History 291 Superpower America
Fall 2004 Richard H. Immerman
Mid-Term Study Guide
In reality, what follows below is more than a study guide. As I explained at the semester's start, one of these exercises in thoughtful and painstaking analysis will appear—verbatim—on the mid-term examination. I heartily recommend that you study them all, nevertheless; I pride myself on my inscrutability, and the selection will be mine. Or maybe I’ll allow my dog to make the choice. I certainly won’t designate you. Sorry.
Some words to the wise: Read each question several times. Determine what fundamental issues each question addresses, and formulate a thesis--or hypothesis--that responds directly to these issues. Never forget that historians do not “merely” tell a story (though we often do tell some whoppers). We aim to interpret and argue. Thus organize your essay appropriately. Your introduction should explicitly articulate your interpretation, point of view, thesis, or whatever you want to call your argument. Then in the body of the essay cite—early and often—robust evidence to support what in the introduction you indicate that you intend to argue. By the time you reach the end, consequently, you should not need a conclusion. If you feel one is required, or worse, fear that you have not proven your case, or worse still, have contradicted yourself, start the process all over. Assume the role of an attorney preparing for a devastating cross-examination. And stay on point!
Not to rain on your parade, but I must remind you that your essays will not constitute the totality of your effort. I will expect you to identify and explain the historical significance of five out of seven names/terms/concepts/places. Your responses should be succinct and to the point,* but they will take some time. Plan on a minute or two for each—no more. At least five (if not all) of the identifications will be drawn from the list of terms that follow the lecture outlines.
If the spirit does move me to challenge you with a name/term/concept/place that cannot be found on the lecture assure, rest assured that it is conspicuous in the readings.
1. When teaching the introductory survey of the History of the United States since Reconstruction (e.g., Temple's History C068), an instructor may choose to periodize in a way that emphasizes conceptual themes and “change over time” at the expense of more chronological, event-based periodization. Indeed, one instructor of U.S. history, who will remain anonymous, at one prestigious U.S. university, which will likewise remain anonymous, presented both the Second Front controversy during World War II and the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as critical watersheds in the evolution of the Cold War. Using both evidence and logic, provide an informed opinion as to whether this instructor's periodization is a violation of the fundamental “narrative” of U.S. history following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In other words, did he essentially mislead his students (most of whom had only the elementary knowledge of U.S. history acquired at the secondary-school level) by situating events that preceded the surrender of Germany and Japan within the framework of events that succeeded that surrender?
2. Compare, contrast, and evaluate the fundamental strategies of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the premises underlying them. Emphasize both the continuities and the changes, and evaluate the appropriateness of the label “New Look.” Paying particular attention to Pickett's pamphlet on George Kennan and the origins of the New Look, make sure you address explicitly the dichotomy between containment and roll-back/liberation. Conclude your essay by assessing the extent to which in your opinion Kennedy's strategy, conventionally labeled "Flexible Response" resembled Truman's strategy, Eisenhower's strategy, neither, or both. Do you see it as an improvement over its predecessors?
3. Responding to a question at a Press Conference in 1982, Ronald Reagan provided the following history of the escalation of America's commitment to Vietnam:
"If I recall correctly, when France gave up Indochina as a colony, the leading nations of the world met in Geneva in regard to helping those colonies become independent nations. And since North and South Vietnam had been previous to colonization two separate countries, provisions were made that these two countries could by a vote of all their people together decide whether they wanted to be one country or not. . . .
"And there wasn't anything surreptitious about it, but when Ho Chi Minh refused to participate in such an election and there was provision that the peoples of both countries could cross the border and live in the other country if they wanted to, and when they began leaving by the thousands and thousands from North Vietnam to live in South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh closed the border and again violated that part of the agreement . . . .
"And openly, our country sent military advisors there to help a country which had been a colony have such things as a national security force, an army you might say, or a military, to defend itself. And they were doing this, if I recall correctly, also in civilian clothes, no weapons, until they began being blown up where they lived, in walking down the street by people riding by on bicycles and throwing pipe bombs at them. and then they were permitted to carry side arms or wear
uniforms . . .
"But it was totally a program until John F. Kennedy, when these attacks and forays became so great that John F. Kennedy authorized the sending in of a division of marines. That was the first move toward combat moves in Vietnam."
Gathering as much intelligence as you can from the lectures and especially the readings, please provide the former president with the correct history of the evolution of America's military intervention in Vietnam. Further, in concluding this lesson in history, explicity answer the question Fred Logevall explicitly asks, "So might the War have been avoided?" And don't just answer yes or no. Support your answer.
4. In a foreign service dispatch dated September 8, 1952, then U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union George Kennan wrote, "In the United States . . . opinion rapidly coalesced to the effect that the North Korean attack was only the opening gambit in an elaborate program of Soviet armed aggression against the free world. The attack was subsequently freely cited in American official utterances as an example of new Soviet 'aggressiveness.'" How would you explain the "rapid" coalescence of U.S. opinion and the frequent citation of the attack as illustrating new Soviet "aggressiveness." Weigh the extent to which "internal" as opposed to "external phenomena" (for example domestic politics as opposed to threat assessments) influenced the U.S. response. Conclude by providing your evaluation of the U.S. response.
*Harry Truman: Former senator whom Democrats chose as their vice presidential candidate in 1944 because he was not considered a serious presidential contender in 1948 but who nevertheless accidentally became president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Highly uninformed when he initially took office and predisposed to speaking loudly and carrying a big stick, Truman presided over the United States during the evolution and intensification of the Cold War.