Stephen Wertheim

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Tomorrow, the World: America's Embrace of World Leadership in World War II
  • Tomorrow, the World examines how Americans first convinced themselves that their nation should be the most powerful in the world.  Before the Cold War, even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, American political and intellectual leaders decided that the United States must attain political and military supremacy across the globe and retain it as long as possible, despite regarding such an objective as unthinkable, and un-American, just a few years before. From postwar planners in the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations, to public intellectuals like Walter Lippmann and Henry Luce, U.S. elites concluded that a tolerable international order was possible only on American terms.

    But they quickly perceived a problem:  would the U.S. public reject world leadership as the very kind of great-power imperialism that Americans had always opposed?  To embrace world leadership, Americans would have to abandon the century-old aspirations to transcend power politics and institute the rule of law among nations.  My dissertation therefore shows how officials and unofficial elites succeeded in legitimating world leadership:  they created a new narrative of "internationalism" and a new institution, the United Nations, whose chief purpose was sell the American public on the postwar projection of U.S. power.  Would leadership, unthinkable at the start of the war, thus became the only thinkable mode of engagement with the world.