The first use of the term Pax Americana occurred after the end of the American Civil War. The term was with regard to the peaceful nature of the United States. That is until our entrance to the First World War. This emergence of Pax Americana was concurrent with the development of the idea of American exceptionalism. This holds that the U.S. occupies a special place among developed nations in terms of its national creed, historical evolution, political and religious institutions. The concept originates from Alexis de Tocqueville, who asserted that the a young United States held a special place among nations because it was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy. From the establishment of the United States after the American Revolution until the Spanish-American War, the foreign policy of the United States had a regional, instead of global, focus. This period of relative peace was enforced upon the states of central North America and was a factor in the United States’ national prosperity. The larger nations were surrounded by smaller ones, but they had no anxieties. There was no need for standing armies to require taxes and hinder labor. There were no wars or rumors of wars that would interrupt trade. There was not only peace, but security, for all of North America.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first time the phrase appeared in print was in the August 1894 issue of Forum: “The true cause for exultation is the universal outburst of patriotism in support of the prompt and courageous action of President Cleveland in maintaining the supremacy of law throughout the length and breadth of the land, in establishing the pax Americana.”
With the rise of the New Imperialism near the end of the 19th century through the Spanish American War, debates arose between imperialist and isolationist factions in the U.S. Here, Pax Americana was used to explain the peace across the United States and, more widely, as a Pan-American peace under the guise of our Monroe Doctrine. After victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898 the US acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. This gave the United States its own colonial empire.
In the Western Hemisphere, the United States established a sphere of influence in line with the Monroe Doctrine and recognized in effect by most of the known world. Interventionism found its formal articulation in the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, proclaiming the right of the United States to intervene in the affairs of weak states in the Americas in order to stabilize them, a moment that underlined the emergent U.S. regional influence. This period from 1865-1917 could be judged as a Pax Americana as the US grew in economic wealth and a model for stable democracy.
The introduction of Woodrow Wilson to globalization brought the United States briefly into being the arsenal of democracy. During World War I he managed to convince congress to declare war against Germany. As a result of the war and subsequent peace treaty global reorganization resulted from the Great War, there were those in the Country that advocated an activist role in international politics and international affairs by the United States. Fortunately the Isolationists won out and as a result the United States went on to maintain the peace and with it, neutrality. Except for the blips of the Spanish American and World War the period up to 1941 could rightly be characterized as the Pax Americana.
After nearly seventy five years of this Pax Americana we entered World War II and in victory found a changed national opinion. Now since that time the US became a war machine as protector of the world and the arsenal of democracy. From 1941 until 1991, U.S. foreign policy was dominated by the Cold War, and characterized by its significant international military presence and greater diplomatic involvement. Seeking an alternative to the isolationist policies pursued after World War I, the United States defined a new policy called containment to oppose the spread of communism. The Korean and Vietnam wars occurred during the so called Cold War as well. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the threat of communism our situation changed as did the threat. Since 9/11 and somewhat before we have been and are at war with terror. There was Desert Storm, the Wars with Iraq and Afghanistan that continue even now.
President Eisenhower warned us in 1961 at his farewell address to be watchful of the military industrial complex. It seems as though we will never run out of enemies whether real or imagined with our war machinery in place. Since FDR, all Presidents have been War Presidents to one extent or another. This has become our new model of democracy along with shock and awe. It’s time that we bring back our troops, close foreign bases, slash defense spending and guard our own borders. Peace with everyone and total neutrality, a return to isolationism that we once enjoyed and a return to a Pax Americana.
Since the Pax Romana was established by Caesar Augustus, its sometimes called Pax Augusta. Its span was approximately 206 years (27 BC to 180 AD). Rome ruled the known world from the vantage of bringing their people a better life and security for all. We are strong enough to do the same as Augustus did and reap the benefits of the greatest peace dividend in history.