History of the Caribbean Fall 2007 Web Project
In 1903 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, proclaimed, "The problem of the twentieth century is the color-line--the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea."1 Du Bois realized that difference and transitions in ideology would govern the twentieth century, and map the landscape of modern battles. As if taking its cue from Du Bois, the twentieth century convulsed from its competing economic, political, and religious doctrines.
For the United States, the search for new markets and access to resources in foreign lands collided with the mission to preserve and promote America's cardinal virtue-- liberty. The task was greater then anyone imagined because it forced the US entanglement in the politics and histories of other nations. At the same time, the domestic condition changed as well. In the wake of incredible growth, Populism, its successor Progressivism, gave public discourse a humanist element that was powerful enough to defeat America's imperialists urge by the end of World War I. At that moment, the international concerns and domestic considerations fused indelibly, and Western hegemony became untenable.
The cold war heightened the union of domestic and foreign affairs, as the United States faced Soviet competition in the developing world (an areas rich in natural and human resources) and the social ferment of the civil rights movement. The cold war and race politics placed new questions on the table for America that caused a national reevaluation of its founding principles. The racial climate at home made America's participation in Vietnam's civil dispute come to mean more than national security, regional markets, or spheres of influence; the conflict was also about relations between white, western nations, and the people of color they sought to exploit. That these issues should come together was no surprise given the history that predated the cold war.
The lessons of the twentieth century are profound and numerous, but the diminished distance between people and nations stands as one of the significant. The guarantee of liberty for American citizens, and implicitly the world community, is a tension that the United States is finding increasingly burdensome given nature of globalization. Honoring its international commitment, while pushing the envelope on the social dynamic in the United States, has brought America back to the questions if faced at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet again, the words of Du Bois lead us into a new era.
1. WEB. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, reprinted in W.E.B. Du Bois Writings (The Library of America, 1986),327.
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