Violent Evolution: America’s Course in History, Essay Example
The history of the United States is both consistent and erratic. On one level, it is marked by a steady pattern of growth and a steadily increasing awareness of its own presence and responsibilities in the world. On another, and apart from the enormous fracture of the Civil War, it is a nation that has frequently been divided, and in affairs concerning the government at home as well as international relations. The only truly consistent element in America’s history, in fact, has been turbulence. Unrest rises, the public at large and the government respond in a variety of ways, and new growth occurs. In a very real sense, the basic nature of the American traditions of society and government virtually guarantee that such unrest must periodically throw the country into states of extreme dysfunction, if not outright rebellion.
The most dominant theme to be seen in early American history is, of course, resistance. This was a country created, not out of a planned or organic process, but a violent rejection of the foreign presence initially establishing it. America, born through revolution, would adopt a revolutionary spirit as its trademark. The nation consciously perceived itself as a champion of justice against oppression, and American independence became something of a national mentality, rather than one struggle to be overcome. Even in early days, then, this spirit of independence translated into a different type of American ideology: entitlement. Having defeated the British, the American fully believed that no obstacle could stand in the way of their desires and ambitions. This was a theme of national pride expressed in fiercely individual aims, which was reflected in the westward expansion of later years. America believed, essentially, that it was entitled to take whatever it had the strength to take. This was not limited to real estate; with the industrial revolution, American ambition turned its eyes to empire-building. If individuals and corporations were making the plans and reaping the profits, the American spirit was exalted in this glorification of it.
This led to a theme of a national pride that was reluctant to become involved with the troubles of a world not as well organized as itself. More exactly, it led to an isolationist stance. American pride and success had achieved a great deal, and the nation was not eager to take an active role in international affairs. This is most evident in the pre-World War II years, when American ideology was at a crossroads. A major power, America was nonetheless ambivalent about taking on enemies and causes so removed from it. Unfortunately, American success itself made a choice inevitable; in solidifying itself and amassing power, it took on just that responsibility. From that point on, a dominant theme within American history would be that of the nation as a global watchdog, and protector of the vulnerable.
Throughout all of this, however, and still very much alive today, there is the persistent theme of dissatisfaction within the United States. It is one usually reflected in the voices and the protests of the people, which later take shape in legislation. Even before there was a real America, feelings were divided as to the correctness of the Revolution. The Civil War was, it could be said, only a huge manifestation of a kind of social unrest, as the slave-owning by Southern Americans was despised by Northern citizens. The Great Depression brought about a new and different form of dissatisfaction, in that the people no longer fully trusted their government to provide stability. If World War II revitalized both the economy and the national pride, it also revealed fresh discontent in the form of parties suspicious of American intervention. This same feeling, or theme, would reoccur to greater degrees in the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as in the recent military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also, in the 20th century, behind civil rights upheavals that would reshape the nation.
It is crucial to understand that America exists because of a basic dichotomy of themes. An adherence to equality must also result in dispute and argument; when these arguments are over enormous issues such as warfare, civil liberties, economic troubles, and government controls, there follows a violent reaction within the nation itself. At these times, the essential elements of American pride and resistance clash with those of fierce independence. In a sense, the entire structure of America is designed to undergo serious eruptions that threaten its basic stability.
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