World War I enabled America to creep out of its shell more so than before; however, under awful circumstances. Still, the Great War triggered many changes in America’s role in international relations and the part that it played as a world power. Yet, while the United States was changing internationally during and after World War I, it was also changing domestically, at the same time. American life during the war enabled various happenings to occur. American industrialization grew, while many individuals went off to war, sparking nicknames like “doughboys” and the “over there generation”. Furthermore, during the time of World War I and its aftermath, many boundaries were pushed and, on the brink of the 30s, the value of the dollar dropped to a devastating low.
In 1917, after exhausting all possible options he could think of to preserve neutrality, Woodrow Wilson went to Congress to ask for an official declaration of war. In 1918, young American soldiers, ranging from age 18 to mid thirties, went off to battle in the Great War. This extensive group of men was dubbed the “Over There generation”, as they were fighting, overseas or, “Over There”. The name, although I am not completely certain, most likely came from the Broadway song, “Over There”, which expressed patriotic spirits, support for the Americans engaged in battle, and support for the war in general, with lyrics like, “Every son of liberty. Hurry right away, no delay, go today, make your daddy glad, to have such a lad…” However, it is stated that “Over There” did not just exemplify the soldiers that were abroad, it additionally represented an era of American industrialization, which was happening simultaneously during the War. In 1914, the assembly-line had been ‘invented’ by Henry Ford, and by the year 1918, cars were very much in mass production. Thus, “Over There” could also mean places that people could go to with automobiles and/or the people who drove cars. Also, the growing popularity of the car sparked a boost in American popular culture, outside of America. The car endowed the United States with a national feeling of wealth and this, prompted other countries to listen in, and pay attention to American dances, and songs, inspire people abroad to wear American clothes, and to buy American products, such as cigarettes. Furthermore cigarette consumption, domestically, only increased after the war, as many troops returning home developed a strong taste for the tobacco products.
After the war, America changed in many ways. A law, which would be detrimental to today’s Superbowl fans everywhere, prohibition the production, transportation, selling, and consumption of alcohol was added to the constitution as the 18th amendment in 1919. This prompted socially rebellious activity and criminally rebellious activity. The socially rebellious appeared in the form of speakeasies- secret bars where people went to drink. The latter activity appeared in the form of American gangster, Al Capone. Al Capone an Italian Mafioso from Chicago, with a pretty powerful hold on the city as well, made himself a famous bad boy by the cold and mean ways he conducted his business, by the fact that although he was in essence, a kingpin, who could hire someone to do all of his “dirty work”, personally killed people. He also took advantage of Americans’ desperation for alcohol and produced and transported alcohol. He was eventually arrested and thrown into jail for tax evasion.
Post war rebellion took many other forms. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and others, a group of individuals known as the Lost Generation, took the opportunity to ostracize themselves from the all things American by moving to Paris to seek freedom of the thought and the ability to create limitless, without restrictions on the provocative or the profane. Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, a book, which reflected his newfound appreciation of profanity and alcohol. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a torrential story of love, money, abuse, that shed a dark light on the utopian portrayal of America and its endless possibilities in The Great Gatsby. This Lost Generation was sort of a literary version of the “backpacking through Europe to find yourself” journey. These writers stayed in Paris and explored all they could during the time gap between the two World Wars.
While Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and others were exploring new liberties in Paris, young women were doing the same in the U.S., in a more fashionable way. With the post-war era came the Roaring 20s, and with the Roaring 20s, came the flappers. Flappers were promiscuous young women who wore straight, short dresses, and sported short hair cuts, generally accented with a hair band, hat, or accessory of some sort. The ‘layman’s analogy’, albeit not the greatest, I can give for the flappers is that they are in a way akin to the depiction of the stereotypical teenage daughter you will not let out of the house because she’s dressed too provocatively and wore too much makeup. The young flappers were not usually the kind of women who would make their mothers proud. They did wear clothes that showed more skin, and they did take loads of liberties with makeup, applying it conspicuously. Also, they smoked quite a bit, and in an indiscreet manner as well. In fact, if you looked at flappers from a certain angle, they almost seemed like the “bad girls” of the 1920s. Nevertheless, their reasons for rebellion were not quite the same as the stereotypical, modern-day teenagers’ reasons. To wit, they not only could be portrayed as the “bad girls”, but could be and were also portrayed as examples of feminine freedom. During the Roaring 20s, many Americans, men and women alike, were looking to break away from the stuffy, monotonous, and conservative rules of previous times (although there were others who were afraid of change); for instance, the Lost Generation just discussed. Also, the praxis of paying with credit emerged and grew in popularity. The stock market was growing, and many Americans liked the newfound feelings of wealth and the freedom to spend that credit brought them. (The sudden change in all matters fiscal will be discussed shortly.) Many female Americans “jumped on the bandwagon”, so to speak, and decided to take as much advantage of this newly free-spirited way of American life as they could. Thus, gone (of course, not completely) were the days of sheltered women. Where women would remain reticent, stay in their shells, cover up, and live quiet inactive lifestyles. In the 1920s, many females expressed freedom by embracing the flapper way of life, which, in addition to the donning of “anti-prudish” clothes and the practice of ostentatious smoking and makeup wearing, also were open about contraceptives, drank, went to dance halls, and all and all had a good time. Just like the use of credit made Americans feel free about their money, the carefree sentiment of the 20s allowed women to embrace the opportunity to feel free about themselves.
The happy-go-lucky sensations associated with money, later suddenly halted. Americans put too much faith in credit. In 1929, on what has been dubbed “Black Thursday”, the stock market crashed, which signaled the beginning of the Great Depression. The Great Depression, however, was not solely caused by the crash of the stock market, according to John Galbraith, author of The Great Crash. According to Galbraith, a numerous amount of factors contributed to America’s economic downfall: bad banking, poor conduct of corporate businesses, uneven allocation of income, the rocky nature of foreign trade, and inaccurate information about the economy.
The Great Depression startled the nation. People were just basking in the free-spirit of the Roaring 20s, feeling like they could afford to spend, and putting many items on credit, and then, everything collapsed. Investment companies went to ruins, as their business depended on the sale of stocks, and the stockholders were quickly disappearing as the economy grew further and further into depression. Employers could not afford to keep on all their employees, so many people were laid off and the unemployment rate surged. People lost their houses and quickly fell into lives of homelessness. Americans were living in what were called “Hoovervilles”, barely there, make-shift homes. It was only until the election of a new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt that U.S. citizens were finally starting to see tiny signs of hope.
The domestic affairs of America during and after World War I were involved in the strangest roller coaster of sentiments. Men were going off to war, while others were able to go off to other places, domestically, with the use of cars. When the war concluded, a (somewhat) euphoric feeling swept across the nation, influencing most Americans, while others struggled to stick to old values. People were experiencing happy and freeing feelings- freeing of economic liberation, and for the females, gender liberation. However, this new glow was snatched away almost as quickly as it set in. The stock market crashed in 1929, which led America into the Great Depression, a time period of terrible poverty that seemed to take ages to bounce back from.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Textbook. Give Me Liberty! Eric Foner. Volume 2. Second. Edition.
The Jazz Age play, written by Allan Knee performed at The Blank Theatre, Hollwood, CA-info from:http://lukemacfarlane.org/career/theatre/the-jazz-age
Booming Economy: Cars, Consumers, & Criminals
Treaty of Versailles & Post War Society