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American Exceptionalism in the Cold War (1947-1961)


            
             When I first sat down and researched into American exceptionalism I discovered an idea that was complex in not just its definition but also its understanding. I quickly learned I was researching something that spanned political, historical and religious backgrounds and tapped into the heart of the American attitude most recently seen in Obama's election victory speech of "yes we can".1 Despite this, the president recently appeared to be hesitant to proclaim views of support for exceptionalism. Asked by a reporter in Strasbourg, France, whether he subscribed, as his predecessors had, "to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world," the president began by observing: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."2 His words were a far cry from a "Lincolnian" rhetoric depicting America as "the last best hope of man on earth."3.
             My first task was to define exceptionalism. Exceptionalism by nature packs a lot of different ideas, regarding both internal and foreign affairs. As James Ceaser states "It is probably a truism of political speech that if one has trouble defining immediately what a term means, someone else is using it a different way."4 Some scholars such as Seymour Lipset state that exceptionalism refers only to America as a unique nation but not necessarily a better one.5 Whereas others such as Ceaser feel that packed into exceptionalism is the belief that the American people have a mission to better the world and spread their greater way of life.6 For my essay I went with the definition provided by Ian Tyrell ;¬†"American exceptionalism¬†refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty.


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