How did America become THE world's superpower?

It’s a relatively young nation…

and when exactly did we achieve that title?

Is this your first summer school essay? I take it by your use of “we” that you live in the United States, so I find it hard to believe that you don’t have some clue as to you country’s histrory.

I live in this country, but I am not FROM this country.

Now, kindly piss off if you are going to take that snide tone.

ok, I apologize. Just your OP is a bit of a broad question, the kind that people sometimes post on message boards when they are looking for someone to do their work for them.

Answering the question “How did the US become a superpower?” is something best answered by reading a book on US history. I suggest you start with something on Theodore Roosevelt and then work your way up to the present day. In truth, you could spend a lifetime exploring the answers.

Answer 1:
Size, resources, and variety.
The U.S.A is huge; I believe that simple fact is not given enough weight is answers to your question.
This size results in:
a. lots of resources, and
b. a wide variety of resources.

Both a. and b. include Immigrants. I believe immigrants are the single greatest secondary factor in America’s growth and strength; secondary because the great size of America allowed the acceptance of the immigrants.

Answer 2:
With the collaspe of the Sovient Union and the end of the Cold War, which begs your question (Why did the U.S.A survive the Cold War? See answer 1.)

Does this give you a starting point?

All good points, but the obvious next question is, Since the Soviet Union was even bigger than the US why did it lose the Cold War? Also, if size makes a superpower, how do we explain the British Empire? Size is part of it, but the equation is very complicated.

Thanks, j66 -

I always felt that one of the major factors was the United State’s immigration policy.

Still, a rather large accomplishment in a relatively short amount of time…

In addition to the vast natural resources, we also developed a trasportation infrastructure (as did Great Britain) capable of exploiting it. There’s tons of natural resources in Siberia, but the Russian Empire/Soviet Union/CIS have never developed any way to exploit it. There’s hardly anybody out there, transportation is spotty at best away from the Trans Siberian Railway, and the climate is miserable enough that no one wants to go there anyway. Also note that the Soviet system did not allow anyone to profit from going to the frontier, relying instead on some (relatively) small perks to lure people into Siberia - or just plain forcing them.

I would say the US reached true superpower status during/after WWII. We were the only participant who wasn’t devastated to any degree, we developed a huge manufacturing base to support the war and our gallant allies, and the transportation network to transport anything, anyway, anywhere. Bear in mind that all the Europeon and Asian countries involved were just about flattened.

Historical and geographical accident.

It was founded by immigrants from a tradition of developing participatory government, so it did not suffer the vagaries of authoritarianism and periodic revolution that several South American nations have suffered.

Its temperate forests and plains were much more easily settled and exploited than the jungles of Brazil or Indonesia, deserts of Australia, or tundra and taiga of northern Canada.

Removed from Europe and Asia, it was not in danger of being overrun or conquered during any of the major wars of the last 200 years.

Only the U.S. and the Soviet Union were able to come out of WWII with large populations and industries and with most areas of their nations untouched by bombings or invasions. (Britain might have been able to make a similar claim if one considered the Empire–but the Empire was on the verge of folding.)

With its capitalist base, the U.S. was able to sustain itself and grow throughout the Cold War while the U.S.S.R. could only continue to overextend itself, having no serious internal economy on which to build.

Nothing in these historical and geographic accidents suggest that the people of the U.S. did not work very hard to achieve their status, but it explains why the peoples of Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia (with obstacles of environment) or China (held down by foreign invasion for 110 years, and then by a badly designed economy for another fifty) or the U.S.S.R. (hampered by a bad economic model for eighty years) are not in the same position as the U.S. at the end of the 20th century.

Given that the peoples of other nations are equally willing to work hard and that nothing is permanent in terms of governmental or economic approaches, and given that new technology could reduce the geographic obstacles, there is no reason to believe that China or the U.S.S.R. could not achieve (or reclaim) superpower status in the future. (I suspect that Canada and Australia would have a more difficult time developing sufficiently large populations in the short term. Brazil, Indonesia, India and, perhaps, Malaysia, should also be considered, but questions concerning their current internal affairs or geographic constraints also could postpone their development in that direction. (L. Sprague deCamp wrote nearly all of his science fiction using the premise that Brazil would eventually become the dominant world power–so far his notion seems a bit premature.))

On the other hand, if the entire concept of a superpower changes beyond the current model, any number of countries might step in to become a different type of superpower in the future. Power based on economic manipulation or control of information could radically change the notion of a superpower so that any number of (currently) unsuspected countries could claim that status by 2050.

In a truly HUGE country (1 million+ square miles), central control can create far more problems than it solves. Less account is taken of local issues and problems and the authority is not derived by local consensus, but stems from an often faraway capital, be it Moscow or Beijing. The United States was able to build up local industries under local oversight with competition forcing technological development and the failure of badly-run concerns. The American managed to spread huge numbers of immigrants across a lightly populated and temperate continent (the latter being the crucial difference between them and Canada, I feel). During the World Wars, large-scale industrial and technological development gave the U.S. a huge military and (most importantly) they haven’t had a war that threatened their own territory since 1865. The major European powers went to great effort to trash each others’ industrial capability.

There are any number of coin-toss moments in history that would have reduced modern American importance. Had the Confederate States remained independent, or had the Trent Affair (a footnote in history that might have brought England into the U.S. Civil War against the North) not been downplayed, or President McKinley not been assasinated (bringing Teddy Roosevelt to power), or had the isolationists prevailed during the world wars, or D-Day had gone spectacularly wrong, etc etc…

China is the next major rival to the U.S. if they can continue building industry and reducing inefficiency. Assuming India doesn’t wage a nuclear war anytime soon, they could also be a major force in the mid 21st century. They already have a major computer industry growing in Bangalore, the “Asian Silicon Valley”. Japan has had the crap kicked out of it by its own policies and they’re pretty much screwed.

We live in interesting times.

Well, I can tell you why Australia DIDN’T…because we are too lazy, and really don’t care :smiley:

But seriously, why the US and not Australia? Both countries are of similar size and kinda similar background. The differences AFAIC are:

  • geography. Australia is really pretty isolated from any other country. Whereas the US has Canada to the north, countries to the south and is in the Northern Hemisphere with most of the other “Western” countries.
  • climate. As was mentioned before, most of the US is inhabitable. The same can’t be said for Australia.
  • independence. The US fought for its independence, and won. Australia still hasn’t. Some people may see it as a question of semantics, but I think the fact that the US EARNED its independence gave it a certain strength of character and confidence in its own abilities.
  • discovery. North America was discovered a long time before Australia. Sure the Dutch discovered the west coast of Australia in the 1600’s, but they didn’t do anything about it, except mark the Great South Land on a map. The US has a longer white history than Australia.

Maybe those points help show why the US became a super power.

BTW, galen ubal, Australia was also undamaged by the war (if you don’t include Darwin, which is fair enough since you aren’t including Pearl Harbour), so I don’t think that’s such a big factor.

Ooops! spanks self with spikey board

However, I do think it’s a noticeable factor - the heavily industrialized countries at the beginning of WWII were Japan, the US, and Western Europe. If I recall correctly, Australia at the time was still fairly agrarian (please correct me if I’m wrong) - certainly when compared to Germany, Japan, and England. Perhaps it’s not a major factor, but it certainly helped.

I have the feeling that immigration has a great deal to do with the US’s success, as well, but I can’t quite put words around it.

As I read this and consider my own remarks, I seriously debate writing to my Member of Parliament and telling him to junk existing immigration law, reducing the reasons for exclusion to illness and criminal activity. Canada needs more people, stat!

  1. B/c of where we are in the world, we are only boarded by two other country’s on two sides and both are friend and we have huge oceans on both side of us that act’s like a shield to protect us from the rest of the world and the things that go on in it so we have had very few wars with other countries in the states and therefor have not had to “rebuild” too much.

  2. We learned from Pearl Harbor never to be caught with our pants down again, so we have build an overly large military to protect our interests.

'Cause we KICK ASS, dude.

While your response was intended to be your typical caricature of a benighted American who revels in mindless jingoism, it also happens to be the correct answer. We DO kick ass, dude. To quote P.J. O’Rourke:


Eventually he got, as the Europeans always do, to the part about “Your country’s never been invaded.” … “You don’t know the horror, the suffering. You think war is…”

I snapped

“A John Wayne movie,” I said. "That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? We think war is a John Wayne movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie - with good guys and bad guys, as simple as that. Well you know something, Mister Limey Poofter? You’re right. And let me tell you who the bad guys are. They’re us. WE BE BAD.

"We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock-market crash on our mother’s side. You take your Germany, France, Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in the Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express card credit limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go.

“You say our country’s ever been invaded? You’re right, little buddy. Because I’d like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get out hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘Cheerio.’ Hell can’t hold our sock-hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, fuck longer, and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in New York than king, queen, and jack of all you Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.”

Of course, the guy should have punched me. But this was Europe. He just smiled his shabby, superior European smile. (God, don’t these people have dentists?)

While your response was intended to be your typical caricature of a benighted American who revels in mindless jingoism, it also happens to be the correct answer. We DO kick ass, dude. To quote P.J. O’Rourke:

You know gobear, that is, while to a certain degree a silly and fruitless way of putting it, entirely accurate and damnably the funniest thing I’ve heard in months.

You can’t really argue with that…

Not of course that the country (and especially its foreign policy) should be beyond criticism - and maybe some posters who are citizens of that great nation should be a little less defensive…

But… true, very true. :slight_smile:

I have a feeling that all of the European and Latin American dopers are engaging in a big collective :rolleyes: at this point.

Ah, who cares. We’re heir to the Roman Empire, baby!