- Historic Sites
Have Americans slid backward since the sunny, prosperous years after World War II, as so many feel? To find out, an English-born historian compares our recent past with earlier times, and in the process learns something about our likely course into the next century.
February/March 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 1
So far every effort to re-create that Manichaean vigor in the wake of the Soviet collapse has failed. It failed with Japan because there is a real difference between tradables and shootables, and it will fail with China unless and until there is a real military threat. People know there’s a difference between losing your soft toy industry to Chinese factories and losing the flower of your youth on a battlefield.
There’s quite a difference between losing your soft toy industry and losing your automobile industry, too, which is what Americans have been scared about for a long time. And the Chinese appear to be much more likely to get into a shooting war with us than the Russians were; we have a latent but dangerous territorial dispute over Taiwan.
There is a possibility that the twenty-first century will see real rivalry—and perhaps even more—between the United States and China. But I find it highly unlikely that China will ever become the kind of threat that the Soviet Union was. I think America will spend the first decades of the next century with as sunny a national security situation as we had exactly a century ago.