, coupled with the German’s sinking of American commercial vessels prompted the United States to declare war on Germany in 1917. Immediately, thousands of troops were deployed and remained until the end of the war. This event changed the way the world considered warfare. This was a particularly brutal war and new tactics such as chemical weapons and aircraft changed battlefields together. This, coupled with trench warfare, made World War I among the bloodiest wars in history. Even though the Treaty of Versailles brought things to end, there were still battles to be fought on the home front.

After the war, many soldiers returned home with shell shock and many more were permanently maimed. After the relative peace and economic good times following the end of Reconstruction, these people became known as the “Lost Generation” since so much of their optimism had been shattered. One other aspect of this war is that it allowed women greater responsibilities in the workforce and at home. Just as in World War II, they made sacrifices and took over roles that had normally been assigned to men. They would later remind the nation of this as they fought for their rights in the suffrage movement which was another event that significantly shaped the course of American history after the Civil War.

The nation made an attempt to recover from the Great War and soon after the soldiers returned, manufacturing began again. The early part of the 1920s actually saw a great increase in economic prosperity and this period was known as the Roaring Twenties. New cultural movements occurred and jazz emerged on the popular music scene. It was almost as though the nation could not take any more pain and needed a distraction. Unfortunately, these good times were short lived. In 1929 the stock market collapsed and world’s economy went down with it. The United States, like other more  nations that have seen a great deal of industrial growth and related changes, was one of the hardest hit. Massive unemployment and poverty were the direct result and millions lost their livelihoods and attempted to live on a meager subsistence level. The recovery from the Great Depression was slow but is attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which aimed to provide sweeping measures to help the average person out of poverty.

These acts were instituted over the years 1933-1937 and have been seen as being successful. The Public Works Administration, Works Progress Administration, and Farm Security Administration were all set up to provide programs that would help the poor and give them something to work on that would eventually benefit the United States. He set up the Emergency Banking Act to get banks out of debt and this eventually set the systems straight again, although it would take a few years. Prohibition was also overturned at this time and thus the beer and wine industries could again contribute to the real (as opposed to underground) economy. In general, the Great Depression was a time of widespread poverty but there were some benefits that came of it. Many of the social measures instituted during this time lived on and the some of the projects undertaken by different work programs are still visible.

           Americans did finally recover from the Great Depression, but it was not complete and many families still struggled for years after the measures of the New Deal were put into place. By the time they had more or less emerged, Germany was rearing its head again and war was looming. This new World War was fought from 1939 until 1945 and also saw a large number of casualties. It was larger than the first war and involved over 70 countries worldwide.

The war officially began in 1939 when the German Army, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, invaded Poland. France declared war after this and the Germans crushed their efforts before turning toward the Soviet Union in 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States officially entered the war and not only helped to defeat Hitler on the side of the Allies, but went after Japan as well. Numerous battles, including the Battle of Iwo Jima, led to final decision to drop the atomic bomb. While it did serve to end the war with Japan, this was a highly contested event. Millions of innocent civilians lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and this has been something difficult to make peace with. It was the first time in history that such force had been exhibited and it ushered the war into the nuclear age.

After the Second World War, recovery was again slow, especially for those who returned injured. The economy, however, did not suffer and America was again enjoying greater prosperity than it had seen in all of the twentieth century. During this period of time, the Civil Rights movement emerged after a number of racist acts of violence against blacks, particularly in the South. Figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X emerged as voices advocating civil rights and women such as Rosa Parks made dissent known in a public way.

This brought about new changes and legislation in the way African Americans went to school, dined in restaurants, and voted and the effects of this are still alive today. In sum, after the civil rights movement, the nation was wholly equal, at least by law. Although there would still be questions about bias, the fact remains that all citizens enjoyed an equal number of rights. After the Civil Rights movement, women’s movement, and Vietnam and related antiwar acts of protest, protesting became a familiar way of garnering political attention. Although many other events have shaped America aside from those listed here, these are the most important because they caused, in one way or another, a great shift in the way people lived and thought.

Other essays in the History Archives related to this topic include :  Overview of the Reconstruction Era  •   Slavery in America’s South : Implications and Effects   •    The Emancipation Proclamation: Savior or Rhetoric?   •     The Kansas-Nebraska Act Controversy   •   Analysis and Summary of “The Classic Slum” by Robert Roberts  • Condensed History of the Vietnam War : Major Events and Facts  •