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The American Perspective of the Cold War: The Southern Approach (North Carolina)

The American Perspective Of The Cold War: The Southern Approach (North Carolina)

More than any other event in the second half of the twentieth century, the Cold War affected international affairs and societies around the world in countless ways. Given that, we continue to study it twenty years after its end. For the most part, we know quite a bit about the official, governmental views and policies of the two main adversaries, the United States and the Soviet Union (with the latter more mystery remains, but the opening of archives from the once communist world has uncovered much in the past two decades). The Cold War, however, was not just a contest between the United States and the Soviet Union. It involved allies and client states on both sides, not to mention nations around the world that tried to stay out of the fray but were still drawn into or affected by it.

Over the past several decades, scholars have looked at the actions of the superpowers’ so-called partners—how they aided the larger cause (defending capitalism or communism, depending on which side of the Iron Curtain they fell) or even shaped Cold War events and policies, sometimes in opposition to what their superpower ally desired. Still, more needs to be done in this direction as frequently the focus is on either the “more important” allies (e.g. Great Britain or France on the Western side; the German Democratic Republic or East Germany on the Eastern side) or specific “flashpoint events” that bring in the “lesser” partners’ stories (e.g. the Italian elections of 1948; the Hungarian Revolution of 1956). In many respects, a sustained look at how the Cold War shaped the everyday lives of the superpowers’ allies and their perspectives is uncharted territory. This set of articles offers an opportunity to begin exploring, and then comparing, such multilateral experiences of the Cold War.

Also missing in the scholarship are perceptions of the Cold War within regions of the United States and the Soviet Union. While it is necessary to understand the general outlines of an American or Soviet perspective, the peoples of these nations certainly never possessed any uniform viewpoint. Differences existed across place and time. Given that, this paper will provide an introduction to the American perspective of the Cold War from the Southern point of view, with attention centered on the state of North Carolina where possible.

Perhaps the two most important things which shaped the Southern approach to the Cold War were a belief in a limited role of the federal government and race. Not surprisingly, these two elements were present among Southern views at the United States’ founding. Since the American Revolution, most Southerners held a states’ rights position vis-à-vis the proper role of the national government (this is still true with regard to certain issues, albeit at times only in rhetoric). The Revolution had been fought to protect and preserve individual liberties from abridgment by a distant, central government that exercised its power by armed force. Though the revolutionary-era government under the Articles of Confederation proved ineffectual, it still took some convincing, especially among Southern states, that the new (and stronger) federal government proposed under the U.S. Constitution would not infringe upon individual liberties and rights. Hence, to secure ratification a Bill of Rights was required.[1] Also to ensure Southern acceptance, the Constitution contained compromises on the matter of slavery. Most notably, the words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear in the document, but is implied with respect to the so-called three-fifth’s clause and the twenty-year prohibition on banning international slave trade.[2]

Many would argue the Constitutional compromises made on slavery, or perhaps the refusal to deal with the matter at the time, eventually led to the American Civil War. For a variety of reasons this conflict has been called the Second American Revolution. Among them is the fact that the federal government of the United States emerged from the war as a stronger, more powerful government. The so-called Civil War Amendments (sometimes called Reconstruction Amendments) gave additional powers to the federal government to guarantee individual rights and liberties (the Thirteenth abolished slavery, the Fourteenth provided “equal protection of the law,” and the Fifteenth allowed black males the vote). This was a reversal in principle from the Bill of Rights which had placed limits on the federal government’s powers with respect to individual and states’ rights. Also, thanks to the Civil War Amendments a revolution in race relations, such that liberty and equality without regard to skin color, now seemed possible.

During the period of Reconstruction which followed the Civil War, the federal government sought to ensure the newly-granted rights of former slaves. Many Southerners opposed this federal intrusion into their lives, not only on the basis of ensuring equality of blacks with whites, but on the principle that the federal government was overstepping its boundaries, abridging the rights of (white) individuals and usurping powers which had previously belonged to state governments. Once Reconstruction ended in 1877, these amendments, though not removed from the Constitution, were ignored and “home rule” returned in the South. In other words, states’ rights, especially with respect to race, prevailed until the Second Reconstruction of the modern civil rights movement (which itself occurred right at the moment when the Cold War was going global in dimension).

The Southern position that national or central governments were something to be watched closely as they could usurp power to the detriment of individual liberties (a position reinforced in the minds of many white Southerners during the period of Reconstruction), helped shape the image held of the Soviet Union. Prior to the Cold War, Southerners like other Americans saw the Soviet Union as the opposite of what the United States was. Its form of government and early policies under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (especially its one-party rule, centrally-planned economy, forced collectivization of agriculture, and Purges of the 1930s) illustrated to many that this closed society did not respect individual rights and liberties or have a truly representative system of government. While the Soviet Union seemed inimical to the interests of the United States, it did not appear to be a real threat until the waning days of World War II when it imposed its form of government and way of life upon the peoples of Eastern Europe. Now it seemed as if the Communists were implementing their stated plans for worldwide socialist revolution and needed to be stopped. Given that, many Americans, including Southerners, quickly gave their support to President Harry Truman’s containment policy. Moreover, they saw the Cold War as a struggle between competing political and economic systems in which the very existence of human liberty was at stake. Many Southerners held this view for the duration of the Cold War.

Southern views of federal power likewise structured the support given to the national government to wage the Cold War. Unlike race relations, national security was within the accepted purview of federal power. Hence, throughout the Cold War many Southerners consistently favored hard-line policies toward the Soviet Union and supported numerous measures designed to stop the spread of communism around the world.[3] When the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, Southerners believed themselves vindicated. The policies of containment and constant pressure upon communism had proven correct as the Soviet system crumbled and the United States “won” the Cold War.

Having outlined the elements which shaped Southern views in general, and thus what the South brought to the table when the Cold War broke out, this paper will subsequently explore how the Cold War affected Southern society. It will also broach the question of how this phenomenon affected Southern perceptions of the Cold War. The author, however, is left with the distinct feeling that while the Cold War changed Southern life (particularly its economic, political, and social development), the Southern approach to foreign affairs, including the Cold War, remained largely untouched.

The American South consists of twelve states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.[4] Since World War II, this region of the United States has undergone significant changes in its population, economy, and politics. In many ways, the Cold War helped propel these changes.

Perhaps one of the most notable changes has been demographic. Since the end of World War II, the population of the South has grown, whereas other regions like the Midwest have declined. Some of it has been due to natural increase, but most is due to in-migration from other states.[5] Initially much of the migration was due to the expanding military and defense needs of the Second World War, which then continued with the burgeoning Cold War. The advent of air-conditioning and the emergence of high-technology industries, driven in many cases by the demands of the Cold War, further propelled many American companies, families, and in some cases retirees, to move to the Sunbelt regions of the Western and Southern United States. The economic downturn of the 1970s also fueled migration from the former Industrial Belt—now Rust Belt—of the Midwest (like Michigan).[6] Thus, many so-called Yankees, ended up in the South. This population shift from the North to the South has resulted in a cultural effect which some call, “the Americanization of the South,” suggesting the South is less distinctive in character than it was twenty or thirty years ago (though in some ways that is debatable, especially as it concerns the Southern approach to U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War world).

Another demographic change has been the South’s racial and ethnic composition (though much of that has occurred in the last 10-15 years, or the post-Cold War period). From the colonial period to almost the present, the region was populated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). Blacks also made up a portion of the population with the introduction of slavery during the colonial period, though the distribution of slaves varied from state to state (on average, slaves never made up more than one-third of the South’s population, though South Carolina and Mississippi had black majorities). Many remaining Native Americans were forced west of the Mississippi River under the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Thus, for most of the nineteenth century, the racial demographic of the South, including North Carolina, was primarily white and black. Because the South remained tied to agriculture, it experienced limited industrialization and consequently saw little urbanization or immigration until after World War II. Only recently has the region experienced immigration. Like other parts of the United States, the South has witnessed an influx of Hispanic immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007 North Carolina’s ethnic and racial demographic was: 74% white, 21.7% black, 7% Hispanic (though many speculate the percentage is higher if illegal immigrants are included), with various other groups, including Native Americans, garnering about 2% each.[7]

It is worthwhile to point out the above demographic information because alongside the perceived proper role of the federal government, race was the most important factor that shaped the Southern response to a multitude of things in the twentieth century, including its Cold War perspective. Until the modern civil rights movement, many Southerners viewed blacks as well as other racial and ethnic groups not from Northern or Western Europe as inferior. With respect to the former, the attitude was shaped by the institution of slavery, with the latter it was due to the unfamiliarity with other ethnic groups given the paucity of immigration to the region.[8] During the Cold War, racial and ethnic assumptions were often the lens through which Southerners viewed developing nations (whether client or non-aligned states) in the decolonizing world. The Southern paternalistic attitude toward “lesser races” manifested itself in several ways. First, rather than taking into account the domestic or national concerns of its allies, Southerners frequently disliked cooperation and instead favored an American-led unilateral plan of action (e.g. Vietnam). Second, as the Cold War moved into the third world, Southerners oftentimes strongly supported foreign interventions to defend against the communist threat (e.g. Guatemala, Vietnam). Some of this was due to Southern assumptions that these nations were either unable to defend themselves properly against communism or they were unable to recognize the presence of communism subverting their system. Naturally, it can also be noted that Southerners, along with other Americans prior to the Vietnam conflict, oftentimes confused national liberation movements and their accompanying social reforms with communist infiltration when there was little to none. Finally, as membership in the United Nations by newly decolonized nations from Asia and Africa grew in the 1960s, Southerners who had already demonstrated qualified support for the institution became even less supportive of its efforts to secure peace in the Cold War age.[9]

A factor related to the South’s population growth and in-migration from other regions following World War II, has been its increased urbanization (though this may also be attributed to the changing nature of the South’s economy; see below). In 1930, most Americans lived in urban areas, but only one-third of Southerners did. This changed after World War II and continued through the duration of the Cold War, such that in 1960, 58% of the South’s residents lived in cities, and by 1980 75% did.[10] Still, one may find deep rural pockets where life has experienced fewer changes over the last few decades (though this too is changing, there are still many rural areas, even some not far from metropolitan centers like Chatham County near Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, where broadband internet is unavailable).[11]

North Carolina reflects the general trends the South’s economy underwent after World War II. Prior to it, as far back as the end of the American Civil War when Southern agriculture and hence its economy was completely devastated, the South became in many respects a colonial economy—extracting raw materials and producing agricultural products to be used or manufactured into finished goods elsewhere (other parts of the United States or abroad). After World War II, the Southern economy became more mechanized, diversified, and productive. Like other Southern states, North Carolina farms now produce soybeans and have expanded their livestock, poultry, and dairy production (not to mention its food processing industry, also like other Southern states). For a long time, North Carolina remained strong in tobacco and cotton production, but even that has changed and jobs related to these industries have seen heavy declines in the past several decades. The connection between smoking and cancer-related illnesses, along with the recent rescinding of tobacco allotments from the New Deal era, has solidified a move away from tobacco cultivation. Similarly, though North Carolina still produces cotton, it is no longer a prime region for textiles as mills have closed and jobs have gone overseas where cheaper labor conditions prevail. All in all, the move away from agriculture in the South’s economy has resulted in a decrease of those living on farms (by 1980, only 3% did).[12]

These economic changes affected Southerners’ outlook on foreign policy matters, most notably the issue of tariffs. From the late nineteenth century until the Cold War era, Southerners consistently favored low tariffs and free trade principles in order to find markets for their goods abroad. Given the economic changes, though, Joseph Fry has noted Southerners increasingly became some of the strongest proponents of American protectionism in the post-World War II era. This change, however, did not come overnight and is instructive as to why the South gave overwhelming support to the Marshall Plan of the early Cold War. The Marshall Plan played on Southerners’ strong sense of national honor and patriotism as the United States sought to prop up a free and democratic Western Europe, fearing that without American help this area could succumb to communism. However, Southerners also recognized the benefit the Marshall Plan provided them—markets for their agricultural goods. As agriculture played less of a role in the South’s economy, a reversal in attitude took place. Southerners now favored higher, even at times protectionist, tariffs. Ironically enough, they often did so out of the same sense of national pride and patriotism.[13]

While World War II brought many economic changes to the South, the Cold War solidified them. Fry has found that from the nation’s founding, Southerners in general have been suspicious of centralized government, higher taxes, and strong executive action, fearing such things abridged personal liberty and states’ rights. He further notes that while this proposition held true for domestic matters in the twentieth century (especially where social reform or civil rights was concerned), Southerners were more likely to support a foreign policy that enhanced such things.[14] As a result, both Washington policymakers and Southern politicians were able to use the security needs of the early Cold War not only to protect the nation but also advance the economic development of the South, historically the nation’s number one economic problem since the Civil War. The federal government which had been trying to promote economic change in the South since the New Deal, and rather unsuccessfully, finally found a way via “military Keynesianism,” for as Schulman rightly notes, “military spending, understood broadly, offered development without political reform and social change.”[15] In other words, to meet the Communist threat of the early Cold War period, the federal government was willing to spend a lot of money, and Southern politicians for a variety of reasons were eager to accept it despite the fact that in doing so they somewhat compromised their stance regarding federal involvement in states’ affairs (something they would deny). First, the South accepted the money because it would help advance local and state economies. Secondly, out of duty, honor, and patriotism Southern politicians believed it was necessary to support a strong American defense posture to meet the Communist threat. And finally, the federal government did not attach strings to the money regarding social change in the South (i.e. workers’ and civil rights). Washington most likely did not because doing so might draw Southern resistance and thus hinder America’s national security, but also because advancing civil rights was not yet a high national priority (though it would become one as the Cold War continued on; see below).

During the Cold War, the South consistently supported large defense budgets and the region often witnessed more defense monies coming in than taxes paid out. The region was home to seven of the ten largest defense contractors; and defense-related industries frequently spurred economic growth as new industries vital to the Cold War emerged (e.g. space program installations in Houston, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida). The Cold War fueled the Southern economy so much so that by 1973, Schulman reports, “more Southerners worked in defense related industries than textiles, synthetics, and apparel combined.” Interestingly enough, while the Southern share of military contracts expanded from 7.6% in 1951 to 24.2% in 1980, the South received the lowest amount of funds for weapons development than other parts of the nation, which at least made it less dependent upon the so-called weapons roller-coaster.

North Carolina differed from other parts of the South in that it did not receive a large volume of defense work. Still, defense monies made up 10-20% of the state’s income growth between 1952 and 1962. Instead of serving as the weapons arsenal or innovative center of America’s national security state, North Carolina provided a significant portion of its fighting forces, housing two air force bases (Pope and Seymour Johnson), three Marine Corps air stations (Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, and New Hill), and the army base at Fort Bragg (the largest military installation in the world by population). Thus, North Carolina had a place in the so-called military-industrial complex, but benefited more from its position in what some have called the military-payroll complex. Indeed, by 1970, the South was drawing one and a half times the national average in defense salaries. However, as Schulman notes, while military bases stimulated local economies, they did not necessarily foster economic growth in the form of new industries with high-paying, professional positions. Such was the case with North Carolina. To rectify that situation, local government, business, and university leaders in the Raleigh area decided to establish the Research Triangle Park in 1959 as a way to draw innovative and collaborative research, as well as government contracts, to the area. It succeeded with the former, but with the latter it failed to obtain significant amounts of defense monies over the course of the Cold War.[16] Nevertheless, the attempt to lure such funds radically changed the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). It went from an economy dominated by textile mills and farms to one driven by high-technology, such that today the Triangle usually shows up on lists identifying it as one the most educated areas in the United States (which includes percentages of the population with bachelor and advanced degrees; indeed, the area possesses one of the highest concentrations of individuals with master’s and doctoral degrees in the nation).

Like other Southern states, North Carolina gave vigorous support to presidents who favored large defense budgets to wage the Cold War. Along with the rest of their Southern brethren they tended, however, to favor budget monies that were directed at military items, such as weapon systems and military training, over foreign aid. The South was suspicious of foreign aid to developing nations but also disliked military aid to Western allies. In both cases, Southern traditional fiscal conservatism played a role as did additional factors. Regarding developing nations, racial and ethnic assumptions again came into play, questioning whether or not these nations were worthy of the aid and if they would use it properly in the fight against communism (and even if they were able to defend themselves from succumbing to communism).[17] In the case of military aid, it is possible this suspicion existed, especially in the later Cold War, because many of its Western allies had instituted social reforms and government sponsored programs like national health care, items which strengthened the hand and power of central governments. In that case, some Southerners questioned whether some of their European allies were vigilant enough in seeing socialism infiltrate their political systems or were in fact not Reds themselves. Such views were consistent with Southern sensibilities regarding the proper role of national governments. It was one thing to support a strong government for reasons of national security, but quite another to let it acquire power in the form of a welfare state.

While Southerners generally favored defense spending during the Cold War, they were less approving of efforts to accept the Cold War as a permanent, ongoing structure of international relations. Rather, in keeping with a strong tradition of national honor and duty, the Cold War was to some extent viewed like other, regular wars—something to be waged vigorously and won outright. Hence, they were suspicious of efforts to tone down tensions or accept arms control measures. Southerners consistently opposed the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, and SALT I and II. Likewise, they favored building an ABM (antiballistic missile system), but opposed the restriction of being limited to one.[18] Hence, they welcomed Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or “Star Wars”).

Over the last forty years, the South has undergone a dramatic change in its political affiliation as well. At the start of the Cold War, the South was firmly Democratic in national elections and had been since the end of Reconstruction. Today, the South usually votes Republican at the national level (especially with respect to presidential and Senate candidates). However, the reasons behind the change in political allegiance have more to do with domestic affairs than matters of foreign policy.[19] Whenever the national Democratic Party took strong stands with respect to labor rights, social reform, or civil rights, it could not count on the support of its Southern brethren. The sea change, of course, came in the 1960s when President Lyndon Baines Johnson (a Texas Southerner himself) pushed for great social changes in American life via the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the various pieces of legislation which made up his Great Society program (tensions, however, were already evident with the 1948 Dixiecrat revolt from the party after President Harry S. Truman sought to move forward on civil rights).[20] Indeed, Johnson foresaw the possible damage done to the party as he signed these pieces of legislation into being, predicting the Democrats had lost the South for at least a generation. Sure enough, following the social and civil rights reforms of the 1960s, Southerners began leaving the Democrat Party.[21] By 1972, Richard Nixon swept the South. Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, and George W. Bush repeated this feat (although Jimmy Carter did take his home state of Georgia in the 1980 election, while Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were able to pick off a few Southern states in 1992, 1996, and 2008).

By the 1960s, civil rights had become an issue in the Cold War and, according to Mary Dudziak, forward movement on it increasingly became a Cold War imperative. Simply put, the existence of black inequality, segregation, and voter disfranchisement especially in Southern states highlighted the contradictions between what the United States claimed it stood for and therefore what the Cold War was supposedly about. Inequality and restrictions on freedom for African Americans made it difficult to proclaim American leadership of the Free World. Moreover, such things cast doubt on whether or not the Cold War was truly an ideological struggle between Western democracy and liberty and Soviet totalitarianism and oppression. Indeed, the Soviet Union frequently highlighted the disparities in the American system in its propaganda.

Dudziak argues President Truman recognized the problems civil rights raised in waging the Cold War and took steps to eliminate them. Because he faced strong opposition from the Southern wing of the Democrat Party, he took action where he could through executive orders (like desegregation of the military). He also had his Attorney General’s office file amicus curie (friend of the court) briefs in civil rights legal cases like Brown v. Board of Education, which eventually dispelled the “separate but equal” doctrine and led to desegregation in schooling. She further notes that as decolonization proceeded, more advanced progress on civil rights at home was required. Hence, President Johnson went ahead with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in part because it was necessary to wage and win the Cold War on several fronts: to make true American claims on being the Free World leader as well as to entice newly decolonized nations in Asia and Africa to throw their support to the Free World side. Thus, the Cold War played a role in helping to bring about the progress made in civil rights during the 1960s.[22]

From the presidencies of Truman to Johnson, Southerners fought their Democratic Party leaders on civil rights, revealing again the importance that race played in shaping the Southern Cold War perspective.[23] Southerners were quick to hurl the epitaph of Communist at anyone who protested or favored civil rights,[24] a fairly effective weapon used to silence the opposition since the McCarthy era. Indeed, such allegations had been suggested even before the Cold War when the Communist Party of the United States had occasionally taken up the cause of black rights. By the early Cold War, however, many civil rights organizations were suspicious of communist motivations and, as Brenda Gayle Plummer has shown, frequently tried to distance themselves from any radical links to the past. Rather, many groups fell in line with the emerging anticommunist consensus in order to advance their cause with Washington.[25]

Though less effective by the late 1960s, there were still serious consequences of such charges. For example, privacy rights were infringed upon when Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., along with other civil rights leaders and activists, had FBI files on them, looking into whether or not they were communists or associated with communists. In 1963, the state of North Carolina enacted the so-called Speaker Ban Law which prohibited public colleges and universities from allowing speakers on their campuses who were known members of the Communist Party. Moreover, this ban extended to anyone who had “taken the Fifth” in response to questions posed by a state or federal body regarding any communist associations and subversive activity against the U.S. government.[26] William Billingsley has shown the real targets of the Speaker Ban were not communists, but civil rights activists. University students around the state, but especially those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led the fight against the law and brought suit against the state. In 1968, the federal district court in Greensboro, North Carolina found the law violated the First Amendment’s freedom of speech rights and ruled the law unconstitutional (though it was not officially repealed by the state until 1995).[27]

Southern attempts to use anticommunism to resist civil rights reform at home were ultimately unsuccessful. Having lost the battle over this matter within their traditional party, many abandoned the Democrats and became Republicans. Even though the South’s political allegiance changed after the 1960s, what remained consistent was its stand on America’s Cold War policy. With the onset of the Cold War, a bipartisan consensus emerged, such that both Republicans and Democrats were committed to the policy of containment in all its permutations. Communism was seen as a dangerous threat to individual liberties everywhere and had to be contained wherever it existed, by whatever means necessary. Vietnam shattered this Cold War consensus, though Southerners continued to adhere to its main tenets, albeit as members of a different political party.

The Vietnam conflict was both the pinnacle and watershed moment for the United States’ commitment to the containment doctrine. It was the pinnacle in that the idea of confronting communism in such a far off place which many Americans had never heard of before went unquestioned initially. It was the watershed moment in that, as mentioned, it shattered the bipartisan Cold War consensus that had been established after World War II.

When the United States first became involved in Vietnam, giving military aid and training under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, Southerners were wary of such involvement. This may seem somewhat strange, but not really when one remembers they had always been suspicious of military and foreign aid. As the conflict truly became an American one under President Johnson, Southerners went along with other members of Congress in passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, granting the president almost unlimited power to wage the Cold War in Vietnam. The following year, Southerners provided strong support for the introduction of American ground troops. In direct troop numbers, the South provided one third of all American soldiers who served in the conflict, whereas the region only made up 20% of the American population as a whole. Some of this may be due to the fact that compared to the rest of the nation, Southerners were more likely to be poor and unable to obtain an exemption based on university enrollment status. However, Fry has noted the numbers also fit in well with Southerners’ strong sense of honor, both personal and national, and devotion to duty and country.[28]

Throughout the war, the Southern people and their Congressional representatives repeatedly supported presidential policies to ratchet up the means used to combat the North Vietnamese. Thus, they supported the insertion of American ground troops, the heavy bombing campaigns, and the mining of North Vietnamese waters. If anything, Southerners had a preference for military solutions and loathed the constraints the Cold War put on American power and its ability to wage war against the communist threat, something that became extremely acute during the Vietnam conflict. Because of Johnson’s decision to wage a limited war here, the South was the section of the nation most critical of his handling of the war. They preferred Nixon’s initial policies and supported his plan to leave Vietnam with honor, though they rejected calls to withdraw from the conflict. When Congress finally made the decision to cut off funds, making it impossible for Nixon to continue the effort, Southerners voted against the decision in great numbers.[29]

As the war became more and more unpopular at home and around the world, protests grew on college campuses and outside defense-related industries which made the weapons of war. Though the South was home to a number of defense contractors, the ones located here experienced considerably fewer demonstrations compared to those situated elsewhere. Likewise, while there were student protests on Southern college campuses, in comparison to the size and numbers elsewhere, they were rather small. Many student protests on American college campuses were directed at ROTC programs (Reserve Officer Training Corps) that provided future military leaders. While many universities dismantled their ROTC programs either during or immediately after Vietnam, Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, actually established its in the midst of the conflict. The University president at the time was himself a man of strong Southern honor and a veteran of World War II.[30]

American music from the 1960s is filled with anti-war songs, but even in popular culture, Southerners showed their difference. Country music stars Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard, though not necessarily coming out in favor of the Vietnam War, demonstrated more sympathy for the soldiers and veterans coming home than they did with what many considered the hippie, dope-smoking student protesters. As Merle Haggard sang in “Okie from Muskogee,” “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take our trips on LSD/We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street/We like livin’ right, and bein’ free.” Rather he was “proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,” where they still waved “Old Glory down at the courthouse, and white lightnin’” was “still the biggest thrill of all.”[31]

Once the Vietnam conflict was over, many Southerners took the position that the war had been honorable and winnable. Many claimed that had civilian policy, and especially the doctrine of limited war, not tied the hands of the military, the United States could have won.[32] When Ronald Reagan proclaimed these very same sentiments in his 1980 run for president, he solidified the South’s new-found commitment to the Republican Party.

Vietnam shattered the bipartisan Cold War consensus, though the South still clung to its main tenets. Following Vietnam, Democrats were often considered Doves. They tended to be wary of foreign interventions and supportive of policies that brought a modicum of détente in the Cold War. Republicans, on the other hand, were considered Hawks, suspicious of détente by the late 1970s, favoring arms buildups to regain military superiority in the Cold War, and supportive of foreign interventions to contain communism, especially in the Western hemisphere. Hence, with respect to foreign policy and waging the Cold War, it makes sense that many Southerners permanently left the Democrat Party in favor of the Republicans by the 1980s, for they represented Southern views. After all, Reagan was man who initially dismissed the détente process, sought to regain American military superiority vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and argued for a strong defense budget to do so (he also promised to turn back the clock on federal involvement in domestic policy, also pleasing to Southern ears).[33] Again, the South showed consistency in its views on the national government—giving strong support to the national security state created by the Cold War and wanting to turn back the tide of the New Deal/Great Society’s welfare state.

The Cold War had a dramatic impact on the South, resulting in significant economic, social, and political changes. Without a doubt, the second half of the twentieth century saw the Southern economy move away from one based on agriculture and being labeled the nation’s number one economic problem to one dominated by new service and high-tech industries related to the Cold War and leading the nation in economic growth.[34] Moreover, the Cold War helped propel changes in the southern social system in which blacks were previously left out. While the Cold War did not give birth to the civil rights movement, it did aid it such that by the 1960s the issue of racial equality became enveloped in the larger superpower struggle. Without advancement on true liberty and equality for African Americans, the United States could not stand as the leader of the Free World, especially as the Cold War moved into the third world. Subsequently, the domestic reforms of the 1960s, especially civil rights, altered the political allegiance of many white Southerners as they turned away from the Democratic Party and joined the Republican fold.

Despite these outward changes, the South remained fairly consistent on what the proper role of the federal government was (limited with respect to individual liberties and rights, which translated into a limited role for the promotion of social change; stronger on matters of national security and defense). This then affected the Southern approach to the Cold War. Throughout it, the Soviet Union and communism were consistently viewed as dangerous threats that needed to be stopped. By the later Cold War, consistent support for American military action or unilateral action still garnered large support in the South. In other words, constant pressure not diplomacy was what was needed to wage the Cold War. Even Reagan’s efforts to reach agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s were pilloried by Southern voices. Ironically enough, once the Soviet Union crumbled to pieces in 1991, Southerners went back to Reagan as the man who destroyed communism by breaking the Soviet Union’s ability to compete militarily (and economically) with the West.

Thus, the author is left with the feeling that while the Cold War brought many significant changes to the South, in terms of perspectives and views held of the Soviet Union, communism, etc. very little changed over the course of nearly fifty years. This then raises questions concerning the Southern view of America’s post-Cold War foreign policy and approach to the so-called War on Terrorism. Some of the loudest calls for the unilateral use of force in Iraq and elsewhere have come from the South. Furthermore, support for such actions has at times established a litmus test of one’s patriotism such that not supporting a military action is conflated with a lack of support for American troops and therefore one’s patriotism.



Bartley, Numan V. The New South, 1945-1980 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995).

Billingsley, William J. Communists on Campus: Race, Politics, and the Public University in Sixties North Carolina (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1999).

Borstelmann, Thomas. “The Cold War and the American South,” in Local Consequences of the Global Cold War, edited by Jeffrey A. Engel (Washington, D.C. and Stanford: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2008).

Cassels, Louise. The Unexpected Exodus: How the Cold War Displaced One Southern Town with a new introduction by Kari Frederickson (Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2007).

Christensen, Rob. The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000).

Fry, Joseph A. Dixie Looks Abroad: The South and U.S. Foreign Relations, 1789-1973 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002).

Grantham, Dewey. The South in Modern America: A Region at Odds (New York: Harpers Collins, 1994).

McWilliam, Tennant S. The New South Faces the World: Foreign Affairs and the Southern Sense of Self, 1877-1950 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1988).

Plummer, Brenda Gayle. Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Powell, William S. North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989)

Schulman, Bruce. From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)

Terrill, Thomas E. The American South: A History (New York: McGraw Hill, 1996).

Wilson, James R. Landing Zones: Southern Vietnam Veterans Remember Vietnam (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990).



1. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union served as the United States’ first constitution. Drafting of it began shortly after the Americans declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776. Ratification of the document by the thirteen states took place between 1777 and 1781. The government established under the Articles lasted until the second American constitution, simply called the Constitution, was adopted by the thirteen states during 1787-88. This constitution has lasted until the present, though it has been amended twenty-seven times. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights and were adopted by the First United States Congress in 1791.

2. The three-fifths clause refers to the compromise made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 regarding enumeration of representation and apportionment of taxes. Slaves were not considered citizens, but they were counted as three-fifths of a person when figuring a state’s population. This was important because representation (and tax apportionment) was determined by population. The greater the population, the greater number of representatives a state had. The adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment after the Civil War (abolition of slavery) nullified the effects of this clause.

3. Joseph Fry, one of the few historians who have specifically studied the Southern approach to foreign affairs, makes this point in his introduction and presses it home in his chapters on the Cold War. See his Dixie Looks Abroad: The South and U.S. Foreign Relations, 1789-1973 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002), p. 4 and chapters 7 and 8. Fry notes the Cold War mentality was particularly prominent during the Vietnam War, though his study concludes with 1973 (the end of U.S. involvement in that conflict). He further argues a Southern approach to foreign affairs, including the Cold War then, was less distinct after this conflict. This paper, however, will suggest just the opposite—a Southern approach continued until the very end of the Cold War, if not in fact beyond.

Fry identifies several themes which structured the Southern approach to international affairs. Among those which concern this paper are: a commitment to regional interests, especially economic; partisan politics and loyalty; a deep sense of honor, duty, and patriotism; strong support for defense measures and executive power in foreign affairs; a proclivity to respond with force or violence; and an activist, interventionist approach to the world following the election of Woodrow Wilson to the presidency, a Southern Democrat, though a shallow commitment to Wilsonian internationalism (thus, a tendency to respond unilaterally and support the use of force). This essay draws heavily on the strands of thought identified by Fry.

4. The twelve states here consist of the Confederate South from the Civil War, plus Kentucky which did not secede from the Union in 1861. Some might include other states, or parts of other states, but the designation here could be considered the “traditional South.” The U.S. Census Bureau considers the Southern region to be these states plus Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. The Bureau does, however, break up the Southern region into four sub-regions. See Census Regions and Divisions listed at (last accessed July 7, 2009).

5. Bruce Schulman reports that since World War II, non-native whites accounted for larger and larger proportions of the Southern population, doubling the numbers in most places, but tripling it in Georgia and the Carolinas. He further notes new arrivals made up 12% of Southern states’ population growth between 1965 and 1970 and 51% between 1970-75. Also during the 1970s, the South drew twice as many in-migrants than all other regions of the nation. See his From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 159-160. In discussing these numbers, Schulman also notes that much of the in-migration was due to changes in the Southern economy and that many of these in-migrants came for high-paying, professional positions, whereas blacks and poor whites that held low-wage jobs made up most of the out-migration during this period.

6. Though migration to the Sunbelt can be attributed to many factors, the fact that some states benefited and others were hurt raises the question of whether the Cold War created “winners” and “losers” just within the United States during its duration (and possibly after, as the Sunbelt regions continue to grow while the Midwest population’s is shrinking).

7. These percentages add up to over 100% because individuals may check off more than one race. See U.S. Census Bureau State and County Quick Facts (North Carolina), (last accessed June 29, 2009).

8. Of note, in the 1920s, the South was considered the most nativist (or anti-immigrant) part of the nation and gave overwhelming support to immigration restriction laws that introduced the quota system, favoring Northern and Western Europeans. The system lasted until the 1965 Immigration Act, which Southerners opposed. See Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 196-7 (1920s) and 255-56 (1965 law).

9. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 259 and 262 (regarding ethnic assumptions), and 226 and 252 (regarding the United Nations).

10. Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 3; and Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 224.

11. Fiona Morgan, “Chatham’s Information Highway is Made of Dirt: Life in the Slow Lane, Independent, February 18, 2009. Available online at (last accessed, June 29, 2009). Similarly, another article reported that the U.S. Census Bureau placed North Carolina 42 out of the 50 states in home internet access. See Jeff Drew, “Census Bureau: North Carolina Ranks Low for Accessing Internet,” Triangle Business Journal, 3 June 2009. Available online at (last accessed June 29, 2009).

12. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 224.

13. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 229-30 (Marshall Plan) and 267-68 (protectionism).

14. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad (passim).

15. Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 109 and 133.

16. Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, chapter 6 (especially 139-150 for statistical information in the above two paragraphs; 167-170 for information on the Research Triangle Park).

17. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 227, 230, and 251-54.

18. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 240-43.

19. While this is a complicated issue, in writing this essay, the author has come to believe that perhaps the Southern change in political allegiance from the Democrats to the Republicans, or at least its solidification, may have more to do with foreign affairs than previously thought. Further study would help clarify whether, and to what extent, any connection exists.

20. Dixiecrat denotes a Southern Democrat who left the national party during the 1948 election and supported the States’ Rights Party candidate, then governor of South Carolina Strom Thurmond. The word, Dixiecrat, is a combination of Democrat with Dixie, a colloquial name for the South. Thurmond, by the way, started out as a Democrat and later became a Republican in 1964.

21. Schulman attributes the increasing number of Southern Republican votes after 1950 to more than just race. Given his focus on economic change in the South, he notes the increasing number of businesses, their employees, and native Southern politicians hoping to attract new industries to the region affected the turn toward the Republican Party, the traditional party of business. What also stands out, however, is the fact that by 1980, the South witnessed the highest number of young voters choosing the Republican Party. See From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 214-16.

22. It should be noted that Dudziak has been unfairly criticized by those studying the modern civil rights movement in America. She argues the Cold War did play a role and it did have an impact on the course of civil rights progress, but she in no way makes the argument that the Cold War alone was responsible for this progress. She acknowledges that without the efforts of civil rights activists putting the issue on the agenda, much of it could not have been done. See Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University, Press, 2000).

23. It should be noted that this discussion of Southern attitudes is centered on white Southerners. Black Southerners obviously had different views on the matter. Moreover, this difference affected black Southern attitudes toward Cold War policies. For example, black Southerners were often less anticommunist in their attitudes, frequently less supportive of American foreign interventions in developing nations (often identifying a sense of solidarity in the struggle against racism and oppression), and more opposed to American involvement in the Vietnam War. See Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996), especially: 177, 184-87, 206, 223, and 316-18.

24. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 249.

25. In her work, Plummer examines the African American response to foreign affairs, refuting the notion that when compared to white Americans, black Americans in general held a much more isolationist view. She sees a much more complex picture (and connection) between African American domestic concerns regarding segregation, inequality and racism and their attitudes toward foreign events in the twentieth century. In doing so, she examines many different African American organizations throughout the period, noting any communist pasts or associations of some of the individuals involved, but also noting that like other Americans who flirted with communism in the 1930s, many had already distanced themselves from Soviet communism by the time the Cold War began. What is of particular interest, is her examination of how the U.S. government actively sought to tame or eradicate the more radical elements within civil rights groups, thereby co-opting the groups and bringing them into the liberal anticommunist consensus which was being forged. See Plummer, Rising Wind, chapters 5 and 6 (especially 196-99 and 214-16 for U.S. government actions to tame the more radical elements).

26. This refers to the Fifth Amendment in the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights which states no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” During the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s, many individuals who were called before state or federal bodies investigating communist infiltration “took the Fifth” and remained silent. At the time, and obviously even after in North Carolina, this was looked upon as an admission of guilt of either being a communist or having associated with communists and supported the overthrow of the American governmental system.

27. See William J. Billingley, Communists on Campus: Race, Politics, and the Public University in Sixties North Carolina (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1999).

28. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 263 and 268-69.

29. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 231 and chapter 8 on Vietnam (especially 262, 269, 271-74, 287, and 289).

A big debate exists within Southern history regarding the region’s proclivity toward violence, especially in the nineteenth century. If one accepts the proposition that for a variety of reasons Southerners were prone to solving problems by use of force, the logical next step is that during the Cold War, the South often supported military force in meeting the communist threat. Though the connection is still problematic, on several occasions during the Cold War, Fry notes the South argued for the use of nuclear weapons (Korean War, Taiwan Straits Crises) and favored either the threat or use of military force (securing Western access to Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion attempt).

It should be noted here that not all Southerners or their representatives were in favor of continuing the war in Vietnam. Senator William Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, was probably the most vocal opponent of doing so. Moreover, to a great extent, this introduction to the Southern Cold War perspective is providing overarching generalities regarding the general Southern opinion. Differences existed both within and between Southern states yet on nearly most Cold War matters.

30. For defense contractor protests, see Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 146; for Southern college protests see Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 271-72; for Campbell University, see J. Winston Pearce, Campbell College: Big Miracle at Little Buies Creek, 1887-1974: volume 1 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976), 226.

31. An Okie is a colloquial, somewhat derogatory, name for someone from Oklahoma, but in this song Haggard makes it one full of pride and honor. Muskogee is a town in Oklahoma. White lightnin’ refers to homemade moonshine, which is illegal due to its high alcohol content as well as its maker not paying taxes on its production or sale. “Okie From Muskogee” first appeared on Merle Haggard’s 1969 album, Okie From Muskogee (Capitol ST-384). Tom T. Hall’s song, “Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken),” tells the story of a wounded Vietnam veteran, now troubled by alcohol, coming home to a nation that thinks “the war is just a waste of time.” The song appeared on his 1971 album, 100 Children (Mercury SR 61307). Earlier Hall songs spoke in favor of the war, noting the Americans were fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese from communism. See Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 270-71.

32. Fry, Dixie Looks Abroad, 292-93.

33. It should be noted that as Reagan began to work with Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s on arms reduction, Southerners criticized his détente-like moves. However, when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, many Republicans, among them Southerners, claimed it was due to Reagan’s policy to step up the arms race in order to bankrupt the Soviet system, thus finally bringing about the end of communism and winning the Cold War. One still hears echoes of this claim, as witness the most recent Republican National Convention in 2008. A work that disputes the idea that the Reagan arms build-up was designed with the intention of bankrupting the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War is Beth Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: U.S. Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997).

34. Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 152. However, he also notes that while the South’s economy changed dramatically, with respect to average worker income the South still led the nation in lowest wages paid by the late-Cold War period.


Also available are “Enemy Images, Evidence, and Cognitive Dissonance: The Cold War As Recalled by Michiganders“; “Soviet Perspective on the Cold War and American Foreign Policy“; “The Polish Perspective of American Foreign Policy: Selected Moments from The Cold War Era“; “The Netherlands During the Cold War: An Ambivalent Friendship and a Firm Enmity“; “The Special Relationship: United States-Russia“; “The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment’s Perception of Poland (1980-1981)”; “After the Cold War: U.S.-Ukrainian Relations (1991-2000)“;  Soviet Attitudes Towards Poland’s Solidarity Movement” and “The Paradox of Solidarity from a Thirty Years Perspective.

This article was originally published with the same title in Comparative Perspectives on the Cold War, Lee Trepanier, Spasimir Domaradzki, and Jaclyn Stanke, ed. (Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University Press, 2010).

Jaclyn StankeJaclyn Stanke

Jaclyn Stanke

Jaclyn Stanke is an Associate Professor of History at Campbell University in North Carolina. Her research interests include: U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War, Popular Culture and the Cold War, and oral history.

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