chapter  9
29 Pages

Beyond American borders

Our focus here is necessarily selective, given the scale of American involvement in the international order since the end of the nineteenth century. Rather than attempting a brief survey of American foreign policy, we want to look at some of the ways in which Americans have characteristically expressed

their aims and ambitions in the world, moving beyond the analysis of foreign policy from a political or historical perspective, to explore how Americans have responded in a range of other ways, including fiction and film, to the issues that intervention abroad raised, both at a personal level, and as part of the national debate about what kind of role the United States should play in the wider world. To leave it there, however, would be to assume that America’s identity in the world was something constructed only by Americans. How other peoples have reacted and responded to the presence of ‘America’ in their lives is also revealing, and reminds us that the assumptions which lie behind much American foreign policy rhetoric may be interpreted and understood in many different kinds of ways. Approaches to American identity may come as well from relationships Americans have had with other peoples and cultures. How Americans have seen themselves with regard to others and how other peoples have come to terms with America may be as illuminating as how particular groups have interacted with each other in America. In this context we want, first, to use the example of the Vietnam War and its aftermath to open up ways of interpreting American policy abroad, and how that experience has been represented in a number of different kinds of cultural forms in a way that links with the opening discussion about ideological themes in American history. The stories which Americans have told themselves about Vietnam may be used here as examples of the way in which they have thought about the world and their place in it, but they may also be usefully compared with emerging Vietnamese responses to what in the West has often been seen as an ‘American’ war. Second, we want to look at some of the ways in which American culture has been received in the world beyond her borders, and how that connects with interpretations of American identity.