Sunday, 29 December 2013

The USA and the world: the American model

Pages 28-29 of the textbook: the American model (LESSON 4)

The Soviet model of society was egalitarian, with a one-party State run by and for the workers. The economy, centralized, was run by the State and geared to producing goods to satisfy the needs of the people. The USSR and other communist countries were opposed to the Western model of society; the Soviets considered their way of life better and the West, especially the USA, as decadent.

Comments on document 3, page 28:

It is an extract from a speech Khrushchev gave to the 22nd Party Congress (very important meeting of the communist party) in 1961. He describes how the Soviet Union will become, by the end of the 1960s, wealthy, with a high standard of living for everyone, a communist society of plenty. He wants the USSR to become stronger and wealthier than the USA (thereby admitting that the USA is, for the while, superior). He wants production of goods, especially agricultural products, to increase. He would like the Soviet people’s standard of living to improve: “everyone will live in easy circumstances… hard physical work will disappear.” This document is interesting in that, in it, Khrushchev compares the USSR and the USA not as opposites but as two systems wanting the same thing: material comfort and happiness (but that the Soviet regime will achieve better and soon…). 

The leaders of both superpowers needed to convince their own populations as well as the rest of the world that their model was the best; the Cold War was, more than anything, an ideological conflict.

Soviet anti-American poster (1966)

During the Cold War, spies of both sides were very active. Both sides feared losing important secrets. Fear of the “enemy within” (i.e. spies and traitors) was widespread. In 1953-54, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was used by Senator Joseph McCarthy to accuse thousands of people of being communist sympathizers. The “witch hunt” created paranoia in the USA; people suspected each other of being communists and the “Reds” were demonized. McCarthyism was about controlling the population through fear, suspicion, and accusation (methods used by totalitarian regimes…). The professions that McCarthy suspected most were in the media, Hollywood, and the universities.

Paperback book cover of the 50s

Comments on document 1, page 28:

Herbert Block (Herblock) was the principal cartoonist of the Washington Post until his death in 2001. The Washington Post is a highly respected newspaper in the USA and internationally. The “red scare” refers to people's fear of infiltrated communists and of communists generally. 1949 (the date of the cartoon) is a period of great tension for the USA: the USSR has got the Atomic Bomb and China has become communist. This goes someway to explaining the fear of communism exaggerated (caricatured) in the cartoon (President Truman also made many anti-communist declarations). Herblock accuses the employees of the “anti-subversive” committees (i.e. committees against the subversion of the American system) of being over-zealous/paranoid (of seeing “Reds” everywhere). These ignorant employees are ridiculous because they see evidence of communist subversion and anti-American activity in everybody (Jefferson was a US President!). The teacher probably does “read books”, which does not for all that make her a spy…

In this advert for Motorola TVs, a white, middle-class, nuclear family (mom, dad, and two kids), sits around the TV set which is what unites the family and makes it happy. This advert is also propaganda for the American way of life: the right to material comfort, family and community, safety and happiness. “America triumphant” means that the "American dream" as depicted in the advert is the best. Consumer society is the one everyone should aspire to. The first TV programmes were broadcast in 1927 in the USA. By 1956 (the date of this advert), over half of American homes were equipped with a TV set.

The wealth of the USA after WW2 was considerable (its infrastructure was intact and it had made profits from the war). From the end of the war and through the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the USA was optimistic and wanted to spread its economic model and way of life to the rest of the world. Most of the rest of the world was more than happy to have it as a model to follow (think of the influence on French popular culture as just one example). America convinced the countries within its sphere of influence of the merits of its system through “soft power”: movies, TV, music, food, gadgets, etc. which spread the idea of US superiority (communism appeared austere in comparison!). In 1969, by being the first country to send a man to the moon, the USA showed its technological and supposed ideological superiority over the Soviet Union, and earned the admiration of the world.

Page 29: A democracy fraught with inequalities

“Fraught” means “burdened” (weighed down) in this context. In the 60s and 70s, the American way of life was contested by politicians, artists, and ordinary people too who protested against war (in Vietnam), nuclear arms, political corruption, and tried to stand up for the rights of ethnic minorities, homosexuals and women.

The US model in the post-war period had flaws, namely racism, which went against the American ideals of freedom and equality (cf. Declaration of Independence of 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… that (they have) certain inalienable rights… life, liberty… happiness”).

Photo of Rosa Parks (centre) circa 1955

Rosa Parks incarnated the fight against racial segregation in the South of the USA. The “Jim Crow” laws date from 1865; they legalized segregation between Whites and Blacks. Rosa Parks, by refusing to give up her seat for a white person, contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. She was duly arrested and had to pay a 10$ fine. When he heard about this, Dr Martin Luther King organized a boycott of the Montgomery buses by Blacks.
Comments on document 5, page 29:

This front page of the Washington Post is a famous document, dated 9th August 1974. The Washington Post is a very important national paper in the USA (internationally respected). The headline reads: “Nixon resigns”. Richard Nixon was the 37th President (Republican) of the USA (1969 to 1974). He resigned because he wanted to avoid impeachment (possible removal of the President by Congress if the President is found to have committed a serious crime). He tried to cover up evidence that bugging devices had been placed in the campaign headquarters of the Democratic Party (in the Watergate building). This came to be known as the “Watergate Scandal”. Two journalists from the Washington Post were responsible for uncovering the scandal (informed by William Felt, number two at the FBI, aka “Deep Throat”).

This document illustrates the fact that the American model, which promotes democracy, was not perfect; there was corruption at the highest level. The Watergate Scandal shook America because it revealed that its own President was corrupt; people trusted the presidency and politicians much less afterwards, and had less faith in their system, especially as they had also lost the Vietnam War.

The uncovering of the Watergate Scandal illustrates well the role of the “Fourth Estate”, i.e. the media. In the USA, the press is relatively free and fights abuse of power (unlike in communist countries). The “Fourth Estate”, though unelected, wields great power (in the US context, the media is in a sense the fourth branch - or estate - of government; the official branches are: the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislative).

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