The Short American Century and The World America Made

In February 1941, Henry Luce, the formidable publisher of Time, Life and Fortune, published one of the most memorable op-eds in the history of American journalism. The article, titled “The American Century,” was aptly inserted in Life between a story on women’s shoe fashions and another on a celebrity heiress.

Luce’s essay appeared nine months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor amid the fierce American debate over intervention in World War II, in which he was among the most vigorous proponents of full-scale participation by the United States. But Luce’s long editorial looked well beyond its immediate occasion and forecast what was at the time an audacious vision of his country’s future role in the world. Within a decade this vision would be firmly implanted as a lodestone of American foreign policy, and Luce would be far from alone in trumpeting the arrival of a global American century.

Americans, Luce intoned, had “to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”