The Undead Past: How Collective Memory Configures Trade Wars

32 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2020

Date Written: March 23, 2020


Conventional narratives explicate the recent trade war between the United States and China in realist terms, such as a hegemonic struggle symbolized by the “Thucydides’ trap.” Yet this universalist heuristic fatally omits ideational factors, such as beliefs, which are capable of contextualizing a particular foreign affair. The U.S.-China economic conflicts of today are characterized as much by past convictions as by simple power politics. This Article aims to remedy this analytical blind spot by employing the concept of “collective memory.” The central claim is that the particular ways and forms in which the U.S. elites and the public remember, and evoke, momentous economic conflicts of the past elucidate a recidivistic pattern of exceptionalist trade policies of the United States. While drawing from the past, collective memories manifest themselves in the present tense for the present purpose. Three decades ago, the Cold War and Japan-Bashing planted collective memories on economic warfare in the minds of the U.S. policymakers and the public. Those collective memories, this Article argues, shape how the Trumpian trade war is waged in the present time. The Article also warns that false analogies triggered by such collective memories may seriously distort the legal and economic reality of the contemporary global sphere. This Article concludes that the United States needs to be more susceptible to external opinions different from its own, thereby cultivating counter-memories that can disabuse the United States of those myths subscribed to by its power elites.

Keywords: International Trade Law, Collective Memory, Trade Wars

Suggested Citation

Cho, Sungjoon, The Undead Past: How Collective Memory Configures Trade Wars (March 23, 2020). Tulane Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Sungjoon Cho (Contact Author)

Chicago Kent College of Law ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

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