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1950 1951 1952 1953 1954

1955 1956 1957 1958 1959

1930s 1940s - 1950s - 1960s 1970s
20th century

The 1950s decade refers to the years of 1950 to 1959 inclusive. The Fifties in the developed western world are generally considered socially conservative and highly materialistic in nature. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States played out through the entire decade. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia occurred in this decade and accelerated in the following decade of the 1960s.

Wars and Conflicts

Korean War

The Korean War, which lasted from June 25, 1950 until a cease-fire on July 27, 1953 (as of 2009, there has been no peace signed), started as a civil war between communist North Korea and the Republic of South Korea. When it began, North and South Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea by outside powers. While originally a civil war, it quickly escalated into a proxy war between the capitalist powers of the United States and its allies and the Communist powers of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union.

On September 15, General Douglas MacArthur planned a grand strategy to dissect North Korean-occupied Korea at the city of Incheon (Song Do port) to cut off further invasion by the North Korean army. Within a few days, MacArthur's army took back Seoul (South Korea's capital). The plan succeeded, which allowed American and South Korean forces to cut off further expansion by the North Koreans. The war continued until a cease-fire was agreed to by both sides on July 27, 1953. The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 MIA or POW.

Suez Crisis

The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptian territory in 1956. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the United Kingdom, France and Israel subsequently invaded. The operation was a military success, but after the United States and Soviet Union united in opposition to the invasion, the invaders were forced to withdraw. This was seen as a major humiliation, especially for the two Western European countries, and symbolizes the beginning of the end of colonialism and the weakening of European global importance, specifically the collapse of the British Empire.

European Common Market

The European Community (or Common Market), the precursor of the European Union, was established with the Treaty of Rome in 1957

Cuban Revolution

The overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other forces in 1959 resulted in the creation of the first communist government in the Americas. The revolution marks the end of Cuban alignment with the western world and begins its association with the eastern world, especially the Soviet Union, and raises the specter of the rise of communism in the Americas.

International issues


  • Large-scale decolonization in Africa first began in the 1950s. In 1951, Libya became the first African country to gain independence in the decade, and in 1954 guerrillas began the Algerian Civil War. 1956 saw Sudan, Morocco, and Tunisia all become independent, and the next year Ghana became the first sub-saharan African nation to gain independence.
  • The Mau Mau began their terrorist attacks against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, the retreat of the British, and the election of former terrorist Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.
  • Africa experienced the beginning of large-scale top-down economic interventions in the 1950s that failed to cause improvement and led to charitable exhaustion by the West as the century went on. The widespread corruption was not dealt with and war, disease, and famine continue to be constant problems in this region.
  • Egyptian general Gamal Nasser overthrows the Egyptian monarchy, establishing himself as President of Egypt. Nasser becomes an influential leader in the Middle East in the 1950s, leads Arab states into war with Israel, is a major leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and promotes pan-Arab unification.


  • In the 1950s Latin America was the center of covert and overt conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. Their varying collusion with national, populist, and elitist interests destabilized the region. The United States CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1952. In 1957 the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown. This continued a pattern of regional revolution and warfare making extensive use of ground forces.
  • In 1957, Dr. François Duvalier came to power in an election in Haiti. He later declared himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1971.
  • In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, establishing a communist government in the country. The popularity of the revolution, and such leaders as the Argentinian Che Guevara gave it global appeal and recognition. The United States however, opposed the new government led by Castro and sought to isolate it and overthrow it, resulting in Cuba moving closer to the Soviet Union.
  • NORAD signed in 1959 by Canada and the United States creating a unified North American aerial defense system.


  • Reconstruction continues in Japan in the 1950s, funded by the United States which continued its occupation of Japan since World War II. Social changes took place, including democratic elections and universal suffrage.
  • Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Communist forces in North Korea were supported by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union while South Korea was supported by the United States and other western countries. This war resulted in a permanent division between the north and south sections of Korea along political lines.
  • In 1953 the French colonial rulers of Indochina tried to contain a growing communist insurgency against their rule led by Ho Chi Minh. After their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 they were forced to cede independence to the nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The Geneva Conference of 1954 separated French supporters and communist nationalists for the purposes of the ceasefire, and mandated nationwide elections by 1956; Ngo Dinh Diem established a government in the south, and refused to hold elections. Conflict then resumed between the communist north and American-supported south.


With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) preferring free market capitalism while others preferred Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain. It divided Germany into East and West Germany. In 1955 West Germany joined NATO. In 1956 Soviet troops marched into Hungary.

The Soviet Union continued its domination of the territories it conquered during World War II. In 1953 Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died and in the resulting power struggle, head of the KGB Lavrenti Beria was denounced and executed. Popular rebellions in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956 were brutally put down.

In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was part of the beginning of the process that led to the European Union.

World leaders

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