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Woman Suffrage Movement: The woman suffrage movement got its start in the mid-nineteenth century and attracted women who were already active in reform causes (e.g., abolitionism and temperance). Women who joined the suffrage movement in its early days had high hopes that women's access to citizenship and the vote would go a long way toward creating equality for women in American society. Suffragists had a brief moment of optimism after the Civil War when they thought they would win the right to vote along with African American men, but the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments added the word male to the Constitution, excluding women explicitly. The movement began to make inroads among middle-class and working-class women in American society in 1890, pushing for voting rights but also for other "women's" issues. The notion that women could use their supposed moral superiority to reform various elements of corruption in American society made the demand for suffrage seem less radical and more appealing to many women and men.
Ultimately, World War I gave women many new opportunities, including serving in Europe as nurses and relief workers and working in defense jobs at home. Some suffragists capitalized on women's contribution to the war effort at home and abroad to argue that their efforts should be recognized and rewarded with the right to vote. Others appealed to the wartime need for national unity and the United States' hypocrisy in fighting for democracy while refusing women the vote. The combination of these strategies succeeded in turning President Wilson from an opponent to a supporter of woman's suffrage. Ratified in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote and raised expectations that women had finally come to the end of the long road to full equality.
Temperance Movement: The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment marked the end of nearly one hundred years of activism. Women's role in the temperance struggle grew over the course of the nineteenth century, and the formation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874 brought the issue into the national spotlight. The WCTU argued that drunken, abusive husbands and fathers epitomized the evils of a society in which women remained second-class citizens, dependent on men for their livelihood. WCTU leader Frances Willard politicized the group and recruited women who used various strategies to affect the traditional political process, even though they could not vote. The WCTU was remarkably successful at organizing a mass movement of women united by women's issues and creating alliances with organizations such as the Knights of Labor and the People's party. By the 1890s, the WCTU's grassroots network of local unions included 200,000 dues-paying members and had spread to all but the most isolated rural areas of the country. By the time of the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, it seemed as if women had gained important political experience and influence through the process of advocating for Prohibition, and that the banning of the sale and consumption of alcohol would go a long way toward shaping a new society in which women could be more equal participants.
Women's Political Status, 1920s-1930s: With the achievement of woman suffrage and Prohibition, many women felt that the 1920s was the beginning of a new era. They expected that they had achieved a new level of political power and influence and that their access to the vote would help them to bring about many of the reforms they had supported during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, however, their political influence declined. They achieved only one significant legislative success with the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act in 1921. The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated for the first time in 1923. Women's political influence was limited by male domination of both political parties, the rarity of female candidates, and women's lack of experience with voting, which kept many away from the polls. Black women in the South, like their male counterparts, were excluded from voting by poll taxes, literacy tests, and the threat of racial violence. In addition, the achievement of suffrage and temperance meant that women activists no longer had political goals that united them. As some women advocated special protections for women and others advocated equal rights, neither objective could be achieved. Women's access to citizenship and political rights served to underscore the extent to which they were still limited by economic, social, and cultural inequalities.
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United States' Experience of World War I: Since its infancy, the United States had officially tried to remain outside of European disputes. Facing a global war, Wilson feared that U.S. intervention would disrupt American trade with opposing European nations at a time when the nation's economy remained vulnerable. Furthermore, he worried that the heterogeneous nation of immigrants might dissolve into conflict in sympathy with the disputes of citizens' countries of origin. The American public also wanted to avoid war, and Wilson was reelected in 1916 with the campaign phrase "he kept us out of war." When events like the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram ultimately convinced Wilson of the necessity of declaring war against Germany, he was faced with moving the American public toward support for the war, which his administration accomplished using propaganda to rouse anti-German sentiment and stir up patriotic fervor. But although the United States emerged from the war victorious and with a booming economy, many Americans felt confused and disillusioned by the war's failure to extend democracy and liberal reform nationally and internationally. Wilson's failed attempts to win ratification of the Treaty of Versailles-combined with the fear, intolerance, repression, and violence that occurred on the home front during and immediately after the war-convinced many Americans that the United States should recommit itself to isolationism.
Roosevelt's Prewar Stance: The crisis created by the Great Depression at home and the need to protect political support for his domestic agenda led Roosevelt to retreat from his earlier internationalist policies and to go along with the American public's isolationist sentiment. For example, he withdrew his support for the League of Nations. This policy posture, and concern for his domestic agenda, led to his decision not to give American assistance to the League's efforts to contain German and Japanese aggression, even though he perceived both as a serious threat to peace. As Nazi Germany's invasions overtook first Poland and flowed farther west into Europe in 1939 and early in 1940, Roosevelt tried to balance his concern about the Nazi threat to France and Great Britain with adherence to neutrality acts passed only shortly before to prevent him from leading the United States into another foreign war. In January 1941, he proposed the Lend-Lease Act to provide assistance to Britain without entering the war.
Decision to Enter the War: Roosevelt became convinced of the need for the United States to enter the war long before the American public did. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor quickly reversed Americans' attachment to isolationism and gave Roosevelt the support he needed to declare war on the Axis powers. Roosevelt responded to Axis aggression by enacting the Selective Service Act, which prepared the nation to mobilize millions of men and women to serve in the armed forces, many through the draft. He also mobilized the U.S. economy to produce an overwhelming abundance of military supplies by calling on business leaders to manage the nation's production and guide it toward maximum efficiency. The government pumped enormous sums into the nation's economy and industry by issuing large contracts. Roosevelt, like Wilson, successfully mobilized the industrial and agricultural production and public support necessary to win the war. His efforts also led to hostility against some groups, most notably the Japanese, but overall caused fewer violations of civil liberties did than Wilson's actions during World War I.
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U.S. Relationship with Israel as Cornerstone of Defense in Middle East: After World War II, when hundreds of thousands of European Jews sought refuge and the creation of a national homeland in Palestine, President Truman supported an Israeli state against the counsel of his advisors, and made Israel's defense the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East. His advisors warned that it was important to maintain Arab-American friendship in order to prevent Soviet influence in the Middle East and to protect American oil interests in the region. Since 1948, the United States has maintained its commitment to the defense of Israel by supporting it in conflicts such as the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Every president from Eisenhower forward tried to strike a delicate balance between its support for Israel and its support for Arab countries. Although there have been movements toward peace, such as the Camp David accords, anti-American sentiment has remained strong throughout many Arab nations. In part because of the displacement of populations in the Middle East, terrorism sponsored by non-state organizations such as Hezbollah, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Al Qaeda has emerged as a threat to international stability and security.
Cold War: Cold War concerns prompted American leaders to support unpopular dictatorships in the Middle East and South Asia because they helped American corporations and opposed the Soviet Union. In 1953, the CIA intervened to oust Mohammed Mossadegh, the left-leaning prime minister of Iran who nationalized oil fields and refineries, and restored the repressive Shah of Iran to power, creating anti-Western bitterness and resentment among Iranians that manifested in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-80 and persisted into the twenty-first century. In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Carter Doctrine, threatening to use any means necessary to prevent an outside force from gaining control of the Persian Gulf. The United States subsequently stepped up aid to the military dictatorship in Pakistan and provided secret aid to the Afghan rebels, destabilizing those countries in ways that have continued to create havoc internationally.
Persian Gulf War: Because of its bitter history with Iran, the United States aided Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. Beginning in 1990, Hussein sent troops into oil-rich Kuwait to the south and soon threatened the world's largest oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. The George H. W. Bush administration reacted quickly and ordered a massive mobilization of American troops and an international coalition to stand up to Iraq. When Hussein failed to withdraw from Kuwait by the Bush administration's deadline, Congress authorized war by a slim margin, and the United States launched Operation Desert Storm, which led to Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. But although Bush claimed victory, the situation in the Middle East was still unstable, and the heightened American presence in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Muslim world enraged Muslim fundamentalists like Osama Bin Laden.
Globalization: The international expansion of American culture and enterprise, which accelerated during and after World War II, also played a role in creating the conditions that led to the September 11 attacks. Advances in technology made international travel and communication faster and easier and eased the spread of Western goods and culture into the Muslim world. But these advances also provided the tools that Al Qaeda used to coordinate its plans and carry out its activities.