Cold War Constructions:

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Christian G. Appy, editor. Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000. Pp. xii, 340. $60.00. Cloth: ISBN 1558492178. $18.95. Paper: ISBN 1558492186.

Summary

Lisa Harry, Spring 2007


Cold War Constructions is a collection of eleven essays, which attempt to "address the connections between domestic political culture and United States Cold War foreign policy."(3) In addition, the authors strive to "illuminate the ways in which U.S. political culture has shaped specific foreign sites of Cold War conflict."(4) Each author examines a specific area of Cold War conflict, such as Southeast Asia, India, Europe, Africa, Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba. They then analyze the impact of domestic political culture on that specific area of conflict. "Cultural attitudes, practices, and values are examined through a range of topics and sources," from travel literature, diplomacy, foreign aid, propaganda programs, covert operations, and Broadway musicals to philanthropic organizations and Time magazine.(4) Together the essays shed new light on such major Cold War events as the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, the Cuban revolution, and the CIA overthrows of governments in Iran and Guatemala.


The book is broken down into four parts. Part One: Foreign Relations includes three essays. The first essay, Slouching toward Bethlehem: Culture, Diplomacy, and the Origins of the Cold War in Vietnam examines the United States pre-Cold War relations with Vietnam. The author argues that U.S. Cold War policies toward Vietnam "cannot be fully understood apart from the cultural conceptions that developed in the decdes before World War II, an Orientalist portrait of the Vietnameses that depicted them as passive. lazy, immature, untrustworthy, and vulnerable to outside control."(22) The second essay, Family Ties and Political Obligation: The Discourse of Adoption and the Cold War Commitment to Asia analyzes the cultural construction of Asia in the late 1940s and 1950s. According to the author, "Postwar middlebrow culture formulated a utopian vision of cross-racial and cross-national community that served as a reward for Americans' ideological, financial, and political support for the Cold War in Asia."(37) Using the Saturday Review, the Christian Children's Fund and the musical South Pacific the author "shows how the figure of white adoptive motherhood was central to the promotion of U.S. global expansion."(64) The third essay, Feeding Beggars: Class, Caste, and Status in Indo-U.S. Relations, 1947-1964 uses the 1951 U.S. wheat loan to India to analyze the cultural values and assumptions that shaped Indo-U.S. relations. The author "go[es] beyond the surface of political debates to examine the cultural differences on both sides that gave diplomatic gestures deep and often unintended significance."(83)


Part Two: Cold War Ambassadors-at-Large is made up of three essays. The first essay, America's "Best Propogandists": Italian Americans and the 1948 "Letters to Italy" Campaign examines the propaganda efforts put forth by the United States in order "to defeat Communist candidates in the Italian elections of 1948."(5) The massive letter-writing campaign included thousands of Italian Americans that wrote to friends and family overseas in an attempt to persuade them to vote against communism and "embrace the American way of life."(89) The essay shows how Cold War propaganda "sought not only to demonize communism, but to build a consensus about American national identity." The second essay, Who's the real Ambassador? Exploding Cold War Racial Ideology looks at how the State Department attempted to use African American jazz musicians as a way of gaining African Cold War allegiance. The author asserts that while the musicians were sent to Africa "as symbols of racial and democratic progress in the United States, they may have done more to inspire pan-African solidarity and Cold War nonalignment than uncritical loyalty to the West."(130-31) The third essay, The Road to Vietnam: Modernization Theory in Fact and Fiction, "provides a new interpretation of modernization theory by placing it in a larger cultural context."(6) The author argues that it was "not only a powerfully influential conceptual framework among academics and policymakers, but reached a much broader audience as the civil religion of Cold War liberals."(136)


Part Three: Framing Coups: Iran and Guatemala includes two essays. The first essay, Discursive Subversions: Time Magazine, the CIA Overthrow of Musaddiq, and the Installation of the Shah, looks at the role mass media played in producing the "structure of feeling" in which the coup was conceived and executed. The author argues that Time magazine "influenced U.S. foreign policy; both drew on and contributed to Orientalist discourses; Mussadiq and other actors tried to combat these influences; and the coup was a product of this struggle for discursive hegemony."(163) Through the essay the author asserts that Time's "Orientalist construction of Mussadiq as a demogogic, emotional, child-like fanatic who had become a Communist dupe served as an important catalyst for covert intervention. By contrast, Time's construction of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as a pro-Western modernizer was a kind of Orientalism in reverse."(7) The second essay, Eisenhower's Guatemalan Doodle, or: How to Draw, Deny, and Take Credit for a Third World Coup, looks at how the "success of the coup in Iran helped to inspire the CIA plot to overthrow the democratically elected governemnt of Jacbo Arbenz in Guatemala."(7)


Part Four: Cold War Liberalism, Activist Expatriates, and Third World Revolution includes three essays. With the first essay, "A World Made Safe for Diversity": The Vietnam Lobby and the Politics of Pluralism, 1945-1958, the author argues that "the primary advocates of U.S. support for Ngo Dinh Diem were liberal internationalists, socialists, and assorted figures on the non-Communist Left."(217) Their campaigns "on behalf of liberal, pluralist internationalism helped to give political legitimacy not only to a variety of left perspectives, but to Catholic anti-communists eager to embrace a complex world that the McCarthyites had reviled."(7) The author concludes that the Vietnam Lobby "contributed to disaster abroad, but served to enrich political culture at home."(236) With the second essay, "We Are All Highly Adventurous": Fidel Castro and the Romance of the White Guerilla, 1957-1958, the author attempts to explain American support for Fidel castro and the Cuban revolution even if the support was short-lived. He asserts that "at no other point in the post-1945 period did so many ordinary Americans unabashedly embrace a foreign insurgency of fatigue-clad, gun-toting rebels."(239) The author believes that a "pre-Cold War tradition in U.S. popular culture that romanticized Latin American insurgency" can be attributed to this "seemingly anomalous pro-Castroism."(240) With the third essay, From Black Power to Civil rights: Julian Mayfield and African American Expatriates in Nkrumah's Ghana, 1957-1966, the author shows how Julian Mayfield and other African American expatriates were "moved by the example of Ghanaian independence to a radical international conception of black power in the late 1950s."(8) He asserts that African American expatriates "struggled, against great odds, to develop an independent and international politics founded on black liberation."(258) This assertion of African American power "was threatened by a narrower civil rights agenda largely imposed by Cold War orthodoxy."(258)


Commentary

To be added Monday February 26, 2007

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