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American Interventions Since World War Ii Essay

Since 1940, the United States has a long history of foreign interventions, long since leaving behind its former isolationism. Its motives have included the urge to fight fascist aggression, the desire to contain communism’s spread (and protect American economic interests), and preserving American access to plentiful Middle Eastern oil. Before December 1941, much of the American public favored isolation from world affairs, especially in the wake of World War I, to many a pointless conflict.

However, others looked warily at the spread of fascism and militarism in Europe and eastern Asia. President Franklin Roosevelt believed by 1938 that the conflict would eventually draw in the United States, and he wanted to assist the United Kingdom in its war against Germany (which it fought with virtually no help beyond American aid programs like Lend-Lease). Roosevelt, aware that many Americans were wary of another futile war, framed the conflict in moral terms, presenting Hitler’s fascism and Japan’s militarism as evils that needed eradication by the forces of democracy.

He cautiously began preparing the nation for war by expanding the armed forces and defense economy, aiding the British, and imposing embargoes on oil and metal sales to Japan, vainly hoping that Japan’s military-run government would desist from its aggressive expansion throughout eastern Asia. The Cold War began almost immediately after World War II, giving the United States no real opportunity to revert to isolationism.

By mid-1945, the Soviet army had already occupied much of eastern and central Europe, claiming its right to “buffer nations” and using a dying Roosevelt’s agreement at Yalta to justify their domination of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and much of the Balkan region. Very quickly, the Soviet Union began expanding its assisting communist rebels in various nations, and the United States saw a threat not only to its own dominance but also to capitalist economies abroad (many tied to American economic interests).

Aware that much of Europe was devastated and impoverished by the war (and thus vulnerable to Soviet influence), the Truman administration actively intervened in European affairs with aid packages like the Marshall Plan, the Truman doctrine (which led to American intervention in Greece and Turkey, where communist insurgents actively sought control and the British were unable to cope), and the creation of NATO as a military response to the Soviets.

The Cold War also drove the United States to intervene further in Asia, after the communist takeover in China in 1949 and the outbreak of hostilities between North and South Korea in 1950 (which turned into a sort of proxy war between the United States and China). After a cease-fire halted the Korean conflict in 1953 (indeed, it has not officially ended and American troops remain there in large numbers), the United States followed the policy of containment, initially outlined in 1946 by George Kennan NSC-68 document.

Accepting the existence of both the Soviet Union and China, American policy aimed to prevent communist expansion into other nations, particularly the newly-independent Third World nations that had been European colonies before 1945. This often involved behind-the-scenes support of various regimes (sometimes democratic, often authoritarian and repressive)

Though Lyndon Johnson framed the Vietnam War in Cold War terms, using the “domino theory” to argue that halting communism in southeast Asia was pivotally important, the conflict’s roots lay in the mid-1940s, when the Vietnamese declared independence from France and fought an eight-year war for liberation, ending with France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

The United States, which began providing aid to France as early as 1950, increasingly viewed Vietnam’s fight to reunify under Ho Chi Minh through the lens of Cold War thinking, and Johnson approached the war as a battle against communist expansion, rather than as a guerrilla war for national liberation and unity. In the Middle East, American interventions generally concerned both the region’s rich oil supplies and the nation of Israel, whose independence the United States recognized within minutes of its declaration in 1948.

American support for Israel was motivated in part by Truman’s sympathy for the Jews, given their horrific experiences under Nazism) complicated relations with Arab states and incurred long-lasting Arab mistrust of the United States. In addition, the United States (being the world’s largest oil consumer) was eager to protect the region’s vast oil fields from the Soviets and drove the United States to support dictators such as the Shah of Iran and later Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – with negative consequences in both cases.

When communism ended as an international threat, American leadership increasingly viewed Arab extremism as the new threat to its hegemony. The Gulf War of 1990-1991 grew from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which upset the region’s political status quo and jeopardized the West’s access to Kuwaiti oil. The current conflict in Iraq is a continuation of this, as well as an effort to assert American authority in a region which has long regarded the United States with suspicion and disdain.

Economic and geopolitical motives were the chief factors behind American interventions abroad after 1940. The United States entered World War II to fight fascist aggression and expansion, while the Cold War was a struggle against both growing communist influence and the resulting threats to global capitalism and Vietnam transformed from efforts to help a colonial power to a Cold War fight.

Finally, American activity in the Middle East has been motivated by a desire to keep the region a stable and dependable source of oil, as well as a desire to combat Muslim extremists aiming to undermine American domination.


Boyer, Paul S. et al. The Enduring Vision. Third edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Goldfield, David et al. The American Journey. Third edition. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005.

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