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Power Play Once Upon A Time In America

  • Sam Ellis
  • May, 2019
  • 147
  • American archives

EXPANSIONISM WAS ALWAYS IN AMERICA’S DNA, AS A COUNTRY FOUNDED BY THE EXPULSION AND SLAUGHTER OF AMERICAN INDIANS. BUT AFTER AMERICA REACHED THE PACIFIC COAST, THERE WAS A REAL DEBATE AS TO WHETHER IT SHOULD GO FURTHER - WHETHER AMERICA SHOULD CONTINUE ITS GROWTH AS AN IMPERIAL POWER BEYOND NORTH AMERICA’S SHORES.

As host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, Mr. Zakaria documents in his excellent book, From Wealth to the rapid post-war growth of the American economy needed an increasingly centralised state to manage it. The more power that was concentrated in the executive branch and bureaucracy the easier it was for the president to get territories abroad.

This ended in the Spanish-American war in 1898, which ended with America getting a whole lot of different territories around the globe. America was officially a global power, one that intervened in a number of countries, made major diplomatic moves in East Asia, and played a critical role in ending World War I.

The next crucial step, though, came after World War II. America was the only country to emerge from the war in strong economic and military shape, and thus was in a unique position to shape the terms of the peace. The result was a global financial system, called the Bretton Woods system, aimed at coordinating the global economy and preventing another Great Depression - and the United Nations, created to preserve the post-war peace.

CONSUMER CULTURE

The Second World War had done no damage to the American economy. In fact, the problems created by the Great Depression had been overcome during the war. The post-war period was one of unprecedented economic prosperity. Between 1940 and 1987, the gross national product rose from about $ 100 billion to about $ 5,200 billion while the population rose from about 132 million to about 240 million. The affluence of the American people was reflected in the growth of what is usually described as ‘consumer culture’ or ‘consumerism’.

The growth of economy was, as in the earlier periods, accompanied by the growing centralisation of the economy. Most of the economy was controlled by a relatively small number of companies and corporations. There was a tremendous increase in the growth of industries connected with armaments and a huge amount of government funds were spent for getting defence equipment which benefited a few big corporations.

ANTI-COMMUNIST CALLS

The Cold War had a vitiating influence on life in America for many years. There emerged in America a ‘paranoiac obsession’ with ‘godless communism’. The anti-communist and anti-radical hysteria led to branding every opinion which never conformed to the American view of the Cold War as ‘un-American’ and subversive.

During the presidency of Harry Truman (1945-52), the loyalty of government officials was investigated and thousands of people were thrown out of jobs. Thousands of school, college and university teachers were dismissed from their jobs for teaching what were considered ‘un-American’ ideas.

In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on charges of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, in spite of protests and appeals from all over the world. J. Robert Oppenheimer, popularly known as the father of the atom bomb (he had been the head of the American Atomic Bomb project), was denied security clearance.

Between 1950 and 1954, he is described as having ‘terrorised American public life’ by branding many innocent people as traitors and levelling accusations even against the State Department and the military of harbouring ‘traitors’. He himself was disgraced in 1954 and there was a gradual decline in the agitation even though most victims of the excitement were never rehabilitated.

FOREIGN FIGHTS

The ‘containment’ of communism remained the objective of American foreign policy for most of the period after the Second World War. The American policy in Latin America continued more or less as before and the American either sent her troops or actively aided rebels to overthrow regimes in many Latin American countries which she suspected of being leftists and, therefore, anti-American.

John F. Kennedy, who was elected American President in 1960, inaugurated a period of new dynamism in the American domestic policy. However, it was during his presidency that America began to get directly involved in the Vietnam War, the failing of the Bay of Pigs took place and the confrontation on Soviet missiles in Cuba occurred.

A major peace initiative was taken in 1963 when President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev signed a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in the outer space and underwater. President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

The ...

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