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The Myth of American Diplomacy

The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy

Walter L. Hixson
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Myth of American Diplomacy
    Book Description:

    In this major reconceptualization of the history of U.S. foreign policy, Walter Hixson engages with the entire sweep of that history, from its Puritan beginnings to the twenty-first century's war on terror. He contends that a mythical national identity, which includes the notion of American moral superiority and the duty to protect all of humanity, has had remarkable continuity through the centuries, repeatedly propelling America into war against an endless series of external enemies. As this myth has supported violence, violence in turn has supported the myth.

    The Myth of American Diplomacyshows the deep connections between American foreign policy and the domestic culture from which it springs. Hixson investigates the national narratives that help to explain ethnic cleansing of Indians, nineteenth-century imperial thrusts in Mexico and the Philippines, the two World Wars, the Cold War, the Iraq War, and today's war on terror. He examines the discourses within America that have continuously inspired what he calls our "pathologically violent foreign policy." The presumption that, as an exceptionally virtuous nation, the United States possesses a special right to exert power only encourages violence, Hixson concludes, and he suggests some fruitful ways to redirect foreign policy toward a more just and peaceful world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15013-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Myth of America
    (pp. 1-16)

    Before signing with the New York Mets for the 2006 season, Carlos Delgado consented to the baseball club’s request that he join his teammates on the field during the seventh-inning stretch for the playing of “God Bless America.” A native of Puerto Rico, a neocolonial U.S. “commonwealth,” Delgado had aroused the wrath of major league baseball and its fans by taking a principled stand against participating in the patriotic ritual, instituted in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “The reason why I didn’t stand was because I didn’t...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Birth of a Nation
    (pp. 17-42)

    A benign narrative of discovery and settlement established a frame conducive to the construction of Euro-American and U.S. identity in the New World. Within this frame, Europeans landed on virgin shores and proceeded to conquer the wilderness as part of the advance of civilization under the biblical God. Early modern European expansion brought immediate economic benefits, notably land, gold, sugar, slaves, and other valuable commodities, thus cementing imperial expansion as a sine qua non of the modern world.

    In the tenth century Norsemen (Vikings) had landed in North America, but conquest began some five hundred years later with the arrival...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The White Man’s Continent
    (pp. 43-73)

    As offspring of the British Empire and men well schooled in the classics of Greece and Rome, the Founding Fathers viewed themselves as architects of a manly empire. Alexander Hamilton spoke for many when he viewed the United States as “Hercules in the cradle.”¹ The allusion to Hercules foreshadowed a day when the new nation was to function not merely as a “city on a hill” but as the splendid, unchained embodiment of aggressive masculine power. George Washington referenced the “rising American empire” while Jefferson provided the most ironic trope, an “empire of liberty.”

    Despite the reference to Hercules, manliness...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Reunite and Conquer
    (pp. 74-101)

    Like a massive avalanche, the Civil War thundered across the national landscape and left a mountain of debris in the path of the “empire of liberty.” It would take more than a generation to clear the way sufficiently for the nation to fully “heal” and reassert a revived imperialism extending well beyond the antebellum conception of merely continental “destiny.” Even during this interregnum, however, the ongoing conquest of “merciless Indian savages” continued and, despite the end of slavery, the exaltation of whiteness gained renewed momentum.

    The Civil War and the subsequent industrial era unleashed profound domestic dislocations over the sectional...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Imperial Crises
    (pp. 102-131)

    While the imagined community sought in war cathartic release from myriad internal anxieties, the externally focused fin de siècle violence brought only temporary relief. War functioned like an alcoholic binge, elevating the national mood to unnatural heights, only to produce the inevitable hangover in its aftermath. The “splendid” euphoria of victory gave way to bitter recriminations over the U.S. invasion of the Philippines, which contravened Myth of America discourse depicting the United States as a virtuous beacon of liberty and champion of self-determination. Critics savagely condemned imperialism in the Philippines, inciting a national debate and necessitating development of new, discursively...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Choosing War
    (pp. 132-162)

    Going to war in 1917 brought deliverance from domestic anxieties and reaffirmation of Myth of America identity through externally focused violence. National patriotism soared as the arrival of two million U.S. troops made a difference in the war, affirming the nation’s identity as a divinely sanctioned redeemer nation. The tumultuous welcome accorded Wilson in London and Paris, complemented by the emotional homecoming of U.S. troops, thus inspired another brief yet splendid new era of good feelings.

    The Fourteen Points—the most powerful representation of Myth of America discourse since Lincoln and the Civil War—electrified domestic and international opinion. With...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Wars Good and Cold
    (pp. 163-191)

    With Myth of America identity buoyed by victory in Europe and Asia, the United States demanded universal acceptance of its providential mission to shepherd the “Free World.” When the USSR, the other triumphant power to emerge from World War II, rejected the scripted teleology of U.S. global hegemony, the Sovietsreemergedas the primary external enemy-other. The “Cold War” entailed not merely defensive “containment” of communism, but rather a renewed quest to “roll back” and defeat the communist movement.

    Framing the Cold War as a postwar phenomenon facilitated placing the onus for the conflict on “Soviet expansionism.” This frame elides...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Militarization and Countersubversion
    (pp. 192-213)

    The “good” war powerfully reaffirmed national identity by resurrecting the imagined community in the wake of the debilitating Great Depression. Massive government spending, grounded in the fiscal policy outlined by the Briton John Maynard Keynes, the preeminent economic thinker of the twentieth century, fueled the war effort and economic recovery. The unparalleled deficit spending belied classical economic theory and underscored the failure of laissez-faire either to end the Depression or fund the massive war effort. While free enterprise remained integral to the discourse of capitalism, the Depression and the war had shown that the “magic of the marketplace” could not...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Neocolonial Nightmares
    (pp. 214-244)

    In the postwar era, the “Third World” emerged as a staging ground for violent reaffirmation of U.S. cultural identity. As a white, modernist, and manly nation, under God, the United States inscribed the non-Western world as an arena of “backward” and “developing” peoples and lands. The Myth of America sanctioned the projection of militant national identity across the globe, usually with devastating consequences for indigenous peoples. The Second Indochina War, however, exposed the pathological contradictions inherent in the nation’s identity and its neo-colonialist foreign policy.

    The Cold War intensified violent conflict in the Third World, yet the North–South struggle...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Patriotic Revival
    (pp. 245-276)

    The crisis of “Vietnam,” coupled with racial conflict and the emergence of a “counterculture,” delivered the most staggering blows to Myth of America identity since the Civil War. The seemingly endless war in Southeast Asia destabilized U.S. society and even briefly revived the moribund left. Before the 1970 s had ended, however, national identity underwent a powerful resurgence. By choosing war—indeed, launching a series of wars—the nation sought to recapture and reaffirm its imagined identity. The patriotic revival that ensued revived cultural hegemony while marginalizing domestic reformers and peace internationalists in concert with demonization of the “liberal sixties.”...

  14. CHAPTER 10 September 11 and the Global Crusade
    (pp. 277-304)

    The attacks of September 11, 2001, delivered a shattering assault on U.S. patriotic identity. The “9 /11” attacks killed some three thousand people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania and reduced to rubble the World Trade Center twin towers, symbols of U.S. financial power, global leadership, and modernist prestige. As the world’s “sole remaining superpower,” the United States had appeared om nip otent, fostering an illusion of invulnerability that exacerbated the impact of the attacks.

    The September 11 assaults thus brought the militancy inherent in Myth of America identity roaring to the surface. The “global war on terror” reignited the...

  15. CONCLUSION: Toward a New Hegemony
    (pp. 305-308)

    Although obscured by a thick cloud of patriotic representation, violent aggression inheres in national identity. The continuous pattern of warfare and intervention analyzed in this book, from Euro-American “settlement” to the “global war on terror,” flows from an identity rooted in nationalist modernity conjoined with psychic crisis. Identity-driven foreign policy perpetuates enemy-othering reinforced by discourses of race, gender, and religion.

    Foreign policy facilitates domestic cultural hegemony through continuous campaigns of external violence. War affirms Myth of America identity, thus maintaining a critical mass of spontaneous consent, while diverting resources into militarization, national security or homeland security and thus away from...

  16. Appendix A. Discourse and Disciplinary Knowledge
    (pp. 309-312)
  17. Appendix B. Gramscian Cultural Hegemony
    (pp. 313-314)
  18. Appendix C. Postmodernism
    (pp. 315-316)
  19. Appendix D. Identity and Lacanian Psychoanalytic Theory
    (pp. 317-318)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 319-340)
  21. Works Cited
    (pp. 341-368)
  22. Index
    (pp. 369-377)