Speaker Spotlight: Douglas Little by Samuel Surowitz

Douglas Little of Clark University will be the second speaker in this year’s US Foreign Policy Seminar with a lecture entitled “Us verus Them: The United States and Radical Islam.” http://history.uconn.edu/about-the-department/foreign-policy-seminar-series/

First-year masters student Samuel Surowitz here offers a brief and compelling introduction to the work of this innovative scholar.

Dr. Douglas Little is the Robert and Virginia Scotland Professor of History & International Relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, he received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1972. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in 1975 and 1978, respectively, from Cornell University and has been at Clark since that time. Dr. Little’s areas of expertise include American foreign relations and twentieth century global history with a focus on American interaction with the Middle East. He is also affiliated with the program in Asian Studies. Dr. Little has written extensively about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, including articles he has published in International History Review and Journal of Cold War Studies. He has written book chapters for America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations since 1941, The Cambridge History of the Cold War, and The Cambridge History of the Cold War, to name just a few. He is the author of American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 and is a winner of the James P. Hanlan Book Award from the New England Historical Association.
Dr. Little will be presenting a lecture on his 2016 book, Us versus Them: The United States, the Middle East, and the Rise of the Green Threat. Dr. Little describes the theme of an “us versus them” mentality which he places at the center of American society and foreign policy. This started with the “Red Threat” of the Native Americans, who were perceived by settlers to have “mounted the most sinister challenge”. Soon this progressed to the Founding Fathers, who identified the existential threat of European Monarchism as their great opponent. Dr. Little describes an unwavering tendency for American political actors and society at large to maintain this binary mentality in which Americans are pitted against a demonized threat.
Moving into the latter half of the 19th century, the “Yellow Peril” set Asians as a convenient nemesis. It allowed for legalized discrimination against Asian immigrants and provided an atmosphere ripe and abundant with hate crimes against them. Later, 20th century Americans would rally against Nazis in World War Two. The United States’ post war position would situate us well to take actions abroad against the new Soviet Communist “Red Threat” as well as oppressive domestic actions in response to the internal “Red Scare.” By the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, this tendency to view an “other” as the antithesis of the American and the American ideal has pointed the needle directly towards America’s most contemporary “them” – Islam. Islam has formed the new “Green Threat.” Dr. Little makes numerous references to the concept of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in which stereotyping a group as the enemy (rather than identifying more comprehensive and nuanced reasons for conflicts) ipso facto results in a breakdown in relationships in which the group becomes the enemy. This becomes apparent when preemptive military or political action creates actual conflict in place of perceived conflict. The concept of the “Green Threat” in the American psyche will be the focus of his presentation, a portion of which is informally titled “A Short History of Islamophobia from Reagan to Trump.” Spoiler alert: Steve Bannon may or may not be portrayed as Darth Vader…
In 1985, the same year that the UConn History Department initiated the Foreign Policy Seminar, Dr. Little published Malevolent Neutrality: The United States, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War. In 1986, UConn’s own Dr. Frank Costigliola (then at the University of Rhode Island) published a review of Malevolent Neutrality in The Journal of American History. He emphasized the importance of how Dr. Little shed light on the United States’ purposeful neglect of the left leaning Spanish republic when they called for aid. The republic, “turned increasingly to the Soviet Union, thereby adding credence to Anglo-Saxon suspicions that the republic had always leaned towards communism.” Dr. Little’s most recent book, Us Versus Them, provides structural integrity to the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy of othering. After identifying this theme over 30 years ago, it is exciting to see how Dr. Little has built upon it, and how after three decades this conversation among scholars is continuing.