In February 1945, Roosevelt joined Churchill and Stalin for a peace conference in the Soviet city of Yalta—a resort on the Black Sea that was once a summer palace for the tsars.
On a number of issues, the “Big Three,” as Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were known, reached agreements.
In return for Stalin’s renewed promise to enter the Pacific war, Roosevelt agreed that the Soviet Union should receive some of the territories in the Pacific that Russia had lost in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War.
The negotiators also agreed to a plan for a new international organization, a plan that had been hammered out the previous summer at a conference in Washington, D.C.,
On other issues, however, the Yalta Conference produced no real accord.
Basic disagreement remained about the postwar Polish government.
Roosevelt seemed to want a reconstructed and reunited Germany.
Stalin wanted to impose heavy reparations on Germany and to ensure a permanent dismemberment of the nation.
The Yalta accords, in other words, were less a settlement of postwar issues than a set of loose principles that sidestepped the most difficult questions.
Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin returned home from the conference each apparently convinced that he had signed an important agreement.
But the Soviet interpretation of the accords differed so sharply from the Anglo-American interpretation that the illusion endured only briefly.
In the weeks following the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt watched with growing alarm as the Soviet Union moved systematically to establish pro-communist governments in one Central or Eastern European nation after another and as Stalin refused to make the changes in Poland that the president believed he had promised.
Truman had been in office only a few days before he decided to, as he put it, “get tough” with the Soviet Union.
Truman met on April 23 with Soviet foreign minister Molotov and sharply chastised him for violations of the Yalta accords.
Truman reluctantly accepted the adjustments of the Polish-German border that Stalin had long demanded; he refused, however, to permit the Russians to claim any reparations from the American, French, and British zones of Germany.
This stance effectively confirmed that Germany would remain divided, with the western zones united into one nation, friendly to the United States, and the Russian zone surviving as another nation, with a Soviet-dominated, communist government.
The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war months earlier than almost anyone had predicted and propelled the nation precipitously into a process of reconversion.
This flood of consumer demand ensured that there would be no new depression, but it contributed to more than two years of serious inflation, during which prices rose at rates of 14 to 15 percent annually.
In the summer of 1946, President Truman vetoed an extension of the authority of the wartime Office of Price Administration, thus eliminating price controls
Compounding the economic difficulties was a sharp rise in labor unrest, driven in part by the impact of inflation.
By the end of 1945, there had already been major strikes in the automobile, electrical, and steel industries.
Reconversion was particularly difficult for the millions of women and minorities who had entered the workforce during the war.
With veterans returning home and looking for jobs in the industrial economy, employers tended to push women, blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, and others out of the plants to make room for white males.
Some of the war workers, particularly women, left the workforce voluntarily, out of a desire to return to their former domestic lives.
But as many as 80 percent of women workers, and virtually all black, Hispanic, and Asian males, wanted to continue working.
The postwar inflation, the pressure to meet the rising expectations of a high consumption society, the growing divorce rate, which left many women responsible for their own economic well-being— all combined to create among women a high demand for paid employment.
As they found themselves excluded from industrial jobs, therefore, women workers moved increasingly into other areas of the economy (above all, the service sector).
Days after the Japanese surrender, Truman submitted to Congress a twenty-one-point domestic program outlining what he later termed the “Fair Deal.”
It called for expansion of Social Security benefits, the raising of the legal minimum wage from 40 to 65 cents an hour, a program to ensure full employment through aggressive use of federal spending and investment, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, public housing, and slum clearance, long-range environmental and public works planning, and government promotion of scientific research.
But many of the Fair Deal programs fell victim to the same public and congressional conservatism that had crippled the last years of the New Deal
The new Republican Congress quickly moved to reduce government spending and chip away at New Deal reforms
The Taft-Hartley Act did not destroy the labor movement, as many union leaders had predicted.