This morning I was musing on the fact that American foreign policy is often overshadowed by an almost visceral fear of an Other, who is considered to be uncivilized, unpredictable, and dangerous, if not outright evil. This Other is usually defined ethnically — the Red Menace, the Yellow Peril, the Muslim Fanatic (yes, two of the three are technically philosophies or religions, but the popular construction of them usually came down to Slavs and Arabs).
It struck me that during the modern era, a major (perhaps the major) way that we have incorporated the Other into the Us is through war. By struggling with an enemy to the utmost, we somehow come to accept them. So WWI brought Germany into the fold (during that war, we called Germans “Huns” and other things which implies a barbarian horde, as opposed to WWII’s “Jerries”. This also explains in part why we interned Japanese and not Germans; Germany had already become part of Us, if a part with which we had serious conflicts). WWII brought in Southern Europe and, to a certain extent, Japan. The Cold War brought in the Russians and other Slavs. Korea and Vietnam didn’t work on this level, I think because those wars were not followed through to the bitter end. On a mythic level, they never ended.
So I wonder if this war we’re in now, a war fought to the collapse of one side unlike Gulf War I, will be sufficient to bring the Arab world into the American Us.
On a side note, this theory also explains why we never get along with the French: we haven’t fought against them since before independence.