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Question for Discussion: How did the Cold War affect American
 Society and Culture from 1945 to the 1990s?

Assigned Reading: Chafe and Sitkoff, pp. 447-455; Chalberg, 
pp. 250-256;
Present Bush's "New World Order Speech"

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1. The United States after the Cold War

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1. According to Robert Reich, what is causing the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United States?

2. How are new technologies affecting the standard of living of working-class Americans?

3. According to Reich, where have American manufacturing jobs migrated to in the last thirty years?

4. Do you agree with Reich that Americans can increase their standard of living by better educating and preparing our workers for high-tech symbolic-analytic jobs?

5. Now that the Cold War is over can America solve some of the major social and economic problems it overlooked at the height of the Cold War?

6. Do Americans still have enough faith in their democratic institutions and their leaders to come together and support major initiatives to address these social and economic problems?

7. What will it take for Americans to regain their faith and trust in the government and our political institutions?

8. If America won the Cold War but fundamentally damaged Americans' faith in their democratic institutions, did we really win the Cold War?

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How did the Cold War transform America?

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"The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, and the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, and the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, and professionals....

"There are other signs: the high rate of alcoholism, the high rate of divorce, of drug use and abuse, of nervous breakdowns and mental illness. Millions of people have been looking desperately for solutions to their sense of impotency, their loneliness, their frustration, their estrangement from other people; from the world, from their work, from themselves. They have been adopting new religions, joining self-help groups of all kinds. It is as if a whole nation were going through a critical point in its middle age, a life crisis of self-doubt, self examination."
.......Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1995)

America on the eve of the 21st Century:

In order to help you think about writing the larger essay question about how the Cold War affected America, I want to try and compare and contrast American culture and society in the 1950s at the beginning of the Cold War and in the 1990s at the end of the Cold War. By looking at the differences between America in the 1950s and in the 1990s we can get some idea of how we have changed as a society and culture in the last fifty years. You can then try to determine how many and how much of these changes are caused by the Cold War. However, it is always possible that some of these social and cultural changes may have little to do with the Cold War and a lot more to do with other important issues facing the United States in the last fifty years. But by comparing and contrasting America at the beginning and the end of the Cold War, we can better understand some of the possible impacts of the Cold War on American culture and society.

Let's begin with looking at American culture and society in the 1950s. How would we characterize that culture and society? Americans were more optimistic about their culture and society in the 1950s. Americans believed that we were a wealthy, abundant, and prosperous society. Americans believed that as a result of our wealth and success the American Dream was open to anyone, no matter who they were or were they came from. Americans believed that with hard work, education, dedication, and commitment, they could contribute and make a difference in their society, and as a result they would be rewarded with the fruits of the American Dream: a nice house, a stable healthy family, happy and successful children, a good life, and the ability to give your children a better life than you had. Americans believed that in the future we would work less, have more leisure, and enjoy our lives more. Through science and technology, America would be able to solve what social and economic problems it had. Americans believed that education would be increasingly open to everyone, and that all Americans with could take advantage of this education and training to improve their lives and standards of living. Americans believed that they would have increasing access to health care that would provide them with longer, healthier, and happier lives. Americans trusted their government and politicians to protect their interests and improve their lives and society. Americans believed in their government and their leaders. Americans had faith in their democratic institutions and their democratic society. With America's increasing wealth, opportunity, freedom, and progress, Americans believed that they would have more control over their lives, live longer, happier lives, and that their society would continue to improve and progress, creating ever greater levels of wealth, abundance, freedom, and opportunity. Americans also agreed on what America's larger role in the world was: to protect and spread freedom and democracy and bring our social and economic institutions to people throughout the world. But, in addition, to this buoyant optimism in American society and its future, Americans in the 1950s were afraid of nuclear war and dying in a nuclear war that could destroy their society and civilization. Moreover, Americans were worried about being called communists, afraid that their lives, careers, and families could be ruined by being associated with the menacing worldwide communist conspiracy. So American optimism in the 1950s was tempered by fears about nuclear war and about communism.

America in the 1990s was a very different society and culture than it was in the 1950s. Americans in the 1990s were much less optimistic about their future and the progress of their society. Americans still have faith in science and technology, but that faith wasn't as great as it was in the 1950s. Americans in the 1990s don't trust their government or their politicians. Americans had very little faith in their democratic institutions and in their democracy. Americans don't trust their government and politicians to protect their interests and the larger interests of American society. Americans don't agree on what should be America's larger role in the world after the Cold War. Some Americans believed that the United States might even pose a threat to democracy and freedom in the world. In the 1990s, many Americans have lost their faith in the American Dream and their future. Many Americans, especially young people, question whether hard work, education, dedication, and commitment will pay off with the rewards promised by the American Dream. It is increasingly difficult for Americans to buy homes, to support their families, to raise successful, happy children, and provide a better life for their children than they had for themselves. Americans worry about a decline in the quality of education. Many Americans worry that access to higher education is increasingly shut off to them because of rising costs. But, in addition, even with a college degree, many Americans fear that they won't be able to find a job that will allow them to be as successful as their parents. In the 1990s many Americans worry about a moral decline in our society and the growing inability of Americans to come to a common consensus on moral values and standards. Americans fear that their individual future and their society's future will be worse than the past. Americans fear a decline in traditional religion and religious values. Americans worry about young people and their children, fearing that they lack morality, initiative, and the commitment to hard work. But despite some of these pessimistic trends, Americans in the 1990s are not afraid that they will die in a nuclear war and that their civilization will be destroyed in a "nuclear holocaust." Americans in the 1990s are not afraid of being called communists or that their lives will be ruined if they don't conform to mainstream political opinions and moral values. Indeed, since the 1970s, many Americans have looked back to the 1950s as a time when American society and culture worked.

What do we make of the differences between American culture and society in the 1950s and in the 1990s? How much of these changes are caused by the United States' involvement in the Cold War? Now that the Cold War is over will America be able to address many of these problems and reasons for pessimism about their society and future? Did America only work with a larger global and national mission such as the Cold War? What will replace the Cold War to unify Americans? Why, if the United States won the Cold War, are Americans so pessimistic, anxious, and unhappy? What were the larger costs of winning the Cold War? These are only some of the questions we can begin to answer by comparing America in the 1950s and 1990s and asking the larger question: How did the Cold War affect American culture and society.

In 1990, just before America's military attack on Iraq, President Bush gave his famous "New World Order" speech, which reflected America's buoyant optimism at the end of the Cold War. Confronted with a world in which the United States was now the lone superpower, Bush wanted to redefine America's larger role in the world. Like many before him who dreamed of this day, President Bush believed that with the political and military threat posed by the Soviet Union now gone, the United States could now be free to finally carry out its destiny: to bring our values, institutions, way of life, and leadership to the rest of the World. Having defeated the Soviet communists, Bush hoped that nothing now would stand in our way. But, alas, there was Iraq and other rogue "terrorist nations" who refused to recognize the leadership and domination of the United States over our emerging global economy and society. If America is going to create this New World Order, we are going to have to put nations such as Iraq in their proper place.

Bush opens his speech by declaring that we must "defend civilized values around the world and maintain our economic strength at home." In order to do this, the United States must shape, dominate, and control the world, and we will do this by creating a New World Order. Bush describes this New World Order in this way:

"[A World] freer form the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace, and era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony....

"Today that new world order is struggling to be born, a world quite different form the one we have known, a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle, a world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility of freedom and justice, a world where the strong respect the rights of the weak."

By defeating Iraq, by freeing Kuwait from Iraqi domination, the United States, Bush argues, would be asserting our leadership and our commitment to creating and leading this New World Order. Bush now asserts the United States' larger role in this New World Order:

"America and the world must defend common vital interests. And we will. America and the world must support the rule of law. And we will. America and the world must stand up to aggression. And we will. And one thing more; in the pursuit of these goals, America will not be intimidated."

Clearly, President Bush is laying the political, military, and economic foundations for an American global empire, a world shaped and controlled by the United States. Bush hopes that such a world will be a free, abundant, democratic, and peaceful place. But can an American global empire really be free and democratic. Isn't there a basic fundamental contradiction, as Williams argues, between democracy and empire?

Can the United States as a global empire really hope to dominate the world and not face opposition, violence, dissent, and terrorism? Of course it can't. The best example of this is the Gulf War itself. In the 1980s, both Presidents Reagan and Bush armed and supported the brutal dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Both the United States and Europe sold military technology that would allow the Iraqis to build chemical and biological weapons, and yes even nuclear weapons. Even after Iraq dropped poison gas on its own people and killed thousands and thousands of people, the United States and Europe continued to support him. It appears that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 believing that his ally, the United States, would not challenge his right to do so. But, of course, if America was to be seen as the anointed leader of this so-called New World Order, it would now have to put dictators like Saddam Hussein in their place. The problem of course is that for America as a global empire dictators and the destruction and denial of democracy and freedom are useful. The problem still stands: How can America be a global empire without threatening democracy and freedom both in the United States and throughout the world?

At the end of the Cold War, Williams argues, America will be forced to examine and resolve the growing contradictions between its global empire and its democratic society and institutions. Williams argues that Americans must finally face and understand "the truth of empire as a way of life." He states the challenge we face at the end of the Cold War this way:

"We as a culture have run out of imperial games to play. Assume the worst. Empire as a way of life will lead to nuclear death. Community as a way of life will lead for a time to less than is necessary. Some of us will die. But how one dies is terribly important. It speaks to the truth of how we have lived."

But President Bush and American leaders in the 1990s have refused to examine the fundamental truths of America as a global empire. Instead of recognizing the fundamental costs and contradictions of empire, American leaders are still talking about a New World Order led by the United States.

Williams argues that American leaders refuse to understand the costs of empire because they realize that our society has always been based upon economic growth and increasing wealth. The only way for Americans to maintain and increase their standard of living is to expand the American empire. Economic growth, progress, or increasing GDP all depend on the United States dominating the global economy and exploiting and stealing the wealth, resources, and labor of people from throughout the world. Because of American, European, and Japanese dominance of our emerging global economy, 20 percent of the world's population consumes 80 percent of the resources and wealth, while 80 percent of the world's people consumer only a meager 20 percent of the world's resources and wealth. Because of our confusion between material wealth and consumption and the quality of life, Williams argues, Americans and other First World people refuse to recognize the increasing costs and contradictions of this global empire.

The first and most important cost of our reliance on increasing consumption and material wealth is the increasing global destruction of the Earth. Continued economic growth can only lead to undermining the ability of the natural world to support our imperial way of life, and when this happens, our global industrial civilization will collapse. Many scientists predict that if we don't fundamentally reform our modern industrial civilization within the next fifty to one hundred years, our civilization will collapse amidst the ruins of a decimated and polluted global environment.

But in addition to the environmental costs, the costs of maintaining America's global empire continue to run about 3 to 4 trillion a decade, or more than 300 billion dollars alone just in the United States. But the military and economic costs of empire don't just include massive military spending. The creation and maintenance of a global American military force, and the threats and enemies such a force will inevitably create, threatens and weakens our democracy. Throughout the Cold War, America's democratic institutions and Americans' faith their government and society deteriorated and declined. In order to protect our global empire, we have to weaken and undermine democracy in the United States. This is in part true because America's civilian and military leaders increasingly don't trust the American people to make the right decisions to support and expand our global military and economic empire.

The final cost of America's global empire is the growing decline of Americans' own standard of living. This would seem to be a paradox. Don't we maintain and expand our global empire in order to support Americans' standard of living and increasing wealth? We do, but increasingly America's wealthy and large corporations have demanded an increasing share of the wealth created by this global empire. As a result, since the 1970s, even as America's global empire and expanding economic and military power grew, the United States' middle and working classes, the vast majority of our population, saw their standard of living decline. Ironically, then, at the height of America's global triumph in the Cold War and American leaders' giddy optimism about creating and leading a so-called New World Order, the majority of Americans were beginning to question the increasing costs of this empire. Let's now look at what exactly those costs are. (See The America: What Went Wrong internet site.)

How the game was rigged against the middle class

Published Sunday, October 20, 1991

By Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele
Inquirer Staff Writers

Worried that you're falling behind, not living as well as you once did? Or expected to?

That you're going to have to work extra hours, or take a second job, just to stay even with your bills?

That the company you've worked for all these years may dump you for a younger person?

Or that the pension you've been promised may not be there when you retire?

Worried, if you're on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, that you'll never see a middle-class lifestyle?

Or, if you're a single parent or part of a young working family, that you'll never be able to save enough to buy a home?

That you're paying more than your fair share of taxes?

Worried that the people who represent you in Congress are taking care of themselves and their friends at your expense?

You're right.

Keep worrying.

For those people in Washington who write the complex tangle of rules by which the economy operates have, over the last 20 years, rigged the game - by design and default - to favor the privileged, the powerful and the influential. At the expense of everyone else.

Seizing on that opportunity, an army of business buccaneers began buying, selling and trading companies the way most Americans buy, sell and trade knickknacks at a yard sale. They borrowed money to destroy, not to build. They constructed financial houses of cards, then vanished before they collapsed.

Caught between the lawmakers in Washington and the dealmakers on Wall Street have been millions of American workers forced to move from jobs that once paid $15 an hour into jobs that now pay $7. If, that is, they aren't already the victims of mass layoffs, production halts, shuttered factories and owners who enrich themselves by doing that damage and then walking away.

As a result, the already-rich are richer than ever; there has been an explosion in overnight new rich; life for the working class is deteriorating, and those at the bottom are trapped.

And for the first time in this century, members of a generation entering adulthood will find it impossible to achieve a better lifestyle than their parents. Most will be unable to even match their parents' middle-class status.

Indeed, the growth of the middle class - one of the underpinnings of democracy in this country- has been reversed. By government action.

Taken as a whole, the rules that govern the game have:

* Created a tax system that is firmly weighted against the middle class.

* Enabled companies to cancel health-care and pension benefits for employees.

* Granted subsidies to businesses that create low-wage jobs that are eroding living               standards.

* Undermined longtime stable businesses and communities.

* Rewarded companies that transfer jobs abroad and eliminate jobs in this country.

* Placed home ownership out of reach of a growing number of Americans and made the financing of a college education impossible without incurring a hefty debt.

Look upon it as the dismantling of the middle class.

Today and over the next eight days, The Inquirer will examine how the rules have changed, what that has meant and what that will mean in the future. And its articles will show that, barring some unexpected intervention by the government, the worst is yet to come.

For we are in the midst of the largest transfer of wealth in the nation's history. It is a transfer from the middle class to the rich, and from the middle class to the poor.

Many students at this point charged that I wasn't leaving them with any hope. So let's look for a moment at some of the proposals put forward to restore the American Dream to America's beleaguered middle- and working-classes. (See America: Who Stole the Dream internet site, where Bartlett and Steele offer some solutions to the above problems.)

The list of possible reforms is long:
The suggestions that follow are starting points, a place to begin the debate. Some could easily be implemented; others would be difficult.


Global trade was promoted on the basis that it would benefit everyone. But the concept is valid only if there is true reciprocity -- if each nation provides equal access to its own market.

That hasn't happened.

Instead, as foreign competitors discovered that Washington lacks the will to get tough on trade, they lowered tariffs but raised other barriers to entry of U.S. products into their markets.

Washington's response was to continue to negotiate agreements with countries that promise to open their markets, yet never do, at least not to the extent that the United States does.

The emphasis needs to be changed from exports to imports, at least until trade is brought into balance. That means placing controls on imported goods.

Access to the world's richest consumer market should be granted on the basis of national interest, not because of a blind adherence to an abstract economic theory like "free trade."

Critics will complain that such a policy could set off a global trade war, that it would force up wages and risk inflation.


But the Japanese have been managing trade for more than 30 years and no trade war has erupted.

As for wages, you might ponder this: Why do the people in Washington dismiss executive pay increases that go up 100 percent or 200 percent as of no consequence, yet call for restraints when the wages of working people go up 5 or 6 percent?

In any event, a new trade policy needs to look beyond simply balancing the books on imports and exports.

That's because, dollar for dollar, imports cost more American jobs than exports create. The reason: Imported products, especially those from developing countries, most often are made in labor-intensive industries, such as apparel. Goods exported by the United States, on the other hand, tend to be produced by industries that require less labor, such as agriculture.

To curb imports would require raising tariffs and other trade barriers on products from countries that have consistently failed to open their markets. If other nations, for whatever reason, limit access to their markets, then the United States needs to respond in kind. It's called fair trade.


Restore immigration to pre-1990 levels and scale back the skilled-worker and guest-worker visa programs that have led to widespread abuses. Using immigration policy to create a labor surplus, thereby helping to hold down wages or limit wage increases, should never occur.

Adding to the foreign-worker glut is an army of illegal aliens. No one knows their exact numbers, but it is estimated they are in the millions. And that's after 2.7 million illegal aliens were granted amnesty in 1986 and allowed to become U.S. citizens. The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which was headed by the late Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, said it believed that stepped-up enforcement of all labor and
workplace laws -- from minimum wage to work safety -- would be "an effective tool" in reducing the hiring of illegal aliens.

Global wages

Companies that produce goods in foreign countries to take advantage of cheap labor should not be permitted the kind of unlimited access to the American market that kills jobs here.

A potential solution: Impose a tariff or tax on imported goods equal to the wage differential between foreign workers and U.S. workers in the same industry. That way, competition would be confined to who makes the best product, not who works for the lowest pay.

Thus, if Calvin Klein wants to make sweat shirts in Pakistan, his company would be charged a tariff or tax equal to the difference between a Pakistani worker's earnings and what a U.S. apparel worker makes.

Or if Microsoft wants to have its computer programming done in India, the company would be charged a tariff or tax equal to the difference between the salaries of Indian and U.S. programmers.

If this, or some similar action is not taken, the future is clear. Wages of American workers will continue to slip, along with their standard of living.


Reestablish the progressive income tax, which rests on the principle that tax rates should rise with income. This structure was in place from the beginning of World War II into the 1960s and 1970s, which coincided with the great expansion of the middle class.

The top tax rate might apply to, say, taxable income over $5 million, with the top rate at, possibly, 70 percent, rather than the 91 percent top rate that covered some taxable income from 1954 to 1963.

To spread the tax burden more equitably, a dozen or so brackets should be added, down to a tax rate of 5 percent. The bottom tax rate in 1996 was 15 percent; the top rate was 39.6 percent.

To simplify the system, all deductions should be eliminated, as well as the preferential capital gains tax. All dollars would be treated alike. A middle-class working family whose income is derived solely from a paycheck would not be taxed at a higher effective rate than someone whose income is derived from speculating on Wall Street.

All this deals with the federal income tax. Truth to tell, state and local taxes are weighted even more heavily against middle-income and lower-income workers. To right this situation, the federal government could create a system of rewards and penalties when distributing federal money to the states. The more progressive a state's tax structure, the more federal aid it would receive.

And, finally, the corporate income tax. Thanks to sharply lower rates and a variety of tax concessions, corporations in the 1990s pay comparatively less income tax than corporations paid in the 1950s. During that earlier decade, corporations accounted for 39 percent of all income tax revenue; individuals supplied 61 percent. For the years 1990 through 1995, the corporate share dropped to 19 percent; the individual share rose to 81 percent.

To restore some measure of balance, the top corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, should at least be raised above the highest personal rate, 39.6 percent. In the 1950s, the top corporate rate was 52 percent.

A variety of corporate deductions should be eliminated or scaled back. These include the essentially unlimited deduction for interest payments and the carryover deduction of losses, both of which fuel mergers and takeovers. Also, foreign tax provisions should be amended so that U.S. multinational companies no longer would be able to move income around the world to escape payment of taxes.

Social Security and Medicare

It is generally understood that shortly after the turn of the century, if not before, both the Social Security and Medicare systems will have to be drastically revised. They are running out of money. That means either a hefty tax increase, a reduction in benefits for retirees, a delayed retirement age, or some combination of all three.

One solution would be means-testing of benefits -- restricting the programs to those within a certain income level. The system should be changed from a retirement plan for everyone to a retirement plan for those who need it. Again, the issue is one of balance.

In 1993, 453,833 retired people with incomes over $100,000 collected Social Security benefits. They received checks amounting to $6.6 billion.

That's the equivalent of all the Social Security taxes paid by 1.3 million young working families with incomes of $40,000 a year. A direct transfer from them to retirees whose incomes range from 2-1/2 to more than 25 times their incomes.

Everyone would continue to have Social Security taxes deducted from their paychecks, but benefit payments would be ended to individuals and families whose incomes exceed, say, two to three times median family income. That would be between $80,000 and $120,000. Social Security benefit payments to them would be stopped only after retirees had collected what they had paid into Social Security, with interest. Medicare, too, should be means-tested. The inequity of America's health-care system was summed up by a Philadelphia physician: "I have patients who come to my office in chauffeur-driven limousines. They own three or four homes. And Medicare pays their bills.Does this make sense?"

This in a society in which 40 million or more people go without health care because they cannot afford it.

Executive salaries

Corporations are free to pay their executives whatever they want. But that doesn't mean companies should be permitted to write off the full amount on their tax returns, shifting the cost to taxpayers.

One possible solution: Tie tax deductibility to a multiple between the highest- and lowest-paid workers. For example, if the lowest-paid worker earns $20,000, then the company would be precluded from deducting more than, say, 15 times that amount, or $300,000, for the pay of its CEO on its corporate tax return. The balance of the compensation would come out of the shareholders' pockets, rather than being partly funded by the taxpayers.

Campaign finance and lobbying

Absent sweeping reforms in campaign financing, all other reform efforts are likely to fail.

That's because the money flowing to candidates and political parties, in staggering amounts, comes from corporations, wealthy individuals, political action committees, and other interest groups -- all with agendas that are often at odds with what is good for average Americans.

Over the years, critics of the current system have generally agreed on the need for a number of reforms, including these:

Impose a limit on the amount that can be spent to run for office.

Ban contributions by political action committees to candidates.

Close the loophole in campaign finance law that allows donors to circumvent limits on contributions to candidates by making contributions in unlimited amounts to political parties.

Restrict the amount of out-of-state money that a candidate may accept while running for office.

Only by limiting the money that pours into politics will the power of special interests be curbed.

The above reforms might work, students argued, but as long as the wealthy and larger global corporations are free to blackmail the United States and other rich countries by threatening to take their operations and profits somewhere else, these reforms won't work. Rather than pay higher taxes, pay higher wages, reduce executives' salaries, etc., these companies will simply refuse to operate in these countries. Thus, in order to make reforms in an increasingly global economy, they must be global reforms that will affect all of the 185 nations of the world. As a result of globalization, only global economic and social reforms will work to restore the declining standard of living of America's middle- and working classes. For examples of such global reform proposals, see:

1. Ending Corporate Governance

2.A Citizen Agenda to Tame Corporate Power, Reclaim
Citizen Sovereignty, and Restore Economic Sanity

All of these reform programs have one thing in common: They don't accept the argument that it is necessary to enrich the wealthy and larger corporations at the expense of the majority of the world's peoples. They also recognize the global reality of imperialism and economic exploitation of the poor by the wealthy nations.

The larger problem our global modern industrial civilization faces is this: How do we change our values and priorities from increasing material consumption and wealth to democracy and quality of life? We must realize that if some are to consume vast amounts of the Earth's resources, others are not going to be able to consume very much at all. Our insistence on having more than our rightful share is the primary engine driving the growth and expansion of global empire and military conflict. Williams concludes that we are in a transition period "that offers us the opportunity to imagine and act to move on beyond global imperialism to regional communities." How we collectively manage this transition will determine the future of our industrial civilization and ultimately humanity's future. If we don't come to respect the rights of communities to control and protect their own resources, people, and wealth for their own well-being, then we will continue down the path of global empire. And down that path leads global environmental destruction, nuclear war, endless military conflict, and death. At the end of the Cold War, Americans are confronted with the choice between the New World Order or a renewed commitment to democracy, freedom, quality of life, and the right of communities to choose their own collective destinies. In the end, this is a choice about the value of democracy and the necessity of empire as a way of life.