All posts by axenopoulos

Cold War Foreign Policy and Civil Rights Legislation Post-Brown

Based on what I gathered in my TiC, the trajectory of my RBA hypothesis is that international criticism was a large driver of civil rights policy during the 1950’s and preceding Brown v. Board of Ed. In my RBA however, I will be focusing on the post-Brown context of this dynamic and will study whether the international applaud of Brown disincentivized the government from pursuing further anti-discrimination legislation. Specifically, I will look to international reception of Brown, how the U.S. government internal documents reveal the government’s response to the international reception (is there clear evidence that the federal government felt like ‘our image has been salvaged, our work is done’), and the international climate surrounding LBJ’s Civil Rights Act and VRA. If time permits, I will explore civil rights legislation under Nixon, particularly because the height of the tensions between Cold War foreign policy and domestic racism is thought to have ended with LBJ’s presidency. In summary, I will evaluate the post-Brown relationship between civil rights progress and international attention to American domestic dynamics.

 

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Cold War Foreign Policy and its Influence on Racial Progress in the U.S.

My research explores the tie between Cold War geopolitics and segregation policy in the United States. I argue that during the Cold War, foreign criticism of racial strife in the United States compromised and sullied international perceptions of American democracy and its leadership in the third world. The overall effect of coverage of the race issue was to tarnish America’s stature as a lover of freedom, as well as to undermine American foreign policy endeavors and its relations with other countries.

Many of the scholars whose writing I have read on this subject matter point to the lack of literature addressing the connection between foreign policy concerns and desegregation during the Cold War. Particularly, many academics discuss the Brown v. Board of Ed. Supreme Court case as if it was decided within a bubble of Civil Rights activism. My argument is unique in its analysis of domestic Civil Rights progress through the lens of the era’s geopolitics. Furthermore, in citing third world foreign nations’ and communist governments’ criticisms of the race issue, along with American government personnels’ responses to this criticism, my essay will cogently tie together external actions and internal reactions. With this tie, my argument establishes the profound but surprising connection between Cold War foreign policy concerns about American international stature and federal civil rights legislation. .

Star Trek, The Vietnam War and Orwell’s Political Dystopias

 

In the episode “A Private Little War” – broadcast in February 1968, Star Trek focuses most explicitly on the Vietnam conflict. After numerous rounds of revision and disagreements between creative forces on Star Trek’s team, the episode was revised to suggest that “the United States was attempting to do the right thing in a situation in which there really was no good course of action.” (94) The story begins with Kirk and Spock arriving at a planet to collect biological samples. They notice a group of “villagers using flintlock rifles” preparing to ambush Tyree, an old friend of Kirk (95). Kirk is perplexed by this occurrence; when he visited the planet thirteen years prior, “the inhabitants were just starting to develop primitive metal working technology.” (95) While investigating this development, Kirk and Dr. McCoy sneak into the village only to discover that Apella, the leader of the ambush, has a Klingon adviser. Furthermore, they find that the Klingons are secretly providing weapons to the villagers and are violating treaty provisions in doing so. In response, Kirk decides that the only way to challenge the Klingons’ illegal actions is to provide similar weapons to Tyree’s people, the targets of the ambush.

The allegory is quite clear – one superpower, the Klingons, corrupts and arms a native group in an undeveloped country, and poses Apella’s armed men against Tyree’s men, the remaining unarmed citizens. In response, the second superpower, the Federation, arms those who have not been corrupted by the Klingons – Tyree’s men. In essence, in the world of Star Trek the rival superpowers infiltrate a third party country, or planet in this case, and use its people as proxy puppets through which to fight one another.

The episode drives the analogy home with its closing dialogue. Kirk remarks “Remember the Twentieth Century brush wars on the Asian continent? Two giant powers involved much like the Klingons and ourselves. Neither felt they could pull out.” (95) While Star Trek approaches political criticism creatively, in this episode it also does so overtly.

 

Sarantake’s asserts that “the only reason Star Trek could deal with the (Vietnam) war was the program’s futuristic setting.” (90) This reason, however, applies to any of Star Trek’s social or political commentaries. The removed and disconnected setting allowed Star Trek to covertly but unsubtly communicate the creators’ political opinions. In a futuristic frame of reference, the show’s criticisms appear to be critiques on the political idea rather than an attack on the political reality. Likewise, it is the third party nature of science fiction or dystopian society that allows for glaring critiques to be relayed through culture and art rather than through direct words. This way, the critiques are up for interpretation and are presented as food for thought rather than as the only stance on the matter.

To my knowledge, the most renowned example of writing challenging political ideology are George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal House. While many of Orwell’s scholarly essays are critical of war, fascism, censorship, and imperialism, these literary works present his political opinions in a more elegant and creative manner. Additionally, the fictional context of his criticisms allows for the relevance of his ideals to go beyond the event and age about which they are written. Yes, it is clear that Animal House is a criticism of the Russian Revolution and that 1984 is a criticism of superpowers post- WWII. However, the abstract frame of reference broadens the scope of the stories’ impacts. Animal House speaks to the natural devolution of a revolutionary government and 1984 explores the fragility of falling into an authoritarian, censoring regime. It is the fantastical nature of his writing and setting that allows Orwell to challenge individual political movements as well as their larger and future implications.

Levittown and The Twin Towers: Suburban Save Havens vs. City Savagery

  1. “Nikita Khrushchev proposed a visit to the United States in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested a trip to the paradigmatic suburb, Levittown, whose builder, William Levitt, had remarked upon completion of his creation in 1947: ‘no man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist . . . he has too much to do.’”

In referencing Eisenhower’s suggestion that Krushchev visit Levittown, an iconic suburban real estate development, Farish presents the central stature of suburbia in America. Rather than  mention  New York’s awe striking skyline and The Statue of Liberty, or Washington D.C.’s ever regal National Mall – both icons of American progress and empire – Eisenhower’s suggestion communicates a desire to display the American way of life. This contrast between presenting famed American vistas and a quotidian  suburban neighborhood point to suburbia’s central role in American life in the 1950’s. American pride was no longer only associated with Times Square and The White House, rather, the quintessential image of Americanism had become suburbia. In citing Eisenhower, Farish points to the fact that this  obsession with suburbia did not only exist in suburban households or even in families that aspired to move there. Rather,  in 1950’s America the American Way of Life had become synonymous with images of suburbia, and thus the government’s, and even the President’s, pride in the American Life had evolved into a pride in suburban living. This anecdote enables Farish to share the breadth – from civilians to Presidency – of America’s mania surrounding suburban living. Finally, in citing  Levitt’s remark that “no man who owns his house  and a lot can be a Communist… he has too much to do,”  Farish presents an interesting binary: A true American is not a Communist, and a true American should live a perfect life in a perfect home. By this logic any American with a house cannot become a Communist. Where perfect Americans had previously been categorized as simply anti-Communist, the identity of American life had become one and the same with suburbia. To be American was no longer to just be a capitalist, now it was to be a suburban homeowner too.

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Farish argues that following the Atomic destruction in urban Hiroshima – which was chosen as a target because of its concentration in population in activity – there was a fear that American metropolises would be the ‘first to go’ if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack. This fear was realized during the 9/11 attacks. While Al Qaeda did not employ nuclear weapons, the image of ashes clouding New York’s skyline, and the city’s tallest buildings crashing to the ground while people ran and screamed in confusion is stirring. On this day, New Yorkers realized that while they may have lived in the greatest city in the world, their city and their nation was not invincible. Moreover, given 21st century technology, the abundant photographic and video footage of New York’s destruction makes this memory immortal. No one can forget the nauseating alarm and horror of that day. Differently from Hiroshima, where photographs depict the mushroom cloud and the destruction it caused, photographs of 9/11 show a moment to moment development – the first plane crashing, the second plane crashing, the confusion following the second crash, the smoke, the South Tower falling, the North Tower falling, people jumping out of windows and the devastation that followed. Because of the advent of digital technology, anyone can relive and review the events of 9/11, regardless of whether they were present on the day itself. While I do not know the amount of New Yorkers who emigrated from the city to the suburbs, I do think the events of 9/11 ingrained the sentiment that city life was not conducive to family oriented, stable life. While New York was always a city of chaos, it was now a city of dangerous and perilous chaos. The events of 9/11 instilled a chilling fear in many New Yorkers, and Americans beyond, that stained city living with a fear of being constantly vulnerable to attack.

Grand Strategy: Cold War Rhetoric and The Fight Against ISIS

Containing (Un)American Bodies

G.W. Bush Administration Narratives of Threat and Containment

I was intrigued by this article’s citing Khalilzdad’s argument that “grand strategy would bring purpose to the United States, since “(d)uring the Cold War, the United States was relatively certain of its objective of containment, [and now] it is not [clear bout its objective]””. This remark deeply reflects what I heard Farah Pandith, the first and former Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the State Department, assert in a speech in April. Having left the bureaucracy of the state department and the federal government, she was able to express her personal opinions without hesitation.

While discussing the complex and multi-faceted situation we face in attempting to defeat ISIS, she enumerated efforts that must be made on the internet, within marginalized Muslim communities and in aiding rebel allies on the ground. Moreover, she noted that the U.S.’ governmental and civilian response to ISIS is fractured. You have individual citizens who lie on completely opposite sides of the spectrum: some arguing that we must send troops to annihilate ISIS, others claiming that Obama founded ISIS, and some maintaining that the U.S. should no longer seek involvement in Middle Eastern affairs we’ve created enough disaster already. More importantly, however, Pandith noted the weakness in the government’s strategy: whether comparing Obama, Kerry or Congress’ stances on the matter, the federal government is disunited in its stance. During the Cold War, the narrative spread by the government was steady and paramount – the government communicating the message that a fight was imminent and that it was crucial that the populace unite, because if we didn’t fight this cause together we would lose the fight altogether. She asserted that unless the American government establish a narrative absolutely and existentially focused on the fight against ISIS, the U.S.’ efforts in Syria and Iraq will be insignificant and ineffective.

Mad Men: 1960’s America and the Misogyny That Coupled It

Beyond Cold War binaries of ‘with us or against us,’ since 9/11, American popular culture has adopted a newly retrospective lens. If one looks to numerous films and series that have surfaced in the last decade, it is evident that a fascination with America’s Cold War history has been reborn. Set in the early 1960’s, AMC’s Mad Men takes place during the height of the Cold War. While the series does not focus particularly on Soviet-American relations or international politics, its staging and period details pay notable attention to American cultural mores during the Cold War.

The era’s sexism and stark, gender binary are present throughout Mad Men –  in both the home and the workplace. Don Draper, the show’s protagonist – a smooth, tall, handsome man working in advertising – is the emblem of this misogyny. He resides in a professional environment in which men hold the corner offices – with closed doors and walls, and the women – secretaries and assistants – sit together in a large room with desks side-by-side. The image of male copywriters shutting their office doors to the women that sit beyond them reveals an interesting paradox: while these women have technically permeated the workforce, they still face a physical and literal gender barrier. Furthermore, in the series’ first episode Don Draper’s colleagues’ eye Peggy – the office’s newest secretary – as they share an elevator ride. While ogling at Peggy and peering over her shoulder, one of the men remarks “I’m really enjoying the view from here.” As he objectifies and preys on her, the office dynamic of men using female employees as entertainment is displayed. Finally, after meeting with a female business owner who challenges his presentation, Don Draper retorts that he “won’t let a woman talk to… (him)…this way.”

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Like many men raised in this era, Draper is not accustomed to strong women who dare dispute his ideas. The women who matter to him – be they his wife or mistress – are limited to the social and domestic spheres. His lovely wife Betty, his two children, and their perfect house in the suburbs are far from the world of NYC business. Throughout the series a repeating event highlights this imbalance: that is, Don Draper returning to suburbia late at night, drunk and just having slept with a mistress. While Don tip toes up the stairs, checks in on his sleeping children, and finds his blonde Sleeping-Beauty-esque wife alone in bed, the hypocrisy of this era is noted. Don Draper lives in a man’s world. Betty and the children are confined in model suburbia and are unwelcome in the city. His mistresses are only seen in bars or apartments that Draper lures them back to. The secretaries in his office are kept in the outside room. Don, however, gets the corner office, the whiskey, the car, the cigarettes, the secretary, the mistress, the wife, the perfect house, the job and a purpose. In essence, he gets it all.

And yet, Draper & co.’s actions, that would today be considered purely misogynistic and even harassing, leave some viewers unfazed. Why don’t the sexist jokes, the philandering, and predatory employers bother us? Is it because we dismiss these apparently antiquated attitudes as things we just ‘don’t do’? Does our confusion on how to react mean that we have advanced passed Cold War misogyny or does it reflect us still normalizing such abhorrent and seemingly outdated behavior?

Photo from Peggy elevator. Photograph. Accessed October 2, 2016. http://madmen.wikia.com/ wiki/File:Peggy_elevator.jpg.

Episode 1 Season 1 of Mad Men can be viewed here. http://www.amc.com/shows/mad-men/season-1/episode-01-smoke-gets-in-your-eyes.