From the End of One War to the Next
December 4, 2022 • 29 mins
The idea of nationalism has existed in the academic circle since 18th centuries with the French Revolution and the US Independence (Roeder, Philip G, 2007), and so far it provided a great approach for historians and sociologists to understand and analyze the driving factors that are behind certain historic events. Such works reached a peak in the 19th and 20th century, due to the widespread emergence of democratic (comparatively), industrialized countries, and the nationalist actions that were conducted subsequently. With these previous works that aim to analyze France, Russia, Germany in the 19th century, China, and the Middle East in the 20th century, There seem to be relatively few works to concentrate on US nationalism, especially after World War 2. There have been possible reasons for this relative shortage of discussion, for example, the US after WW2 is a rather close historical period, and in that specific period, the academic aftermath of Nazi Germany is obviously a more attractive and “easy to produce an outcome” target, and immediately after that, in the Cold War era, the nationalism of Soviet Union, China, Korea, and Vietnam became the focal point of research.
However, although the US was rarely the most popular place to analyze paterns of nationalism, the potential and unique properties of it have still not been overlooked. America has become one of the most powerful countries long before WW2, and its status was raised to an unprecedented level after it, the order of the world after the war is not only dependent on the US to make, but also relied on them to maintain. In the history of mankind, this might be the only time a country had so much influence over large parts of the world around it, and the rest of humanity was either willing or had no choice but to let the US take control. A delicate situation like this is nowhere near stable or “secure” at the first sight of it, and therefore naturally provided that everything about America became important, and the attention to nationalism is of course under such necessity. Secondly, although America is made of immigrants and lacks the traditional foundation of the nationalism concept, because of the mature democratic political system that it possesses, any form of nationalism will have a bigger impact on its foreign policy as a whole. In other words, America’s political characteristics make nationalism research extra important in order to foresee and monitor the motion of this country.
Despite the two very realistic reasons above that stressed the importance of the US nationalism, the ones that motivated me to look into this very topic come from another direction. Nationalism as a concept has been discussed for many years, and the common presentation of it is usually continental powers that have quite a long history, with clear differentiated culture and religion, and better with same national humiliation as a catalyst (Pei, 2003). This kind of understanding of nationalism was mostly accurate, and factually presented the early stage of nationalism study (McCrone,2002), since it was primarily European and East Asian countries as the subjects — the majority of them are continental power with great length of history. This is why American nationalism is interesting.
Compare to the Europeans, Americans have a rather short history. This is supposed to be a negative factor for nationalism to grow because one key component of it is a common identity that triumphs all else, to a point that it creates a sense of belonging within a nation, and normally, a common identity requires time to grow. In China, the great continuance of civilization gave the Chinese an identity, providing that they just cannot put themselves into any other nation but China. For Europe, most countries had a clear monarchy system, and one of the most important functions is to explain how their power to rule descended from either God or a national hero that is often deeply rooted in a rich culture.
America had no such conditions. As an immigrant country, the nationalism here faces two problems to grow: little to no cultural history on the land, and the separation tendency that comes along with each individual culture brought by every immigrant group. The latter factor was supposed to be a big problem, because if the concept of nationalism is all about forming a common identity of the nation, then the constant competition among the cultures that immigrants brought with them will most certainly prolong the process that one of them eventually unify the others. And even at last one culture became the dominant one, the fraction of other cultures will still function as forces of internal separation, thus prevent the emergence of a national ideology that transcends all else.
America found a way. It formed a common identity above all the subcultures that immigrants brought with them, the chaotic cultural demography that was once thought as damaging to its national identity, became its national identity. Such a form of innovation has proven to be stable, and it allows the US to continue absorbing immigrants, which not only considered as a social proud of American people as a whole, but also one of the sociological drivers of US rapid development after its founding (Nordstrom, 2005). With such an untraditional national identity, US nationalism has become seems unique among other nationalism research subjects to me. When we turn the time to the aftermath of WW2, and it is fairly clear that the previous model or degree of US nationalism was about to change. If as McCrone (2002) in the book The sociology of nationalism: tomorrow's ancestors stated, the concept of nationalism contains a sentiment from the citizens that consider their nation “special” in the world, and if we look at the US in the 1940s (and later), we find this sentiment reflected in the literature. There were relative superpowers before, like Rome, China, and Great Britain, but they either were not strong enough to dominate the world, or due to the non-penetrable geographical barrier before globalization, unable to project their influence globally. After the war, the US fulfilled both requirements, its status is more special than any other power in history. How did this impact the nationalist sentiment within America? With an already unique beginning of nationalism formation, how did that transform in the post-war era? This thesis aims to describe the general characteristics of US nationalism from post-World War II into the Cold War and try to find the roots or driving force that shaped this unique process.
Chapter 1: America in the Post-war Era
At the end of World War II, the last barrier for America to move on to peace on the Pacific battlefield. So when Japan surrendered in August 1945, for the majority of Americans, peace, and rebuilding were the only two things they want. Even though among all belligerent parties the US is the only one devoid of large-scale continental damage from enemies, still, 418,500 war dead and damage to its military infrastructure ware quite enough for a Pacifism sentiment to spread (National WW2 Museum, n.d.). However, as we now know, the Truman Administration started to talk about the notion of the Cold War in 1947, and by 1950, America was not only openly in a standoff with the Soviet Union, but also put itself in a regional hot war on the Korean Peninsula.
Apparently, within 5 years, the political wind changed drastically. For us to figure out how the administration put general Americans to continue to live in a war-state, we must first understand the condition of the US before such transition happened.
If we consider the situation from the viewpoint of the US population, who did not have first- hand experience of WW2, the experience of it was more like a “background noise” than an actual war experience (which partially because the lack of continental battle), as was the case for the European population. For the beginning and middle part of the entire war, the US had barely participated directly, and at the end of it, America collected the fruit of victory. The contribution of America in the war is undeniable, but it was indeed, a rather low-cost victory for the US. There have been countless examples in nationalism studies that how war victory can spike the growth of nationalism because no matter how divided a nation was before, on the battlefield, it will always be considered as a “belligerent entity”. Conserning the results of particular wars, depending on who won and who lost, a war might have either a positive or negative effect on nationalist emotion. However, if a war is won, then that is almost certainly a driver of nationalist sentiment. On the US side, World War II not only resulted in a major victory, but the war damage was comparatively low, therefore the desire for long- lasting peace still dominated and when the demand for new war arises, the resilience to it was relatively manageable.
Considering the governmental level, the need to protect the US power immediately to the world was reasonable at the time. As the strongest country, from the perspective of responsibility, America needed to help the ruined European allies to back on their feet, and if we look at it in a strategical way, the massive power of the Soviet Union and their very much different ideology system is certainly a threat that America needed to take care of. Therefore, the need to contain the USSR led to subsequent needs to control Europe and East Asia has emerged immediately after the end of the war. By this analysis, the need for America to put itself into new conflicts seemed justified, but the focus of this chapter is how such a general, rational, and strategical plan be inserted into the public sphere, and eventually successfully gained public support (Gallup Poll)?
America ended the war strong, with an invention that is so powerful that Japan surrendered almost immediately after suffered from it, and such invention is created and controlled only, in the hands of Americans. Before, during, and after its usage, the Truman Administration spent a lot of effort to keep people informed. From a series of Truman public statements, the power of the atomic bomb was praised and worshipped at a literature level (US Government, 1945), and the credits of such weapon’s creation, are almost entirely taken by the US (Fousek. J, 2002). This kind of intentionally, carefully announced misleading message is designed to function politically.
No message that can be interpreted as lies, but almost all of them hid or changed a very small percentage of truth and gained the ability to generate national pride and direct rewarding sentiment of victory. It is too far to say that the Truman Administration at this point deliberately produced nationalism, but it certainly achieved this assumed goal. Moreover, the association between bombing Japanese civilians and the immediate ending of war created by both the government and major media justified the use of the atomic bomb and made any criticism of such action marginalized or be considered as hypocrisy. Through these series of efforts, two notions have been deeply planted into American’s heads. The first one is that the war is almost solely won by the effort of the US, other victory countries were either just victims of the enemies, or merely assisted and accompanied America on the path to victory. Such understanding was intentionally emphasized by the government and mass media, for the purpose of striking national pride. The second one is the overwhelming power that the US possesses, which this self-image, it will be easier for Americans to support future military intervention to other regions since the chance of the US to lose is small. These two concepts are especially important in order to explain the aggressive aspect of US nationalism, However, what makes US nationalism very much different from Germany, British, China, and other types of nationalism from the 19th and 20th century is that the aggressiveness is not the main representation of it, at least not military wise.
Even before the war, the American people had already realized the ideological specialness of this nation. The ideology fruits of the Enlightenment and French Revolution have been practiced in the formation of the US constitution on multiple levels. With this self-awareness in mind, the major victory of WW2 was served as a confirmation of the “correctness” of these ideologies, and with the rest of the world struggling in post-war rebuilding, it provided a reason for the “American way” to spread. If we loyally follow the nationalism understanding that has been dominant during the 19th- century academia, then we will have difficulty recognizing this intention of the US as a form of nationalism. Under the European context, the emergence of nationalism often associates with a higher motivation of warring activities, like Carlton Hayes (1926) concluded:
Nationalism as a religion inculcates neither charity nor justice; it is proud, not humble; and it signally fails to universalize human aims. It repudiates the revolutionary message of St. Paul and proclaims anew the primitive doctrine that there shall be Jew and Greek, only that now there shall be Jew and Greek more quintessentially than ever. Nationalism's kingdom is frankly of this world, and its attainment involves tribal selfishness and vainglory, a particularly ignorant and tyrannical intolerance, - and war. That nationalism brings not peace but the sword, we propose next show.
If we travel back to the 1950s, the common belief of the “American way” is hard to ignore. From the official level, Truman Administration continuously inserts appraise to not a specific sector of the nation that contributed the most, rather, they allocate the current success of the US to the fact that the ideology that powers this country is superior and universally applicable. In Truman’s speech in 1945, he claimed: “It was a victory of one way of life over another. It was a victory of an ideal founded on the rights of the common man, on the dignity of the human being, on the conception of the State as the servant—and not the master—of its people”, and he considers the true reason for American’s victory is neither high economic production nor the application of nuclear power, it’s: “a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however, disciplined, however centralized.”
The previous nationalism model emphasizes the power of the state to be supreme, the unity of the nation is unbreakable, in comparison, the ambiguity of ideology’s participation in overall national power made people pay less attention to its contribution. At a level that is almost unprecedented, America established a clear understanding of the power of their ideology and shown a massive determination to invest in this precious resource that they possess. Yes, the US in the post- war era didn’t show much of an aggressive bellicose sentiment like other previous nationalist countries, but they started an expansion war nonetheless, the total expansion of their ideology. It became the unchallenged center of American post-war nationalism, it can even cast a shadow on the military power that the US depended on to collect the fruit of victory because the military intervention and presence overseas were not entirely supported even just at the end of the war. The color minority like black people, for example, was not particularly supportive of the usage of nuclear bombs and the frequent military activities after Japan surrendering. By comparison, the ideology of the “American way” received a comparatively little complaint or challenge, thus became the unstoppable power that can unify even a politically diverse America.
Therefore, with this fascinating emphasis on the American value system, the US nationalism in the post-war era presented a very different character compared to others. On the base level, their people were rapidly being unified under a single ideology that represents their nation, eliminates disagreement, and prepared to defend and even spread their ideals. So far, the mechanism is the same as all other nationalist countries. However, while other traditional nationalism’s central ideologies require its people to “step inward”, the American’s one urges to move outward, to describe the responsibility that the US has, but not on its own citizens, rather to the whole world. This specific combination of a nationalist phenomenon and humanism ideology causes that even the US developed a strong nationalist sentiment, and yet on the appearance, it has the same face as internationalism.
To this point, I have been analysis what is the overall role of the US ideology in the post-war era in its nationalist behavior. If we wish to move on to how specifically it affected American’s action thereafter, a detailed description of this ideology will be necessary. Just as I discussed above, the specialty that differentiated the US nationalism from the most others is the core of their nationalist thinking, so if we wish to understand the logic for the following historical events that America participated in, we must know the answer to the question: “what was the American way?”
Chapter 2: “The American Duties”
The post-war international landscape is a bleak one. Before WW2, the top ten economies were the US, Germany, USSR, China, UK, India, Italy, France, Japan, and Poland, and by the end of it, all of them became ruins of war and only the US was free of territorial damage. From the side of Europe and East Asia, they had a great demand for economic support, and the only country that has both the power and willingness to provide is the US. We now understand the political confrontation with the USSR was an important motivation behind America’s financial support to Europe, but even without such political consideration, it was still a reasonable operation for the US to conduct. Diplomatically, many European countries were America’s allies during the war, a continuance of peace-building would be natural after the war, and for the economic consideration, without the European market to absorb the US production, it would be less than ideal for America’s economic rebuilding.
Such objective foreign policy orientation had a great effect on the national consciousness. A sense of duty to not their own country, but to the whole world — started to emerge among American citizens. This sense of duty has been expanded exceeding the needs of diplomatic and economic, and reached the realm of “morality” and “God-given responsibility”. In the Saturday Evening Post at September 8, 1945, a corresponding post “A Time for Patience” commented on the effort of the Truman Administration to push the public into the understanding of the moral duty of the US in Post- war rebuilding:
President Truman spoke sober truth when he said recently that the United States is the strongest nation in the world today, perhaps in all history. But it is not a power that we can use in proud arrogance. Rather, it is a responsibility which we must accept with humble determination to rise above selfishness, petty jealousies, and petulance. If we approach the gigantic problems which confront us with patience and common sense, we can face the future with high hope, perhaps even with confidence. Depending on how we conduct ourselves, we can turn toward the light—or darkness. (Ben Hibbs, 1945)
As a rather influential media at that time, this post is indicating that not only the officials were promoting this propaganda, but the public media were also showing a great reception of this foreign relation image. At this point, the initial motives for economic investment out of natural commercial benefits and humanism assistance had been evolved into an internationalism version of foreign intervention, and also consider such duty is just, that is not tainted with much consideration for America’s national interests. The focus of this public understanding of American’s role in the world is no longer practical, strategic planning like a typical country, but rather an “angel-like” figure that is transcending the secular activities, to a position that is “God-given”, and almost divine (Letters from public to Truman). Such a political environment provided sufficient support for the Truman Administration to extend the US involvement over the world. Among this involvement, the output has consisted of three parts, one is the economic assistance to the countries that need it to rebuild, and the second is the military presence in the former Axis Powers that needed to be occupied, the last one is the most crucial one to understand the nationalist nature of America’s behavior, that is the ideology output to the world.
Like I discussed in Chapter 1, the US public interpreted the victory of the nation in WW2 as a confirmation for the “rightfulness” and “uniqueness” of the “American ways”, to be more precise, the democracy, the free market, the Protestant style of hard-working... therefore, under the internationalism acts there is a core, a way of thinking that only belongs to the US, and the economic and military activities together they carried the mission to spread it to the world, with a remarkable resemblance to religious missionary. For the West European countries like Britain and France, since their ideologies were similar to that of America, so America’s presence in there was merely reminding them; but for countries like Germany and Japan, a complete reset and then adaptation to “Designed in the United States” political system was in order. From official level, such operation was for the sake of preventing these countries commits more war crime in the future, and in the public image, these operations were undoubtedly important steps for other countries to be “pulled out of their sinful past, and be restored to civilization” (Tuveson, 1980).
Just like I mentioned in the introduction section, only after a brief period of 5 years, the relationship between the US and USSR had been drastically worsened. The full picture for this historical change can be analyzed in multiple books, but it is a very important changing point for the US nationalism after WW2, so I hope we can shed a little light on the reason for this change from only the US side, and how the nationalist sentiment catalyzed this transition.
As the ideology shifts, the guiding conception of US national security has changed as well. According to Barnet R. J (1977), after WW2 was ended, the conception of how America should maintain its national security and national interests has changed. With America’s investment and economic projects spread across the world, the parameter of its national interests also expanded, and the key difference in the pattern of US military behave between pre-war and post-war periods was not the power increasing, rather was the fact that the US pushed the parameter to the entire world, which is to redefine the national security concern to the range of the planet.
Such a model of security policy that is unfamiliar to more countries in history (maybe except Britain at its peak) had its roots in the US ideology at that time as well. Normally the discussion of national security will rarely attract the attention of the public, and yet the expanded conception of national security in the post-war era is a shared vision between both the authorities and the public (Fousek J, 2000, p. 65). Among the American public, the vision that the US occupies a special role in the world that requires it to spread its beliefs, values, and lifestyles is at its height when a new national security policy was needed. Therefore, if America’s job was to rebuild the ruins of war, bring justice to the evil, and guild the rest of the world to the system it represents that was better — then any instability across the globe will naturally become a threat to the goals in above.
Among all the “American Ways” that the nation tried to promote worldwide at this time, the center of them was democracy. The reason for it to be raised to such high ground, one argument says it was the lesson from WW2. All Three of the Axis Powers who initiated the war, were either non- democratic monarchy (Imperial Japan) or dictatorship (Germany, Italy). In the eyes of the public, the following development of these countries proved that “unless there is a workable democracy for all people, eventually, there will be a democracy for no people.” (Fousek J, 2000, p. 76) Due to such understanding, the US was not only dedicated to transfer all Axis Powers into democratic systems but will also consider any non-democratic nations as instabilities to their global image, thus become the potential targets for military intervention.
Chapter 3: Split into Two Worlds
Economically speaking, very much different from all other belligerents, the US has enriched itself during the war. The majority of its revenue was produced by military equipment production. When the war ended, the remaining production of this industry had to find its place in the peaceful world. In the post-war era, the plane industry was a representation of fancy and futuristic transportation methods, and due to the remaining stock from the war, they were in the need of strong advertisement. Because the globe has a strong association with the plane industry, it became a popular choice among them.
The popularity of such icon is difficult to measure directly, but we can observe a positive result of this advertisement style by realizing the fact that the icon of the globe was being spread to other industries that have nothing to do with “globe” whatsoever, like Coca Cola:
Such widely spread popularity of the icon globe in the public sphere could be understood as the influence of the “one-world” ideology that formed in the post-war period. If the might of the US economy and military is unmatchable, and if the whole world is waiting for America to “guide and save”, then who can stop the Americans to consider the entire globe as their territory (in a way)? The popular globe icon started from one industry for a very natural reason, however, its abnormal high acceptance in mainstream American society serves as an indirect indication for the one-world view part of nationalist globalism at the time.
This view of “one-world”, which is the world led by the US and the rest of the countries humbly and full of appreciation, accept the boon and guidance from American leadership, must be founded on two bases. The first one is the ability that America has to make itself superior and able to control this world, which is the military and economic strength; and the other is the willingness of the rest of the world to follow and adopt the path that America pointed out for them. If either of these premises broke, then the conception of one-world will be put in danger.
As the people who live in today, we do know the eventually this world view of America’s broke due to the outbreak of the Cold War, but the question that needs to be answered here is how, how in the perspective of actual events development that forced America to forfeit this view, and how that the passive transition of ideology contributed to such change. As we know from the previous chapters, a public poll of the US shows that despite the apparent vigilance between them, more than half of the population still feel positive that the US and USSR (sometimes Great Britain is also in the discussion) can work closely on governing the world. The sign that the tension of the US - USSR confrontation can no longer be ignored was the speech that Churchill gave when visiting America, which is known to the public as the “Iron Curtain”. However, different from the public's belief, the “Iron Curtain” speech is more of an invitation from Britain for the US to join in their ongoing confrontation with the USSR rather than an observation of the beginning of the Cold War. Because in his speech, Churchill used the expression that he asks to form an Anglo-American alliance against the USSR, he received a lot of critics that accuse him of unnecessarily emphasize racial confrontation, and marginalize the colored people’s contribution to defends national security. However, the majority criticism of his speech was out of the resentment that he was trying to “drag American into yet another war”, and as a strange reaction to this speech, the confidence rate of the US public for the USSR to cooperate with America was raised (Gallup Poll, 1:518).
However, despite Churchill’s ominous prediction received mixed sentiment from the public, the overall confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union was unlikely to be avoided, especially considering the “holly duties” that America had put upon the shoulders itself. In idealistic comparison, the communist government is not at all opposed to democracy in theory, and if it is conducted ideally, then a communist country is supposed to further eliminate class discrimination and racial division. Therefore, in theory, the ideology crush between the US and the Soviet Union should only about the economic system and political pattern and leave the core of US nationalist globalism: democracy, out of the discussion. Shamefully, the USSR in the 1950s is not considered to possess the characteristics of democracy in the eyes of the West and make itself either a target or an enemy, on the path that American nationalism put the US upon. Further, as I introduced earlier, America started to expand its military concern to the scale of the entire planet, and the conflict between Britain and the USSR, and the continuous transition of East European countries into communist countries were considered as instability and threat to America. The seeds of conflict had been planted, yet the American public still had the resilience to the notion of a new war when the last one had just ended. Even the confidence in the fantasy of The Big Three peacefully cooperate had been significantly weakened, the majority of the US population still refuse to fully accept the ominous idea that the war is near.
By the year 1947, the enthusiasm that we observed at the end of the war, received its decline. Like I discussed in Chapter 1, US nationalism expresses itself in a very idealistic form in the immediate post-war era. Pacifism and empathy to the people who were still suffering as the consequence of the war were the dominant sentiments in that era. With the world gradually move out from the war and returning to normal political struggle like it used to, the nationalist sentiments in America were forced to mature. One presentation for this change is the change of the general attitude to the ideological different Soviet Union. For the more pacifism arguments, after realizing the difficulty to convince the USSR to just change its ideology to America’s, they were willing to make a concession that was difficult to imagine in the previous idealistic globalism. One of such arguments is that: “Our job was to convince the Russians that we will not try to impose our brand of capitalism where it is not wanted, provided they do not persist in imposing Russian communism upon reluctant peoples.” (Demaree Bess, 1946) This comment was made by a Saturday Evening Post correspondent named Demaree Bess, and it clearly represents a negative attitude toward the goal that was to bring the USSR under the one-world view, and already started to show a realization to the deep division between America and the Soviet Union which cannot be solved within a short time.
On the other end of the spectrum, the core notion that the US should push its ideology to the entire world had not been sacrificed much. However, if no concession on ideological expansionism had made, when the Soviet Union’s resistance to it was shown, then the previous benevolent form of expansionism shall transfer into a more aggressive form that considers political confrontation and military conquest rather than cooperation and modeling as the main method to achieve America’s goal. Furthermore, since such a view advocates for an official confrontation against the USSR, then a sacrifice of the current living standard of Americans shall be made. The unbendable desire for a world that entirely dominated by US ideology, and the willingness for adequate sacrifices to this image provided a cultivation medium for the later Truman Doctrine to be adapted.
These two types of US public opinion have only co-existed for a rather short period. Even though these two notions emerged at roughly the same time, but their core values are so different, therefore they are fundamentally opposed to each other, and eventually one will discredit the other. This process of competition resulted in the victory of the latter one, although there is no direct evidence like public poll presents in my literature review process, there were multiple indirect sources of information that can provide us some understanding of the situation, and one of which is the public reaction of Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace’s public speech at September 12, 1946. He advocated for a less aggressive and hostile way of dealing with the Soviet Union, and he criticized the foreign policy at that time especially regarding the USSR. His speech received little support from either his colleagues or the audience. Based on the historical record, the audience “hissed at him”, and applauded the following speakers who support tougher attitudes towards the Soviet Union, and later, President Truman commented him as a “communist dupe”, and eventually this incident led to him being fired by Truman. (Walker J. S., 1974)
For Henry A. Wallace personally, this “liquidation” (as some media put it) is the main motivation for him to form his independent party that proclaims support for a cease-fire of US-USSR confrontation, and racial minority rights, etc., but from the macro-scale, this case was a clear indication of US political atmosphere at that time. Truman as the head of the US government firing Wallace is a sign among political elites, the overall hostile attitude and eagerness to conduct war acts against the Soviet Union have gradually become common sense.
The hope that cooperation with the Soviet Union had been weakened greatly, so is that meaning the desire for the US to expanding their ideology also dimmed? Turns out, the gap between reality and the ideal had only boasted America’s determination to establish itself as the protector, feeder, and guider to at least the “free” part of the world. Such reaction is understandable if we consider America’s nationalist thinking just before this transition. One of the original motives of the US to push its ideology to a global scale is that they believe even if one country in this world is not “free” or “democratic” (they tended to associate closely of these two notions), then no one among the rest of countries is really “free” nor “democratic”. This argument is fairly understandable if we try to understand it from its nationalist nature, and as some theorists analyzed (Hayes, 2017), the religious characteristics of nationalism are well presented in this belief. The very existence of communism has been viewed as a “paganism”, and when this “paganism” started to openly resist the orthodox way that is the “American way of life”, hostility can easily emerge, rather than concede.
Up to this point, the original foreign strategy of the US since the war ended has taken a change. The two pillars of it, “prevent the next global war from happening” and “win it if it happens” have no longer been given the same level of commitment. Both ideologically and strategically, this country is preparing itself for the all-out confrontation towards the Soviet Union, and the ideological preparation eventually resulted in the official declaration of “war” to another ideology that is opposed to, and that is the Truman Doctrine speech on March 13, 1947. (Dudziak, 1988)
Chapter 4: Truman Doctrine and the Road to the Cold War
For most people, Truman’s speech on March 13, 1947, was a striking event that officially declared America’s determination to suppress and counter-attack communism on a global scale. The main content of this speech contains little surprises, it still put “bringing freedom, democracy and prosperity to the world” as the overall goal and makes “supporting for other nations thought to be threatened by Soviet communism by whatever means” as the method. Even though the Truman Doctrine speech has its historical significance that marks the beginning of the Cold War, but from the perspective of nationalism analysis, it is more like a formal expression of what has already in there, a presentation of the dominant opinions of the public discourse. Also, because the groundwork of the Truman Doctrine had been laid out beforehand, this speech and the foreign policy revision that comes with it received primarily positive feedback from the public, although certain criticism and hesitation still exist.
The Truman Doctrine revealed the US nationalist thinking had moved forward aggressively on two aspects. The most obvious one is to declare an ideology war upon communism. In the past, the notion of American superiority (both national strength and ideology) always existed, but it was never gotten as far as investing resources and risking war to attack and suppress communism. If we consider the immediate post-war era the core of US nationalism is the confidence of its effectiveness and superiority, then the 1947 version of it has a significant amount of aggression and hostility against the Soviet Union, rather than simply promoting America itself. Furthermore, to a certain degree, US nationalism had proved itself can sacrifice of altering parts of its own ideology in order to fuel the aggressive nature. On March 6, 1947, President Truman gave a speech at Baylor University, specifically talking about the economic part of his administration’s foreign policy. However, the interesting part was his new interpretation of freedom, and instead of the Four Freedoms (Free to worship, to speech, from fear, from want) that he previously emphasized in the wartime, he replaced the “free from fear and want” with “free of enterprise”, due to the “socialistic feeling” of the previous concepts (Truman, 1947). This sent an important signal, of how far the US nationalism can shape the public discourse, because in Truman’s speech, no matter intentional or not, he associated “freedom” directly with capitalism, which adds legitimacy to the suppression against communism worldwide, because even if some Americans did not care about capitalism, but as long as we can establish the idea that capitalism equals freedom, then it would be much easier to mobilize the public to defend it, by attacking communism.
Besides the part where declaring ideology war on communism, America also modified another part of its foreign policy, and that is the leadership in the so-called “free world”. Since the victory of WW2, America had considered itself the leader of the world, but it had always valued greatly the cooperation between countries, like the Big Three League after the war, most of its foreign operations had been conducted in multilateral form. America’s role in public discourse was defining its leadership in favoring the moral duty, the guidance that it can offer, rather than the rights and authorities that it possessed due to its massive strength (Kennedy, 1946). However, when we forward the time to 1947, the atmosphere between America to the rest capitalist bloc has changed, among the US public sphere and political elites, the confidence that the US can singlehandedly manage at least the side of the “free world” has grown, and one of the most critical events that boasted such self- understanding is the crisis of Greece.
Ever since Greece was freed from the occupation of Axis powers, it was Britain who’s responsible to help Greece rebuild domestic order, and maintain its stability. However, while Greece suffered from political instability and economic recession, a new factor of disaster is extra alarming for Britain and America, which is its transformation into a Communist system. The uprising in Greece which represented Communism was fighting against the government that was sponsored by Britain. This civil war along with other European security operations that were funded by Britain caused a greater financial and military burden than what the British can handle, especially Britain itself was taking aids from the US at that time. Therefore, the British government informed the US government on February 21, 1947, that its national strength had reached the limit and therefore unable to maintain the security operations that needed to be done. By this declaration, the British basically forfeited control and handed this responsibility to America. If this happens, Britain will no longer be a “partner” with equal status with the US on ruling the world, since it was unable to take its responsibility, and therefore, this event closed the era that the US must be engaging in multilateral procedures when conducting their responsibility. Furthermore, the US public and political world were well-prepared for this moment by laying down the ideological ground in the public consciousness. Therefore, such a situation resulted in another key information in Truman’s speech, that is America will have and conduct unilateral management and operations within the West bloc. This, along with the open calling for the attack against communism, became the two most explicit and crucial foreign policy principles at the beginning of the Cold War era.
Nationalism is a fascinating concept, it reveals the movement and dynamic of our society in a dimension that is often ignored by the people who live in it. Among all the subjects that we conduct nationalism study upon, the United States stands out due to two reasons, one is that because it still is the most powerful country in basically every category, which function as an amplifier to the nationalist phenomena within its border, thus increase the significance of any research of it. Secondly, the unprecedented status and world dynamic after WW2 provided a unique medium for US nationalism to grow, so many special characteristics of US nationalism under such conditions have been observed by academia and summarized in this very thesis.
Different from the traditional process of nationalist thinking, US nationalism was born out of victory and pride rather than national humiliation and hatred (Pei, 2003), it emphasizes its divine duties rather than its rights to conquer. It put America at the top of the world and yet put other nations’ well-being as its goal. It was the child of the eagerness of Pacifism and condemnation to totalitarians. It is that kind of nationalism that looks so ideal, that many people are having a hard time associating it with other nationalist sentiments that we know caused countless wars.
Yet, it was the same ideology that described a utopia under the leadership of America for the rest of the world, caused the Cold War — so far, the only historic period that the extinction of humankind might have been true. From the idealism during WW2 to the anti-communism zealot during the Cold War, we have witnessed the fallen of an angel. The duration of such a process is remarkably short, and the essence of such transition, has been taken place between 1945 to 1947, and if we view it from the axis of events, then it started from the surrendering of Nazi Germany to the revealing of the Truman Doctrine. Within only several years, the previous idealistic sentiment has been greatly declined, and aggression triumphed benevolence, became the leading factor of US nationalism. However, the thing that hasn’t changed in the course of US nationalism is, that it was the ideological expansion, instead of military conflict, function as the driving force of America in that era.
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