In This Review

Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy
Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy
By Stephen Wertheim
Harvard University Press, 2020, 272 pp
Purchase

Wertheim delves into an important bit of history to try to pinpoint exactly when and why the United States embraced the global military supremacy that Americans have taken for granted for decades. The galvanizing event was not the attack on Pearl Harbor but the swift collapse of France in 1940, which made real the likelihood of a Europe wholly dominated by Nazi Germany. At the time, a small foreign policy elite began to debate whether the United States should take a more active part in world affairs after the war and how they might build public support for such an expanded role. True isolationism, Wertheim claims, was something of a boogeyman, used to distract attention from the fact that the country could pursue other, less militarized forms of internationalism. The United Nations, in this telling, was designed as an institution that would provide cover for U.S. hegemony, without interfering with U.S. freedom of military action. Internationalism and military dominance were thereby conflated, and isolationism came to be seen as “the most grievous sin.” In asserting that the choices made were recognized at the time as “tragic,” Wertheim seemingly ignores the enormous threats the United States faced during World War II and the Cold War. He is on firmer ground in arguing that today U.S. global military dominance has outlived its original purpose.