American Century

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The American Century [1] [2] is a characterization of the period since the middle of the 20th century as being largely dominated by the United States in political, economic, and cultural terms. It is comparable to the description of the period 1815–1914 as Britain's Imperial Century. [3] The United States' influence grew throughout the 20th century, but became especially dominant after the end of World War II, when only two superpowers remained, the United States and the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States remained the world's only superpower, [4] and became the hegemon, or what some have termed a hyperpower. [5]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union Process leading to the late-1991 breakup of the USSR

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the process of internal disintegration within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which began in second half of 1980s with growing unrest in the national republics and ended on 26 December 1991, when the USSR itself was voted out of existence by the Supreme Soviet, following the Belavezha Accords. Declaration number 142-Н by the Supreme Soviet resulted in self-governing independence to the Republics of the USSR, formally dissolving the USSR. The declaration acknowledged the independence of the former Soviet republics and created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although five of the signatories ratified it much later or did not do so at all. On the previous day, 25 December, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the USSR, resigned, declared his office extinct and handed over its powers—including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes—to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That evening at 7:32 p.m., the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the pre-revolutionary Russian flag.


Origin of the phrase

The term was coined by Time publisher Henry Luce to describe what he thought the role of the United States would be and should be during the 20th century. [6] Luce, the son of a missionary, in a February 17, 1941 Life magazine editorial [7] urged the United States to forsake isolationism for a missionary's role, acting as the world's Good Samaritan and spreading democracy. He called upon the US to enter World War II to defend democratic values:

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Henry Luce American publisher

Henry Robinson Luce was an American magazine magnate who was called "the most influential private citizen in the America of his day". He launched and closely supervised a stable of magazines that transformed journalism and the reading habits of millions of Americans. Time summarized and interpreted the week's news; Life was a picture magazine of politics, culture, and society that dominated American visual perceptions in the era before television; Fortune reported on national and international business; and Sports Illustrated explored the world of sports. Counting his radio projects and newsreels, Luce created the first multimedia corporation. He envisaged that the United States would achieve world hegemony, and, in 1941, he declared the 20th century would be the "American Century".

<i>Life</i> (magazine) American magazine

Life was an American magazine published weekly until 1972, as an intermittent "special" until 1978, and as a monthly from 1978 to 2000. During its golden age from 1936 to 1972, Life was a wide-ranging weekly general interest magazine known for the quality of its photography.

Throughout the 17th century and the 18th century and the 19th century, this continent teemed with manifold projects and magnificent purposes. Above them all and weaving them all together into the most exciting flag of all the world and of all history was the triumphal purpose of freedom.

It is in this spirit that all of us are called, each to his own measure of capacity, and each in the widest horizon of his vision, to create the first great American Century. [8]

Democracy and other American ideals would "do their mysterious work of lifting the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmist called a little lower than the angels". Only under the American Century can the world "come to life in any nobility of health and vigor". [9]

According to David Harvey, Luce believed "the power conferred was global and universal rather than territorially specific, so Luce preferred to talk of an American century rather than an empire". [10] In the same article he called upon United States "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit". [11]

Early characteristics

Post-Spanish-American War map of "Greater America" GreaterAmericaMap.jpg
Post-Spanish–American War map of "Greater America"

Beginning at the end of the 19th century, with the Spanish–American War in 1898 and the Boxer Rebellion, the United States began to play a more prominent role in the world beyond the North American continent. The government adopted protectionism after the Spanish–American War to develop its native industry and built up the navy, the "Great White Fleet". When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, he accelerated a foreign policy shift away from isolationism and towards foreign involvement, a process which had begun under his predecessor William McKinley.

Spanish–American War Conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States

The Spanish–American War was an armed conflict between Spain and the United States in 1898. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of USS Maine in Havana Harbor in Cuba, leading to U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. The war led to emergence of U.S. predominance in the Caribbean region, and resulted in U.S. acquisition of Spain's Pacific possessions. That led to U.S. involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately in the Philippine–American War.

Boxer Rebellion anti-imperialist uprising which took place in China

The Boxer Rebellion (拳亂), Boxer Uprising, or Yihetuan Movement (義和團運動) was an anti-imperialist, anti-foreign, and anti-Christian uprising that took place in China between 1899 and 1901, toward the end of the Qing dynasty. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the Boxers, for many of their members had been practitioners of Chinese martial arts, also referred to in the west as Chinese Boxing. The uprising took place against a background that included severe drought and disruption caused by the growth of foreign spheres of influence in China. After several months of growing violence in Shandong and the North China plain against the foreign and Christian presence in June 1900, Boxer fighters, convinced they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan Support the Qing government and exterminate the foreigners. Foreigners and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter.

Protectionism Economic policy of restraining trade between states through government regulations

Protectionism is the economic policy of restricting imports from other countries through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, import quotas, and a variety of other government regulations. Proponents claim that protectionist policies shield the producers, businesses, and workers of the import-competing sector in the country from foreign competitors. However, they also reduce trade and adversely affect consumers in general, and harm the producers and workers in export sectors, both in the country implementing protectionist policies and in the countries protected against.

For instance, the United States fought the Philippine–American War against the First Philippine Republic to solidify its control over the newly acquired Philippines. [12] In 1904, Roosevelt committed the United States to building the Panama Canal, creating the Panama Canal Zone. Interventionism found its formal articulation in the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, proclaiming a right for the United States to intervene anywhere in the Americas, a moment that underlined the emergent US regional hegemony.

After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention, avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. President Woodrow Wilson later argued that the war was so important that the US had to have a voice in the peace conference. [13] The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but entered the war in 1917 as a self-styled "Associated Power". Initially the United States had a small army, but, after the passage of the Selective Service Act, it drafted 2.8 million men, [14] and, by summer 1918, was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day. The war ended in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles. The United States then adopted a policy of isolationism, having refused to endorse the 1919 Versailles Treaty or formally enter the League of Nations. [15]

During the interwar period, economic protectionism took hold in the United States, particularly as a result of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act which is credited by economists with the prolonging and worldwide propagation of the Great Depression. [16] :33 From 1934, trade liberalization began to take place through the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.

With the onset of World War II in 1939, Congress loosened the Neutrality Acts of 1930s but remained opposed to entering the European war. [17] In 1940, the United States ranked 18th in terms of military power. [18] [19] [20] The Neutrality Patrol had US destroyers fighting at sea, but no state of war had been declared by Congress. American public opinion remained isolationist. The 800,000-member America First Committee vehemently opposed any American intervention in the European conflict, even as the US sold military aid to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease program.

In the 1941 State of the Union address, known as the Four Freedoms speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a break with the tradition of non-interventionism. He outlined the US role in helping allies already engaged in warfare. By August, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had drafted the Atlantic Charter to define goals for the post-war world. [21] In December 1941, Japan attacked American and British holdings with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. [22] These attacks led the United States and United Kingdom to declare war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, which the United States reciprocated. [23]

In an effort to maintain peace after World War II, [24] the Allies formed the United Nations, which came into existence on October 24, 1945, [25] and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as a common standard for all member states. [26] The U.S. worked closely with the United Kingdom to establish the IMF, World Bank and NATO. [27] [28]

Pax Americana

Pax Americana represents the relative peace in the Western world, resulting in part from the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States of America starting around the middle of the 20th century. Although the term finds its primary utility in the late 20th century, it has been used in other times in the 20th century. Its modern connotations concern the peace established after the end of World War II in 1945.

Post-1945 characteristics

Map of United States at furthest extent American Empire1.PNG
Map of United States at furthest extent

The American Century existed through the Cold War and demonstrated the status of the United States as the foremost of the world's two superpowers. After the Cold War, the most common belief held that only the United States fulfilled the criteria to be considered a superpower. [4] Its geographic area composed the fourth-largest state in the world, with an area of approximately 9.37 million km2. [29] The population of the US was 248.7 million in 1990, at that time the third-largest nation. [30]

In the mid-to-late 20th century, the political status of the US was defined as a strongly capitalist federation and constitutional republic. It had a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council plus two allies with permanent seats, the United Kingdom and France. The US had strong ties with capitalist Western Europe, Latin America, British Commonwealth, and several East Asian countries (Korea, Taiwan, Japan). It allied itself with both right-wing dictatorships and capitalist democracies. [31]

The American Century includes the political influence of the United States but also its economic influence. Many states around the world would, over the course of the 20th century, adopt the economic policies of the Washington Consensus, sometimes against the wishes of their populations. The economic force of the US was powerful at the end of the century due to it being by far the largest economy in the world. The US had large resources of minerals, energy resources, metals, and timber, a large and modernized farming industry and large industrial base. The United States dollar is the dominant world reserve currency under the Bretton Woods system. US systems were rooted in capitalist economic theory based on supply and demand, that is, production determined by customers' demands. America was allied with the G7 major economies. US economic policy prescriptions were the "standard" reform packages promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by Washington, DC-based international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, as well as the US Treasury Department. [32]

The military of the United States was a naval-based advanced military with by far the highest military expenditure in the world. [33] The United States Navy was the world's largest navy, with the largest number of aircraft carriers, bases all over the world (particularly in an incomplete "ring" bordering the Warsaw Pact states to the west, south and east). The US had the largest nuclear arsenal in the world during the first half of the Cold War, one of the largest armies in the world and one of the two largest air forces in the world. Its powerful military allies in Western Europe (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation states) had their own nuclear capabilities. The US also possessed a powerful global intelligence network in the Central Intelligence Agency.

The cultural impact of the US, often known as Americanization, is seen in the influence on other countries of US music, TV, films, art, and fashion, as well as the desire for freedom of speech and other guaranteed rights its residents enjoy. US pop stars such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have become global celebrities. [34]

Criticism and usage

Critics have condemned Luce's "jingoistic missionary zeal". [35] Others have noted the end of the 20th century and the American Century, most famously the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson who titled his autobiography Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star Crossed Child in the Last Days of the American Century.

With the advent of the new millennium, critics from the University of Illinois stated that it was a matter of debate whether America was losing its superpower status, especially in relation to China's rise. [36] Other analysts have made the case for the "American Century" fitting neatly between America's late entry into World War I in 1917 and the inauguration of its 45th President in 2017. [37]

Other scholars, such as George Friedman, stipulate that the 21st century will be the U.S. century: "The twenty-first century will be the American century." [38]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Lend-Lease A United States program during World War II which provided countries fighting the Nazis with military equipment free of charge.

The Lend-Lease policy, formally titled An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, was a program under which the United States supplied the United Kingdom, Free France, the Republic of China, and later the Soviet Union and other Allied nations with food, oil, and materiel between 1941 and August 1945. This included warships and warplanes, along with other weaponry. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, and ended in September 1945. In general the aid was free, although some hardware were returned after the war. In return, the U.S. was given leases on army and naval bases in Allied territory during the war. Canada operated a similar smaller program called Mutual Aid.

Superpower Very powerful nation

A superpower is a state with a dominant position characterized by its extensive ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale. This is done through the combined-means of economic, military, technological and cultural strength as well as diplomatic and soft power influence. Traditionally, superpowers are preeminent among the great powers.

American imperialism

American imperialism is a term for the policy of the United States aimed at extending the political, economic, and cultural control of its government over areas beyond its boundaries. Depending on the commentator, it may include military conquest, gunboat diplomacy, unequal treaties, subsidization of preferred factions, economic penetration through private companies followed by intervention when those interests are threatened, or regime change.

Great power nation that has great political, social, and economic influence

A great power is a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence, which may cause middle or small powers to consider the great powers' opinions before taking actions of their own. International relations theorists have posited that great power status can be characterized into power capabilities, spatial aspects, and status dimensions.

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Non-interventionism is the diplomatic policy whereby a nation seeks to avoid alliances with other nations in order to avoid being drawn into wars not related to direct territorial self-defense, has had a long history among government and popular opinion in the United States. At times, the degree and nature of this policy was better known as isolationism, such as the period between the world wars.

Declaration by United Nations treaty

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Indian Century

The Indian Century is the possibility that the 21st century will be dominated by India, similarly to how the 20th century is often called the American Century, and the 19th century as Pax Britannica. The phrase is used particularly in the assertion that the economy of India could overtake the economy of the United States and economy of China as the largest national economy in the world, a position it held from 1 to 1500 A.D. and in 1700 A.D.

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Soviet Union–United States relations Diplomatic relations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America

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Argentina–United States relations Diplomatic relations between the Argentine Republic and the United States of America

Argentina and the United States have maintained bilateral relations since the United States formally recognized the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, the predecessor to Argentina, on January 27, 1823.

Potential superpowers Soon to be a superpower

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Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, third and fourth terms

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The foreign policy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was the foreign policy of the United States from 1933 to 1945, under the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, first and second terms, and the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, third and fourth terms. Roosevelt kept personal control of foreign-policy in the White House, and for that he depended heavily on Henry Morgenthau, Sumner Welles and Harry Hopkins. Meanwhile Secretary of State Cordell Hull handled routine matters; the president ignored Hull on most major issues. Roosevelt was an internationalist, and Congress favored more isolationist solutions, so there was considerable tension before Pearl Harbor in December 1941. During the war years, treaties were few and diplomacy played a secondary role to high-level negotiations with the Allies, especially Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin.


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Further reading