The Impact of the Cold War on American Society

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American Society in the Cold War teaches us that conformity is society's response to the changes in social beliefs or behaviors by conforming to the group pressures to gain approval from the majority. The real definition of the word conformity is, “A type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group” (McLeod, 2007). Psychologist Kelman distinguished three different types of conformity. The three were compliance (group acceptance), internalization (genuine acceptance of group norms), and identification (group membership). Compliance is seen in The Catcher in the Rye, Atomic Café, Zinn 16, and The Baby Boom. Compliance occurs when a person agrees with an influence with hopes to achieve a positive reaction from another person or group. They accept the induced behavior because they assume that they will gain rewards or approval and therefore avoid punishment or disapproval by conforming (McLeod, 2007). During the Cold War time period, American society conforms to societal norms in times of fear and pressure to feel safety and gain approval, while nonconformists believe that if they change their beliefs to fit the norms, their independence is being stripped.

Due to the governments stature and ability to enlist fear, they have the ability to force Americans to conform to the ideas that are put upon them. Zinn 16 focused on conformity that was driven by the power of authorities. After the atomic bomb was dropped, the United States figured out how much power they actually had. The bomb was just a tactic to scare Japan into surrendering and it worked. Government authorities conformed to the idea that war solves problems of control through the instances of the atomic bombing, WWll, Korean War and the Cold War. Communism is something that the U.S. looks down upon. Americans conformed to the idea that war was going to solve the problem of communism and other threatening countries. Another example is with the Truman Administration when they worked to create an atmosphere of crisis. Truman’s power established a climate of fear with Americans. He created the Order 9835, otherwise described as the loyalty order, which was designed to filter out disloyal Americans. This influenced the U.S. Federal Government to weed out communist believers found in the United States government. Truman’s tactic was to pressure Americans into being loyal and to fear the punishment that came if they were to go against the law.

During this time period, the norm was to be a loyal American citizen and adapt the idea that war solved control problems. Fear of severe punishment combined with pressure from government and majority ultimately drove Americans to conform. The Catcher in the Rye is a prime example of how society’s disapproval is so powerful that even a non-conformist might conform to the social norm in order to be accepted. Holden is viewed as a non-conformist and independent. He sees conforming to society as evil. This action of being independent causes Holden to become isolated and an outsider. The more encounters with people that happen, the more betrayal and isolation he feels. The examples about to be used are situations where Holden goes against the norm and gets punished or disapproved. At the start of the book he is getting expelled from his fourth school and wants to say goodbye to a teacher. This teacher ends up scolding him for his poor academics and not trying in school like normal students. Once in Manhattan, he goes to the bar underage and demands a drink but won’t get served while trying to flirt with women much older then him. The women take him as a joke for thinking he had a chance and leave him because it is not normal for older women to take home minors.

When Holden invites the prostitute up, he ends up not wanting to engage in sexual activities but pays her anyways. She becomes mad that he doesn’t want to have sex and demands more money. Once he gets beat up and gets his money stolen he yet again is left alone and becomes more isolated. He also had an encounter with Carl Luce while they were getting drinks and Holden said juvenile remarks about homosexuals and Luce’s Chinese girlfriend. He gets left again because he didn’t conform to the social norm of being respectful and watching one’s words to another. This non-conformist becomes so isolated that he was going to run away and never come back again, but after watching his little sister on the carousel he is shook with happiness. Non-conformity has the ability to isolate someone so much that seeing the importance of acceptance from people can push them to conform to society. In the Atomic Café, the power of conformity through fear was shown through society’s response to unknown atomic bomb effects. Fear is a weakness that many people let influence their decisions.

Due to citizens looking to leaders to provide information and answers about the expressed fear, this was an easy way for authority figures to pressure society to conform in a certain way. For example, in Eisenhower’s Speech he states, “Fear should not control a great country.” Americans feared the unknown effects of the atomic bomb. Eisenhower tried to convince people the atomic bomb was peaceful and glorious. He wanted people to know that America’s power was used to ensure a peaceful world for all. This information given to the public helped people not worry and change their view, hence they conformed in order to feel safe. Then, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson talked about having a hydrogen bomb. This struck fear in the eyes of America, but the Senator ensured if they followed the rules for bomb protection then they would be safe. A lifestyle that stems from fear is an easy way for government officials to swoop in with encouraging words of safety to get society to conform to a belief that surpassed the people’s fears. During the baby boom, a sense of uniformity pervaded American Society. Conformity was normal, as people of all ages followed group norms rather than taking individual roles. During the cold war people took on non traditional roles such as women were working while men were away fighting and having less kids.

When the war ended, a dramatic reduction in fear from communism and having a strong economic outlook created a movement towards conformity, the sense of creating larger families, and life in a normal fashion. Many people feared not having the American dream because they wanted to fit in and conform to this new time. The American dream was prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. The Baby Boomers reacted out the fear of not having all of this. Conforming to this standard of life was much harder to come at as increases in population resulted in less opportunity. Fear of not living up to the traditionalist generation resulted in the conformity of the baby boom generation. The expectation post this era was that the future generations would conform to this behavior. is was their expectations. Conformity can be expressed in many ways as shown in the examples above. The act of conforming to social norms is what gives people the feeling of approval and acceptance. The feeling of approval and acceptance by conforming to norms is something that happens naturally, maybe without realization. On the flip side, it can also be forced or pressured with the feelings that one has to conform in order to fit in with society. During the Cold War period, most conformity stemmed from fear and pressure but it gave people a feeling of safety and approval. When people wanted to be independent from others, known as nonconformists, they often received punishment and disapproval from the majority. There is never a right or wrong choice on what to conform to, it just depends on how someone wants to be perceived by society. 

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The Impact of the Cold War on American Society. (2022, Sep 11). Retrieved May 18, 2024 , from

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