Cultural Imperialism Post-WWII


Some key definitions that will be helpful to understanding Cultural Imperialism.

  1. Cultural Imperialism
    1. Oxford dictionary definition: The extension of the influence or dominance of one nation’s culture over others, now usually through the exportation of cultural commodities such as film, music, etc.
    2. De grazia discusses Cultural Imperialism explicitly in her book irresistible empire.  Right at the start of the introduction she quotes, President Woodrow Wilson from 1916, two antithetical was to go about new standards for “consumer-friendly trade”.  The two contrasts are: “to force the tastes of the manufacturing country on the country in which the markets were being sought,” the other to “study the tastes and needs of the countries where the markets were being sought and suit your goods to those tastes and needs.”
    3. De Grazia discusses five features to the rule of a Market Empire.  First, “limited sovereignty over their public space,” or free trade.  Second, “the Market Empire exported its civil society in tandem with the country’s economic exports.”  Third, the power to normalize the market, or “devising procedures flexible enough to accommodate local knowledge.”  Fourth, the commodities become the lifestyle instead of the commodity “offering a convenience for living.”  Lastly it was born as an alternative to militarism in a decade torn apart by war and suffering.
  1. Imperialism
    1. Oxford dictionary definition: A policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force.
    2. This definition is import to understanding the topic of culture imperialism becuase many great powers throughout history have used imperialism as a way to project their culture to others.
  1. Soft-power
    1. Oxford dictionary definition: A persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence.
    2. Soft-power is important because it is the key to a successful cuturally imperialistic empire.
  1. Hard-power
    1. Oxford dictionary definition: A coercive approach to international political relations, especially one that involves the use of military power.
    2. This term is important for this topic not because it hard-power is overtly important in United States cultural empire, but because it does play a role in United States foreign policy which will shape the kind of cultural empire that is projected.

The topic of Cultural Imperialism can be explained in many ways.  This website will aim to explain Cultural Imperialism through the United States relationship to Europe, United States economy and the role of private corporations within it, the role of these same corporations in United States foreign policy after World War II, and the United States reconstruction of the European economy.  All of these topics are essential to understanding Cultural Imperialism.  A few things to keep in mind while trying to understand this topic, and these will be explained further as the web page progresses, are why was the United States a “world power” after the end of the second World War, did the role of individuals being stationed in different countries for an extended period of time effect the way consumers bought their goods, did the extended influence of United States as a whole cause an unfair advantage for United States multinational corporations in post-war stricken Europe?  These questions are good to keep in mind when viewing the topic of Cultural Imperialism, and this website will seek to provide basic and in depth information to help you synthesis your own conclusions about the United States post-war Cultural Imperialism.

To begin let us start with an explanation of United States foreign markets before the war.  Before the war the United States was trading with Europe and other countries as well, mainly the Latin American and South American countries, however the United States multinational corporations that will be seen following the war were not yet multinational before World War II.  That being said some of the companies like Coca-Cola were beginning to start their birth into the European markets, but were halted by the war.  The war caused many problems across the board in the three major world economic hemispheres of the 1940’s.  These problems were different in the United States than they were for Japan or the European countries.  For the United States the problems were a lack of men to fill factory positions and other positions that were typically held by the men.  The United States countered this dilemma to keep their economy going and to produce for the war effort by introducing women to the heavily male United States economy.  The United States even did this with baseball the sport that was and in some ways still is America’s past time.  For Japan there were similar issues of Men going off to war, but the real devastation for Japan came when the United States reached their main island.  When the United States was able attack Japan’s mainly island chain directly the United States destroyed many of the major cities through bombing tactics called fire bombing.  These bombs were indiscriminate between the civilians and soldiers.  For wooden cities, like half of Tokyo was, the bombs would rage for hours and kill anyone in their wake.  This utter decimation and loss of life by the Japanese happened similarly in European countries through bombing raids by the axis powers, mainly Germany in the second world war, or by the allied powers, mainly the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union while trying to reconquer Western Europe.  After the war there was very little infrastructure left for the European and Japanese economies to get back to the production that they were before the start of the war.  However, there is another great post on this website about the occupation of Japan after World War II, so I will not go into it here.  Instead I will discuss what was essentially the occupation of Europe by the United States that is still going on today depending on how one wishes to think and look at Imperialism.  The way I look at it, is the United States established a successful invasion of the European economic market and their cultural markets through different corporations and different sectors of the economy.

World War II was not the first total war nor was it the first war on a global scale that the United States fought.  It was however the first two front global war that was fought by the United States.  This means that the United States for the first time fought in the Pacific Theater and the European Theater.  While this may not seem very impressive since surely other European powers in World War II fought in the Pacific theater as well, but in reality it was mainly the United States that fought in the Pacific because the European powers were more worried about trying to keep the Germans out of their countries or in Frances case ridding Germany from their borders.  The only other Allied power that could have possibly fought a two front war was the Soviet Union if Japan had tried to advance further into the mainland Asia.  So, the United States was able to acquire victory over Germany and the Axis powers in Europe and victory over Japan in Asia.  The victory over Japan left the world speechless and afraid.  This is because the United States ended their war with Japan through the use of two nuclear weapons which to this day, luckily, have been the only two nuclear bombs that have ever been used in a combat situation.  Not only did these bombs send Japan reeling, but they also started a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that would span the majority of the decade following the Second World War and later come to be called the Cold War.

I bring up the Cold War because on a deeper level the Cold War was more than just about Nuclear weapons, it was about two different forms of government and ideology, Capitalism and Communism.  The two C’s butted heads for a large portion of the 20th century in struggles across the world.  These struggles ranged from countries in Africa to the newly independent China, which was occupied by Japan during the war.  These struggles took many different forms; between economic struggles to see which ideology was able to produce more, have a better economy, and which ideology could give the citizens living under its guidelines the best standard of living.  Another form of struggle between these ideologies did not come from the ideologies themselves but instead from the two major countries that embodied these ideologies, the United States and the Soviet Union, and which one could position nuclear weapons the closest to the other.  The first of the struggles mentioned is in a form played out in the case study of Coca-Cola in France and more widely Europe.  The second of the struggles can be seen in events such as the Cuban missile crisis, where the Soviet Union tried to ship nuclear missiles to Cuba.  Luckily the Soviet Union turned back because the crisis almost caused a nuclear war.

So, a question that might be swirling through the heads of the reader is why did the end of the second World War create such an opening for the United States economically and politically.  To which the answer is not a simple one, there are many possible factors that played into the United States thrusting itself onto the world stage.  Some of these factors relate to how the leaders of the United States and their citizens viewed their role in the world and how they should interact within its intricate workings.  Other factors relate to a time honored rule that the United States should not get involved in European affairs, however this rule was broken when the United States got involved in the First World War.  By comparison though the United States did not stay involved for as long as the they did following the second World War.  This could be related to the fact that while Europe had lost much of its male population in the fighting, the economic infrastructure was not completely ruined by bombing raids and mortar shells.  Yes, there was still destruction of civilian property and civilian lively hoods, but it was on a much smaller scale than what occurred in the Second World War.  The destruction that occurred following the Second World War gave the European countries less negotiation and wiggle room against the United States than after the first World War, this was partly because the United States had nuclear weapons, and for a time was the sole owner of such weapons, and the United States was unscathed by the war infra-structurally and economically with the only attack that occurred on American soil being the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.  These differences gave the United States the advantage in taking control and working to shape the futures of the European countries to their favor.

The United states tried to shape the future of Europe and Europe’s relationship with the United States through many political methods, but the most known is the Marshall Plan.  The Marshall Plan was designed to give European countries more say over their future, rather than the United States coming in and redesigning the European political and economic makeup without input from the Europeans.  Europeans had to be in charge of the recovery plan, giving the United States a secondary role in European fairs, but the United States interests were still part of what Europeans kept in mind when reconstructing and reshaping Europe.  The American interests were able to be kept because Europe had some of the same interests, and the united states in their secondary role remained as a “friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of later support of such a program so far as it may be practical for us to do so.”[1]  While the united states economic standing was a factor in their aid to Europe it was not the main factor, Geir Lundestad argues that American aid to Europe was firstly for political reasons such as containing the Soviet Union and Germany and to rebuild west Germany, the portion that was controlled by the United States, France, and England.  As stated previously the economic objectives of the United States did not take precedence over their political ones, and an example Lundestad used was the European coal and steel community that was created, which the united states helped create at the expense of their own coal and steel corporations.[2]

[1] Geir Lundestad, “Empire” by Integration: The United States and European Integration, 1945-1997 (Oxford, New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1998)., pg 6.

[2] There is more information in this paragraph that was learned by reading “Empire” by Integration that was not cited.



In post WWII Europe there was a struggle between the aid of the United States and the cultural identity of the recovering countries.  In France the fight against Coca-Cola by the beverage industry is the case study examined by this website.  Fear that the United States company would dominate the beverage market in France as the French articulated was not what the Communist party in France feared.  Instead the Communist party led a push back against a corporation that represented capitalism and the American way of life.

Coca-Cola quickly spread its multinational status after World War II.  In some cases, it was following where the American soldiers were stationed in Europe such as Austria and in other cases it was trying to return to where they had previously been before the war.  Coca-Cola gave the United States influence throughout the world purely by being a somewhat addictive drink, however the effects it would have on the world may not have been seen immediately following World War II, but instead when the children that were indoctrinated into the Coca-Cola corporation became adults and politicians within their own countries.[1]

[1] Reinhold Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War, trans. Diana M. Wolf (Chapel Hill & London: The University of north Carolina Press, 1994)., this paragraph was knowledge enhanced by the book cited.

Narrative Overview

The narrative told by the primary documents on this website is one that fits with the context provided by the introduction.[1]  The story begins in France in 1948, the Coca-Cola Export company is trying to restart the sale of Coca-Cola in France.  There are two groups in France that strongly oppose this, the communist party and a coalition of beverage industries.  The beverage coalition is composed of, to name a few, wine producers and fruit drink producers.  While the combination of the communist party and the beverage coalition were not in the fight for the same reasons their end goal was the same, to get the production and sale of Coca-Cola banned in France.  The beverage producers wanted the drink banned because they were afraid of the problems it could cause to their established markets.  The communists wanted the drink banned because Coca-Cola is seen as an American and capitalist way of life, and if the drink was allowed to be produced and sold in France then the United States would seek further inroads to encroach upon French Sovereignty.  Times magazine had a telling front cover on May 15th 1950 where they showed a larger coke sign bottle-feeding a globe that is smiling.  While there are words at the bottom the only ones that have not been blurred through digitization are American way of life.  This American way of life as the Times magazine cover portrays was being spread throughout the world, and as Times suggests through Coca-Cola.  Around 1952 Coca-Cola was allowed to start the process of selling and producing its product in France.  As mentioned in an earlier section this meant there would be French factory owner, a French label maker, a French advertisement company, and the only thing that would not be French is the syrup that would be shipped to the factory from Atlanta.  So, not only was Coca-Cola providing jobs in the United States, but they were also supplying jobs to people in every country where one could produce and buy Coca-Cola.

[1] This narrative is pooling from my reading of Coca-Cola and the Cold War: The French Face Americanization as well as Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War and the primary documents that are listed on my webpage.

Primary documents

Protect France from coca-cola’s ravages

  1. Anon. “To Protect France from Coca-Cola’s Ravages.” The Christian Century, March 15, 1950.
  2. A bill passed by the National Assembly gave “the health ministry power to keep out of the country any beverage ‘made with vegetables, vegetable extracts or any product of vegetable origin.”  Some of the problems Coca-Cola had in France was their refusal to release their secret ingredient.  James A. Farley was also threatening to have French wine banned in the United States if the bill was made law.
  3. Why would the French attempt to pass a bill that would outlaw beverages that use vegetables as an ingredient, and how might that effect national beverages industries like wine?
  4. Why might a New York Times article about a foreign country be a good primary source or a bad primary source?

French Reds Press New Coca-Cola Ban

  1. Callender, Harold. “French Reds Press New Coca-Cola Ban: Naming of Beverage in the Bill Urged — Farley Sees Move Poor Reward for E.R.P.” The New York Times, March 2, 1950.
  2. As the previous document states the communists and catholics rallied together to ban Coca-Cola in France in early to mid March of 1950.  The French wine industry was also present to lobby for the ban of Coca Cola for fear of the drink ivading their profits.  A hit to the French culture and market of wine would be devastating just five years following a German occupation and war.
  3. Why might religious groups play a large role in lobbying governments for bills to be passed?
  4. Is a primary document that has an author more or less reliable if it is from the same newspaper as a primary document that has an author?

French Push ‘Coke’ Ban

  1. Anon. “French Push ‘Coke’ Ban: Assembly Committee Wants 1950 Law Implemented Now.” The New York Times, July 10, 1952.
  2. The communists and wine “growers” are back at lobbying for the National Assembly to ban Coca-Cola.  Wine growers are complaining about the competition the foreign drink is giving them.  Both groups want the legislation passed in August of 1950 to finally put into effect in July of 1952.
  3. What issues might have arisen in France between the passage of the bill in 1950 to the request to enact the bill in 1952?
  4. Why might Coca-Cola pose a threat to a country with a “natinal drink” like France?

Display Ad 25 – no title

  1. Anon. “Display Ad 25 — No Title.” The New York Times, September 14, 1948.
  2.  This document was printed in The New York Times, thus it might not have been distributed in France.  However, the image shows an inteligent looking woman taking a break and instead of drinking wine or other alcoholic drinks she is holding a Coca-Cola bottle.  This image is two years before the French passage of the 1950 ban on Coca-Cola, and this advertisement of the product, assuming it or something similar used in France would have made the French citizens consider trying a Coke instead of a glass of wine.
  3. Knowing that this document was displayed in the United States, why might it have merit for a foreign audience particularly western Europeans?
  4. Knowing that the Coca-Cola export corporation used local workers and businesses for its production of its product in foreign countries, is there cause to believe the ads may have changed from country to country or culture to culture?


  1. McCormick, Anne. “Abroad: The Communist Attack on the French Parliament.” The New York Times, January 1, 1948.
  2. The communists in France in 1948 are afraid of the impending Americanization of France.  Communists start to attack aspects of the American way of life such as chewing gum and Coca-Cola in front of the National Assembly.  From this affair the early beginnings of primary documents from the 1950’s are seen to be unfolding.
  3. This pdf document has other topics about France as well, and the article in question even mentions some of the unrest with the workers in France.  Why might this have been different had Coca-Cola been allowed to start production in France following the Second World War?
  4. In this article Anne quotes a communist occussing the French National Assembly of being American puppets.  Keeping the Marshall plan in mind as well as the United States not wanting to be leaders in Western Europe, were the National Assembly simply acting to appease the Americans, why or why not?

Time magazine cover May 15, 1950

  1. Anon. Coca-Cola. Internet, May 15, 1950.
  2. In what ways is the Time magazine cover promoting the rise of Coca-Cola’s influence in the world?
  3. What is the deeper meaning behind the globe being bottle fed a Coke?

The cover of the May 15th 1950 Time Magazine fits perfectly with the events that had been unfolding in France since 1948.  However, instead of just focusing on the Europe Time has Coca-Cola being fed to the entire Atlantic ocean which at the time was a major trade route in the world.  The trade route aspect as well as Canadian and British talks of an Atlantic Security Organization make the placement of the Coke bottle very important.  The eyes on the globe also represent two of the major sections of the world.  The eyes are not quite on the United States and Europe, but they are fairly close, almost making it seem like not only is the Coca-Cola force feeding the world a capitalist drink the United States and Europe are watching on approving of this action.

This text shows a larger Coca-Cola sign bottle feeding the world a bottle of coke while smiling.

The cover of Time magazine on May 15th 1950.

Italian Invasion

  1. This document could not be downloaded, but it can be read online through the Univeristy of ansas Library, the search term could either be “Italian Invasion” and change the data to 1945-1959 or AN 54762160 when on Ebscohost.  This document discusses Communist fears against Coca-Cola in Italy as well as some of Coca-Cola’s foreign business policies.  Through this document it can be seen that it was not just France that was concerned about the in roads of the American way of life.  However, one thing stays consistent and that is the Coca-Cola foreign business plan and that the Communists are opposing Coca-Cola.
  2. How does this document fit with the narrative of Coca-Cola and France?
  3. Why are their similarities in how the Communists react, but there is not the same political lobbying that if seen in France?

Interview with Professor Andrew Denning

  1. Denning, Andrew. Interview with Professor Andrew Denning, April 18, 2016.
  • Question 1: What is your definition of Cultural Imperialism?
  • Question 2:In what ways did the multi-national countries work together to assert control over the European markets after WWII?
  • Question 3: How did the United States use their soft power to assert control in Europe?
  • Question 4: How did the idea of a decent standard of living affect the way that Europeans embraced or shunned the American way of life?
  • Question 5: How was Cultural Imperialism different between post WWI and post WWII


French Bid to Bar Coca-Cola Fought

  1. Anon. “French Bid to Bar Coca-Cola Fought.” The New York Times, December 30, 1949.
  2. A bill was introduced to the National Assembly that would ban Coca-Cola, later accepted in 1950.  The United States declared “a ban on Coca-Cola… would constitute discrimination.”  At this point in the push to outlaw Coca-cola the Communists were the main force.
  3. Why might France have considered dealing a blow to the United States by banning the sale of one of its exports during a time United States economic dominance?
  4. Why did France back off of the banning of United States products, and what implications did it mean for the French economy?

The influence of foreign markets on your business

  1. Anon. “The Influence of Foreign Markets on Your Business: A Major Front in World Power Struggle,” May 7, 1959.
  2. A 1959 speech by James A. Farley who was the chairman of the board of Coca-Cola export corporation in the 1950’s.  He articulates what Foreign trade means for the United States, the companies themselves, and the countries around the World.  In his articulation he claims that success of Western Europe was a success for America as well.  In his speech he outlines how the European economy is like the of the United States, where it is not totally free, but rather intricately planned.  He also articulates that the United States and the world are moving to “planned international economics.”
  3. By 1959 Western Europe is on its feet again, why would this be a problem economically for the United States?
  4. By comparing the Western European economic structure to the United States economic structure what is James A. Farley trying to convey to his audience?

The American Mission today

  1. Farley, James A. “The American Mission Today: Spread Information about Americanism Not Communism.” Vital Speeches of the Day, July 16, 1953, 652.
  2. This is also a speech by James A. Farley, but in 1953.  It was delivered at Colgate University fifth annual conference on American Foreign Policy.  The place of the speech gives insight not only to the place Coca-Cola had in foreign affairs, but also to how Americans thought about foreign affairs.  This conference was only the fifth at Colgate, but the United States had been delving into foreign affairs well before 1948 when the first conference would have been held.
  3. Why is the Chairman of the Board, the Coca-Cola export corporation invited to speak at an annual conference on Foreign Policy?
  4. Farley says: “Someone observed that the British Empire was acquired in a fit of absentmindedness.  America could have the same experience if we do not draw a careful line between democratic leadership of a free world and practices which might slowly lead to an American Imperialism,” why is the comparrison to the British Empire and its acquisition fitting or not fitting for the United States cultural empire.

Coca-Cola courts France

  1. Anon. “Coca-Cola Courts France: Anti-Coke Bill Is Bottled up in Senate Committee, so It Looks as Though Coke’s Way Is Clear for Conquest of France.” Business Week, April 1, 1950, 101.
  2. This document can be found in the University of Kansas Libraries on Microfilm.  It articulates clearly how Coca-Cola was successful in France.  The document is hard to read, so the best way to go about it might be to zoom in so the words are larger.  The call # is: Hf5001B89
  3. This document takes place before the bill was passed in August.  The United States business sector saw the happenings in France as something that should not be worried about.  The article makes an interesting point that the French Communists and wine producers lobbying to get Coca-Cola banned in France actually boosted the free advertisement of the drink.  This document also touches on a problem diplomats for the United States recognized hostility toward “the more garish aspects of the American way of life.”  This document claims that Marshall Plan aid will be able to quickly deter any action against the United States corporations, that is until the aid is no longer flowing.
  4. Why at this time in 1950 was this article already declaring that the Coca-Cola industry while it may be slowed down will ultimately be okay in France?
  5. This article labels the bill against Coca-Cola a “Communist Plot” why would the Communists be so inclined to undermine the production and sale of a United States businesses product?


A video to demonstrate the use of the University of Kansas libraries while finding documents.  This example is finding documents from the New York Times for the topic of Coca-Cola and France.

Note: The primary documents are not in chronological order.

Secondary sources

Some secondary sources relating to Cultural Imperialism deal with pre-WWII and post-WWII. However, the majority of these sources focus on the post war era.  Many of these sources do not focus specifically on France, in fact only one of them is directly related to France.  However, each source is useful in establishing a historical context in which to place the primary documents that accompany this website.

  1. Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through 20th Century Europe by Victoria de Grazia.
  1. Coca-colonization and the Cold War: The Cutlural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War by Reinhold Wagnleitner.
  1. The United States and Imperialism by Frank Ninkovich
  1. Empire by Integration: The United States and European Integration,1945-1997 by Geir Lundestad:
  1. Catching up with America: Productivity Missions and the Diffusion of American Economic and Technological Influence after the Second World War edited by Dominique Barjot.
  1. Coca-Cola and the Cold War: The French Face Americanization

Other Secondary sources that might be useful for other topics under Cultural Imperialism.

  • Watson, James L., ed. Golden Arches East McDonald’s in East Asia. 2nd ed. Stanford, California: Stanford University, 2006.


Throughout the early post-war years the United States faced little deterrence to their multi-national corporations rapid expansion in to newly broadened Western European markets.  This phenomenon of little deterrence was caused partly by the aid the Marshall Plan was giving to Western Europe and the lack of economic prowess Western Europe was able to muster to combat the United States economically.  The United States, despite the Marshall Plan aid and the economic intrusion, did not want to take the lead reigns in European reconstruction and integration.  Instead the United States wanted to take a friendly advisory position to help guide Western Europe in a way that would benefit the International interests of the United States.  As the case study shows while countries like France were against the sale of Coca-Cola for fear of an American encroachment and forced Americanization of their culture, they were willing to allow a bill to pass that would outlaw the sale and production of Coca-Cola in France.  The bill was never enforced though and the American colonies never appeared in Paris, but the Cultural influence the American way of life was able and is still able to project influence over different cultures around the world.