Negotiating the “Helping Hand”: Local Decolonizations and American Aid in the Early Cold War

AHA Session 77
National History Center of the American Historical Association 3
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Nassau Suite B (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Matthew Connelly, London School of Economics
Sheyda F.A. Jahanbani, University of Kansas

Session Abstract

Point Four, the American economic aid and technical assistance program established in 1949, was—aside from the Marshall Plan—the largest U.S. “foreign aid” program in history to date. Conceived in the early years of the Cold War, this program was a vital American asset in waging that conflict. However, while the US sought to utilize its aid program to enhance its influence and image in decolonized and decolonizing areas outside Europe, the process was not a one-sided but rather a dynamic and interactive one, as various local actors affirmed their agency and pursued their own agendas within it. Although the US was the more powerful party given the new states’ desperate need for economic and technical assistance, US program officers had to contend with these local parties who sought to shape the aid according to their own vision. Administrations, organizations, and individuals in the developing countries negotiated this aid in different ways for their own purposes: bettering their situation, manipulating conflicting foreign interests, or leveraging certain groups’ interests in the struggle to shape the post-colonial state. In the competition to win hearts and minds, and to gain strategic Cold War advantage, American technocrats and foreign policymakers alike had to make concessions to native desires. The outcome of this process had a significant impact on the shape of the new decolonized states.

This panel reassesses the relatively-understudied early American aid program, by examining diverse local responses to it across a wide geographical area, encompassing Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. While most research on American aid focuses on state actors, the panel complicates the picture by bringing in additional stakeholders, non-state and sub-state, human and other. Leena Dallasheh (New York University) explores how Palestinian citizens in Israel, technically outside the scope of the program’s contacts, appealed to the Point Four program in an attempt to sidestep Israeli restrictions on them. In doing so, they engaged the Americans in the ongoing struggle to defining the place in the newly-created—and only partially-decolonized—state.  Revisiting development efforts in Ethiopia, Amanda McVety (Miami University of Ohio) stresses the connection U.S. administrators made between the local, regional, and international spheres of development in their Cold War efforts, tracing the complex interactions between the various parties on both the American and Ethiopian sides. Finally, bringing the perspective from the centre by studying its actions and reactions regarding its aid in Latin America, Jason Parker (Texas A&M University) shows how Washington viewed the relationship between foreign aid and creating sympathy for American Cold War goals in underdeveloped areas.  Sheyda Jahanbani (Kansas University) will offer comment, and Matthew Connelly (Columbia University) will chair the session.

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