Pursuing a United Memory: Harry Truman’s Construction of a Collective Memory of the Western Hemisphere
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"Pursuing a United Memory: Harry Truman’s Construction of a Collective Memory of the Western Hemisphere” is an interpretive plan for a museum exhibition exploring President Harry Truman’s Latin American foreign policy. This exhibition explores how Harry Truman, on advice from prominent members of his State Department, attempted to form a collective memory of the Western Hemisphere as a “New World” founded on shared beliefs of freedom, democracy, and liberty. “Pursuing a United Memory” analyzes three specific opportunities Harry Truman had to spread a highly selective memory of similar historical experiences in order to emphasize a unity between the United States and the nations of Latin America. First, Truman travelled to Mexico City in March of 1947 during the 100th anniversary of the Mexican-American War. Second, Truman and the U.S. Congress held a ceremonial celebration in April 1948 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Joint Resolution of 1898, which brought the U.S. into the war for Cuban Independence. Finally, on the weekend of July 4th and 5th of 1948, Truman hosted Venezuelan President Rómulo Gallegos on a trip to Bolivar, Missouri, to dedicate a statue of Simón Bolívar—the “Liberator” of South America. Each of these events allowed Harry Truman to emphasize a shared historical experience and draw commonalities between famous national heroes of Latin America and the United States. Too often, historians of U.S.-Latin American relations during the Cold War focus on the dichotomous relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Their analyses discuss how U.S. anti-communism prompted direct and covert interventions into Latin American countries to prevent a perceived communist threat. In addition, diplomatic historians often choose to focus on how the United States used military, economic, or direct political influence to shape domestic Latin American policy. When cultural influences are analyzed, historians shed light on racial or gendered constructions, and the concept of national or collective memories are neglected.