The "Greatest Generation". These were the proud Americans of the 1950s, the men and women who fought "the last good war" and toppled a dictator. They stared evil in the face and triumphed not once but twice, being one of the few, if not the only nation to ever win a war fought on two fronts. We were just that badass! Now home from war the young men and women of this nation were no longer proving their superiority on the battlefield, but on wall street, the factory floor, and the bedroom. Spawning the baby boom generation, these were the folks that owned a new car, lived in a new house, had a single income that could pay their bills AND their child's college tuition. This was America, as it should be.
And it was a myth. A myth still believed by too many people who attribute the successes of the 50s people and economy to social climate and morality rather than economical circumstance. With the vast majority of male youth volunteering or being drafted into WWII, upon their return, the GI bill gave them ALL an opportunity for free higher education, and they took it. Most of the returning soldiers came from families that had never had a college graduate in their recent history and it was an honor to be the first in their family to have a real chance at what they had all been promised for so long. The American Dream, and they were owed it.
After 4-5 years, just as 1950 rolled around, the percentage of educated Americans skyrocketed since practically all of the returning soldiers, being most of the male population of the country, now had an education. Doors opened, and you could do pretty much anything you wanted. Professionally, the sky was the limit. Add to that, the fact that America's major competition in industry, Japan and Germany, were in ruin so virtually all steel production moved here. The American automobile industry had gains like never before. Also, all of Germany's scientists defected during and after the war and now our chemistry, space, and aeronautics programs were light years ahead of the rest of the world. Things were really looking good for America, which took virtually no infrastructural damage during the war. All of Europe, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Asia was in shambles, but not us.
But then the world did what it always does. It rebuilt. That carpetbombing? It removed vast areas of outdated factory room, equipment... and operators. It was replaced with the shiny and new, and younger, fresh minds to operate it. By the end of the decade we were on the back foot. Russia beat us into space and the industrial output of nations that were in ruin just 15 years before rose exponentially. So we outsourced. Cheaper goods means better lives for us all right?
We all know what outsourcing does and I won't lecture on that. But needless to say, over the next 40 years we wrecked our own economy with one political blunder after another. We tried to stop the spread of communism, the force that beat us into space. The big red scary monster that was outpacing us in every way. Then the "Red Scare" happened. McCarthyism had us afraid of our own neighbors. Anyone could be a communist and we had to stamp it out NOW. First in Korea we tried to stop it's advance, but we didn't have the stomach for another war so soon after the big one. It ended in a stalemate. Then in Vietnam, we had to use the draft again and that ended in a humiliating defeat when the baby boomers who were sent to fight it had no reason to be there, unlike their fathers who had real reason to fear Germany and Japan and still held onto that fear. The protests against the war, a product of progressive views and education in general... that same education their parents paid for with their spoils of war, were seen as unamerican and amoral.. and probably communist... The "moral fabric" of the nation was tearing and it was the youth, who had no reason to fear the world, that we turned on. Fundamentalism took hold and began to ascribe what amounted to divinity to the bygone age of profit and power... but it had passed.
Fast-forward to today, and just as before WWII, hardly anyone can afford college, which was the catalyst that drove us forward, for a time, in the 50s. Now the chances of the average American becoming successful due to their own perseverance are so much lower than 60 years ago. The Dream is dead and conservatism looks back fondly on the glorious 50s as a time when the country had solid moral footing, despite jim crow laws. The "moral decay" of the present is to blame for all our troubles and politicians push this view to milk easy votes out of today's vastly uneducated populace.
The hard truth remains, if we ever want to get that same boost that made America great, it would take another world war, a full on draft, and then a similar gift to the survivors across the board again, to achieve another golden age for this nation. Or massive education subsidies.. but that'll never happen. We could educate the entire nation again as the rest of the world is still doing... but we'd rather give our money to corporations in the hopes that they might hire someone again.. some day.