United States and World Affairs in the 20th Century



UnitedStates and World Affairs in the 20thCentury

UnitedStates and World Affairs in the 20thCentury

TheUnited States is the most influential nation in the modern world.American political, social, cultural and economic principles areevident throughout the world. Additionally, American is a globalsuperpower, in terms of economy, political and military supportpower. The presence of the United States in the global affairs in themodern world is as a result of abandoning of the isolationism policyin the 19thcentury and progressive increased influence in the internationalscene. Although some historians have argued that the expansionismdesires in the United States existed since the country was formed,the economic, political and military changes in the late 19thcentury and the 20thcentury motivated the United States to get more involved in globalaffairs. Although the initial foreign involvement was generallysupported by the American public, this changed during the VietnamWar. This paper looks at the main reasons why the United Statesbecame more involved in world affairs in the late 19thcentury and 20thcentury and its implications.

Thereare several reasons that motivated the United States to increasinglybe involved in the world affairs. These motivations can be broadlyclassified into the reasons. These are economic motivations, militarymotivations, to protect the American interests and moral motivations.Majority of scholars and historians agree with the argument thateconomic motivations were the most important reasons why the UnitedStates abandoned its isolationism policies and started expanding itsinfluence outside its borders in the late 19thcentury. The 19thcentury experienced a wave of industrial development in the UnitedStates and Europe. After the American civil war, there was a massiveeconomic and industrial development in the United States. Thisdevelopment was also evident in major powers in the Europeancontinent. The rapid industrial development, especially in the late19thcentury resulted into a need for expansion of markets for Americanproduct. Already, European imperialism was at its peak. The UnitedKingdom had massive influence in Asia and Africa while Spaincontrolled large areas in central and South America. The limitedinfluence of the United States in the foreign countries was animportant challenge to emerging industrial sector in the UnitedStates. As a result, there was a growing sentiment among theindustrialists that America should expand its influence in otherparts of the world.

Additionally,the rapid industrial development resulted into increased demand forraw materials. The imperial Europe in the 18thand 19thcentury had used resources in other continents to fuel its rapiddevelopment. Similarly, the American growing industrial economyrequired a steady and cheap supply of raw materials. For example, dueto the perfect climate in the tropical islands of Hawaii, thesugarcane plantation owners in the United States influence thegovernment to get interested in Hawaii. This would ensure a steadysupply of sugarcane to the United States sugarcane industry. As aresult, the United States government sent its marines to the islandwhich led to annexation of Hawaii after queen Lilly resignedunwillingly. Similarly, the United States industries startedimporting other raw materials such as sugarcane from Cuba, silk fromChina and minerals from south Asia. Military reasons also influencedthe increased involvement of the United States in the world affairs.After the American civil war, the military had one responsibility,protecting the settlers. In the mid 19thcentury, there was an increased need for modern ships. Additionally,there was an increased competition from European militaryestablishment in the main trade routes. The British, Germany and theFrench had established naval sea ports in order to protect theirtrading territories. As a result, the United States started buildingnaval ports along their main trade routes. For example, the UnitedStates acquired the island of Samoa as for military reasons.

Animportant cultural factor that motivated the United States to abandonisolationism and get more involved in the global affairs was moralityand emerging racial sentiments. In the late 19thcentury, the Anglo Saxon racism had a huge influence on the Americansociety.These sentiments were based in the evolution theory thatwas proposed by Charles Darwin. The sentiments viewed the Americansociety as superior race that was more superior to other races in theworld. This led to the belief that the American nation should be moresuccessful in the global scene than other countries. As a result, theUnited States engaged in international economic activities,missionary work and civil rights activisms in different parts of theworld to compete with other societies in the world and proof theirsuperiority.

Arguably,the most important international engagement of the United States inworld affairs in the 20thcentury was its role in the First and Second World War, cold war andthe Vietnam War. Although there are military reasons that motivatedthis international engagement, the most important reason was toprotect the interest of the United States. Although the United Stateshad abandoned it isolationist policies by the beginning of the FirstWorld War, due to its increased presence in the global affairs, itwas not willing to get involved in European conflicts in the 1910s.However, President Wilson preferred non military tactics to prevent awar in Europe which could threaten American interests in thecontinent. This was contained in his Fourteen Point Plan which aimedat protecting social, economic and political interest of America inthe world through free trade, freedom in the sea and a league ofnations. This is mainly because the American interest would besecured by a free and democratic international space. However, theevents in the European continent were a threat to American interestwhich forced the American to enter the European conflict. When theGerman forces killed 159 Americans in 1915 when they sunk theLusitania, there was a need for the United States to enter the war toprotect its interests. The threat to the United States was clearerwhen a telegram intercepted by the British from Zimmerman to Mexicoindicated that American territories were a major target of the war.According to President Wilson, the decision to enter the war inEurope was intended to liberate the world and protect the interestsof the United States (US History, 2015).

Asthe 20thcentury progressed, the American interest in other parts of the worldcontinued to expand. The rapid economic development in the UnitedStates was largely influenced by import and export to other parts ofthe world. As a result, strong political and military influence wasan essential tool in protecting the economy of the United States.Although the interventions by American forces and diplomats in theFirst World War had a significant impact on the European conflictthat has spread to other parts of the world, there were unsettledconflicts between the confliction European powers. However, theeconomic challenges that faced the United States in the 1930s sloweddown its engagement in the world affairs (US History, 2015). Whilethe United States was struggling with the impacts of the greatdepression, some of the European powers such as Germany wereassembling their militaries to expand their influence in Europe andthe world. On the other hand, there was an increased influence of theJapanese in Asia which threatened the huge economic interests of theUnited States in china and Philippines. Although the United Statesinterests were threatened since the beginning of the Second WorldWar, the Americans were not prepared for the war. However, the attackon china by Japanese military, Pearl Harbor attack and Americanmerchant ships by the Germans forced the United States to join thewar (US History, 2015).

Despitethe fact that the united states military and economy power wasexhibited in the second world war, the threats to the welfare of theAmerican social, economic and political interest in the world was farfrom over. The growing communism, especially in Eastern Europe andAsia remained an important concern to the United States. As aresult, the most important American mission abroad in the post warera was to prevent the spread and influence of communism (US History,2015). This was mainly because communism was a threat to thedemocratic political system on which the American economy wasfounded. This resulted into a four decade tension between the UnitedStates and the communist power, the Soviet Union. Although historianshave differed on the exact dates in which the cold war started, itwas more evident between the end of the Second World War and the fallof the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. According to the UnitedStates government, the war against communism in the world was in thebest interest of the world (US History, 2015). As a result, theUnited States led the western power to establish NATO while thecommunists established the Warsaw Pact. Although a real war betweenthe two powers did not occur, they fought indirectly in differentparts of the world. This includes the Chinese civil war, the KoreanWar, the Hungarian revolution and the Vietnam War among other crisisthat did not result into war. As a result, the second half of the20thcentury was the most active period in the history of United Statesforeign policy (Alpha History, 2015).

Sincethe 19thcentury, public opinion in the United States was that expansionistpolicies were more favorable. They American population viewed theexpansionist policy has favorable to the economic prosperity as wellas nationalism. Additionally, the Americans were proud of the factthat the United States had emerged as the most powerful nation in theworld. However, public opinion in the 1960s turned against the UnitedStates foreign policy, especially it role in the Vietnam conflict. By1970, it is estimated that about a third of the American populationwas opposed to the involvement of the United States in overseasconflicts (Johnson, 1968, Johnson, 1965). Although the government,especially through president Lyndon Johnson tried to defend theAmerican foreign policy, anti Vietnam protests and advocacy calledfor unilateral withdrawal of the American forces. According toJohnson (1965), the United States had “learned at a terrible andbrutal cost that retreat does not bring safety and weakness does notbring peace” , therefore, withdrawal from Vietnam was not anoption. However, in his famous speech, Beyond Vietnam, Martin LutherKing Jr. outlines seven reasons why the United States forces shouldbe withdrawn from Vietnam. According to King, the United States “mustfind new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughoutthe developing world, a world that borders on our doors” ratherthan the use of military (King, 1967).


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