Histoire US POWER SINCE 1945
H1 - The USA and the world since 1945

1. U.S. power
• The nature of power
Superpower: world economic & financial power with an added geopolitical (military + diplomatic) and cultural world/global influence.
=>bipolar world structured by 2 superpowers USA & USSR & theirs blocs, allies at the time of the Cold War
Hyperpower: a superpower without any rival because the USSR collapsed
=> unipolar world dominated by a hyperpower after the Cold War (1991-2001) but maybe now a superpower in a multipolar world with emerging powers (BRICSAM and especially China)
• The tools of power
Hard power (the stick): the power to influence other nations by imposing US decisions, by coercion
Soft power (the carrot): the power to influence, to seduce other nations by attraction to, admiration of the US
=> Smart power: the use, combination of both hard & soft power

2. The foreign policy of a world power
• Isolationism versus interventionsim
Isolationism: refusal to be involved in world/foreign affairs to focus on US domestic affairs
Interventionism: involvement in world international affairs, political decisions and/or military operations ; with negative connotation = imperialism: interventionism to dominate the world
• Unilateralism versus multilateralism
Unilareralism, unilateral policy: acting alone with out without the consent of other nations
Multilateralism, multilateral policy: cooperating, acting, uniting with other countries, for instance forming an international coalition with UN agreement, resolution
• Containment versus roll-back
Containment: defensive, prevent the expansion of communism // war of liberation
Roll-back, rollback: offensive, expand the Western/US model // war of aggression

3. Its impact on domestic affairs
• 'Reds unde the bed': Anticommunism at home (1946-1954)
The Red Scare: fear of Communist subversion, infiltration of US institutions breeding an atmosphere of suspicion, panic, hysteria
The Witch Hunt: the hunt for alleged communists in the USA using aggressive investigation and questioning ; often based on suspicion, not evidence
- by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) (1946-1950) helped by the FBI targeting federal employees & Hollywood
- by senator McCarthy (1950-1954) & Senate committee targeting federal administration
• Coming to terms with THE US humiliation: the Vietnam War

H2 - History and memory of the Vietnam War in the USA

1. History : questioning U.S. intervention in Vietnam
How do historians interpret the American failure in Vietnam?

  The orthodox interpretation
Def: orthodoxes (historians) & doves (administration) admitting Vietnam = a mistake, an unwinnable war
The revisionist point of view
Def: revisionists (historians) & hawks (admin. & military): Vietnam could have been won = ‘what if?’ scenarios, Alternate or Alternative History
the war
Vietnam, a mistaken commitment
US security not directly threatened + divided communism => illegitimate, unnecessary US involvement
Vietnam, a necessary involvement
Communist bloc (USSR+China) was winning in Asia (China, Korea, Vietnam) = domino theory => containment necessary for US to stay leader of the free world
South Vietnam, the wrong ally
A dictatorship, a puppet government vs NV’s leader Ho Chi Minh = liberator from colonial rule => more legitimate
The US administration’s flawed strategy
Didn’t fully support South Vietnam, didn’t fully engage (escalation instead of all out war) because of civilian, politician inadequacy
the war
No exit strategy
Johnson & Nixon administrations realized Vietnam was a quagmire but couldn’t admit the limitations of US power, the failure of US policy
US defeat justified by ‘stab-in-the-back’ theory
The media transformed US victories (Têt Offensive 1968) into defeats, manipulated public opinion + Congress financial opposition = war lost on the Home Front

2. Memory : overcoming the Vietnam Syndrome
To what extent has the USA overcome the Vietnam Syndrome?

• The Vietnam vets: from rejection to recognition
The veterans back to the US: a human and social trauma
- The casualties of a dirty war: Vietnam veterans ashamed + Vietnam syndrome (medical term: PTSD=post traumatic stress disorder): mental disorder causing loss of sleep, violence, addiction etc.. due to traumatic experiences => suicides, 3/4 vets homeless, jobless = social exclusion
- Political scapegoats: no compassion for their ordeal, no homecoming parades because antiwar public opinion => even more difficult to readapt to civilian life => divisive issue, divided nation for or against (see I.)
=> The healing process: national & international reconciliation
- National: building a memorial was a private initiative by war vet Jan Scruggs (1979) not a public one by Congress => controversial wall (1982) with name of the dead and MIA => statues added 1984 more heroic & with drafted minorities (Hispanics, African-American) & virtual wall (online website & database 1997)
+ International: American veterans (Kerry & McCain) pushing for economic (end of US embargo 1994) and diplomatic (US embassy in Hanoi 1995) reconciliation under Clinton’s administration

• The Vietnam quagmire: a recurring reference
Vietnam, a tool of presidential campaigning from 1992 to 2008
- The draft dodgers like Clinton or G.W. Bush could be seen as cowards, unfit to be Commander-in-chief,
- Versus the veterans: controversial John Kerry decorated antiwar vet, John McCain the tortured POW
Never influenced the outcome of the election: draft-dodgers elected, veterans defeated
Vietnam, the ghost behind military intervention
- The Vietnam Syndrome (political meaning: US reluctance to send troops into combat situations abroad for fear of another Vietnam quagmire and loss of public support => limited wars: Obama’s limited airstrikes against ISIS/the Islamic State in Syria & Iraq
=> Vietnam a recurring reference: to define a successful war a contrario (Gulf War) or each time there is a risk of losing a war (Iraq War)