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Article

L. Benjamin Rolsky

Few decades in the history of America resonate more with the American people than the 1960s. Freedom, justice, and equality seemed to define the immediate futures of many of America’s historically most ostracized citizens. Despite the nostalgia that tends to characterize past and present analyses of the sixties, this imaginative work is important to consider when narrating the subsequent decade: the 1970s. Such nostalgia in considering the 1960s speaks to a sense of loss, or something worked at but not quite achieved in the eyes of the nation and its inhabitants. What happened to their aspirations? Where did they retreat to? And, perhaps more importantly, to what extent did “the spirit” of the 1960s catalyze its antithesis in the 1970s? In many ways the 1970s was a transitional period for the nation because these years were largely defined by various instances of cultural, or tribal, warfare. These events and their key actors are often under-represented in histories of late-20th-century America, yet they were formative experiences for the nation and their legacy endures in contemporary moments of polarization, division, and contestation. In this sense the 1970s were neither “liberal” nor “conservative,” but instead laid the groundwork for such terms to calcify into the non-negotiable discourse now known simply as the culture wars. The tone of the time was somber for many, and the period may be best understood as having occasioned a kind of “collective nervous breakdown.” For some, the erosion of trust in America’s governing institutions presented an unparalleled opportunity for political and electoral revolution. For others, it was the stuff of nightmares. America had fractured, and it was not clear how the pieces would be put back together.

Article

Canada has sometimes been called the United States’ attic: a useful feature, but one easily forgotten. Of all countries, it has historically resembled the United States the most closely, in terms of culture, geography, economy, society, politics, ideology and, especially, history. A shared culture—literary, social, legal, and political—is a crucial factor in Canadian-American relations. Geography is at least as important. It provides the United States with strategic insulation to the north and enhances geographic isolation to the east and west. North-south economic links are inevitable and very large. It has been a major recipient of American investment, and for most of the time since 1920 has been the United States’ principal trading partner. Prosperous and self-sufficient, it has seldom required American aid. There have been no overtly hostile official encounters since the end of the War of 1812, partly because many Americans tended to believe that Canadians would join the republic; when that did not occur, the United States accepted an independent but friendly Canada as a permanent, useful, and desirable neighbor—North America’s attic. The insulation the attic provided was a common belief in the rule of law, both domestic and international; liberal democracy; a federal constitution; liberal capitalism; and liberal international trade regimes. That said, the United States, with its large population, huge economy, and military power, insulates Canada from hostile external forces. An attack on Canada from outside the continent is hard to imagine without a simultaneous attack on the United States. Successive American and Canadian governments have reaffirmed the political status quo while favoring mutually beneficial economic and military linkages—bilateral and multilateral. Relations have traditionally been grounded in a negotiating style that is evidence-based, proceeding issue by issue. A sober diplomatic and political context sometimes frames irritations and exclamations, but even these have usually been defined and limited by familiarity. For example, there has always been anti-Americanism in Canada. Most often it consists of sentiments derived from the United States itself, channeled by cultural similarities. No American idea, good or bad, from liberalism to populism, fails to find an echo in Canada. How loud or how soft the echo makes the difference.

Article

The impact of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) issues on U.S. foreign relations is an understudied area, and only a handful of historians have addressed these issues in articles and books. Encounters with unexpected and condemnable (to European eyes) sexual behaviors and gender comportment arose from the first European forays into North America. As such, subduing heterodox sexual and gender expression has always been part of the colonizing endeavor in the so-called New World, tied in with the mission of civilizing and Christianizing the indigenous peoples that was so central to the forging of the United States and pressing its territorial expansion across the continent. These same impulses accompanied the further U.S. accumulation of territory across the Pacific and the Caribbean in the late 19th century, and they persisted even longer and further afield in its citizens’ missionary endeavors across the globe. During the 20th century, as the state’s foreign policy apparatus grew in size and scope, so too did the notions of homosexuality and transgender identity solidify as widely recognizable identity categories in the United States. Thus, it is during the 20th and 21st centuries, with ever greater intensity as the decades progressed, that one finds important influences of homosexuality and gender diversity on U.S. foreign policy: in immigration policies dating back to the late 19th century, in the Lavender Scare that plagued the State Department during the Truman and Eisenhower presidencies, in more contemporary battles between religious conservatives and queer rights activists that have at times been exported to other countries, and in the increasing intersections of LGBTQ rights issues and the War on Terror that has been waged primarily in the Middle East since September 11, 2001.

Article

Sherman’s March, more accurately known as the Georgia and Carolinas Campaigns, cut a swath across three states in 1864–1865. It was one of the most significant campaigns of the war, making Confederate civilians “howl” as farms and plantations were stripped of everything edible and all their valuables. Outbuildings, and occasionally homes, were burned, railroads were destroyed, and enslaved workers were emancipated. Long after the war ended, Sherman’s March continued to shape American’s memories as one of the most symbolically powerful aspects of the Civil War. Sherman’s March began with the better-known March to the Sea, which started in Atlanta on November 15, 1864, and concluded in Savannah on December 22 of the same year. Sherman’s men proceeded through South Carolina and North Carolina in February, March, and April of 1865. The study of this military campaign illuminates the relationships between Sherman’s soldiers and Southern white civilians, especially women, and African Americans. Sherman’s men were often uncomfortable with their role as an army of liberation, and African Americans, in particular, found the March to be a double-edged sword.

Article

During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate commanders made the capture and destruction of enemy cities a central feature of their military campaigns. They did so for two reasons. First, most mid-19th-century cities had factories, foundries, and warehouses within their borders, churning out and storing war materiel; military officials believed that if they interrupted or incapacitated the enemy’s ability to arm or clothe themselves, the war would end. Second, it was believed that the widespread destruction of property—especially in major or capital cities—would also damage civilians’ morale, undermining their political convictions and decreasing their support for the war effort. Both Union and Confederate armies bombarded and burned cities with these goals in mind. Sometimes they fought battles on city streets but more often, Union troops initiated long-term sieges in order to capture Confederate cities and demoralize their inhabitants. Soldiers on both sides were motivated by vengeance when they set fire to city businesses and homes; these acts were controversial, as was defensive burning—the deliberate destruction of one’s own urban center in order to keep its war materiel out of the hands of the enemy. Urban destruction, particularly long-term sieges, took a psychological toll on (mostly southern) city residents. Many were wounded, lost property, or were forced to become refugees. Because of this, the destruction of cities during the American Civil War provoked widespread discussions about the nature of “civilized warfare” and the role that civilians played in military strategy. Both soldiers and civilians tried to make sense of the destruction of cities in writing, and also in illustrations and photographs; images in particular shaped both northern and southern memories of the war and its costs.

Article

Clodagh Harrington

The Clinton scandals have settled in the annals of American political history in the context of the era’s recurrent presidential misbehavior. Viewed through a historical lens, the activities, investigation, and impeachment trial of the forty-second president are almost inevitably measured against the weight of Watergate and Iran-Contra. As a result, the actions and consequences of this high-profile moment in the late-20th-century political history of the United States arguably took on a weightier meaning than it might otherwise have. If Watergate tested the U.S. constitutional system to its limits and Iran-Contra was arguably as grave, the Clinton affair was crisis-light by comparison. Originating with an investigation into a failed 1970s Arkansas land deal by Bill Clinton and his wife, the saga developed to include such meandering subplots as Filegate, Travelgate, Troopergate, the death of White House counsel Vince Foster, and, most infamously, the president’s affair with a White House intern. Unlike Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, even Bill Clinton’s most ardent critics could not find a national security threat among the myriad scandals linked to his name. By the time that Justice Department appointee Robert Fiske was replaced as prosecutor by the infinitely more zealous Kenneth Starr, the case had become synonymous with the culture wars that permeated 1990s American society. As the Whitewater and related tentacles of the investigation failed to result in any meaningfully negative impact on the president, it was his marital infidelities that came closest to unseating him. Pursued with vigor by the Independent Counsel, his supporters remained loyal as his detractors spotted political opportunity via his lapses in judgment. Certain key factors made the Clinton scandal particular to its era. First, in an unprecedented development, the personal indiscretion aspect of the story broke via the Internet. In addition, had the Independent Counsel legislation not been renewed, prosecutor Fiske would likely have wrapped up his investigation in a timely fashion with no intention of pursuing an impeachment path. And, the relentless cable news cycle and increasingly febrile partisan atmosphere of the decade ensured that the nation remained as focused as it was divided on the topic.

Article

Emancipation celebrations in the United States have been important and complicated moments of celebration and commemoration. Since the end of the slave trade in 1808 and the enactment of the British Emancipation Act in 1834 people of African descent throughout the Atlantic world have gathered, often in festival form, to remember and use that memory for more promising futures. In the United States, emancipation celebrations exploded after the Civil War, when each local community celebrated their own experience of emancipation. For many, the commemoration took the form of a somber church service, Watch Night, which recognized the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Juneteenth, which recognized the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, became one of the most vibrant and longstanding celebrations. Although many emancipation celebrations disappeared after World War I, Juneteenth remained a celebration in most of Texas through the late 1960s when it disappeared from all cities in the state. However, because of the Second Great Migration, Texans transplanted in Western cities continued the celebration in their new communities far from Texas. In Texas, Juneteenth was resurrected in 1979 when state representative, later Congressman, Al Edwards successfully sponsored a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday and campaigned to spread Juneteenth throughout the country. This grassroots movement brought Juneteenth resolutions to forty-six states and street festivals in hundreds of neighborhoods. Juneteenth’s remarkable post-1980 spread has given it great resonance in popular culture as well, even becoming a focus of two major television episodes in 2016 and 2017.

Article

Little Saigon is the preferred name of Vietnamese refugee communities throughout the world. This article focuses primarily on the largest such community, in Orange County, California. This suburban ethnic enclave is home to the largest concentration of overseas Vietnamese, nearly 200,000, or 10 percent of the Vietnamese American population. Because of its size, location, and demographics, Little Saigon is also home to some of the most influential intellectuals, entertainers, businesspeople, and politicians in the Vietnamese diaspora, many of whom are invested in constructing Little Saigon as a transnational oppositional party to the government of Vietnam. Unlike traditional immigrant ethnic enclaves, Little Saigon is a refugee community whose formation and development emerged in large part from America’s efforts to atone for its epic defeat in Vietnam by at least sparing some of its wartime allies a life under communism. Much of Little Saigon’s cultural politics revolve around this narrative of rescue, although the number guilt-ridden Americans grows smaller and more conservative, while the loyalists of the pre-1975 Saigon regime struggle to instill in the younger generation of Vietnamese an appreciation of their refugee roots.

Article

Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence Speech” of July 1979 was a critical juncture in post-1945 U.S. politics, but it also marks an exemplary pivot in post-1945 religion. Five dimensions of faith shaped the president’s sermon. The first concerned the shattered consensus of American religion. When Carter encouraged Americans to recapture a spirit of unity, he spoke in a heartfelt but spent language more suitable to Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency than his own. By 1979, the Protestant-Catholic-Jewish consensus of Eisenhower’s time was fractured into a dynamic pluralism, remaking American religion in profound ways. Carter’s speech revealed a second revolution of post-1945 religion when it decried its polarization and politicization. Carter sought to heal ruptures that were dividing the nation between what observers, two decades hence, would label “red” (conservative Republican) and “blue” (liberal Democratic) constituencies. Yet his endeavors failed, as would be evidenced in the religious politics of Ronald Reagan’s era, which followed. Carter championed community values as the answer to his society’s problems aware of yet a third dawning reality: globalization. The virtues of localism that Carter espoused were in fact implicated in (and complicated by) transnational forces of change that saw immigration, missionary enterprises, and state and non-state actors internationalizing the American religious experience. A fourth illuminating dimension of Carter’s speech was its critique of America’s gospel of wealth. Although this “born-again” southerner was a product of the evangelical South’s revitalized free-market capitalism, he lamented how laissez-faire Christianity had become America’s lingua franca. Finally, Carter wrestled with secularization, revealing a fifth feature of post-1945 America. Even though faith commitments were increasingly cordoned off from formal state functions during this time, the nation’s political discourse acquired a pronounced religiosity. Carter contributed by framing mundane issues (such as energy) in moral contexts that drew no hard-and-fast boundaries between matters of the soul and governance. Drawn from the political and economic crises of his moment, Carter’s speech thus also reveals the all-enveloping tide of religion in America’s post-1945 age.