Death and the War Power

Mary Dudziak, Emory University

In scholarship on the war powers, the practice of war usually happens in the background. Presidents, Congress and sometimes courts are in the foreground. Killing in war is thereby a background phenomenon – an aspect of the social context within which the war powers are exercised. This essay instead puts war’s carnage and death at the center of the story. I draw upon the insights of important recent scholarly works on death to argue that the dead body has a political life. I use World War II as an example to illustrate the way viewing American war dead was managed by the U.S. government for the purpose of maintaining domestic mobilization. The political history of American war dead recasts an important problem in the history of American war powers: the atrophy of political restraints. Ultimately, I will argue, a crucial factor underlying the contemporary military-civilian divide and the atrophy of political restraints on presidential decisions about the use of military force is the distance between American civilians and the carnage their wars has produced.

Gorbachev’s Asian Pivot and the End of the Cold War

Chris Miller, Yale University

For half a century the Soviet economy was inefficient but stable. In the late 1980s, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it suddenly collapsed. Why did this happen? And what role did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reforms play in the country’s dissolution? The Soviet Union is often blamed from failing to learn from China’s more successful transition from socialism to capitalism. Why were Deng Xiaoping’s policies so much more successful than Gorbachev’s?

A “New” History of Vietnam? Reconsidering the Questions of Colonialism, Collaboration, and Modernity

Christopher Goscha, Universite du Quebec a Montreal

It has never been easy to write the history of Vietnam. This small country’s role in one of the most violent wars of decolonization of the 20th century and in one of the Cold War’s longest conflicts has meant that its past has been endlessly abused for all sorts of purposes, both inside and outside the country. It is perhaps only now, in the early 21st century, that the events which created the modern state can be seen from a more dispassionate, historical perspective. To illustrate this point, Christopher Goscha examines in his conference two themes that have been left out of standard accounts of Vietnam — the questions Vietnamese colonialism and collaboration. He will also suggest why it might be useful to revisit the question of periodizing Vietnam’s ‘modern history’ in terms of this country’s colonial encounter with the French in 1858 in order to push it further back in time or leave it open.

The Cold War: A History

Odd Arne Westad, Harvard University

“The Cold War was therefore about the rise and the solidification of US power. But it was also about more than that. It was about the defeat of Soviet-style Communism and the victory, in Europe, of a form of democratic consensus that had become institutionalized through the European Union. In China it meant a political and social revolution carried out by the Chinese Communist Party. In Latin America it meant the increasing polarization of societies along Cold War ideological lines of division. This book attempts to show the significance of the Cold War between capitalism and socialism on a world scale, in all its varieties and its sometimes confusing inconsistencies.  As a one-volume history it can do little but scratch the surface of complicated developments. But it will have served its purpose if it invites the reader to explore further the ways in which the Cold War made the world what it is today.”

Where are the Nations of Immigrants?

Donna Gabaccia, University of Toronto

Many in the United States pride themselves on being members of the American “nation of immigrants,” while contemporary debates suggest their pride is not now and never has been universally shared.  Few Americans realize that the demographic and cultural impact of international migrations–past and present–have been much greater in countries other than the United States. Why did historical migrations produce few nations of immigrants? And, in our own mobile times, are their numbers about to expand?