Sam LebovicApr 22, 2022
A Righteous Smokescreen
Postwar America and the Politics of Cultural Globalization
University of Chicago Press 2022
Dr. Sam Lebovic’s A Righteous Smokescreen: Postwar America and the Politics of Cultural Globalization (University of Chicago Press, 2022) is an examination of how the postwar United States twisted its ideal of “the free flow of information” into a one-sided export of values and a tool with global consequences.
When the dust settled after World War II, the United States stood as the world’s unquestionably pre-eminent military and economic power. In the decades that followed, the country exerted its dominant force in less visible but equally powerful ways, too, spreading its trade protocols, its media, and—perhaps most importantly—its alleged values. In A Righteous Smokescreen, Dr. Lebovic homes in on one of the most prominent, yet ethereal, of those professed values: the free flow of information. This trope was seen as capturing what was most liberal about America’s self-declared leadership of the free world. But as Dr. Lebovic makes clear, even though diplomats and public figures trumpeted the importance of widespread cultural exchange, these transmissions flowed in only one direction: outward from the United States.
Whereas most scholars focus on grand problems of geopolitics and international finance to explore what sort of international order the US constructed after World War II, this book focuses instead on visa and passport regulations, the funding for educational exchange and school construction, the purchase of land for embassies, civil aviation agreements, the rights of international correspondents, and other equally pragmatic and practical problems of international relations…Detailing how cultural globalization was meant to work in practice therefore reveals a great deal about how the postwar order was actually supposed to operate.
Though other countries did try to promote their own cultural visions, Dr. Lebovic shows that the US moved to marginalize or block those visions outright, highlighting the shallowness of American commitments to multilateral institutions, the depth of its unstated devotion to cultural and economic supremacy, and its surprising hostility to importing foreign cultures. His book uncovers the unexpectedly profound global consequences buried in such ostensibly mundane matters as visa and passport policy, international educational funding, and land purchases for embassies. Even more crucially, A Righteous Smokescreen does nothing less than reveal that globalization was not the inevitable consequence of cultural convergence or the natural outcome of putatively free flows of information—it was always political to its core.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.