Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle: The United States and Southern Africa in the Early Cold War / Edition 1

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In 1948, civil rights for black Americans stood higher on the national political agenda than at any time since Reconstruction. President Harry Truman issued orders for fair employment and the integration of the armed forces, and he proceeded to campaign on a platform that included an unprecedented civil rights plank, pushed through the Democratic convention by Hubert Humphrey. But on the other side of the globe, his administration paid close attention to another election as well: the surprising triumph of the white-supremacist National Party in South Africa, reluctantly accepted by the Truman White House.
Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle brings to light the neglected history of Washington's strong (but hushed) backing for the National Party government after it won power in 1948, and its formal establishment of apartheid. Thomas Borstelmann's account weaves together the complex threads of early Cold War tensions, African and domestic American politics, and nuclear diplomacy to show how—and why—the United States government aided and abetted the evangelically racist regime in Pretoria. Despite the rhetoric of the "free world," and the lingering idealism following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the founding of the U.N., Truman's foreign policy was focused on limiting Soviet expansion at all costs. Tensions between the two former allies mounted in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with the Berlin crisis, the Greek civil war, and the impending victory of the Communists in China. In southern Africa, the United States sought to limit Soviet and left-wing influence by supporting the colonial powers (Belgium, Portugal, and of course Britain) and the fiercely anticommunist National Party, led by Daniel Malan. Despite the unsavory racism of Malan's government—Borstelmann shows that Pretoria fomented violence among black groups in the late 1940s, just as it has done recently between the ANC and Inkatha—the U.S. saw South Africa as a dependable and important ally. In addition, America was almost completely dependent on southern Africa for its uranium supply, and was willing to go to great lengths to secure the critical fuel for its nuclear arsenal. Borstelmann also notes that race relations in the segregated U.S. played a role in Washington's policies, with few white Americans greatly disturbed by the establishment of apartheid.
As South Africa finally nears an end to almost fifty years of formal apartheid (and as Truman nears canonization, following the recent presidential election), Borstelmann's account comes as a startling reminder of America's early links to Pretoria's racist system. Intensively researched in the files of the Truman Library, the National Security Council, and the departments of Defense and State, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle provides fascinating insight into a most revealing episode in American policymaking.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this thorough and incisive analysis, Borstelmann, who teaches history at Cornell University, shows how the United States' post-World War II policy hinged not on South Africa's 1948 establishment of apartheid but on the region's supply of weapons-grade uranium. President Harry Truman's advisers, the author writes, were both anti-communist and racially prejudiced; they helped block anti-colonial votes when the United Nations was established. Portugal's provision of an Azores airfield ensured American acceptance of its Southern African colonies. Linked by history and trade with Great Britain and thus also with the United States, South Africa supported the 1950 U.S. entry into the Korean War, thus blunting any potential criticism of its vigorous crackdown on domestic dissent. Because of its focus on anti-communism, the author argues cogently, the United States government engaged in little internal debate before making the morally questionable decision to help prop up apartheid. (June)
Borstelmann (history, Cornell U.) brings to light the neglected history of Washington's strong, but hushed, backing for the white supremacist National Party government that won power in South Africa in 1948, and for its formal establishment of apartheid. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195079425
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1993
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Borstelmann is Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University.

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Table of Contents

Note on the Text
Introduction 3
1 The United States: American Race Relations and Ties with Africa Before Truman 7
2 Southern Africa: The Impact of World War II 22
3 The Truman Administration and Southern Africa: 1945 38
4 Containing Communism and Black Unrest: 1946-1947 55
5 The Coming of Apartheid: 1948 83
6 Rising Tensions in South Africa and the Cold War: 1949 108
7 The Korean War and the Cementing of the United States-South African Alliance: 1950 137
8 Apartheid and the Cold War: Confirming the Ties, 1951-1952 166
Conclusion 195
Appendix 205
Notes 207
Selected Bibliography 279
Index 289
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