Unit 8 in the APUSH Exam

This time period extends from 1945 to 1980 and counts for 15% of recommended instructional content for an AP class.


The United States responded to an uncertain and unstable postwar world by asserting and working to maintain a position of global leadership, with far-reaching domestic and international consequences.


New movements for civil rights and liberal efforts to expand the role of government generated a range of political and cultural responses.


Postwar economic and demographic changes had far-reaching consequences for American society, politics, and culture.


This period is overshadowed by the Cold War, which was a far-ranging conflict between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union fought through proxy wars, ideological campaigns, and diplomatic crises. While the two nations engaged in hostilities through indirect means, they never engaged in a “hot” war with direct military battles.

The United States was deeply concerned that communism would spread out of the Soviet Union to other nations, including the United States itself. To prevent the spread of communism to Western Europe, the United States funneled money and services to war torn nations after World War II under the Marshall Plan. Domestically, Senator Joseph McCarthy led a broad investigation of communists and alleged communist sympathizers in the 1950s. Americans were divided over Senator McCarthy’s methods.

“It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

—Secretary Of State George C. Marshall, 1947

Americans became increasingly concerned about the power of the president to commit the country to foreign military engagements, like the Vietnam War, as well as the power of the president to utilize the growing nuclear arsenal.

In the postwar period, civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. challenged racial discrimination through a potent combination of legal challenges, non-violent protests, and awareness campaigns. As a result of these protests, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to promote greater racial equality. The success of the African-American civil rights movement led other groups, such as feminists, LGBT communities, Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans, to also begin publicly agitating for more rights under the law.

Activists also narrowed in on economic inequality and urban poverty. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was a wide-ranging attempt to end discrimination, eliminate poverty, and broadly right the injustices of U.S. society. Johnson’s Great Society, as well as Supreme Court decisions expanding civil liberties, was opposed by conservatives who felt that the country was in a period of moral and cultural decline.

Despite this backdrop of international conflict and domestic unease, the postwar period can generally be classified as a period of domestic growth. Mass culture, including television, helped define cultural mores of the age. These tools were used by evangelical Christian churches and organizations as they began to play an increasingly powerful role in politics.


1947  The president announces the Truman Doctrine to help contain the spread of communism.

1952  The United States conducts its first hydrogen bomb test.

1954  The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education desegregates public schools.

1962  The Cold War almost turns “hot” in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1964  President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

1965  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a freedom march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama.

1978  The Camp David Accords brokered peace between Egypt, Israel, and the United States


Cold War  A period of diplomatic tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that pitted capitalism against communism.

Marshall Plan  An expansive plan to provide economic and social aid to Western Europe in order to prevent the spread of communism.

Senator Joseph McCarthy  A senator from Wisconsin who led the campaign to uncover communists and suspected communists in the United States.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  An African American civil rights leader who advocated for greater racial equality using nonviolent methods.

Civil Rights Act of 1964  A wide-ranging piece of legislation that ended segregation and banned employment discrimination.

Great Society  A program developed under President Lyndon Johnson that significantly expanded federally sponsored social programs.

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