This talk will examine how the fight against global communism during the Cold War transformed the politics and political economy of the United States. Drawing on his book, For Might and Right, Michael Brenes shows how U.S. military spending and the creation of a permanent “military-industrial complex” created a powerful and enduring political coalition in the United States, one that sought to profit from or exploit Cold War foreign policy to serve its interests. This “Cold War coalition” mobilized around calls for increased defense spending throughout the Cold War, and united an array of actors across the United States, including defense workers, community boosters, military contractors, current and retired members of the armed services, activists, and politicians. When confronted with economic austerity and uncertainty surrounding America’s foreign policy after the 1960s, the Cold War coalition championed military spending as a bipartisan solution to create jobs and stimulate economic growth over the expansion of social welfare programs. The Cold War coalition ultimately paved the way for the American Right to take power during the 1980s, remaking American democracy in ways that now resonate in an era of “great-power competition” during the presidency of Joe Biden.
Michael Brenes is co-Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and Lecturer in History at Yale University. He is the author of For Might and Right: Cold War Defense Spending and the Remaking of American Democracy (University of Massachusetts Press, 2020). In addition to his academic articles and book chapters, his work has been published in The New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Politico, Dissent, The Baffler, Boston Review, The Nation, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
This event is in person but also available via Zoom.