May 18, 2010

Prof: Pacific littoral brings literal power

America’s role in the Pacific is integral to American power in the world, history professor Bruce Cumings said at a talk Thursday at International House.

“People haven’t grasped how important it is that the U.S. has long Atlantic and Pacific coasts,” said Cumings, who is chair of the history department. He was speaking on his recent book, Dominion from Sea to Sea, which many academics consider to be the first history of the modern Pacific.

Though the emphasis in American culture is on the East Coast, Cumings said America’s ability to face both East and West has been crucial in the U.S.’s ascendancy to power. “We have become the policemen of the world; there is no other way to look at it,” Cumings said.

America’s access to the world’s two largest oceans means it has “the ability to project power across two oceans,” Cumings said.

America’s exercise of power is demonstrated in the 750 military bases throughout the world. “The Aleutian Islands, for example, which stretch across the northern Pacific Ocean, are the most militarized part of the U.S,” he said.

People focus on New York City as the epicenter of culture, Cumings said. He named the Atlantic Monthly and the Pacific Monthly, but pointed out that no one ever hears of the latter. “The indelible racism in the movement is undeniable,” he said.

Cumings pointed out that Pacific states now depend on one another economically, a fact that was not true until recently. “The trading networks that run across the Pacific and the cultural exchange create an interdependent world,” Cumings said.

He likened the Pacific region to the image of the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds. “Someday there will be a [Pacific] civilization and it will happen this century,” he said.