The 20th Century was filled with major historical eventsthat changed the world. These events included two World Wars, a Cold War, andmany political, economic and cultural revolutions. Despite the participation ofmany nations in these international events, America dominated these events andfulfilled the aspirations of Henry R. Luce who asked Americans in a Lifemagazine article in 1941 to “create the first great American Century.” The 20th Century should beconsidered “the American Century” because in the 20th CenturyAmerica played a dominant military role in ending WWI, WWII, and the Cold War, itused its supreme political and financial power to influence foreign politicsand policies, and its cultural and social character had a substantial impact onother cultures around the world. Thereare three main reasons that support this position. First, America’s dominating military power andaccess to substantial resources helped bring a more rapid end to WWI, WWII, andthe Cold War in the 20th Century.
Second, as America became moreactive in world politics in the 20th Century, its politicalinfluence expanded and had a greater impact on governments and politicsthroughout the world. Lastly, America underwent many cultural changes in the 20thCentury that spread and altered the way people lived their lives in the rest ofthe world. Given America’s dominant rolein the significant military, political, and cultural events that shaped theworld in the 20th century, there can be no doubt that the 20thcentury was the American Century. America’sdominating military power and access to substantial resources helped bring amore rapid end to WWI, WWII, and the Cold War in the 20th Century. Before World War I, America had primarilyengaged in a pattern of neutrality and isolationism which was facilitated bythe fact that America was geographically separated from many of the dominatingmilitary forces at the time. However,when Germany began threatening, damaging, and sinking U.
S. ships traveling tothe war zone around Great Britain and started making plans to help Mexicoreclaim territories it had lost to the United States (as revealed in theZimmermann Telegram), the United States entered WWI in 1917. America’s entryinto WWI changed the tide of the war for the Allies because the United Statesprovided a large number of soldiers and other resources that the Allies neededto win the war. Although America returned to an isolationist position and didnot join the League of Nations following WWI, it was compelled to again engagein war when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. America joined theAllies and used traditional warfare techniques and its substantial resources(including weapons and troops) to defeat the Axis powers on the European front. America then used new weapons – called atomicbombs – on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan to bring about the end of the Pacificfront. Although America’s use of theatomic bombs on Japan was partially responsible for the beginning of the ColdWar by starting an arms race with the Soviet Union, America was also primarilyresponsible for bringing an end to the Cold War.
For example, President Reaganactively facilitated the end of the Cold War by effectively using both militaryand practical diplomatic strategies to produce the conditions that were neededto bring an end to the Cold War. For instance,Reagan realized that the United States was stronger than the Soviet Union andif America expanded its offensive and defensive military capabilities it couldforce the Soviets into settlement negotiations. Furthermore, to put pressure on Soviet capabilities, Reagan implementedthe “Reagan Doctrine” to provide economic and military aid to “freedomfighters” and governments that were fighting communism. Lastly, Reagan improvedrelations with the Soviet Union after Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in 1985by meeting with Gorbachev seven times between 1985 and 1989 to discuss armscontrol. In summary, during the 20thCentury, the United States used its superior military strength to help endWorld Wars and the Cold War and became the dominant superpower in the world.As America becamemore active in world politics in the 20th Century, its political influenceexpanded and had a greater impact on governments and politics throughout theworld. The first evidence of the expansion of influence is evident in theinfluence America had in Western Europe following WWII.
America realized it could use its greateconomic strength to help restore Western European nations and ward off theSoviet Union’s efforts to spread Communism. More specifically, much of America’s influence over the world was aresult of economic circumstances which began after WWII when America offeredfinancial aid to war-torn Europe through the Marshall Plan. While many countries in Europe facedeconomies that were overwhelmed by debt and unable to rebuild theirinfrastructure such as road, bridges, and communication facilities, America’seconomy was doing well and had the ability to offer funds to struggling WesternEuropean nations. The economic support of the United States helped rebuild manyWestern European countries and helped ward off the spread of Communism whichthe Soviet Union had been trying to expand at the time. The second piece ofevidence of America’s influence was evident from America’s decision to join theUnited Nations after the end of WWII. Although America chose not to join the League of Nations after WWI, itrealized that decision was a mistake and contributed to WWII and, therefore, itwas more amenable to joining the United Nations after WWII. In the United Nations, the United States wouldhave a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council where it couldplay a dominant role in directing the outcome of future conflicts andparticipate in peacekeeping efforts aimed at preventing wars in the future.Given the United’s states economic, political, and military power, the othermembers of Security Council with Veto powers were reluctant to anger Americawhich helped the United States maintain its power.
Lastly, observing America’s success, peoplein the Soviet Union were more amenable to the concepts of Perestroika and Glasnostoffered by Soviet leader Mikael Gorbachev. These democratic ideals also encouraged countries in Eastern Europe to breakfree of Soviet influence. Countries likePoland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany madedemocratic reforms in their political systems and brought more cooperationbetween these nations and democratic nations in the West. West Germany and East Germany also reunited,and the Berlin Wall was taken down evidencing the end of Soviet control of thearea. America’s influence and support over the movement of countries around theworld towards democratic and capitalist structures clearly demonstrate America’spolitical dominance in the 20th Century world. In addition tomilitary and political domination, America underwent many cultural changes inthe 20th Century that spread and altered the way people lived theirlives in the rest of the world. America’seconomic wealth during most of the 20th Century afforded Americansthe opportunity to expand their consumer culture and this influenced othercultures around the world.
America hadgained economic superiority as it became the largest economy in the world as aresult of its access to an abundance of resources including natural resources (i.e.minerals, metals, timbers, and energy etc.) and labor (including the work ofimmigrants who continued to emigrate to the United States) and its geographicalisolation that spared it from the damages that other countries suffered in WWIand WWII. The strength of the American economyresulted in the American dollar becoming the reserve currency under the BrettonWoods System. American economic success along with technological andtransportation advances allowed people excess wealth and time which resulted inthem being able to afford more consumer goods and having additional free timein which they could enjoy using those goods. Through globalization,international advertising and mass media, other nations were exposed to thesegoods and began to demand access to these American goods including such itemsas automobiles and clothing. Along with access to American goods, people inother countries also had access to other aspects of American culture.
Americabegan to dominate many aspects of modern culture including music, television,movies, food, and art. Soon people could watch American television shows incountries on the other side of the world and buy Big Macs at McDonalds thatwere built in cities outside the United States. With the expansion of mass media, social media, and the internet in the20th Century, Americanization expanded even more and acted aspropaganda converting people into thinking that American culture was superiorto their own. Countries seeking economic development began to make politicaland economic reforms consistent with American capitalist economic systemincluding a focus on consumerism. Furthermore, rather than focusing theirattention on their royalty or government leaders, many people across the world focustheir attention of American actors and singers – like Elvis Presley, MichaelJackson, and Madonna – who become their own cultural icons. Although somecultures eventually fought back by supporting their own cultural goods and icons,America’s strong influence on international culture continued throughout the 20thCentury.In summary,although the 21st Century may not be the “American Century” as Americans fightnuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran and terrorist threats posed bymilitant Islamic terrorist forces, there are a plethora of historical events inthe 20th Century that demonstrate that the 20th Centurywas the “American Century.
” America’s dominating military power brought an endto WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. As America became more active in world politicsfollowing WWI, its political influence expanded and had a greater impact ongovernments and politics throughout the world creating democracies thatcontinue to the present day. Lastly, America underwent many cultural changes inthe 20th Century that spread to the rest of the world and alteredthe way people lived their lives including what they wore, what they watched ontelevision, what they listened to on the radio and what they ate. Given America’s dominant role in thesignificant military, political, and cultural events that shaped the world inthe 20th century, there can be no doubt that the 20thcentury was the “American Century”.