1st Edition

America and the Postwar World: Remaking International Society, 1945-1956

By David Mayers Copyright 2018
    312 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    312 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The main tide of international relations scholarship on the first years after World War II sweeps toward Cold War accounts. These have emphasized the United States and USSR in a context of geopolitical rivalry, with concomitant attention upon the bristling security state. Historians have also extensively analyzed the creation of an economic order (Bretton Woods), mainly designed by Americans and tailored to their interests, but resisted by peoples residing outside of North America, Western Europe, and Japan. This scholarship, centered on the Cold War as vortex and a reconfigured world economy, is rife with contending schools of interpretation and, bolstered by troves of declassified archival documents, will support investigations and writing into the future.

    By contrast, this book examines a past that ran concurrent with the Cold War and interacted with it, but which usefully can also be read as separable: Washington in the first years after World War II, and in response to that conflagration, sought to redesign international society. That society was then, and remains, an admittedly amorphous thing. Yet it has always had a tangible aspect, drawing self-regarding states into occasional cooperation, mediated by treaties, laws, norms, diplomatic customs, and transnational institutions. The U.S.-led attempt during the first postwar years to salvage international society focused on the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the Acheson–Lilienthal plan to contain the atomic arms race, the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals to force Axis leaders to account, the 1948 Genocide Convention, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the founding of the United Nations. None of these initiatives was transformative, not individually or collectively. Yet they had an ameliorative effect, traces of which have touched the twenty-first century—in struggles to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, bring war criminals to justice, create laws supportive of human rights, and maintain an aspirational United Nations, still striving to retain meaningfulness amid world hazards. Together these partially realized innovations and frameworks constitute, if nothing else, a point of moral reference, much needed as the border between war and peace has become blurred and the consequences of a return to unrestraint must be harrowing.




    1. Destruction

    2. Justice

    3. Humanity

    4. United Nations

    5. Empires

    6. America


    A. Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945

    B. International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg): Defendants, Verdicts, Sentences—October 1946

    C. International Military Tribunal Far East (Tokyo): Defendants, Verdicts, Sentences—November 1948

    D. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948

    E. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948





    Professor David Mayers holds a joint appointment in the History and Political Science Departments at Boston University. His previous books include Cracking the Monolith: US Policy Against the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 19491955 (1986), George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy (1988), The Ambassadors and America’s Soviet Policy (awarded the 1995 Douglas Dillon prize from the American Academy of Diplomacy), Wars and Peace: The Future Americans Envisioned, 18611991 (1998), Dissenting Voices in America’s Rise to Power (2007), and FDR’s Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis (2013).

    "America's leadership of a liberal world order has come in for a lot of criticism lately, but there is another, more hopeful side to liberal internationalism. After the armageddon of World War II, the United States led the way in creating a global rules-based system that, for all its faults, successfully created the conditions for international prosperity and stability. This is the story Mayers tells, and he tells it well in this original, elegantly written book."

    Andrew Preston, Professor of History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Clare College and author of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy


    "David Mayers turns his considered and expert gaze from the United States's wartime exploits and dilemmas to what followed in the postwar world. Importantly the author skilfully crafts his account of the burgeoning Cold War before that conflict and paradigm became 'set in stone'. In other words, Mayers' text contributes to the literature on the origins of the Cold War, without it dominating a narrative looking at the United States and the postwar world where there were alternatives. The breadth of the research, and Mayers' careful attention to detail make this a most valuable contribution to the canon."

    - Simon Rofe, SOAS University of London

    "David Mayers has written that rare book, one that has both enormous historical resonance and also contemporary relevance. He has also managed to do that in a concise and readable way."

    Andrew Williams, St. Andrews University, International History Review