The US in World War II

The US in World War II

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In the aftermath of World War II, every nation of the world emerged mentally and, in some cases, physically altered. The physical affects of the Second World War spanning from Pearl Harbor to the battleground that made up most of Western Europe to Nagasaki and Hiroshima are visual pictures engrained in the minds of all, past and present, but the American ideology that these destructive images helped to give rise to would directly shape American domestic and foreign policy for approximately the next 50 years and indirectly shape the current policies implemented in the United States today. The United States, a world super power, entered World War II in December, 1941. The apprehensive and notably late involvement of the U.S. provided Allied Powers with fresh combatants and monetary backing that the Axis Powers lacked. America's late entrance and unprecedented force, which inevitably led to the end of the war in favor of the Allies, further cemented America's place as a world power. Although the United States gained its world power status before entering World War II because of its economic rise attributable to industrialization, rail roads, and abundant capital, America could be viewed in a "world tier" of its own for stepping in during a world war and ultimately ending the German force responsible for genocide. This world power standing in conjunction with the worldwide view of America's benevolent intervention has been best defined and articulated by Henry Luce as "American exceptionalism." Thus far, this historical summary has been one of optimism and American chivalry, but it has also been a historical account of an image which did not entirely exist. It is true that the United States entered the war and played a major role in ending World War II, but America's image to the rest of the world could partially be described as one of illusion – a form of propaganda issued by executives with an agenda, optimistic journalists, and the general American public. While the United States was at that time, and remains today, a world power, Henry Luce's "American exceptional" and the American image portrayed to the rest of the world in American accounts of World War II conveniently disregard a very pertinent domestic issue of the time which contradicts the portrait of a compassionate war hero and a morally just America: racism.
The American image of a prominent and overarching world power at this time was best expressed by Henry Luce in his article, "The American Century.

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" This article was printed in Time on February 17, 1941. This date is very important in illustrating the general American view before the United States entered World War II in December, 1941, because the views within provide a solid social foundation upon which post-war image and policy originated. Luce opens his article by declaring: "We Americans are unhappy. We are not happy about America. We are not happy about ourselves in relation to America. We are nervous – or gloomy – or apathetic" (Luce, "The American Century," Diplomatic History, p. 159). This is a very effective opening statement because of his repetitive use of the word "we" and the vagueness of the emotions he describes. Using "we" implies that his article is inclusive to all Americans and the inclusive nature of his words are further supported by using emotions most Americans can relate to at any given time. This simple use of rhetoric by Luce in the very first lines of his article paints a picture of a unified American people – an illustration that disregards the ill-treatment and second-class citizenship of African Americans in the United States at this time. Luce's use of the word "we" is repeated numerous times throughout "The American Century." Luce never mentions racism or demonstrates America as a nation divided. This use of language provides an example of textual manipulation which yields a false image of the United States.
The message Luce develops in "the American Century" reveals an underlying duty America possesses to protect ourselves and other nations. Luce speculates about the future of American involvement in World War II, the objects and fears of the war, and our reason for fighting. As a world power, the U.S. held many options, but Luce explains in his article that America has failed to act as the world power it has become by not entering the war, but this can be rectified if we "accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes are we see fit and by such means as we see fit" (Luce, "The American Century, Diplomatic History, p. 165). The duty Luce speaks of is one of implementing an international free economic enterprise, one of sharing American technical and artistic skills, and one in which America serves as the "Good Samaritan" and extinguishes world hunger. Luce's article explains that it is the American duty to police the world and bring about peace. His ideals are not only highly optimistic, but proposing a utopian world in the midst of World War II further explains the distorted view Americans held of themselves and the distorted image America portrayed to the rest of the world because of a superior attitude. In the last section of Luce's idealistic text, he claims that his plan for world peace at the hand of the "exceptional" America "will fail and none of it will happen unless our visions of America as a world power includes a passionate love of freedom, a feeling for the equality of opportunity, a tradition of self-reliance and independence and also of co-operation" (Luce, "The American Century," Diplomatic History, p. 170). Luce continues to describe the idealistically just society of America which will, if his plan is implemented, "create the first great American Century" (Luce, "The American Century," Diplomatic History, p. 171).
Luce's article "The American Century" presents contradicting information. He talks of a united America working together and around the world towards peace via freedom and democracy. He proposes that this can only be done through American ideals such as compassion, freedom, and equality. This is a fault in his argument because these needed American ideals are not actually practiced in America. Carol Anderson's Eyes Off the Prize presents the story of African Americans and their rights. African Americans were not treated with compassion, they were discriminated against, and they were never considered to be equal to their white counterparts. Henry Luce disregarded the plight of black Americans because the obvious discrimination of these people would weaken his argument. African Americans were viewed as second class citizens during and after the war. Black leaders and activists viewed the period after the war as an opportunity to gain civil and human rights. The world's eyes on Nazi Germany and the widespread condemnation of anti-semitism and genocide appeared to be a move in the direction for human rights and equality for the African Americans. This, however, was no the case. Truman set out to grant "his vision of equality for the black community…but it [became] evident that he often engaged in the politics of symbolic equality—executive orders issued with little or no funding to finance the endeavors [and] powerless commissions created…[to] give the aura of action" (Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize, p. 3). This is not the first time the African Americans would raise their hopes only to be pushed back into poverty and slums by symbolic equality. For years following World War II African Americans would fight in vain for civil rights and equality, and for years to come, politicians would make empty promises towards them in order to maintain constituent and party support.
Black Americans gained hope with the creation of the United Nations. They believed that it would be impossible in light of the Holocaust for the United Nations to not address the issue of human rights. This, however, proved to be a very complicated issue. The Soviets did not want America or any other nation policing their actions, and the United States could not push too hard for civil rights when inequality remained prevalent at home. This issue gained little for the cause of equality. Carol Anderson's Eyes Off the Prize chronicles the very hard, emotional, and real conflicts blacks in America faced during and after World War II. She explains story after story of appeasement and empty promises. As America entered the Cold War soon after World War II, threats of communism overshadowed African American rights. It would take many years before the Civil Rights Movement would change anything for African Americans, they never stopped fighting, and they never gave up. Although civil rights did not come to African Americans in the direct aftermath of the Cold War, their hard work and unwavering ideals pushed toward a "nation with a true commitment to equality and human rights. That is the prize" (Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize, p. 276).
America's status during and after World War II as a major world power that, out of pure compassion, helps the rest of the world is just an image created by idealistic texts and propaganda. Carol Anderson told the true story of African American's and their continuous struggle for human rights, and this tragic story was overlooked after World War II because of optimistic idealism. Although, Henry Luce believed in the American Police who would lead the world to world peace, his article contained contradictions of the actual America he lived in. Political agendas and world image in the form of magazine articles, movies, et cetera in the era after World War II took precedence over actual problems. The world vision of Henry Luce's utopia was one of many mediums that helped to create this atmosphere. True American exceptionalism will not appear until domestic issues in the United States are place above idealistic surrealism.
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