Munich and the unexpected rise of American power
in The Munich Crisis, politics and the people
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Anglo-French appeasement at Munich had a transformative effect on the United States. This is something of a paradox: the proceedings at Munich were far from American shores, American public opinion was at the high point of ‘isolationism’, there was no large immigrant constituency of Czech-Americans to rally other Americans to their cause and US foreign policy had previously had little interest in Czechoslovakia. Before autumn 1938, American interests in Europe were peripheral. Yet even though the Roosevelt administration was a bystander, Munich brought the United States deep into the heart of European affairs, and the reason had everything to do with fear. Appeasement may have averted war in the short term, but it raised the spectre of longer-term and perpetual war. Americans began to fear not so much for their physical safety and their territorial integrity – although those fears were certainly amplified – but for the fate of ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’ and the ‘American way of life’, themselves new cultural constructions, because Hitler had taken international society outside civilised norms. Though they did not yet use the term, Americans acutely felt the pressures of globalisation, of a shrinking world that made possible new types of threats to their ‘national security’. These new fears resonated throughout American society, from elite politics to ordinary churches. The response to Munich eventually saw the repudiation of ‘isolationism’ and an enthusiastic embrace of a militarised, globalist role for the United States. Munich, in other words, inadvertently conceived the ‘American Century’ three years before Henry Luce coined the term.

The Munich Crisis, politics and the people

International, transnational and comparative perspectives

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