To consult our hopes and not our fears
History does not know or acknowledge decades; these are artificial divisions imposed on history by men for their own convenience. The decade of the '70s had its roots in the '40s: It is not so much the '70s with which we are concerned as the postwar era that is now coming to a somewhat disorderly end. It is, we might say, high time.Skip to next paragraph
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At the close of World War II, the United States bestrode the world like a colossus. It was the only nation to emerge from the war unscathed, its territory intact, its economy prosperous, its morale high. Victory perched on US banners, and leadership was accorded by default.
The US seized that leadership, and fulfilled it. "We have learned," said Franklin Roosevelt, "to be citizens of the world, members of the human community ," and for a brief time that proud statement was justified. Victorious in every quarter of the globe, we took to heart Sir Winston Churchill's proud benediction: "In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will."
We did not punish the vanquished but helped them to revive; we created the United Nations; we launched the Marshall Plan -- "the most unsordid act in history," Sir Winston called it. At home we repulsed the forces of oppression and enlarged the arena of democracy and the scope of the welfare state. A brave new world seemed in the making.
Then the clouds spread over the bright skies. The Grand Alliance fell apart. Deeply suspicious of the West, Russia withdrew behind an Iron Curtain and, with the blockade of Berlin, the cold war was almost officially under way. Soon communism was triumphant in China, and the United States committed the flagrant folly of embracing the fantasy that the real China was in Taiwan and embarked upon a 20-year cold war with China.
Soon we plunged into the Korean war and committed ourselves to the fatuous principle that we were, somehow, an "Asian power."
Meanwhile, inspired by the exhilarating prospect of moving out of centuries of exploitation, poverty, and backwardness, the African and Asian nations of what we were to call the third world made a desperate bid for independence -- not only political but economic.
Instead of welcoming and cooperating with this greated revolution in human history -- the convulsive attempt of two-thirds of the people of the globe to emerge out of the darkness of the past into the sunlight of the new century -- the United States, blinded by fear of the spread of communism, set its face adamantly against this revolution.
Within a few years the victors of World War II were glaring at each other with undisguised hostility, and the United States, Russia, and China moved into a cold war that was to endure for a quarter of century.
It is futile now to allocate responsibility for the disasters that followed: the expansion of the cold war from Europe to Asia; the Korean war, whose heritage is still with us; the collapse of the much-touted Alliance for Progress; the entanglement of the United States in the internal affairs of Southeast Asia; and the greatest tragedy in our history since slavery, the Vietnam war, a tragedy that (unlike slavery) we deliberately embraced. These interventions set a pattern that was shortly to be reproduced in every quarter of the globe.
The United States, assuming that God and history had imposed upon it an obligation to preserve peace and freedom everywhere, intervened in Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Portugal, Greece, Iran, and perhaps a dozen other nations in Africa and Asia. Sometimes it was done overtly; for the most part, covertly.
All of this required -- or seemed to require -- departure from traditional US policies of encouragement to liberal crusades and hostility to tyranny. It led to intervention in the internal affairs of a score of nations, in direct violation of the terms and the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine and of the Charter of the United Nations.