1948: A Year in Review
1948 is not one of those years with a big anniversary that’s celebrated throughout Historyland.* That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few events worth some attention from the assembled Marginalia. More than I expected in fact.
The big stuff:
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30th by a Hindu fanatic who believed Gandhi offered too much support to India’s Muslim community.
Under the leadership of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, went into effect in April, 1948. Marshall, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, described the goals of the plan in high-minded terms: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” Over the course of three years, the United States poured $12 billion into rebuilding Western Europe. The Marshall Plan is lauded as a great humanitarian effort, but not everyone who backed it brought the same altruism to the project as Marshall. Congress approved the plan in part because members feared that the rapid deterioration of European economies in the winter of 1946-1947 left European countries open to the lure of communism. Can you say Cold War? (Make sure you read the comments: reader and friend Iris Seefeldt has some personal reflections on the Marshall Plan that you don’t want to miss.)
It was a year of nation building—with complex, often violent, results. Israel declared itself an independent nation. Ceylon ( now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar) and South Africa all gained their independence from the British Empire. South and North Korea proclaimed themselves to be independent republics
And speaking of the Cold War:
- On June 24, the Soviets attempted to force the Western allies to abandon Berlin by blockading the city. For eleven months the Western powers airlifted supplies into the city: 277,000 flights carried 2.3 million tons of goods into the city.
- The House Un-American Activities Committee accused Alger Hiss of spying for the Soviet Union
- Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia
President Harry S Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. Military.
He also signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law on June 12, 1948. Intended to allow women to serve as permanent members of the armed services after the war, the bill met with serious opposition despite the support of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The bill’s opponents were not able to stop its passage, but they were able to impose serious restrictions on women’s ability to serve. The final bill capped female enlistment at 2 percent of the total armed force of the United States and banned women having command authority over men.
Geologists working for Standard Oil discovered Al-Ghawar oil-field, the world’s largest conventional oilfield, in Saudi Arabia.
The United Nations created the World Health Organization and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The small stuff:
Peter Goldmark invented the long-playing phonograph album. His timing was good. That same year Leo Fender marketed the first solid-body electric guitar.
Bread rationing ended in Great Britain—three years after the end of WWII. (See Marshall Plan above)
Two steps forward: George de Mestral invented Velcro.
Two steps back: Food critic Duncan Hines founded a company to make cake mixes. (I didn’t even know he was a person.)
Anything you’d like to add? Tell us in the comments.
* Let’s face it, the 70th anniversary of anything other than a happy marriage doesn’t have the emotional oomph of the 50th or the 75th.
On June 24, 1948 I was 5 years and 5 months old. I had lived through the bombing of my hometown, Freiburg by the British on Nov. 24, 1944 , subsequently occupied by the French and in the end made it to America in 1952 and 1960 to receive my citizenship. My sister had been born on October 28. She was not even a month old. It was in the terrible Winter of 1945-46 that we as a family struggled as did so many without the Marshall Plan. One year later I, my Sister and my Mother would be in Heidelberg where the Americans were the Occupying Forces. In that place it was possible for me and my sister to learn about Banana Splits, Coka Cola, Bambi, and many other things. After 1946 the Marshal Plan sustained many civilians. I learned to speak English there and met American kids because my Mom worked on the premises of the American Forces Headquarters in their Beauty shop. We ate American food, we saw the soldiers on the streets, we socialized with there families. My Mom had been brought to the States in the late 20’s, gone through school, and graduated from the 8th grade in Buffalo N.Y. in 1938. In 1939 her Stepfather passed away and she returned with her mother and sister to rejoin her extended family in Germany. She entered into the world of chaos she had never experience before which then propelled her and her entire family until into survival mode until the end of the War in Europe. The above mentioned categories of prominence all supersede my life but correlate to what I know of it from pictures and family recollections. Many of those who live today are admonished to never forget, this goes for the entire human experience of that year of 1948 for those who made it past 1949.
As always, Iris, thank you for sharing experiences that are so different than my own. You’ve brought the impact of the Marshall Plan alive for me in a way that all my reading never could.