I don’t know how to handle this History question and need guidance.
At the turn of the century, the U.S. decided to aid Britain and France and join WW1. The addition of newly trained American soldiers was an invaluable boost as millions of young European soldiers were already dead draining the entire population of men aged 17-35. What does this article say about how WW1 along with the wars that followed shaped America? How does economy come into play? What direction do you think the U.S. is going in terms with wars fought now and the economy? Remember to quote your references from the article.
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Title: Americans Go To War
Author(s): Kenneth Auchincloss
Source: Newsweek. 133.10 (Mar. 8, 1999): p30. From Popular Culture Collection.
Document Type: Article
Full Text: Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Any reuse, distribution or alteration without express written
permission of Newsweek is prohibited. For permission: www.newsweek.com
The bloody conflicts of this century have, for good and ill, shaped the nation we live in. Listen now as the
people who lived through these dramatic years, from the doughboys of World War I to the Great Men of
World War II to the grunts of Vietnam, tell their stories of life-and death-at the front.
Wars are not the way americans get things done, or at least that’s what they like to think. They dream, they
invent, they build, they grow, but they fight only when they or their friends are provoked. That is the
national mythology, and it is more or less true. America has not started a war in this century. But it has
fought five hot ones and one very long, very costly cold one. It’s those wars, more than any other single
factor, that have shaped the so-called American Century. Like it or not, war-and the threat of war-has
fueled the engine of American success: the nation’s international prestige, its economic power, its
technological edge have all sprung in large part from the battlefield.
In the pages that follow, Newsweek tells the story of 20th-century America at war, through the voices of
men and women caught up in the combat. These people, both famous and obscure, are the eyewitnesses of
the century about to end. Their accounts are necessarily snapshots, just glimpses of history. But we hope
that, gathered together, they bring the past alive in a way not often achieved in history books.
The first half of the century, some historians say, was dominated by a new Thirty Years War stretching from
1914 to 1945. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the onset of World War II, according to this view, flowed
directly from the imperfect peace that ended World War I. There’s much truth to that, but it’s possible to
take an even longer view of the century’s struggles. When 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip shot Austria’s
Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, he set off a Seventy-Five Years War that ended only when the Soviet
empire broke to bits in 1989. World War I made possible the Russian Revolution in 1917 and greatly
contributed to the Depression of the ’30s; the rise of communism and the economic collapse helped drive the
Germans into Hitler’s embrace, and World War II was the result; the defeat of the Nazis greatly strengthened
Soviet Russia, which had borne the brunt of the fighting; Soviet aggrandizement and Western resistance
triggered the cold war, which led to hot wars in Korea and Vietnam. It’s all of a piece, a grim 20th- century
tapestry reddened with the blood of millions.
Europeans tend to think of the century as beginning in 1914, when the curtain rose on this long and tragic
drama. For Americans, though, the century started even before the years began with 19. In 1898 an
explosion ripped the bottom of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. To this day, it’s unclear what
caused the blast-a Cuban mine? a faulty boiler?-but the result was the Spanish-American War (yes, the U.S.
started that one). It was all over in a few months, long enough to transform the United States from a rich
bumpkin lounging on the sidelines of world affairs to a promising young player. It acquired a colony, the
Philippines (the occasion for Rudyard Kipling’s exhortation “Take up the white man’s burden”), and, in
1901, a president who precisely suited the nation’s muscular new mood. Theodore Roosevelt, ex-Rough
Rider, galloped jauntily onto the international scene. He made peace between Russia and Japan in 1905
(winning the first Nobel Prize to go to an American) and sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world to
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display America’s naval might.
World War I gave the nation its first real taste of modern warfare-and it was woefully unprepared. A year
after the United States declared war in April 1917, American troops were still not ready for combat. The
ships that carried them to France were mostly British, and only a small fraction of their artillery was
American-made. The battles that they finally fought were not particularly decisive. But arguably the Yanks
did turn the tide: they were fresh troops, and the Germans, French and British were bitter and bone-weary.
With 2 million doughboys in the field and another 2 million waiting to embark, the war sputtered out in the
On Dec. 13, 1918, the liner George Washington arrived in France, bringing President Woodrow Wilson to
help make the peace. He was greeted by ecstatic crowds who evidently hoped that the New World might
overcome the ancient rivalries of the Old. They were sad-ly mistaken. Wilson brought with him a sheaf of
high principles-democracy, self- determination, world government-that bore little relevance to the tangled
politics and even more tangled geography of postwar Europe. His idealism was soon drowned out by the
revanchist passions of his allies. The result was a draconian settlement, with fierce reparations clamped onto
Germany that crippled its economy and eventually helped bring on the world slump. Even the U.S. public
deserted the president: the Senate rejected the League of Nations, and for the next two decades America
retreated into the isolationism from which, despite Wilson’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s exhortations, it had
never really emerged.
This ended only at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, was a blessing, of sorts, for Franklin
Roosevelt. Ever since World War II had broken out in Europe two years before, the president had been
searching for ways around the Neutrality Acts imposed on him by a war- wary Congress. With deadly
precision, the planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy removed those obstacles. The war also accomplished
something Roosevelt had been unable to do in eight years: it ended the Great Depression. The New Deal’s
whirlwind of federal experiments had managed to restore hope to the nation’s bedraggled spirits, but it had
not managed to restore growth to the economy. Indeed, some of the architects of the New Deal believed the
Depression showed that American industrial growth had gone about as far as it could go, and the job of
government was to manage an essentially inelastic economy. The war changed all that. Washington’s antibusiness animus dissolved in a frenzy of war production. New planes and guns rolled off assembly lines that
had long lain idle; shipyards bustled with new life. “Rosie the Riveter” became a national icon as women
picked up the tools that men had dropped as they went off to war (though it must be said that the gender
transformation of the American workplace would have to wait another generation; after the war Rosie and
her cohort happily went back to the joys of motherhood and built the baby boom).
It was the first (and so far only) truly world war. In 1918 the American Expeditionary Forces (a quaint name
that suggested the Army was taking only a slight detour from chasing Pancho Villa through the wilds of
Mexico) had gone to France and met Mademoiselle from Armentieres. After 1941 the troops, and the
civilians at home who followed their progress, had a much richer geography lesson. In the Atlantictheater
they poured into England and North Africa, and from there to Italy, France and finally Germany. In the
Pacific they learned the names of a hundred specklike islands: the Marshalls, the Solomons, the Marianas;
Guadalcanal and, most memorably, Iwo Jima-all of them briefly lit up with bursts of flak and the fire of
flamethrowers. A far brighter light illuminated two little-known Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps the enormous sweep of the war helped convince once isolationist America that it had new world
responsibilities it could not ignore when the war ended. But there were two more important factors. The
United States emerged as the only world power that had not been drained, in both blood and productive
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capacity, by the long struggle. And even as the guns fell silent in 1945, a new threat began to take shape.
The Russians, uneasy allies throughout the war, seemed bent on installing friendly (read: communist)
regimes in the Eastern European lands they had liberated.
And so the Iron Curtain descended and the cold war was born. In a way, the Soviet challenge was a boon to
the West. It spurred the other victors to offer a generous peace to the devastated Germans and Japanese,
fastening them to the Western camp. It prompted the Marshall Plan, in which the United States poured $17
billion into rubble-strewn Western Europe and ignited an economic renaissance that kept local communists
at bay in the polls. In America itself, “national security” became a phrase that led to some excesses of
political correctness-the McCarthy spasm-but also justified the massive military buildup that helped keep
American technology at the world’s forefront for decades to come.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that the cold war would turn hot at the fringes. First in Korea, then in Vietnam,
communist regimes in the north of small, divided countries launched wars to capture by force the
noncommunist south. When the United States intervened with troops, two bloody Asian land wars were the
result. These two conflicts-in neither one was war ever declared by Congress-tested the limits of the
American public’s patience with the consequences and morality of their country’s new international burdens.
Vietnam turned into an angry home-front battle that divided generations, escalated political rhetoric into the
torrid zone (“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”) and blighted the presidency of Lyndon
Johnson. A whole new youth culture both fueled the antiwar movement and sprang out of it: these were the
years of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Authority, even civility, in America would never be quite the same.
Nor would the military. Pentagon generals, shellshocked by denunciations, adopted a cautious new posture
eventually dubbed the Powell Doctrine, af-ter Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (1989-93) Colin Powell. The
United States should avoid protracted conflicts; it should intervene overseas only when the objective was
clear and when it could bring to bear such massive superiority that a swift victory was virtually certain.
Those precepts lay behind America’s last war of the century, the 43-day Desert Storm that liberated Kuwait
from its Iraqi invaders in 1991.
By then, of course, the cold war was over. It had died, in large part, of exhaustion-the exhaustion of the
Soviet Union in maintaining an empire it could no longer control and an arms race it could no longer afford.
It had died because of what historian David M. Kennedy, in his forthcoming book “Freedom From Fear,”
calls America’s greatest achievement of the last 50 years: the creation of a thriving capitalist world
economy, envied even by its adversaries in the communist camp. And it had died because at critical
moments when America and the Soviet Union might have come to blows-the Berlin blockade of 1948, the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962-cool heads on both sides devised alternatives to Armageddon. The great men
who kept the peace, as well as the grunts who fought the wars, are the century’s heroes.
Copyright 1999 Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved. Any reuse, distribution or alteration without express
written permission of Newsweek is prohibited. http://www.newsweek.com
War has played a major role in shaping US history in the 20th century. World War I and World War I
dominated the first half of the century. The cold war, with its clashes in Korea and Vietnam, began after
World War II and ended in the 1990s.
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Auchincloss, Kenneth. “Americans Go To War.” Newsweek 8 Mar. 1999: 30. Gale Power Search. Web. 11
Gale Document Number: GALE|A54022250
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