With the termination of World War II in 1945, millions of military veterans flooded the United States with hopes and ambitions for the future. However, these veterans required assistance in order to achieve their goals of returning to their pre-war lives. Long before the end of the war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his advisors were already planning post wartime programs to assist veterans in an attempt to correct the mistreatment of military members throughout history.
Over the course of the one hundred and fifty years between 1780 and 1930, governmental assistance provided to veterans was limited to pensions awarded to Union soldiers after the Civil War, land grants bestowed on Revolutionary War veterans, and cash bonuses endowed on World War I doughboys (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”). The Roosevelt administration recognized the importance of ensuring a seamless transition from the battlefield to American neighborhoods and created the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the GI Bill (named after those it served), to aid in this transition (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”).
After World War II, the American Dream increasingly transformed into the desire to return to the workforce after the military (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). When the GI Bill passed after World War II, it allowed for a highly diverse and motivated range of people to achieve a higher education, who contributed to major innovations in the public and private sector. The GI Bill provided unemployment benefits, loans for the purchase of homes, farms, and businesses, tuition payments, and stipends for higher education (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”).
After returning from the war, veterans desired an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Through the assistance of the GI Bill, a steady job and ownership of a house were more attainable. Veterans recognized college education as an important step in achieving this goal. Furthermore, the GI Bill challenged the traditional college stereotype, of higher education being limited to only the elite, by allowing for a highly diverse and motivated range of people to attend schools of higher education.
As a result, millions of veterans took advantage of these educational benefits and prospered in the competitive college environment (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). Since the government took care of both the tuition and living expenses acquired through the process of earning a degree, veterans were able to focus on being successful in school. However, many high-ranking professionals in the realm of education criticized the educational components of the GI Bill. For example, James B.
Conant, the president of Harvard University at the time of the GI Bill, found the bill “distressing” due to the fact that it could not decipher between those who would thrive from achieving a higher education compared to those who would not (Olson 603-604). Proving critics wrong, millions of World War II veterans went on to achieve success outside of the classroom, contributing to the monumental innovations of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). Along with the innovations occurring in the public sector, the media reinforced both the American Dream as well as the middle class.
Moreover, the modern middle class, created after World War II, rose in popularity (Suddath, “A Brief History”). The mortgage benefits of the GI Bill marked the inception of the classic subdivision (Suddath, “A Brief History”). Previously a luxury for almost exclusively the elite, college was simply too expensive for the average American before World War II (Clark 169). However, after World War II, the GI Bill provided tuition as well as living stipends, among other components, for any veteran who had served in the United States armed forces for ninety days or more after September 16, 1940 (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”).
This made higher education accessible to a wide variety of people. Veterans recognized the importance of college education and, as a result, the number of veterans who took advantage of the educational benefits of the GI Bill exceeded all expectations (Olson 597). More specifically, 7. 8 million veterans out of the 15. 6 million eligible veterans gained a higher education because of GI Bill benefits (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”). The massive amount of veterans who took advantage of the GI Bill’s provisions on education reinforces the idea that they saw college as a stepping stone to success.
After achieving a college degree, veterans could then move on to finding a job, wife, and family, ultimately moving closer to the desire of attaining the American Dream. This term is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “the belief that everyone in the US has the chance to be successful and happy if they work hard” (Cambridge English Dictionary “Definition of ‘the American Dream’… ”). The veterans also recognized that the opportunity to succeed was because they had risked their life fighting for the United States of America.
When asked whether he believed he owed society anything because he had used GI Bill benefits, James Murray, a former prisoner of war who went on to attend college using this bill, responded, “I felt more of it as a reward than [as something for which I] owed back. I figured I’d paid for it. Being there, I saw my friends killed” (Mettler 359). Not only did veterans recognize the opportunity to succeed, but they also worked hard to demonstrate their appreciation for the chance.
Compared to the other students, veteran students earned higher grades when studying under GI Bill benefits (Olson 605). Despite being in war zones away from society, veteran students still outperformed their counterparts. Veterans demonstrated their gratitude towards the government by working hard in school in order to graduate, garner a job, and contribute back to the economy. This, therefore, made the United States economically stronger. The 1944 GI Bill provided funding for the needs of veterans while they attended school so they could focus on succeeding in school.
More specifically, it provided single veterans up to five hundred dollars per year for tuition as well as fifty dollars every month for living expenses (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”). If a veteran had a family or dependents, the GI Bill provided seventy-five dollars every month for living expenses (Reagan “Roosevelt Signs”). When evaluating a veteran’s motivation to complete their doctoral degree in 2013, a lack of funding and support contributed to students dropping out (Cardona ix-x).
Therefore, the all-inclusive funding present in the 1944 GI Bill was essential to the motivation of veterans while in college. High-ranking education professionals challenged this motivation as they struggled to see the positives in a diverse range of students entering college campuses around the country (Olson 603-604). Despite the fact that veteran students outperformed the other students, high-ranking professionals still questioned if veterans could handle the coursework and competitive environment found on college campuses (Olson 603).
James B. Conant, a trusted and influential president of Harvard University, expressed his concerns that “we may find the least capable among the war generation … flooding the facilities for advanced education” (Olson 604). However, Conant could not have been more wrong about his predictions. With a wider variety of student veterans from diverse backgrounds attending college due to the GI Bill, different cultures and ideas influenced students, creating unique perspectives.
The unique perspectives acquired from a diverse learning environment contributed to new and unique knowledge that they could apply in jobs after college. Compared to the similar perspectives held by elites attending college prior to the GI Bill, institutions of higher education transformed into environments where different perspectives and ideas were often exchanged and analyzed, contributing to a deeper understanding of the world. These new ideas, innovations, and relations of this motivated and driven generation would profoundly influence the next three decades in the United States and globally.
As explained by Ed Humes for the Columbia Broadcasting System (hereafter referred to as CBS) in their article titled How the GI Bill Changed America, “Really, the cold warriors were educated on the GI Bill. They used different weapons. They had the drafting table instead of the draft board. They used their new skills to later take us to the moon. GI Bill guys were behind that. Same with the Internet, with the invention of computers. ” Veterans educated under the GI Bill took more risks and were more ambitious in their lives and career goals than other students that previously dominated college campuses.
After veterans graduated from college and entered the workforce, they were not afraid of taking risks. This was because whatever economic challenge they faced was nothing compared to the life and death situations faced in war. Compared to veterans, the elites who dominated higher education before the war may not have taken as big risks because they did not have as many global experiences as the veterans. Veterans tend to be more disciplined, due to their military experience and training, than their non-veteran counterparts and, therefore, have strong time management skills (Kness “A Guide to Master’s”).
Time management skills are highly desirable in the public sector and made veterans appealing applicants for a wide variety of jobs. Veterans also had an advantage over their peers due to their diverse perspectives. Instead of one perspective from one group of people, as the elite perspective prior to the GI Bill had, the diverse perspectives brought to colleges through the GI Bill allowed for more inclusive and unique perspectives in positions outside of college as well. With an increase in college enrollment, advertisements reflected this increase in college references and themes (Clark 181).
During this time, advertisers took advantage of the increased college audience by including college references in many of their products. For example, a Haggar slacks advertisement from 1948 depicted a college graduate wearing the Haggar slacks with a shirt and tie, as well as a traditional college background with a gothic tower (Clark 180). Advertisers were creating a status symbol by including iconic college images in their work. By delineating these classic images, advertisers were demonstrating to the American public that wearing these pants indicate success.
Furthermore, not only did the GI Bill impact college enrollment and diversity, but it also impacted society’s viewpoint on members of the military. Prior to the GI Bill, military personnel was often viewed as members of the lower class (Poticny, conversation). The GI Bill helped to change this perception because of the increase in education of military members, provided through the educational benefits of this bill. Additionally, because of this increase in education, military personnel could garner higher-paying jobs, thus becoming members of a higher class.
Not only did the media reinforce ideas of college during this time, but also the American Dream. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s advisors realized the importance of a transition from the battlefield to everyday life when the GI Bill was created (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). After veterans returned to the United States, they desired stability and an opportunity to succeed which was provided through the GI Bill (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). Furthermore, veterans desired this stability and opportunity in order to attempt to achieve the American Dream of owning a house, job, car, and family.
As the article entitled “How the GI Bill Changed America” by CBS states “What the GI Bill originally did was allow them to go to school, to purchase their home, to become part of the workforce when they took the uniform off. ” The GI Bill was an astounding success because it allowed for veterans to assimilate to traditional life, thus creating the modern middle class. With the generous education benefits provided through the GI Bill, veterans were able to reap more stable and high-ranking positions than without a college education.
These positions provided higher salaries that allowed veterans to purchase more expensive goods. Along with higher salaries, the mortgage benefits of the GI Bill also assisted in the purchase of new homes. Furthermore, the GI Bill provided veterans with loans that had low-interest rates in order to help them buy homes (CBSNews, “How the GI Bill”). This surge in the purchase of homes resulted in an increased need for new construction and homes.
As a result, residential construction drastically expanded with 1. illion new homes constructed in 1950, compared to 114,000 new homes in 1944 (Suddath, “A Brief History”). With the new homes, came new communities as well. For example, William Levitt created the first subdivision in America in Long Island, New York (Suddath, “A Brief History”). The massive increase in residential construction allowed for a much greater amount of veterans to take advantage of the loans provided through the GI Bill and purchase homes, thus achieving one major aspect of the American Dream. Another crucial part of the American Dream was also connected with the GI Bill – a job.
Moreover, the GI Bill allowed for veterans to also start their own businesses (Suddath, “A Brief History”). These aspects contributed to the development of the middle class after the enactment of the GI Bill. However, actions before the GI Bill also contributed to this important development. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an extremely influential president that was relatable and personable to the American people. Through his many programs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to guide the American people into believing in not only the government, but also each other (Samuel 10).