Perpetuating Patriotic Perceptions: The Cognitive Funtion of the Cold War

By Matthew S. Hirshberg | Go to book overview

States promote freedom and democracy, while enemies of the United States oppose freedom and democracy. Because Americans are proud of their country and consider freedom and democracy to be good, they tend to be supportive of U.S. foreign policy, particularly if they are convinced that freedom and democracy are being promoted.

Because of the strong association between the Soviet Union and communism in the Soviet schema, Americans tended to consider Soviet allies to be communist, or to consider governments or movements labeled as communist not only to be Soviet allies, but also Soviet clones. Because of the associations of the Soviet Union and communism with oppression (the antithesis of freedom), "pro-Soviet" or "communist" governments or movements were perceived in a negative light, and U.S. policies and actions against them tended to be supported on both moral and security grounds.

The claim is not that all Americans, under all conditions, will respond to international relations in these ways. Preconceived associations are not the only influences affecting perceptions of and reactions to U.S. foreign policy. For instance, the ways in which political actors and journalists frame events and policies strongly influence how the public will perceive things.

The facts are, however, that many Americans, under many conditions, have behaved and do behave in exactly these ways. A great many U.S. interventions around the globe have been interpreted in one or more of the ways just described. For example, despite U.S. preferences for a puppet government in the South over free elections to reunify Vietnam, many Americans believed their country to be fighting for freedom and democracy in Vietnam. It was seen as necessary to fight against "the communists" because their victory would have meant both oppression in Vietnam and a cold war defeat for the United States.

The point is not that these interpretations of U.S. involvement in Vietnam were wrong, but that the preconceived associations revealed in this study make such interpretations "easy to think." If we are concerned, for instance, with understanding why it is that so many Americans supported the Vietnam War for so long, we cannot ignore evidence that Americans were cognitively predisposed to do such things.


NOTES
1
What this word-association study shows is that capitalism and dictatorship do not come to mind as readily as the other five concepts do in relation to each other. This should not be taken to mean that capitalism and dictatorship are not elements of a more elaborated conception of the cold war schema. In fact, capitalism clearly is. Findings here show that capitalism brings the United States and freedom to mind, and findings from the word-pair study (Chapter 7) placed capitalism clearly on the side of the United States, freedom, and democracy, against the Soviet Union and communism.
2
Obviously, the 30% level was somewhat arbitrarily chosen, as there was no rigid rule by which it was selected over 20% or 40%. A much lower percentage would have

-142-

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Perpetuating Patriotic Perceptions: The Cognitive Funtion of the Cold War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - "America Won the Cold War!": an Introduction 1
  • Note 14
  • Part I - The Cold War Schema in America 15
  • 2 - Cognition, Culture, and the Cold War Schema 17
  • 3 - Cold War Opinion in America 50
  • Notes 95
  • 4 - Cold War Themes in American Culture 97
  • 5 - Central American Elections on Network News: Cases of Cold War Framing 107
  • Note 123
  • Part II - Cognitive Effects of the Cold War Schema 125
  • 6 - Common Meanings for Cold War Concepts 127
  • Notes 142
  • 7 - Balance, Stability, and Change in the Cold War Schema 144
  • Notes 162
  • 8 - Attributions for Superpower Interventions 163
  • Note 180
  • 9 - Cold War Goals in American Foreign Policy: Nicaragua and the World 181
  • Note 187
  • 10 - Choosing Sides with the Cold War Schema 188
  • 11 - Recalling Information Consistent with the Cold War Schema 197
  • 12 - Conclusion 209
  • References 213
  • Index 223
  • About the Author *
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