"Our basic goal remains the same: a peaceful world communify of free and independent states - free to choose their own future and their own system."
John F. Kennedy
Message to Congress, January 11, 1962
While the Potsdam talks were proceeding, representatives of 51 nations met at San Francisco to draw up the framework of the United Nations. After eight weeks of work, they completed the drafting of the United Nations Charter, outlining a world organization where international differences could be peacefully discussed and common cause could be made against hunger and disease. In contrast to its rejection of United States membership in the League of Nations after World War I, the Senate promptly ratified the U.N. Charter by a vote of 89 to 2. This action confirmed the end of isolationism as an important element in American foreign policy and the acceptance by the United States of its full responsibility in international affairs.
With the surrender of Japan in August 1945, the American people turned their major energies to domestic matters. A looming problem was the reintegration into civilian life of millions of returning servicemen. Within two years, the armed forces were reduced from 12 million to 11/2 million men. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act (popularly known as the "GI Bill of Rights") provided government loans to enable veterans to buy homes and to set themselves up in business or on farms. It also financed the education of hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen, bringing onto college campuses older students who were often also husbands and fathers.
Despite the fears of some economists, the American economy made the transition from war to peace without serious unemployment. Industry found jobs for millions as it shifted to civilian production, which barely kept pace with the pentup demand for consumer goods created by wartime scarcity, high wages, and accumulated savings. Between 1945 and 1948 the number of employed workers rose from 54 million to more than 61 million, while the national income climbed from 181 thousand million dollars to more than 223 thousand million a year.
But prosperity brought with it its own problems. Available housing was not sufficient to satisfy the demand and the situation improved markedly only after 1947 when the building industry began to roll into high gear. Prices rose rapidly in the immediate postwar years, creating fears of runaway inflation, but settled down to more stable levels when the supply of desired goods more nearly equalled demand. Rising prices led many labor unions to seek higher wages, and there were strikes involving more than 4,500,000 workers in 1946. New labor legislation was adopted by Congress in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Strongly opposed by labor leaders, this law required a 60-day notice before either a union or an employer could end a contract, permitted management to sue union officials for violation of contract, and limited certain union privileges contained in existing contracts. Despite these restrictions, labor continued to win higher wages along with increased security through retirement pensions and health insurance financed by employers.
One of the most far-reaching problems confronting the nation was the development and control of atomic energy. In July 1946, Congress gave this responsibility to a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission composed of five civilians. Under the Commission's supervision, American scientists developed and made available to other nations many peaceful applications of atomic knowledge for agriculture, industry and medicine.
President Truman's unexpected but decisive reelection in 1948, over Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey, led him to press for the passage of his "Fair Deal" reform program. Although Congress rejected parts of this program, it voted much of it into law. Social security coverage was extended to cover some 10 million more persons. The minimum wage for workers in interstate industries was raised from 40 to 75 cents an hour. A federal program of slum clearance and low-rental housing was authorized. And farmers were given additional protection against such varied threats as floods, droughts, and falling prices. The Internal Security Act of 1950, which required communist organizations to file their membership lists with the Attorney General, reflected the continuing international tensions.