America was built on ideas. And America’s success in the world, in the seven decades since the Second World War, was always a function of how well its brand is perceived abroad.

The brand had wonderful ambassadors. Those in the world who were attracted by ideals found in the ideas of America’s Founding Fathers nobility, refinement, and a unique mix of spiritual transcendence and material practicality. The one US Dollar note signifies the epitome of material power, as well as invokes symbols of ancient knowledge and wisdom. In the Bill of Rights, and behind it the thought upon which America was created, those inspired by ideals saw the intellectual foundations of one of the most ambitious political and social projects in human history – a project to build not just a tremendously rich country, but a realm anchored on genuine freedom of thinking and action; a society that was, in the thought of America’s Founding Fathers, to ascend as much as possible, to come close to true respect of human agency and to enable humans’ marvellous potential.

Those in the world inspired by the struggle against ills and the endeavour towards righteousness, saw in America’s nineteenth century internal struggles, and particularly its Civil War, that society’s attempt to correct its path, to redeem itself from the sin of slavery, and to reorient itself towards its path of potential. It was not a coincidence that for many scholars of American Studies, Abraham Lincoln was more than just the victor in the country’s Civil War, but a hero of that nascent republic whose thought and actions salvaged its political project from sinking into the depravity of slavery which would have totally destructed America’s potential and meaning.

By the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as America began to emerge from its isolation behind the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, the story of America was already one of escaping colonial tyranny, fighting for freedom, envisioning a republic of and for greatness, expanding into one of the richest continents on the planet, descending into degeneracy, and then redeeming itself and seeking new ways forward. Amidst a world, then, dominated by colonial powers that seemed to have succumbed to the debasement of richness through theft and exploitation of others, America emerged as a land of promise, for those in it, and for those afar looking for a power of might as well as of righteousness.

Brand America offered more. Spectators and admirers the world-over saw richness that at times seemed unlimited. Names such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Mellon, Astor, Getty, Morgan, and others entered popular parlance in different parts of the world symbolising colossal wealth. In the minds of scores in the world, these names were much more than ultra high net worth families; subtly they symbolised America’s abundance. Interestingly, this wealth resonated not only in poor countries in Africa and Asia, but at least as strongly in Europe. Whether after World War One or World War Two, many in the highest social echelons in London and Paris and Vienna and Rome bent head over heels to welcome the scions and heiresses of America’s wealthy families. It was partly the power that money bestows, but at heart it was also the attraction of what seemed then America’s opulence. In the world’s imagination, America came to signify plenty.

It also came to signify power. America emerged from the Second World War as one of two superpowers in the world. But unlike the Soviet Union that came across draped in communist garb and carrying with it the heavy problems of a multitude of poor countries, America appeared lusciously vibrant, and having inherited and absorbed the old colonial empires, the British, French, and Spanish.

But America’s power was as menacing as it was seductive. America was the first, and so far only, country to use nuclear power, against Japan. To ensure Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War, America was willing to deploy the mightiest and deadliest weapon humanity has ever developed. President Truman, and military commanders such as Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, showed the world another facet of America, that of unrestrained power that went to the extreme use of force to secure its demands.

And yet, there was also intrigue and fascinating enchantment in America’s unveiling of its power to the world. In the film “Casablanca”, America comes to North Africa – Morocco – in the midst of the Second World War, not as an antiquated colonial power, France, and not as a brute aggressor, Nazi Germany, but as a daring, cool liberator. And for those who were slow to get the message, Hollywood gave them the seductive combination of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart – a strong willed, gorgeous, and courageous woman, and a roguish, but chivalrous daring man, both indicating facets of America itself. America was casting its spell over the world.

And the world was waiting for America. It was inevitable, in the mid twentieth century, that America’s unrivalled hard and soft power would appear in different parts of the world – from Western Europe as it emerged destroyed and poor from the Second World War; to almost the whole of Asia – that other shore that the Pacific separates from California and Oregon; to of course South America, which the US has seen, since the mid nineteenth century, as America’s backyard; to the Middle East, the region of the Holy Land, of gushing oil, and of orientalist fantasies. Across the globe, America was expected, always with interest and anticipation, and often with riveting enthralment. The unknown then, however, was how would America behave; what did America want; and what the American age would entail.