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24 September 2014
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The American Future: A History 
The American Future: A History

The American Future: A History



Episodes


Episode One - Friday 10 October 2008 from 9.00 to 10.00pm on BBC Two

 

In American Plenty, Simon explores how American optimism about the infinite possibilities of its land and resources is in danger of coming to a grinding halt.

 

Nowhere is this more evident than the American West, which has always been a symbol of opportunity and freedom.

 

Oil at $4 a gallon may be dominating the headlines but here it is the lack of water that's an even bigger threat to the American future. The West is in the grip of a nine-year drought.

 

America's optimism about its natural resources has always been spiced with clashes over conservation going back to the first man to navigate the Colorado river, John Wesley Powell.

 

American ingenuity made farming on an industrial scale possible in the early years of the 20th century but at the cost of making Oklahoma a dustbowl.

 

The building of the Hoover Dam, a modern American miracle, which provided essential irrigation for farming and for the new city of Las Vegas, now no longer supplies enough water for both.

 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan's optimism about American plenty defeated Jimmy Carter’s campaign for self-restraint but, in this election, neither candidate can ignore the challenges facing America as it enters an era of limits.

 

Episode Two - Friday 17 October 2008 from 9.00 to 10.00pm on BBC Two

 

In American War, Simon reveals how different the American attitude to war is from what outsiders assume it to be.

 

"The world has got in the habit of thinking of America as the tough-guy empire; trigger-happy cowboys addicted to the rush of military power. But that's not the way America sees itself."

 

Two of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, disagreed about whether America should even have a professional army – a division still evident when Simon visits America's premier military academy at West Point.

 

From the Civil War right through to Mark Twain's denunciation of President Teddy Roosevelt's imperial adventure in the Phillipines, American wars have inspired profound debate.

 

And nowhere more so in this election than San Antonio, Texas, nicknamed Military City because of its high population of veterans and serving soldiers, where Simon finds feelings about the war are deeply divided.

 

As with the great war elections of the past, it's a debate which forces America to dig deep and rediscover what it stands for.

 

Episode Three - Friday 24 October 2008 from 9.00 to 10.00pm on BBC Two

 

In American Fervour, Simon explores the ways in which faith has shaped American political life.

 

His starting point is a remarkable fact about the coming election: for the first time in a generation it's the Democrats who claim to be the party of God.

 

It's Barack Obama, not John McCain, whose been talking about his faith.

 

In Britain we've always thought of American religion as largely a conservative force, yet Simon shows how, throughout American history, it has played a crucial role in the fight for freedom.

 

Faith helped create America - it was the search for religious freedom that led thousands to make the dangerous journey to the colonies in the 1600s.

 

After American independence, that religious freedom was enshrined in the constitution - the first country in the world to do so.

 

Simon also looks at the remarkable role the black church has played, first in the liberation of the slaves in the 1800s, and again in the civil rights movement of the Sixties – neither would have happened without it.

 

It's this very church that has been the inspiration for Barack Obama who traces the roots of his political inspiration to his faith.

 

Episode Four - Friday 31 October 2008 from 9.00 to 10.00pm on BBC Two

 

In What is an American? Simon looks at the bitter conflict over immigration in American history.

 

Who should be allowed to enter America and call themselves an American has always been one of the nation's most divisive issues – and it continues to be so at this election. He traces the roots of this conflict to the founding of America.

 

The early settlers were themselves immigrants but they saw America as fundamentally a white and Protestant nation.

 

Simon looks at the key events that challenged this view: the annexation of parts of Mexico in 1848 that made 100,000 non-whites American citizens, the immigration and subsequent expulsion of the Chinese in the late 19th century, and the massive immigration from Eastern Europe during the industrialisation of the Twenties.

 

Each time there have been those who have insisted America must stay white if it is to stay true to itself, and each time they have been defeated by the sheer force of history.

 

John F Kennedy defined America as a Nation of Immigrants in 1964 and Simon argues that the candidacy of Barack Obama represents the final triumph of the vision of America as a multi-ethnic nation.

 

PH


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