Abstract

This article examines the responses of some of America's leading political commentators to the Korean War, 1950–53. Many on both sides of the political spectrum were terrified that Korea would prove to be the opening salvo of World War III, potentially culminating in global nuclear annihilation. By war's end, conservatives in particular had largely concluded that the American “defeat” in Korea marked a turning point in history, namely, the beginning of the end of the American empire. These debates reveal much about the origins of modern conservatism and also shed light on the ways in which debates about a multilateral vs. unilateral foreign policy persist into our own time. The article concludes by examining whether viewing the hopes and fears of a given historical crisis through the long view of history can bring a useful perspective to analyzing our own hopes and fears as we begin a new era in American political history in 2017.

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