“From Pocahontas to Elon Musk, the United States has always shaped our imagination”

FIGAROVOX/SERVICE – In his latest book My American Chronicles, historian André Caspi presents the history of the United States through 20 key moments. According to him, this approach highlights the greatness of the American nation as well as its extremes.

André Caspi is a historian, a well-known specialist in the United States, and has dedicated numerous reference works to him. Newly published My American ChroniclesPublished by L’Observatoire in January 2022, (384 pp., €23.)


FIGAROVOX. – You open your book on the history of the United States with interest in the historical figure of Pocahontas. Why this choice?

Andre Caspi. – I wanted to start with Pocahontas, to challenge the stereotype that the United States was founded only by the Pilgrim Fathers who settled in Massachusetts. Indeed, in the 17th century there was an English colony both in the northern United States, as we well know, and in the south, in Virginia, as the story of Pocahontas reminds us. This partially mythologized story is a kind of counterweight to the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.

But when talking about Pocahontas, it is necessary to separate the myth from the reality, which is not obvious due to the lack of sources. This story paints a fairly reassuring picture of colonialism and relations between the British and Indians. But as this Indian’s story shows, while there have indeed been times of peace, there have also been darker and more conflicting times. Moreover, historically, very soon after the death of Pocahontas, relations with the Indians deteriorated very sharply. There was competition over land ownership, trade difficulties with the local population… The Indians quickly thought that the whites from Europe were invaders.

In the Civil War chapter, you write that this conflict was a harbinger of the conflicts of the 20th century. What do you mean? What does this conflict tell us?

We must first look at the causes of the conflict. This war was not only a struggle against slavery, but also a resistance to the political and social influence of the states, in this case Washington in the South. The southern states want to maintain their independence or at least their autonomy socially, economically and politically. They consider themselves a separate entity. Therefore, there is a tension between the centralization desired by the central government and the desire of the states to retain most of their power. It was the main driving force of the war, and the victory of the Federals was decisive for the history of the country.

The Civil War was a massive, industrial war with significant technical innovations, heralding the great conflicts of the 20th century.

Andre Caspi

However, the true declaration of the 20th century is not in the causes of war, but in how it was waged. This conflict marked the beginning of a war of movement in which all forces were in the hands of the Federals and Confederates. We find the will to use the masses to win on the battlefield. During the Civil War, there was also the use of new weapons that would change the art of warfare forever. For example, we witnessed several trials of submarines, especially the famous CSS David. The war took on new dimensions, naval conflicts were no longer limited to the surface, but also to the depths. In short, it was a mass war, an industrial war, full of innovations that distinguished it from other conflicts of the 19th century and heralded the great conflicts we will experience in the 20th century.

This work also talks about de Gaulle’s ambiguous relationship with the United States. Indeed, although he praised “200 years of friendship”, he was very cautious. Should we be inspired by his geopolitical vision in our current relations with the United States?

We must not forget that the USA and Europe are part of the same world. However, their interests may differ. The American nation remains the greatest power politically, economically and militarily, which is far from our situation. Therefore, if Europe and the United States can have common interests, they cannot be put on the same level.

As De Gaulle did, we must observe a fair distance. France must not separate itself from the United States without succumbing to all the fashions that come from it. Care must be taken not to lose one’s identity. There should be a dialogue between the two, not as equal international actors, but as members of the same civilization.

Elon Musk symbolizes this duality between incredible resources and, at the same time, the excesses of the American nation.

Andre Caspi

You devote several pages of praise to the personality of Elon Musk. Does this symbolize the resurgence of the United States and the “American Dream” for you? Doesn’t he also represent the extremes and extremes of the American nation?

It is clear that Elon Musk’s projects are not neglected. He is one of the richest people in the world and is interested in all fields. It manufactures cars, rockets, neural chips, builds satellite networks with Starlink, and its big ambition is to build a human colony on Mars. Elon Musk is a dreamer, yes, but only a dreamer can bring it to life the american dream. So I wanted to make a connection between Carnegie, a steelmaker who played a key role in the American economy in the late 19th century, and Musk, who today disrupts industrial relations, and even more, mindsets. . Thanks to the Starlink satellite belt, he was able to connect the entire territory of Ukraine to help Vladimir Zelensky. This entrepreneur is part of a new and dynamic trend in American society that is still calling for a central role in the world.

Musk has a mindset that goes far beyond the confines of industry and therefore needs to be nuanced. Like his country, he inspires admiration and fear. It symbolizes this duality between incredible resources and the excesses of the American nation. Elon Musk today brings extraordinary solutions and is a source of inspiration, but we must not forget his transhumanist inclination. With him, the imagination is powerful, at its worst and at its best.

André Caspi, My American Chronicles, ed. Observatory, 2022, 384 p., 23 euros. Observatory

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