Will Myrdal’s America Show Up?

Varning för fredsoptimism
Gunnar Myrdal
Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1944

In the summer of 1945, Gunnar Myrdal’s “war work” seemed finally complete. Following the Allied victory in Europe, Europa Verlag Zürich printed Warnung vor Friedensoptimismus, a translation from the May 1944 Swedish original Varning för fredsoptimism (Warning against peace optimism).1 Myrdal himself would later use the phrase “my war work” to refer to his much more famous publication of the same year, An American Dilemma, his mammoth examination of America’s race relations framed “in terms of a global war for democracy.”2 Another interpretation of the “war work” traces the Swedish roots of An American Dilemma to Alva and Gunnar Myrdal’s 1941 Kontakt med Amerika (Contact with America).3 This essay pursues a third avenue, examining the war work that remained to be done after the publication of An American Dilemma. In Varning, we discover Myrdal inviting America to secure the neutrality of small states and doing so in simultaneously grandiloquent and ambivalent terms.

Varning was a culmination of Myrdal’s long meditation on America. In the opening pages of the work, though, Myrdal clarified that this was not the first time that he or his wife Alva Myrdal had published a commentary on American life. In fact, they had been producing similar works since the early 1940s, beginning with Kontakt med Amerika in 1941. The title of this latter-day Tocquevillean travelogue was apparently a play on the name of the American propaganda magazine published in Sweden, Kontakt med världen (Contact with the world) (12).4 In 1943, a collection of Myrdal’s essays had also been published as Amerika mitt i världen (America in the thick of the world). Varning also fit within a broader genre of postwar planning literature to which Alva Myrdal made her own contribution in 1944 with a 100-page pamphlet focused on politics, economics, education, and reconstruction.5

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