There were three major events that thrust the United States into the arena as a world power. Our commitment to World War One was our first real test. At the end of the Second World War a key decision was made that really benefited our workforce. Finally, the election of President Ronald Reagan put a nail in a proverbial coffin. When I think of an event I do not think of progression of events such as a war or a philosophy. Those are effects of a certain cause. I will describe what were the three major causes of our world dominance.
It was the decision to finally enter the First World War and stay until it was won, that was the first major world-power event in our short history. There were many factors that brought us to that decision in spite of President Wilson’s campaign promise to remain neutral. The sinking of the Lusitania was upsetting, especially since Americans had no clue that she was heavy laden with munitions. Submarines off our east coast was unsettling. The “Zimmerman Letter” that was decoded and released to the public describing an alliance between Mexico and Germany was the last straw for many Americans. The fact that the Allies owed us over $2,000,000,000.00 whereas Germany only owed us about $56,000,000 was probably a bigger factor than we like to admit. Yet the fact that we committed, entered the war, stayed until the end and had an influence in the Treaty of Versailles made us look like one pretty big dog for the first time in world history. Never mind the fact that President Wilson’s “14 Points” were largely disregarded in favor of punishing Germany and setting the world up for another big war.
Before we dropped the bomb on Japan and demonstrated our technological might to the world, The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944 poised us for economic world dominance. Don’t get me wrong, the atomic bomb was big, but maybe not as big as we historically like to think it was. One would think that the first one would have been big enough to convince the Japanese to surrender. We waited. We waited. On the third day we decided to do it again. That second one was somehow a little more convincing. More than instruments of war, the “GI Bill of Rights” that provided multiple benefits to veterans of our armed forces, proved to be the deciding factor of our true dominance. It was our brains not our brawn that made us strong. Within a few years of the war we had the most educated work force in the world. Within 10 years over 2 million veterans had degrees and over five and a half million had gone to trade school on the government’s dime. Our education made us productive and wealthy. The whole world has benefitted from the GI Bill.
The election of a single man was the last great event in a very colorful history that proved to be our most dominant decision as a nation. We elected President Ronald Reagan, an actor, to represent our country in the seat of the presidency. Before Winston Churchill described the Iron Curtain to America, Communism was already beginning to form a cancer in the hearts and minds of the Soviet Union and the world. The Cold War that developed between the United States and the USSR brought us close to total annihilation through a policy of mutual nuclear destruction. President Reagan resolved to win this Cold War. He built our nuclear armament to ridiculous levels forcing the Soviets to compete in an arms race they could not win. It was a risky game that pulled them “all in” as it were. Communism, he felt, was a failed system that could never be sustained, and rather than let it linger and die slowly he drove the nails into the coffin and insured a quick demise.
As I stated, there were three main events that thrust us into world power. By choosing these three events I am not diminishing many great people and events in the past century. I am not even choosing political sides. People often love to lambast great men as being complete imbeciles. I don’t think one could rise to the seat of President of the United States if he were an idiot. Unlike President Reagan though, others simply didn’t have an opportunity to culminate something as important as the Cold War. Certainly the atomic bomb was more spectacular than the GI Bill, but did it truly make us great as a nation? No it did not. It was not our entrance into World War One as much as our resolve to finish the war that made it a worthy event. Together these three events made us strong as a nation, perhaps stronger than any nation in the history of man.
Henretta, J. A., R. Edwards and R. Self (2012). America: a Concise History, Volume Two: Since 1865. 5th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s (ch 21)
Ibid (ch 24 & 26)
“Ronald Reagan.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. <http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/ronald-reagan>.