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About this book

The period from 1945 to the present day may not constitute an American century, but it can be seen as the American Moment: the time when, for good or ill, the United States became the predominant political, military, economic and cultural power in the world. This revised and updated new edition introduces the historic and tumultuous developments in American politics, foreign policy, society and culture during this period. It includes coverage of key recent events, such as the:


- 2008 election of Barack Obama
- global recession
- protracted war in Iraq and Afghanistan
- rise of the internet
- transformation of American Society and Culture
- challenges of new immigration and multi-culturalism
- changing global status of the US in the new millennium.


Examining the American Moment in a global context, the authors emphasise the interaction between politics, society and culture. America Since 1945 encourages an awareness of how central currents in art, literature, film, theatre, intellectual history and media have developed alongside an understanding of political, economic and social change.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
In February 1941, Henry Luce, the publisher of Life Magazine, wrote an editorial with the prophetic title ‘The American Century’. Luce was one of those innovative entrepreneurs who shaped American life in the twentieth century. Like John D. Rockefeller, he combined the Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism in his business magazine Fortune. Like William Randolph Hearst, he shaped modern journalism by inventing the weekly news magazine Time. And like Walt Disney he altered the way we see the world with Life, the famous magazine of photojournalism. Today, 40 years after Luce’s death, his magazine empire is a global ‘infotainment’ colossus that includes Time magazine, Warner Brothers movies, and CNN television.1
Paul Levine

The World War and American Power

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. American Politics from Roosevelt to Truman

Abstract
In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville gazed into the future of the United States and Russia and declared that each ‘seems marked by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe’. His famous prediction came true a little over one century later. Yet the rise of these two world powers could scarcely have contrasted more. Russia rose after centuries of intense and often bloody competition in the merciless arena of European Great Power politics. The United States was insulated from Europe’s intense political competition by the world’s largest oceans; instead it massively expanded its territory from the original 13 states to a continental-sized federation against the weak opposition of the Mexicans and the Native Americans. More Americans were killed in the Civil War of 1861–5 than in any other war in American history. The origin of America’s ascendancy in world politics is its phenomenal industrialization in the later nineteenth century, which transformed a nation of farmers, craftsmen and traders into the world’s most formidable industrial power. By the end of the nineteenth century the American economy was the largest in the world, has remained so ever since, and is likely to remain so well into the twenty-first century.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 2. 1940s: The Cultural Legacy of World War II

Abstract
In 1941 Henry Luce announced ‘the American Century’ on the eve of America’s entry into World War II. It may seem surprising that Luce proposed the nation’s predominant role during the most serious economic crisis in modern American history. But the creation of a distinctly American culture became the project of many artists in the 1930s. The historian Warren Susman suggests that one of the most significant characteristics of the 1930s was the popular discovery of the anthropological concept of culture, reflected in the remarkable popular success of Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture (1934). In the 1920s expatriate Modernists like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound embraced Matthew Arnold’s narrow definition of culture as high culture; now artists adopted the anthropological view that everything a society produced was culture. Susman notes, ‘It is not too extreme to propose that it was during the Thirties that the idea of culture was domesticated, with important consequences. Americans then began thinking in terms of patterns of behavior and belief, values and lifestyles, symbols and meaning.’ He points out that it was during the 1930s that the phrases ‘American Way of Life’ and ‘The American Dream’ became commonplace. ‘It is in fact possible to define as a key structural element in a historical reconstruction of the 1930s the effort to find, characterize, and adapt to an American Way of Life as distinguished from the material achievements (and the failures) of an American industrial civilization.’
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

The Cold War and American Culture

Frontmatter

Chapter 3. American Politics from Truman to Eisenhower

Abstract
In the 1950s the United States launched a worldwide anticommunist crusade, occasionally with painful long-term consequences. In East Asia the Cold War turned hot with the Korean War and the anticolonial struggle in Indochina. In parallel, McCarthyism reached its climax in the early 1950s but came to an end in 1954, closing a dark chapter in American history.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 4. Alienation and Affluence in the 1950s

Abstract
The decade of the 1950s is often criticized as an era of social complacency and intellectual darkness. This was, after all, the time of Senator McCarthy and the Hollywood blacklist; President Eisenhower and the Cold War; Jerry Lewis and television; Pat Boone and suburbia; Life Magazine and the ‘Silent Generation’. In Leopards in the Temple (1999), Morris Dickstein notes,
The postwar period, especially the 1950s, has been simplified into everything the sixties generation rebelled against: a beaming president presiding over a stagnant government, small-town morality, racial segregation, political and sexual repression, Cold War mobilization, nuclear standoff, suburban togetherness, the domestic confinement of women, and the reign of the nuclear family.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

War in Vietnam and Revolution in the Streets

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Kennedy, Johnson and the Crisis of American Liberalism

Abstract
The era of John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) represented first the triumph and then the crisis of American postwar liberalism. The great promise of the Kennedy and early Johnson years was followed by violent upheavals that traumatized American society and transformed American politics. Except for the new salience of civil rights, American politics in 1964 would still have been familiar to a New Dealer. This would no longer be the case in 1968, when the war in Vietnam, riots in the black ghettos, new movements like feminism and the counterculture, and a conservative backlash against liberalism produced new cleavages that ended the politics of the New Deal.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 6. The Imaginative Crisis of the 1960s

Abstract
The turbulent 1960s was a decade of false starts and unfulfilled promises. It began in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy, but his presidency was brutally terminated with his assassination in 1963. That same year, Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered his famous speech in Washington, DC, but in 1968 he too was brutally murdered. In that year, antiwar protesters disrupted the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The following year a rock festival at Woodstock, New York, attracted half a million young celebrants of the new counterculture. Yet the roots of these astonishing events can be traced back to some time in the 1950s.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

The Ambiguous Legacy of the Sixties

Frontmatter

Chapter 7. American Politics from Nixon to Carter

Abstract
The 1968 election brought about the collapse of the New Deal coalition without establishing a dominant conservative alternative. Nixon reshaped American foreign policy after the debacle of Vietnam. He also exploited new wedge issues involving patriotism, crime prevention, school busing and racial equality in order to secure a triumphant reelection in 1972. Nonetheless, the Democrats remained firmly in control of Congress. After Nixon’s resignation over Watergate, American politics temporarily shifted leftwards, indicating the potency of the new post-New Deal liberal politics. But by the end of the 1970s the weak presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and their foreign policy failures had contributed to a strong political swing to the right.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 8. The Clash of Two Countercultures

Abstract
When did the Sixties end? In America’s Uncivil Wars (2006) Mark Hamilton Lytle describes the 1960s ‘as a set of experiences that stretch over 20 years, beginning somewhere in the mid-1950s and drawing to a close in the mid-1970s.’ He divides the epoch into three phases: ‘the era of consensus, from 1954 until the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963; the years from 1964 to 1968, during which most of the phenomena associated with the sixties emerged; and finally the era of essentialist politics, from 1969 until the fall of Richard Nixon in 1974.’
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

From the Cold War to Globalization

Frontmatter

Chapter 9. American Politics from Reagan to Clinton

Abstract
The Reagan Revolution moved American politics out of the malaise of the 1970s, completing the party realignment that had begun under Nixon. Reagan’s presidency, the first to survive two full terms since Eisenhower’s and the most successful since FDR’s, restored the confidence of most Americans in their nation. His politics were much in evidence in the 1990s, with Clinton accepting the main thrust of the Reagan Revolution in economics and welfare but clashing with the conservative coalition on cultural issues. In foreign policy, the 1980s witnessed both the decline of the Soviet Union and the rise of post-Cold War problems, especially in the Middle East. The pivotal years 1989–91 brought both the end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War, the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and the beginning of Yugoslavia’s ethnic conflicts. In the 1990s, the world was increasingly divided into zones of peace, democracy and economic interdependence on the one hand, and of religious and ethnic conflict, failed states and humanitarian disasters on the other. But foreign policy in the 1990s was not salient for the American public, which basked in the misleading sense of security of the ‘unipolar moment’ and enjoyed the fruits of the two longest economic booms in American history during the Reagan and Clinton years.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 10. From the Global Village to Bowling Alone

Abstract
The neoconservative counterrevolution that began with George Wallace reached its zenith in the 1980s during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Though he was the oldest president ever to be elected, Reagan projected youthful optimism when he proclaimed, ‘It’s morning again in America.’ In Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home (1987), Garry Wills summed up the late president’s popular appeal. ‘Reagan runs continuously in everyone’s home movies of the mind. He wrests from us something warmer than mere popularity, a kind of complicity,’ Wills explained. ‘He is the great American synecdoche, not only part of our past but a large part of our multiple pasts.’ Besides his influence on politics, Reagan had a significant impact on mainstream culture as a symbol of renewed American optimism after the disasters of Vietnam, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis. No wonder that Sean Wilentz called his history of the years between Richard Nixon’s resignation and Barack Obama’s election The Age of Reagan (2008). Wilentz argues that only a few American presidents have defined their era, including Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt — and Reagan.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

America after September 11, 2001

Frontmatter

Chapter 11. American Politics in the Twenty-First Century

Abstract
George W. Bush rose to the presidency with the most controversial presidential election in American history. In spite of the slimness of his victory, Bush pursued an ambitious agenda in continuation of the Reagan Revolution. Then a new and incalculable factor impinged on American politics. The 9/11 attacks displaced all else at the top of the American political agenda and abruptly ushered in a new era of insecurity. Bush responded by swiftly overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, with almost universal support from the international community. But then he squandered international goodwill towards the United States by invading Iraq on weak grounds. The prolonged insurgency in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the revival of Taliban power in much of rural Afghanistan entangled the United States in two guerrilla wars for the rest of the decade, stretching the US military thin and sapping American self-confidence. The American people punished the Republicans for Bush’s increasingly unpopular Iraq war by electing Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections of 2006, opening the way for Obama’s historic victory in 2008. The election of an African American to the presidency suggested that the American people were ready for change in politics and government. The rise of Obama was at first thought likely, even by respectable conservative commentators, to lead to a realignment of the American party system and result in a prolonged Democratic primacy. Obama inherited ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, which broke out at the end of Bush’s presidency. Additionally Obama promoted his own reform agenda on health care and climate change. Even though he performed creditably well on most of these fronts, by the end of his first year the high expectations that greeted his accession to the presidency had been somewhat lowered.
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Chapter 12. Hard Facts and Millennial Fictions

Abstract
In the United States the new millennium began not on January 1, 2000, but on September 11, 2001. On that clear autumn morning, 19 Muslim terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed three of them into two major symbols of American power: the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon just outside of Washington, DC. In a matter of minutes, the American sense of reality was abruptly changed. As Richard Bernstein writes in the reconstruction of these events compiled by the staff of The New York Times:
Out of a clear blue sky using our own engines against us, armed with nothing but knives, terrorists had struck simultaneously at the chief symbols of American commercial and military might. The inconceivable had happened, and it had happened even though we were supposedly protected by the world’s biggest defense budget, by the greatest military power in world history, and by an at least creditable intelligence establishment that was supposed to find out about things like terrorist attacks before they happened. The phrases that were heard over and over again were ‘Everything has changed’ and ‘Nothing will be the same again.’
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou

Postscript

Postscript

Abstract
And what of Henry Luce’s prophesy of ‘the American Century’? During the 70 years since his famous Life Magazine editorial, the United States rose to dominate global politics, economics and culture. But in the new millennium its sustaining power has been challenged. The neoconservative strategists surrounding President George W. Bush had hoped to extend the American Century into the distant future; but their disastrous policies undermined the American economy at home and subverted American prestige abroad. Even a sympathetic critic, Francis Fukuyama, acknowledged its failures in America at the Crossroads (2007): ‘One of the striking things about the performance of the Bush administration is how poorly it has followed through in accomplishing the ambitious objectives it has set for itself.’ Perhaps the most revealing epitaph of the Bush years came inadvertently from the grammatically challenged president himself, when he said, ‘Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.’
Paul Levine, Harry Papasotiriou
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