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page Colloquium on Contemporary History Project
Our objective with this scholarly gathering is to promote the study of post-World War II U.S. national security issues by providing a forum for the exchange of new interpretations, approaches, and information. We also hope to foster the establishment and nourishment of lasting professional contacts. This and succeeding colloquia will focus on such subjects as national strategy, interservice relationships, the conduct of joint operations in Korea, Vietnam, and lesser conflicts, and the military influence on foreign policy in the Cold War. The relationship of American industry with the Defense Department, the experience of women and minorities in the armed services, and the impact of modern technology on military force structures and weapon systems are equally valid areas for investigation. In short, we hope to enhance understanding of the role of the U.S. defense establishment in the contemporary period.
Dr. Edward J. Marolda
Head, Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center
The theme of today's colloquium is "A Time of Change: National Strategy in the Early Postwar Era." National leaders faced, in this period from 1945 to 1955, a troubled and troubling new world. Old enemies and their hated ideologies lay in ashes--the Axis powers and fascism were dead--but they were quickly being replaced by other equally feared regimes and alien creeds. The Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin dominated the Eurasian land mass and appeared a global menace. The People's Republic of China was born, espousing a robust brand of communism. New, impatient, and militant nationalities were emerging from the rubble of dead and dying empires. A revolutionary weapon of mass destruction seemed to threaten the very existence of nations and their peoples. Conventional concepts of warfare and national defense were questioned by many military leaders and civilian theorists. A nation which spent enormous sums of money to assure victory in a world war and longed to enjoy the economic fruits of that success, wrestled with the need for an even greater expenditure of natural resources in this era of armed peace.
A study of this post-World War II period is especially relevant to current national security concerns. As in the earlier period, we face a world in transition. Recently, the head of the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London announced that the Cold War ended in 1988. Last week in Brussels, President Bush labeled the current era as "Beyond Containment." There is no question that the political, economic, and ideological ferment sweeping what we used to fondly call the "Sino-Soviet Bloc," is nothing short of revolutionary in its implications. One need only ponder today's news from Beijing, Moscow, and Warsaw. Simultaneously, various national, ethnic, and religious groups--Nicaraguans, Tibetans, Armenians, and Shiite Moslems--are asserting themselves, often violently, throughout much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As before, evolving technology, enabling military conflict in the lowest ocean depths, in the remotest corners of the globe, and in space, have mandated increased concern for national survival. The new electronic, laser, and other technologies suggest a dramatically changed face of war. In this environment, defense and war-fighting concepts will be subject to continuous reevaluation, as will the armed services' missions and forces. All this is occurring while budget allocations for national defense are declining and will continue to decline. There is a growing perception in Congress and with the public that less for defense will suffice. Consequently, the military services will be compelled to take their budget slice from an ever shrinking pie. Thus, this discussion of national strategy and the unification issue in the years after World War II should be especially instructive and timely.
24 February 2003