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The Big Idea - History - The ‘West’




What’s in the middle?

The geocentric model of the universe put the Earth in the middle with everything, and I mean everything, circling around us like fans in a football stadium. It was nonsense. Humans love to place themselves at the centre of everything and world maps are no different. Europe, after its rampage across the world to claim colonies and lands, is slap bang in the middle of the world’s most common maps. Africa has shrunk in size, while the European powers are far larger. The real world looks like this: The True Size Of … Try to grab some of the western countries and drop them over Africa to see how big (or teeny weeny itzy bitzy) they are in actuality. Grab Russia for the biggest shocker!


"History is written by the victors," Winston Churchill famously said. As World War II drew to a close, the United States emerged not just as a victor, but as a craftsman, ready to reshape the world order. Let’s explore how the U.S., through shrewd diplomacy, economic strategies, and cultural influence, carved out what we now know as 'the West'. Also, let’s examine how it changed our perception of the world.


The Marshall Plan: Rebuilding Europe, Building Alliances

In the rubble of post-war (Second World War) Europe, the U.S. saw an opportunity not just for reconstruction, but for influence. Enter the Marshall Plan, named after then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall. He argued, "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos." Between 1948 and 1952, the U.S. pumped approximately $12 billion (over $100 billion in today's dollars) into Western Europe. The plan had a twofold effect. Economically, it revived war-torn nations, and politically, it tethered them to the U.S., effectively drawing the lines of what would become the Western Bloc. Remember that Geroge Washington had said, and I paraphrase, “Ewwwwww….we want your money, not your problems.”


America’s political isolationism, long held onto, was over. The United States had finally begun to build its own empire, economic and geo-political one.


The Birth of NATO: A Military Alliance for the West

In 1949, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) marked a significant military and political alignment. "In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor," said President Franklin D. Roosevelt. NATO embodied this sentiment, creating a collective defence system that underscored U.S. commitment to its European allies. Back in the day, this system of alliances and pacts would have looked very different, but now, things were different. The days of empires were fading. The British Empire, which once held 33.3333333% of the world under its foot, was bankrupt and on its knees. The British Empire folded like an origami house caught in a rainstorm. France followed suit. Germany was recovering and weak. Everyone needed the U.S and their economic might. 


Culture as an Instrument: Spreading American Values

American culture, from jazz music to Hollywood films, became a tool for spreading U.S. values and lifestyle. As the saying goes, "The business of America is business," and cultural exports were a lucrative business indeed. This soft power approach helped to delineate 'the West' not just in political terms, but also culturally. Think of the movies in cinemas. Consider the world’s most famous people and the biggest companies. Our world is awash with the cultural impact of the United States. Almost every single country on Earth has been shaped by Americanisation. Consider 5 ways the U.S had impacted your nation:


The Cold War: Defining 'The West' Against 'The East'

The Cold War era saw the world bifurcated into two ideological camps: the capitalist West, led by the U.S., and the communist East, led by the Soviet Union. This period was marked by proxy wars, espionage, and a race to the moon. The West, under U.S. leadership, was not just a geographical concept but a bastion of democratic and capitalist values.


The conflict with the Soviet Union was an ironic twist of fate. Allies against Nazi Germany, fears deepened that once Germany was defeated, the ideological differences between the West and East would darken the geo-political landscape. These fears were well-founded as the Iron Curtain fell. The fiery bloodbath of the Second World War gave way to the icy stand-off that became the Cold War. However, having a villain helps. Stalin and the subsequent leaders of the Soviet Union created a clearly depicted threat for those in the West. A clear enemy  strengthens commitment to your cause. Thus, the U.S model had plenty of juice in the tank to grow and motor forward.


Conclusion

In shaping 'the West', the United States employed a blend of economic aid, military alliances, cultural influence, and ideological positioning. This period was a testament to the power of diplomacy and cultural influence in shaping global politics.


The question is, does every bright light burn out in the end? Like the stars in the universe, living on borrowed time as they burn through their fuel, will the lights go out on U.S cultural, economic, and geo-political dominance? Who will take their place? The world always has superpowers, so what if someone else steps forward? Will our world be reshaped in a new way?

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