Ideology and U.S. Foreign Relations Essay

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Ideology and U.S. foreign relations

Foreign Relations

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Howard Zinn (1991), author of Declarations of independence: cross-examining American ideology, begins his book by saying that when the idea that black people were "less than human" entered Western consciousness several centuries ago, it made the Atlantic slave trade able to happen, during which time approximately 40 million people died; the beliefs concerning racial inadequacy, related to blacks or Jews, Arabs or Orientals, have led to more instances of genocide; the idea that communism in Vietnam was a threat to our "national security" presented by political leaders in 1964 (and one that Americans accepted) led to certain policies that cost a million lives -- including 55,000 young Americans; other ideas like "laissez-faire" (leave the poor to their own devices) and help the rich have led the United States government for most of its history to financially support corporations while neglecting the poor, permitting unhealthy living and working conditions and allowing suffering to occur (1991). Because of these beliefs, Zinn (1991) states that "we can reasonably conclude that how we think is not just mildly interesting, not just a subject for intellectual debate, but a matter of life and death" (1991).

Essay on Ideology and U.S. Foreign Relations Foreign Relations Assignment

Ideology is a way that a group thinks about its political orientation as well as its social characteristics, and America definitely has its own unique way of characterizing itself in terms of orientation and its place in the world. American ideology has been rampantly growing since the American Revolution, yet it hasn't been until more recent history that philosophers and sociologists have started considering the American ideology and the consequences of its characterizations, how it has shaped the people of American, and how it has shaped our nation as well as impacted other nations around the world. It was also given a name.

America began as a place that was all about new beginnings and people came to America initially in search of something. "The early quests for wealth, personal salvation, westward empire, control of the world's centers of political and economic power, and supremacy in technology led to both the settlement of America and its rise as the globe's superpower" (LaFeber 1994).

The dominance of the American ideology is not a product of a secretly plotting group that has schemed to embed in society a specific perspective for how America should be or how nations around the world should view it. Yet, it must be noted that it is not an mistake either, or some naive consequence of people thinking freely (Zinn 1991).

There is a process of natural (or, rather unnatural) selection, in which certain orthodox ideas are encouraged, financed, and pushed forward by the most powerful mechanisms of our culture. These ideas are preferred because they are safe; they don't threaten established wealth or power (Zinn 1991).

Zinn's (1991) claims about American ideology and how it affects our society -- and world -- are not outrageous (at all). Since the founding fathers first developed foreign policy, there has been talk of the "American destiny." Hunt (1988) helps to explain how these ideologies came to be with his three core ideas or principles. He states that there are three core ideas that influenced America and its foreign policy, which have been quite influential in guiding America's destiny and the way that it views itself. The first of the core ideas was a "capstone idea" that "defined the American future in terms of an active quest for national greatness closely coupled to the promotion of liberty" (1988). The next core idea in ideology defined attitudes toward other persons in a sort of racial hierarchy; this is what gave white Americans the inspiration "to secure and maintain their supremacy under conditions that differed from region to region" (1988); it was also the first core idea to really gain distinction (1988). The third core idea defined the limits of acceptable political and social change overseas in keeping with the settled conviction that revolutions, though they might be a force for good, could easily develop in a dangerous direction. Attitudes toward revolution, like those toward race, were fairly consistent through the formative first century, but unlike views on race, they were only sporadically evoked in that period (Hunt 1988).

These three core ideas have become a national mission, according to Hunt (1988), or what could also be referred to as "America's destiny." His idea is a major reinterpretation of American diplomatic history believing that this ideology has shaped foreign policy in the United States. The ideology is based on a notion of a national mission, on the racial categorization of other persons, and on opposition toward social revolutions. Certain attitudes about race have strengthened a sense of cultural superiority in the United States, as we came into existence as a slaveholding nation, and slavery exerted a very strong impact on its foreign policy until its eradication after the Civil War. Slavery was supported by "pseudo-scientific" 19th century ideas about hierarchy of race that assigned the top of the pyramid to white Anglo-Saxons and lower areas of the pyramid to other races based purely on how dark the skin color (Herring 2008). Americans' perspectives and ideas about race, along with their belief in their cultural superiority, made it easy to rationalize expansion and empire (2008).

In their dealings with 'barbarous' Mediterranean and Malay 'pirates,' 'bigoted' and 'indolent' people of Spanish descent, and 'inscrutable' Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese, nineteenth-century Americans often adopted a high-handed approach based on a sense of racial superiority. Scientific racism was discredited in the twentieth century, but more subtle forms have exerted persisting influence over U.S. interactions with other peoples and nations (Herring 2008).

The early American foreign-policy-makers' view of a growing and maturing empire involved overt racism that seemed, strangely enough, to have its roots in liberalism as much as any other human philosophy (Colorado Edu 2010). As mentioned, Hunt (1988) considers white racism of the American elite one of the three core ideas that motivated American foreign policy from the very beginning. Hunt (1988) shows that the United States' views on racism began as an elite ideology and remained vital to the views of foreign-policy-makers until much after the Second World War. "Racism was not just an elite ideology in the slave south, either;" Hunt quotes "the racist writings of the most urbane and progressive of the founding fathers from the north, Benjamin Franklin" (2010).

Columnist Walter Lippmann wrote at the apex of the Cold War, "The American conscience is a reality. It will make hesitant and ineffectual, even if it does not prevent, an un-American policy" (Herring 2008). There is a "special destiny" (2008) that has been created in the minds of Americans. This feeling of having a special destiny has at times bred a sense of superiority and pride. The contempt for Indians and Mexicans were part of what gave America the energy to hurry across the continent, taking it for itself. It pushed the Indians westward, nearly to the point of non-existence; it took one-third of Mexico's territory in the process. There were similar cases in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Herring (2008) notes that beginning with an "ill-fated incursion into Canada in 1775 to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, America's sense of its grand historical mission has even justified spreading the blessings of liberty by force."

The use of force became and still is a way for America to deal with the world. When the United States was in its embryonic stages, isolation was the best way to be in the world; however, as the United States grew stronger and more powerful on a global scale, it could go boldly into conversion attempts with its neighbors -- and with those that were not its neighbors. The world was the United States' candy store and it would go wherever it could force itself into. However, "when those attempts failed, American policy-makers felt it to be not only justified, but benevolent, to impose conversion to the American way by force" (Colorado Edu 2010). Many have said that when the United States has used force to expand its territory it has done so with "self-determination as the justification, forcing the American southwest, Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines to convert to the freedom they would have under the American system" (2010).

Hunt (2009) notes that President McKinley's decision to annex the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam was not a part of some master plan, but rather, it was a consistent devotion to the notion of "national greatness -- commercial prosperity, territorial expansion, and military security" (2009). McKinley said the United States had a right and a duty to establish colonies and help "oppressed peoples" (2009) and influence the world by projecting its power. The idea was that everyone would benefit -- not just America. Supporters of the President agreed with him, calling Americans "a people imperial by virtue of their power, by right of their institutions, by authority of their Heaven-directed purposes" (2009). The fact that America could see itself as… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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