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Research Paper on the Cold War and Civil Rights

The Cold War was a difficult period of time for the United States. There were domestic and international problems to be dealt with. Look at the sample research paper on the cold war below to get a good sense of how America was neglecting liberty domestically. This sample paper is provided free of charge by Ultius, the trusted provider of content solutions for consumers around the world.

Cold War & Civil Rights: Timing & Delivery

At the conclusion of World War Two (WWII), the United States (US) and the Soviet Union (USSR) emerged as the dominant superpowers. Despite their cooperation during the fight against the Axis powers, serious ideological problems emerged once the dust had settled. Both competing camps geographically expanded their political visions across the world. While Western Europe retained democratic governments, Eastern Europe fell under the iron curtain. Other areas, like northern Africa, did not have political value until the colonial infrastructure evolved into matured nation states by 1958. Simultaneously, the newly found interest in African nations served to encourage the civil rights movement at home. The US mission to promote democracy internationally provided an adequate ecosystem for activists to promote domestic equality and change. Notions of promoting the free world became problematic when coupled with the fact that segregation was still legal. Therefore, the renewed interest in Africa during the late 1950’s acted as a catalyst for shifting domestic race related policies as well because of the circumstantial timing and delivery of the civil rights movement.

The Case for Africa

American policies demonstrated limited interest in Africa in the early 1950’s. As every move was deemed a strategic one directly after WWII for the purpose of containing communism, Africa was a low priority according to political needs. For instance, Michael Clough noted that “American policy makers seldom gave priority to initiatives that did not serve U.S. Strategic interests” during this period (Clough, 1). Africa held little value at this point in time. Moreover, Henry Byroade, head of African affairs in 1953 bluntly remarked, “let us be frank in recognizing our stake in the strength and stability of certain European nations which exercise influence in their dependent areas…we cannot blindly disregard their side of the colonial question without injury to our own security” (Clough, 5). This example epitomized that the immediate threat during this time period was the situation in Eastern Europe, not Africa. The strategic value in Eastern Europe proved pivotal.

However, by 1958, the US viewpoint on Africa and its inherent policies changed remarkably. By the late 1950’s, the US had shifted its strategy to promote democratic values in Africa (Dunning, 414). Neighboring competition from the USSR served as a catalyst for US intervention. Richard Nixon, a foreign affairs official in 1957 argued that “the course of [Africa’s] development could well prove to be the decisive factor in the conflict between the forces of freedom and international communism” (Clough, 6). Clearly, by this time, Africa was the next possible candidate for the globalization of communism. Therefore, the US took aggressive legislative steps in competing with the USSR. For instance, Michael Clough noted that not only was the Bureau of African Affairs created in 1958, but “between 1958 and 1962, Washington increased the flow of assistance to Africa from $110 million to $519 million.” (Clough 7-8). Therefore, the potential threat of communism was sufficient for the US to intervene politically. This resulted in the fostering of positive diplomatic relations because of fear.

America’s Shifting Priorities for Africa During the 1950’s

Aiding and welcoming African nations was deemed a strategic priority during the late 1950’s. Lee Dutter argued that while the third world nations of Africa represented a less threatening geographical location, the domino effect of allowing communist influence could prove influential for the surrounding critical areas (Dutter, 514). The US retaliated by not only using USAID funding to supply democratic support, but they also began to include African leaders in US negotiations. For instance, between 1961-3, 28 African officials were welcomed into Washington (Clough, 7). This inclusion was a proactive effort to gain influence in African affairs from a political standpoint. Despite these efforts, “[African leaders] were uninterested in societal transformation because their minds were absorbed in the struggle for power and survival” (Ake, 9). As African interests became less of a strategic move, US policies that were aggressively integrated started to wane. Foreign aid that was prosperous and consistent reversed back to pre-1953 levels following 1965 (Dunning, 418). This evidence suggests that the aid that was given to Africa was circumstantial; US motives for aiding Africa were dependent on the strategic plans that the US had adopted (or abandoned).

Despite the diminished interest by the late 1960’s, the civil rights movement had achieved important milestones domestically during this time. Since “legal segregation and the blatant discrimination against African Americans undercut the nation’s ideological rhetoric about freedom and democracy,” the civil rights movement held two invaluable characteristics: timing and delivery (Romano, 35). The racist domestic policy served as a major liability for the foreign policy agenda. In fact, “Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under President Kennedy, explained in 1961, ‘The biggest single burden that we carry on our backs in our foreign relations in the 1960s is the problem of racial discrimination here at home’” (Romano, 35). As the strategic policy of fighting communism strictly involved utilizing the support and positive diplomatic relations with Africa, domestic issues needed to be dealt with. It was this timing that served a critical function in the advancement of civil rights. Pressure on the federal government mounted as a result. This situation was effectively utilized by black activists.

The United States’ Global Hypocrisy

Civil rights leaders focused global attention on how the US was being hypocritical in terms of their own practices. In the 1940s and 1950s, “black activists sought to embarrass the United States in front of global institutions like the United Nations to force a change in domestic policies” (Romano, 36). By shaming the US on a global level, black activists found themselves using the Cold War diplomatic situation as a primary tool in achieving their own goals. Federal officials, did in fact begin to offer support to blacks; “concerns about America’s international reputation pushed them toward intervening on the side of black protesters during dramatic civil rights showdowns” (Romano, 36). Indeed, the international liability of such actions was communicated to black activists (Romano, 2000, 550). Clearly, the main concern was that if the US did not respond favorably to racial domestic problems, then African nations would ally themselves with the USSR. The fragile international situation provided the black activists with the tools and timing to implement their goals and pass their legislation.

The importance of timing and delivery is clearly emphasized by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other legislation. The right to vote and the ending of segregation was passed in sync to the peak of US diplomatic relations in Africa. Accelerated funding to African nations and the introduction of African leaders to Washington were simultaneously linked with the support the federal government offered to blacks who were being targeted for violence by state and local forces. There is clearly a strong correlation that suggests that the US did indeed cave in to international pressures. By utilizing the United Nations and the mass media, black activists were able to draw attention to the policies and actions of the federal government.

Implications of African Policies

Consequently, the relationship between the cold war and policies towards Africa is multifaceted. As a main objective since the conclusion of WWII, presidential administrations leading up to Kennedy were still strongly engaged with dealing with the USSR. The global expansion of communism was an imminent threat to the ideals and values that dominated the US. As nations were following the socialist trend similarly to dominos falling in a line, the US was forced to act very aggressively in defending their ideology. This meant that newly established nation states like the ones in Africa were the prime targets for both opposing camps. This forced a strong interest on behalf of the US policy makers in Washington to begin fostering diplomatic relations with African leaders and governments. The diplomatic approach that the US took was to offer aid and welcome African leaders into Washington. Indeed, this process did occur very aggressively throughout 1958-1963.

However, the racial situation domestically served as a schism in the strategic move to gain influence in Africa. While riots, targeted violence and other non-democratic activities were going on, the black activists utilized this liability as a strong opportunity to change the status quot. Consequently, black leaders shamed the US and drew media attention to what was going on during the Cold War. Federal officials had no choice but to succumb to these demands in order to meet more important demands like promoting democracy in a global setting. Thus, the relationship between the cold war and African policy becomes clear: The US engagement with African nations catalyzed an environment that allowed blacks to influence domestic policy (such as the civil rights movement).

Works Cited

Ake, Claude. Democracy and development in Africa. Washington DC: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 1996. Print.

Clough, Michael . Free at last?: U.S. policy toward Africa and the end of the Cold War. New York City: Council of Foreign Relations, 1992. Print.

Dunning, Thad. “Conditioning the Effects of Aid: Cold War Politics, Donor Credibility, and Democracy in Africa.” International Organization 58.2 (2004): 409-423. JSTOR. Web. 18 Mar. 2011.

Dutter, Lee. “The Seventy-Five Years’ War, 1914-1989: Some Observations on the Psychology of American Foreign Policy-Making during the 20th Century.” Political Psychology 12.3 (1991): 523-553. JSTOR. Web. 18 Mar. 2011.

Romano, Renee. “No Diplomatic Immunity: African Diplomats, the State Department and Civil Rights, 1961–1964.” Journal of American History 87 (2000): 546-579. Print.

Romano, Renee. “Moving Beyond “The Movement that Changed the World: Bringing the History of the Cold War into Civil Rights Museums.” The Public Historian 31.2 (2009): 32-51. JSTOR. Web. 18 Mar. 2011.

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