The Damage Trump Has Done This Week Extends Far Beyond America’s BordersRoundup
tags: Cold War, civil rights, Arkansas, international relations, Dwight Eisenhower, National Guard, School Desegregation, Little Rock
Mary L. Dudziak is a professor of law at Emory University and the author of Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy,among other books.
Protests in Minnesota after the killing of George Floyd made the state “a laughingstock all over the world,” President Trump claimed in a call to state governors on Monday. He later pledged to bypass governors who tolerated protest, and to use the military to “dominate” American streets.
Watching Mr. Trump this past week, I thought of an earlier Republican president who called in federal troops during racial unrest, but for a very different purpose and to a very different effect on America’s image around the world.
In 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas lent support to racist mobs blocking nine black students from attending the white Little Rock Central High School. Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to bar the children from entering. Conflict roiled the community for weeks. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had not supported the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that integrated schools, initially took no action.
But then the incident quickly became a major international news story, not unlike the global attention given to the current protests. The Soviet Union took advantage of the blatant racism in America: “Troops Advance Against Children!” said a banner headline in the Soviet paper Komsomolskaya Pravda. American allies worried about how the story would affect Washington’s prestige around the world.
In the context of the Cold War — and with post-colonial independence movements spreading across Africa and Asia — American leaders took seriously the devastating effect racism had on international opinion. Henry Cabot Lodge, the ambassador to the United Nations at the time, told Eisenhower that he could “see clearly the harm that the riots in Little Rock are doing to our foreign relations” and that “we lost several votes” because of it. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles thought it was “ruining our foreign policy” and would have a more serious impact on relations in Asia and Africa than the Soviet Union experienced from its brutal crackdown on Hungary a year earlier.