Author

Peter Simons

Date of Award

2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Elizabeth McKillen

Second Committee Member

Nathan Godfried

Third Committee Member

Howard Segal

Abstract

Historians often describe US entry into World War II as an emergence from isolationism toward internationalism. This "conversion" is especially noted in the Midwest where the rural public generally expressed greater reluctance toward nonlocal commitments. But existing literature places too much emphasis on the impact of Pearl Harbor and too narrowly predicates Midwestern isolationism on US diplomacy. The Midwest's acceptance of internationalism was instead largely the result of a changing mass political culture attributable to the physical demands of World War II, expanding nonlocal markets, and an internationalist mass media that unduly influenced rural areas and encouraged abandoning the isolationist culture that defined rural life. The impact of a changing mass political culture during World War II was salient in rural western Michigan. Rural western Michiganders emerged from an isolationist culture that emphasized local norms over the urban Other, motivated by the state and mass media's campaign to garner support for the nascent United Nations. Rural consumers were unable to effectively influence producers or access alternative media and encountered pro-UN messages that conflicted with local isolationist norms and motivated adherence to mainstream internationalism. The state and mass media almost completely controlled public images of the UN but did so ambiguously in order to provide consumers open spaces to conceptualize the organization in a manner amenable to their own beliefs. Rural consumers could imagine an organization that would avoid war through an international congress or one that would reinforce US power. These internationalist texts allowed interpretation but also limited consumers' choices by framing the UN as essential to US security and international peace, consequently branding opponents as dangerous impediments to the United States' well-being. The mass media therefore guided rural Michiganders toward internationalism by granting agency to win acceptance and limiting choices to coerce approval. Most news in rural western Michigan came from national or regional media where internationalist writers promoted the UN as the only option for the United States, and local media exacerbated the internationalist aim of national texts because they failed to offer more traditional, unilateralist alternatives. Instead, local media reaffirmed the need for internationalism by using familiar formats such as local newspapers, which suggested that international cooperation was the new norm of local political culture. Local sources furthered the national media's campaign by using the ostensible necessity of the UN to challenge rural readers' sense of place and their political convictions in order to build internationalist support. The demands of war and the expanding market economy forced rural western Michiganders toward increasingly interconnected lives. The mass media accelerated this process by creating a discourse that defined how rural people should approach the emerging social milieu in order to remain culturally relevant and politically committed to US interests. Middle-class mass culture filtered through the mass media did not dupe rural people into accepting internationalism, but it did capitalize on the existing need to interact with nonlocal entities in order to build support for the UN by portraying it as the only solution to prolonged peace and US security.

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