Paul M. Kattenburg on What It Means to Be An American and the future of Foreign Policy


            Paul M. Kattenburg was Indochina Research Analyst and Vietnam Desk Officer in the State Department in 1952-56. He was Director of Vietnam Affairs in 1963-64 and, along with George Ball, was one of the few government officials who fought against America's deepening involvement in Vietnam.


            In 1980, Kattenburg wrote The Vietnam Trauma in American Foreign Policy, 1945-75. The following paragraphs about what it means to be an American and the future of foreign policy are taken from his book.   That Kattenburg was right about Vietnam and his predictions of the future made forty years ago are accurate make them worth heeding.


American Values and The World


            "The one certainly salient and distinctive trait of the United States is that its people are of many and highly diverse traditions and racial and ethnic origins, who have lived together on the American land for only a very short period of time as history goes. Today's Britons, though also of diverse origins, have people the United Kingdom for at least 1,000 years; French, though equally diverse, have been on the soil of France even longer; and soon their lands have lived Italians, Iberians, Greeks, the Slavic, and many other people of Russia, the Han Chinese, or the ethno-linguistically diverse people of India. But not over a tiny fraction of 'American people' descend from those who have been on this continent only some three hundred years; a few look back to families that have been on this soil two hundred years. The overwhelming majority of those who form the American nation today have been here a mere one hundred years or less. A hundred years or less is a very short time to form mutual bonds between diverse peoples, and bonds between peoples and their land. The United States is not a generic 'people-land' country in the sense that England, France, China or Japan are; or even in the sense that England, France, China, or Japan are; or even in the sense that the Soviet Union, through its dominant White Russian people, is. U.W. people are not yet held together predominantly by a sense of belonging together as descendants of generational patrimony, by a bond to land. What holds the United States together is saliently a set of principles and ideals. Thus, the United States is an 'idea' country, rather than a 'people-land' one.


            "Accordingly, principles and ideals hold a cardinal place in the U.S. national ethos and crucially distinguish U.S. performance in the superpower role. The American principles and ideas, the 'value structure' to use more refined language, were in part: (1) inherited from an Anglo-Saxon tradition and adopted; (2) inherited from a continental, including French, German and Hispanic, tradition and incorporated; (3) laid down by the founding fathers, those pure geniuses of detached contemplation; (4) refined by subsequent leading figures of thought and action, among whom John and John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt are just a very few among the many who stand out; and (5) tested and retested in the process of settling the continent, healing the North-South breach, developing the economy from the wilderness in the spirit of free enterprise, and fighting World Wars I and II, not so much for interest as for the survival of the very principles by which most Americans were guiding their lives....


            "Values and principles, beliefs and ideology, came not only to occupy a central place in the American popular psyche; but in fact to symbolize it altogether. To be American meant to be free, to see the world as open and progressive, to be optimistic as to the future and the fate of man. And to be optimistic, progressive and free meant to be 'American.' In the isolated confines of the American continent, these values quickly came to be seen as virtually the only ones worthy of pursuit by mankind. By a strange psychological twist, those excluded from the pursuit and achievement of such values, that is, most of the world outside America, came in the eyes of many Americans to be regarded as deprived of genuine humanity.   In a very real sense, Americans began to equate America with the world much as out grunts in Vietnam during the 1960s spoke of two universes, 'Nam' and 'the world.' Hence, Texas building were not just the tallest in the United States but 'in the world'; the American baseball championships were 'World Series'; good American things were, in general, 'the finest in the world,' 'richest in the world,' etc."  (p. 69-71)


Future American Foreign Policy


            "We can tentatively discern four emerging trends in world politics to which it will be the task of American foreign policy to adapt slowly and prudently over the next two decades. The first of these is a worldwide process of fragmentation, demonstrated in the assertion of an ever-increasing number of smaller and smaller units seeking recognition of their identity and legitimation of their authority as new decision-making centers. While predominantly national-ethnic in character, such units also include other groups seeking identity recognition. Contrary to the dreams and hopes of federalists and integrationists, the world in its currently high phase of transnational business and functional activity is not drawing closer together but, in terms of politics, pulling further apart. The process of fragmentation involves virtually all states, in their domestic structures as well as in their international relations. It is a problem which will tax the imagination of future generations of policy-makers throughout the globe.


            "Second, global managerialism by leader of multinationals whose strongly developed effective motivational and recreational sets determine their incessant quest for adventure, profit and action challenges the traditional authority structures of states in all world areas. It will not be easy over the next twenty years to accommodate the power and ruthlessness of multinational corporations to the requirements of traditional state units. This will demand new solutions and new forms of diplomacy on the part of the United States as of all other major powers.


            "Third, the world will face continued global irresolution by governments in the face of mounting transnational problems of the greatest difficulty. There are as yet no obvious solutions on the horizon for such complex issues as international monetary and financial relationships, the development of poor countries, technology and population transfers, competitive trade and investment policies by the advanced industrial states, energy-producing resources, availability and distribution of other scarce resources, environment, population control and Law of the Seas.


            "Finally, the United States and other major powers will continue to face both at home and abroad the reassertion of the type of terrorism, symbolic violence, and low-level warfare which is symptomatic of popular anomie and the rebellion of youth in all ages of transition from one historic period to another. It accompanies the ushering in of the age of industrialism as it now attends the dawn of the post-industrial age." (p.323-324)


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