I BEGAN THIS STUDY as the United States was extricating itself from its longest and most unsuccessful war, and I am ending it as Americans are recovering from the deepest recession of the post-World War II era. The Vietnam War stimulated widespread public interest in the origins of the Cold War while our recent difficulties have caused many Americans to ask how we ever became so vulnerable to external economic developments. During the late sixties and early seventies, historians associated with the "revisionist" school raised the level of the national debate by reemphasizing the importance of economic factors in American foreign policy. Among other things, these scholars demonstrated that the United States assumed world-wide commitments after 1945 not just to stop Communist expansion, but to defend certain economic interests, both material and ideological, as well.
This study draws heavily upon the revisionists' insights, but breaks with them in its final assessment of American motivation and achievements. I regard the international economic achievements of the Truman administration as one of the great success stories of the twentieth century, not just for the United States but for the Western world as a whole. In contrast with the revisionist portrayal of an imperialist elite bent upon aggrandizing power in the service of world capitalism or narrow U.S. interests, I depict postwar American leaders--President Harry S. Truman, William Clayton, George Kennan, Dean Acheson, among others--as largely enlightened and responsible, willing to sacrifice short-term national advantage to long-term gains in Western stability and security. The Truman administration successfully integrated the Western economies in order to foster global (including U.S.) prosperity, stabilize the balance of power, and promote U.S. national security.