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Greece is the first major world power but the first great state eventually falls to the rising Roman Empire. The Romans fall as the Byzantines rise to become the greatest world power and eventually the Muslims. Next then Spain, the Dutch, French, British, and finally the United States were all known as the greatest. Specific circumstances led to the rise and fall of each distinguished world power. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy immerses the reader in exploring the political, economical and military abilities of the great world powers and why the countries had risen and fallen in those areas.
To understand why the United States has been able to become a present world power, Kennedy references the time period from 1885 to 1942. The book compares the economic and military strength of the world before America’s ascent as a global power. Mr. Kennedy suggests that the more power a states controls, a continually greater proportion of their natural resources must be dedicated to sustaining it. If too little or large an amount of resources is directed to such purposes than the consequence will be a weakening of power for the state.
Power is maintained by expenditures in a balance of creating new wealth and military expenditure. When in decline, a powerful state should shift expenditures to creating wealth but most, mistakenly, shift their expenditure to the military thus accelerating their decline. When fully understanding the basic pattern of rising power, over-extension and decline, it can be seen in past and modern societies.
This process is not uncommon to the United States and in the time period from 1885-1945, it was beneficial. The pattern described allows more visibility into what events propelled the United States into becoming a world power, the domestic and outside forces involved, and how much of the process was natural versus wooden-headedness on the part of other states. Naturally, in the late 1800s, America was still a young country without much global power until after the Civil War.
Then the United States was able to exploit its many advantages, such as its large population, rich, extensive agricultural lands, vast raw materials, recent evolution of technology to harness such resources; lack of foreign threats to security, increasing domestic and foreign investments, and a large population. These factors combined with the relatively new industrial technologies create an ideal environment for the United States to become a world power. To the benefit of the United States, world events conspired in such a way that America is pushed to be one of the greatest world powers post-world war one.
Events that lead to this occurred because of the Great War in Europe. The increase in Europe’s need for resource combined with the majority of their population at the front left the United States filling the gap with trade of their natural resources. Exporting more and also gaining interest on the money lent to most of Europe in loans created massive amounts of new wealth. As Kennedy states, “Traditionally, the United States had exported raw materials (especially cotton), imported finished manufactures . . . But the post-Civil War boom in industrialization quite transformed that pattern.
Swiftly becoming the world’s largest producer of manufactures. . . ” In 1913, the United States had the largest urban population creating the highest levels of per capita industrialization, iron and steel production, energy consumption and total industrial potential of all the great world powers. So it is no surprise that by 1914, the United States had the highest national income per capita too. These factors combined with three years of war in Europe before America entered, gave the United States the environment it needed to succeed as one of the greatest world powers in an industrial sense.
The circumstance for the US military at the time is rather different from the industrial situation. American industry was expanding rapidly, creating new wealth for the United States, while the military remained very small. In 1914, the Army was comprised of about 98,000 men with about half stationed overseas and the National Guard was about 27,000 at a time when the population was just under a million people. The United States’ total army and navy force was only about 164,000. Compared to Europe, our military was no threat.
About eighty percent of France’s men and fifty percent of Germany’s men within the draft age were enlisted. Russia’s Army and Navy force was well over 1. 35 million while Britain’s own moderate force was about 571,000. The United States is fortunate to have two large oceans protecting their east and west borders while two peaceful countries lie on the north and south borders. The ability to be unconcerned with neighboring powers gave the United States the freedom to have a tiny army while obtaining its new wealth. Similar events occurred before the American entrance into World War Two.
The majority of Europe engaged in the war immediately after the invasion of Poland in 1939 but America did not declare war until 1941 after the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. Recovering from the depression of the early 1930’s the economy’s recovery was sped up by the increase in foreign trade due to the war. Following the same pattern, the United States gained new wealth before beginning to create greater military expenditures. Overall this process of amassing new wealth through trade and then creating a strong military to maintain the level of power was proven in both time periods of history.
The greatest degree of credit to the jump of American power must be given to the events outside of the United States control and borders. For both the Great War and World War II started as ‘European Wars’ that Americans had no logical reason to interfere in. This ideal of American neutrality is one that is largely mistaken. In his farewell address, George Washington warned future generations of Americans about involvement with Europe and their wars but he obviously did not foresee the United States rapid gaining status as a world power.
As a world power, all situations in the world now affected the United States just as all events in eastern Asia affected the autarkic power of Japan before European influence. Therefore the world events had begun to affect the United States, even if its population did not wish to realize it. America’s involvement in trade prior to and during the first three years of the war gave the advantage of exporting more than importing. The new wealth gained created a greater military, eventually expanding its world power with its military power and thus the outside forces changed the domestic forces.
This process of a state becoming a world power is natural and understandable over an extended period of time. America’s rise to power is unique because of the quick ascent. The most effective reason the United States gained so much power is because of the wooden-headedness of the other world powers. After the American Civil War to World War II the great European powers wasted their individual resources, wealth and population with useless wars among other great powers. World War I was devastating for the European population. (Britain lost over 900,000 soldiers; France lost over 1.
3 million, while Russia and Germany lost over 1. 7 million soldiers each. ) When the war ended the millions of men could not go back to work manufacturing goods in their home countries. In 1920, Europe only manufactured 77. 3 percent of the amount it had in 1913. Thus while the European countries were recovering America was able to continue growing with less competition than prior to WWI and gained a great amount of power in the process. So while America had considerable resources to grow with, it also had an ideal environment to expand in.
Throughout history different states have risen and fallen as world powers. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy allows the reader to be able to recognizing and understanding the pattern of the rise and fall of power. The pattern described allows more insight into what events propelled the United States into becoming a world power, the domestic and outside forces involved in such events, and how much of the process was natural versus wooden-headedness on the part of other global powers.