American Dreams: The United States Since 1945

I enjoyed the different layers of American history that H. W. Brands explains in his book, American Dreams: The United States since 1945.  Economic, social, military, diplomatic, and religious tie-ins offer an understanding of how the different presidencies and policies shaped the United States, seemingly near the precipice of her incline, or actually on her decline.  Brands does not dig deeply into these reasons but does expansively cover issues.  All of which create a block, in a quilt, that is overlain with transparent tie-ins that show how history is not static; it cannot be explained in just one arena but rather ebbs and flows, always having a connection with politics, religion, patriotism, economics, industry, education, race, and equality, to name a few.

This book gives insight into how each decision in early administrations; from Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the beginnings of the Obama election and administration are tied together.  As an undergraduate student of history, I focused my studies on other regions – China, Russia, Japan, the Middle East, but never much on the Americas.  Reading Brands’ description about the United States’ role in rebuilding Europe and Japan; and how that policies and mind-sets affected my grandparent’s and my mother’s generations, and subsequently mine, as well as my six-year-old son’s generation helps me connect the dots with my own history.

I think of the consumerism, waste, consumption of oil in so many types of products, environmentalism, and the instant gratification that the majority of citizens currently partake in can be traced back to the policies of the last seventy years.  This has had such a huge impact on our country, our mindsets, and the world.  The Marshall Plan, the Cold War, Detente, the New Deal, Camelot, the Great Society.  I felt Brands “American Dreams” to be a primer for priming the pump on learning, in more depth, the causes and effects that brought America to the place that she is currently at.  And leaves the reader thinking about what can be done to counterbalance or improve the prior decisions and how it can impact the people of the United States, as well as the world.

The maintenance of the industrial life that had been created by the demands of the war and how that energy was rolled into post war construction in our country and abroad.  The governmental systems that were put into play – social security, retirement, medical, and how those systems affected American businesses and the benefit packages given to their employees.  The rise and impact of unions in the American workplace and the subsequent economic impact unions had on the middle class American life.  Foreign policies enacted by Democrats and Republicans that directly impacted and shaped the role the United States would play in world politics.  The dismantling of the European Colonial system in the 1950’s and how the United States stepped up into filling the potential void left by the departure of England, France, and the Netherlands in the Far East, the Middle East, and northern Africa.  H. W. Brands discusses all of these topics and the ramifications of choices and decisions.