The Cold War’s World History and Imperial Histories of the US and the World

Hyde Park Protesters, October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis

John Munro
St. Mary’s University[1]

The gap between the Cold War’s history and its new historiography spanned only about a decade and a half. The Cold War concluded during the George H.W. Bush presidency, but for the field we now call “the US and the world,” the Cold War paradigm reached its terminus, if we have to be specific, in 2005. That year saw the publication of two books that together marked a milestone in how scholars would write about the Cold War. John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War: A New History told its story through engaging prose and a top-down approach that gave pride of place to Washington and Moscow as the centers of a bifurcated world. For its part, Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times offered a triangular model in which empires of liberty and of justice interacted with Third World revolutionaries who led campaigns for decolonization that shifted into high gear after World War II. Gaddis’ survey represented a culmination of the traditional two-camps schema which tended to reflect self-understandings of the US government but which, after Westad’s concurrent synthesis, could no longer stand without qualification, without reference to the colonial dimension of the Cold War itself. In this sense, 2005 was a before-and-after historiographical event.

The classic Cold War concept, in which the governing and formal decolonization of Western Europe’s empires was one thing, and the rivalry between the superpowers something altogether else, has become diminished, but not because of one book alone. Various social movements have rejected the tenets of the Cold War at different times, and as far back as 1972, historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko argued that “The so-called Cold War…was far less the confrontation of the United States with Russia than America’s expansion into the entire world.”[2] In 2000, Matthew Connelly called attention to the distortions accompanying attempts to have postwar history fitted to the constraints of the Cold War paradigm. The “Cold War lens,” as Connelly memorably called it, had obscured racial and religious realities. As more scholars began to push the weight of culture, decolonization, gender, public opinion, and more against the Cold War paradigm’s once stable conceptual walls, the foundations faltered. And since Westad’s 2005 landmark, a notable tendency has developed across the disciplines in which scholars – notably Mark Philip Bradley, Jodi Kim, Heonik Kwon, and the authors (including Westad) contributing to Joel Isaac and Duncan Bell’s volume on the Cold War idea – have further troubled the notion that what followed World War II is best understood by focusing on how the leaders of the US and USSR saw the world.[3]

It’s also worth noting that the recent literature’s rough division between works that sit more comfortably within the Cold War paradigm and those that prompt a rethinking of its foundations does not map neatly onto the difference between local and globally-oriented studies. Melvin Leffler’s 2008 transnational history of US-Soviet relations and Samuel Zipp’s New-York focused book on urban renewal of 2010 both fit within Cold War studies, for example, while Masuda Hajimu’s global reinterpretation of the Korean War and Yulia Komska’s cultural genealogy of the West German-Czech borderlands (both published in 2015) render suspect what we thought we knew about the Cold War.[4] All four books are excellent, and it would be unhelpful to make a “without paradigm good, within paradigm bad” argument across wide swaths of insightful scholarship. The point is, rather, to note that The Cold War: A World History arrives at what Federico Romero calls a historiographical crossroads, on a conceptual terrain conspicuously remapped since the publication of The Global Cold War. Continue reading “The Cold War’s World History and Imperial Histories of the US and the World”

Dockter on Thomas and Toye, ‘Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956’

Authors: Martin Thomas, Richard Toye

Reviewer: Warren Dockter

Martin Thomas, Richard Toye. Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 320 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-874919-6.Reviewed by Warren Dockter (Aberystwyth University)
Published on H-Diplo (November, 2017)
Commissioned by Seth OffenbachPrintable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=49706“A Silent, Rankling Grudge”

In the autumn issue of Nineteenth Century Review in 1877, W. E. Gladstone wrote an article on legacy of the British Empire and the Eastern Question entitled, “Aggression on Egypt and Freedom in the East.” In addition to supporting notions of self-rule in Egypt, Gladstone warned of the perils of imperial interventions, arguing, “My belief is that the day which witnesses our occupation of Egypt will bid a long farewell to all cordiality of political relations between France and England. There might be no immediate quarrel, no exterior manifestation, but a silent, rankling grudge” (p. 19). These words proved so prophetic that political radical Wilfred Scawen Blunt employed Gladstone’s rhetoric against him in his work The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (1907), writing that “this article is so remarkable and so wonderfully prescient of evils he was himself destined to inflict upon Egypt that it deserves quoting” (p. 57). This exchange serves to illustrate the fluid nature of imperial rhetoric and the discursive relationship which formed between the British and French Empires.

Martin Thomas and Richard Toye have written a remarkably ambitious and excellent study which examines the intersections of imperial rhetoric between the French and British Empires during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book is based on seven case studies that focus on moments of imperial  intervention in which both the French and Britain played an equal part, ranging from Tunisia and Egypt in the early 1880s through to Suez in 1956. This breadth allows the reader to see the evolution of imperial rhetoric in Britain and France while illustrating how policymakers in their respective metropoles became intrinsically linked, forcing them toward “co-imperialism.” This is particularly true regarding the Middle East and North Africa, where the British and French Empires remained in concert from nineteenth century until the realities of full-scale decolonization became apparent in latter half of the twentieth century. Continue reading “Dockter on Thomas and Toye, ‘Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956’”

Rethinking American Grand Strategy in the Asia Pacific

By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783. By Michael J. Green. Illustrated. 725 pp. Columbia University Press. $45.

Reviewed by Jonathan R. Hunt (University of Southampton)
Follow on Twitter @JRHunTx

Otto von Bismarck once remarked that the United States was blessed: “The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbours and to the east and west by fish.” Thanks to this geographic grace, George Washington could call for freedom from “entangling alliances” in his farewell address. This distance has also bred a strong undercurrent of parochialism and chauvinism in American culture. From these two impulses has emerged the conceptual DNA of American foreign relations in the form of two dichotomies—exemplarism versus interventionism; cosmopolitanism versus exceptionalism—lending form and structure to debates about how a democratic people should manage their affairs in an often unkind, even hostile, world.

In his sweeping and authoritative account of United States grand strategy in the Asia Pacific, Michael J. Green reminds us that Americans have long regarded this maritime expanse – from the Aleutians to Cape Horn in the Western Hemisphere across to Australasia and Sakhalin in the Eastern — as integral to defending their ‘empire of liberty’. Nineteenth-century policymakers from Thomas Jefferson and Matthew C. Perry to Henry Seward and John Hay sought to pry open these watery frontiers to American influence (and conquest) so as to stave off any threats that might overleap the Pacific Ocean. Their twentieth-century successors, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall and Franklin Roosevelt, Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, George Shultz and Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, have fought to keep the Pacific an American lake – for now. Continue reading “Rethinking American Grand Strategy in the Asia Pacific”

Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa

Rhian Keyse
History Department, University of Exeter

Book Review: Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa by Annie Bunting, Benjamin N. Lawrance, and Richard L. Roberts (eds.)

Cross-posted from Africa at LSE

Rhian Keyse recommends this book as essential reading for scholars and practitioners engaging in work to analyse and intervene in gender-based violence on the African continent and elsewhere.

Forced marriage in sub-Saharan Africa is a source of much international debate, especially with recent legal and policy attention to the role of such practices in conflict situations. Well-reported instances such as the abduction of the ‘Chibok girls’ from their school in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014have prompted considerable attention from the popular media and policy advocates alike. Yet, as Annie Bunting, Benjamin Lawrance and Richard Roberts argue in the introduction to Marriage by Force?, ‘the spectacular hides the mundane’, and popular debates tend to oversimplify the complex range of practices referred to as ‘forced marriage’ (p.2). Based on a 2013 conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology, this book brings together anthropologists, legal scholars, historians, and practitioners, to begin to correct these reductive common narratives. Continue reading “Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa”

What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?

Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin (eds.), Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. 324 pp. £75 (hardback), ISBN: 9783525101452

Reviewed by Ben Holmes (University of Exeter)

What does it mean to belong to the human race? Does this belonging bring with it particular rights as well as responsibilities? What does it mean to act with humanity? These are some of the big questions lying at the heart of a new edited collection from Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin, Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present (2016). Based on a 2015 conference at the Leibniz Institute in Mainz, the book, as the title suggests, is not a purely conceptual history of the term ‘humanity’.[1] Rather it looks to discover ‘the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity’ [page 18]. In other words, how did ideas of ‘humanity’ guide European practices in areas like humanism, imperialism, international law, humanitarianism, and human rights?[2] The editors argue that despite the implied timeless, universal nature of the term, humanity is both a changing, dynamic concept, and has been prone to create divisions as much as it promotes commonality. Although the volume is a study of European conceptions of humanity, the contributions are transnational, displaying how conceptions of humanity were practiced in Europe and in the continent’s interactions with the wider world over the course of five-hundred years. Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?”

Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism”

Nicole M. Phelps
University of Vermont

Review of Marc-William Palen. The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 331 pp. $99.99 (hardcover).

[For full review and citation, see: Nicole M. Phelps, “Re-thinking ‘Open-Door Imperialism,'” Diplomatic History 41 (Jan. 2017): 211-214.]

conspiracy of free trade coverStill basing your Gilded Age foreign policy lecture—perhaps reduced now to just a PowerPoint slide—on the quest for markets a la William Appleman Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and Walter LaFeber’s The New Empire?1 Marc-William Palen convincingly argues that it is time for a change. According to Palen, lumping all the Gilded Age administrations from Grant to McKinley into proponents of an undifferentiated “Open Door imperialism” misses essential differences between the Democratic Grover Cleveland administrations and those of the Republicans and, more importantly, falsely paints free traders as imperialists and obscures the protectionist, closed door bent of the actual imperialists. By focusing our attention on the debate over tariffs waged by Cobdenite free traders and Listian economic nationalists—protectionists—from the early days of the Republican Party through McKinley’s election in 1896, Palen offers important contributions to our understanding of imperialism, the development of American political parties, and Anglo-American relations. In so doing, he smooths out the story of nineteenth-century U.S. foreign policy, which often skips abruptly from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Spanish-American War. Continue reading “Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism””

Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World

Review of Taras Grescoe, Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World (St. Martin’s Press, June 2016; HarperCollins Canada, May 2016).

Nigel Collett
Cross-posted from Asian Review of Books

Shanghai GrandOf all human societies of which we have knowledge, Shanghai in the late 1930s perhaps comes closest to the sci-fi dystopias beloved of Hollywood, societies in which the gilded, sophisticated inhabitants of a fabulous city live surrounded but cut off from wasted badlands, served by an abject underclass living as far from the light of day as it does from the consciousness of its masters. For inside the self-policed boundaries of Shanghai’s International Settlement and its French Concession lay both one of the greatest concentrations of wealth on the face of the planet and some of the most sordid scenes of human misery.

The taipans of British, American, French, Japanese and other stock who controlled and owned the wealth of Shanghai lived hedonistic lives of truly decadent luxury. For the wealthy, life was sweet, as Noël Coward, who passed through in 1930 and wrote Private Lives while laid up with influenza in a suite in the Cathay Hotel, remembered. “I entered the social whirl of Shanghai with zest,” he wrote. Continue reading “Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World”