This book outlines the history of the United States of America from the initial colonization of North America by the English to the rise of President Donald Trump, focusing on politics and diplomacy. However, intended for use as a textbook for specialized courses for undergraduates, for instance, in teaching American history, a history of American politics, and a history of American politics and diplomacy, the book primarily aims to provide an overall picture of characteristics found in the history of American politics. At the same time, the book was written for undergraduate studying political science and international relations at the department of political science within the faculty of law or the faculty of political science and economics, or at the faculty and department of international relations. Thus, it focuses on the period from late 19th century to present and provides detailed accounts on the history thereof, rather than giving equal emphasis to the entire history from the colonial period to present. This is because I believe that by doing so, I can provide stronger connections with other subjects such as those dealing with present American politics, international politics, and U.S.-Japan relations, and thereby respond to students’ interest in a straightforward manner.
Another characteristic of this book is that it devotes a considerable number of pages not only to domestic politics but also to diplomacy including the U.S.-Japan relations particularly following the end of World War II. This is because, more than anything, the book is intended for Japanese readers. Needless to say, there are numerous textbooks on American history published in the United States and some of them have been translated into Japanese. However, assumptions and purpose in teaching a history of American politics would differ considerably depending on whether we teach it to American students or Japanese students. When Japanese readers learn about American diplomacy, how Japan is positioned from the perspective of the United States and particularly its diplomacy is a question that would, at least potentially, linger in their minds all along.
Just one but significant barrier in teaching America in Japan is that many people believe they know America very well. For instance, when learning about a small country in Africa, people would try to learn with an open mind without any preconceived ideas, assuming they know nothing about the country. In contrast, Japan is flooded with information about America. However, not many would be able to properly explain the background to the founding of the United States of America, its unique history that has been developed without experiencing the Middle Ages, or fundamental differences between presidential and parliamentary systems of government. Besides, unfortunately, there are too few courses teaching America in Japan, given the importance of the United States to Japan and in the real world.
This book explains—and highlights to some extent—how different America was from what it is today up until the 1940s. Basically, many Americans were against having powerful standing military forces all through the end of the 1930s. A big turning point came after the end of World War II. It was a change of critical importance to the world and Japan. In particular, decisions and choices made by then-U.S. President Harry Truman and other leaders were critically important.
Fast-forward to some 70 years later, Trump, a presidential candidate drawing upon isolationist rhetoric, won the presidential election in 2016 and is changing U.S. policies for real. It is too early to know whether America is returning to what it was in origin. What is certain, however, is that the choice of the leader has drastically changed the direction of America, which is once again having a significant impact on Japan and the world.
(Written by Fumiaki Kubo, Professor of Graduate Schools for Law and Politics / 2018)