What worldwide good was the U.S. largely responsible for? Helping to reconstruct Europe I'll grant you even though it was out of self -interest more than anything. Same with Japan, but it's hard to give them much credit for that unless you're going to doc them much more for dropping the bombs on them to begin with. What else are you thinking of?
Well, first off, the bad/sad things don't negate the good things. Frankly, I don't have nearly as much problem with the 1st A-bomb as I do with the 2nd one... and with the fire-bombing of Dresden which we did for no good reason of any kind, it was just vengence. There was nothing to bomb in Dresden except normal people. I see no reason to believe that the 1st A-bomb cost more lives/misery than a D-Day like invasion of Japan would have caused (along with all the pre-invasion bombing). But the 2nd A-bomb and Dresden, well, they're just 2 examples of war dehumanizing people, including those at the top who make desisions like that. War always does that... a fact which obviously is lost on folks who are rah-rah about how we oughta get into wars about whatever, as if it's some kind of noble enterprise.
Whatever happened during the war doesn't say anything about what happened afterwards. Now, it's true that the Marshall Plan (and the equivalent for Japan) can be described as being in US self-interest. So can anything else that's good. If you make good things happen, it tends to be good for you in the long run. But that self-interest does not minimize the significance of what those things were: they were a new model of how you deal with enemies who tried to kill you and who you vanquished in the end. All the tradition was in the direction of punishment and retribution. That's what happened after WWI, which in turn helped cause WWII.
After WWI, Prez Wilson tried to stop the retribution approach, but nobody listened to him because the US was still a minor player. After WWII, we put a stop to that. We did it by cramming it down the throats of the British and French who wanted to do the same damn thing all over again. They actually started to do it. There are little historical oddities that reflect that. For example, if you know about cars, here's two stories about car companies which reveal that. The Shelby Cobra was Carroll Shelby cramming a Ford V8 in the car body of the British AC Bristol. AC made the chassis/body, and put Bristol engines in them. They were happy to deal with Shelby because Bristol had quit making the engines (Bristol started using Chrysler V8s instead), so AC had no business reason to keep making the body/chassis. Well, the engine that Bristol quit making was the one they swiped from BMW after the war. It was a straight-6 BMW from before the war, and the British simpy stole the damn thing. Another example is the first post-war Renault. It was designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who the French suckered into coming to a meeting about getting the rights to make the VW Beetle which he had designed. Once he showed up for the meeting, they threw him in prison and kept him there until he designed a version for them. That's why those Renaults look kinda like 4-door VW bugs: the same guy designed them. Nothing wrong with getting Dr. Porsche to design a car for you, the problem is that they didn't hire him, they just threw him in prison and made him do it. His cell was constantly cold and damp, and it ruined his health. He was probably the greatest car designer ever (he had a petrol/electric *hybrid* running before WWI) , but he died soon after the French let him go, courtesy of what the French did to him. (It was his son, Dr. Ferry Porshe, who built the Porsche car company everybody knows about. His grandson, Butzi Porsche, desgined the 911; his other grandson, Ferdinand Piech. built the current VW/Audi/Porshe car conglomerate.) This kind of "take whatever you can get and punish them however you want" stuff happened before the occupation got organized, before the US could throw its weight around and make the British and French stop that kind of bullying crap.
In Japan, MacArthur was basically a postwar dictator. He set the tone for their economy by telling Toyota, et al., that their main job was not to make a profit. He told them their main job was to serve their society by providing stable jobs so that their country could rebound from the war and build a middle class. That set the tone of their recovery, and it was based on ideas from America about the importance of having a society built around the middle class. Same thing with their focus on endlessly focusing on improving quality. That wasn't their idea, that was Peter Demming's idea, he's the American guy who invented the system to do it. Amercian corporations didn't listen to him, but the Japanese did, simply because they needed to constantly expand if they were to satisify the directive from "Emperor MacArthur" to serve their society and build a middle class in Japan. That's where the Japanese focus on gaining market share came from: the best way to create jobs for their society was to gain market share. That was more important to them than profit was, because their main loyalty was to doing what was best for their society. (That attitude is perfectly in keeping with what the inventor of both economics and free market theory, Adam Smith, said in 1776: it only works if the guys running it are "moral men" who do what is best for their community/society, not just what is best for them personally.)
Apart from setting the rules for postwar Western Europe and Japan, the other thing the US did was to tell everybody that the days of having colonies was over. The British and French weren't happy about that, but they were in no position to argue. The US threw its weight around about that, and what were they gonna do? Now, lots of people point out that America developed a kind of pseudo-empire after the war, and there is some truth in that. But the big thing that lots of people miss is that it was only a *pseudo* empire, not a real empire. We did that by basically deciding that the rule for the postwar Free World was an end to actual empires. That is a very huge thing to have done. Of course, the flip side of that is that we also supported a bunch of dictators in Third World countries, in some part because we preferred "our dictators" to Soviet-supported dictators, and in some part because corporate interests wanted to get their own way in banana republics. Not saying that was right, but I am saying that we do deserve credit for establishing the idea that every country gets to be its own self, not somebody else's colony. We take it for granted now, but it really was a world-changing thing. And we did it in part because of our belief system, becaue of our own history of breaking away from being somebody else's colonies, it was not just because of cynical selfish reasons.
The main good thing that we did after WWII was to invent the political/economic system that defeated Communism and established what we used to call the Free World. The entire basis of that system was that we invented a very practical solution, based not on abstract idealogy but rather based on the very practical criteria of doing what works. What we invented was a hybrid based on very selectively integrating the best features of Capitalism and Socialsim. We used the economic system of Capitalism, which is necessary for a dynamic economy, and used that in the context of a larger social system that humanized it and made it work for almost everybody rather than just a few. That's what invented the huge middle class. We didn't kneel down to Capitalism, we didn't reify it like some people do now, we instead decided to use it for what it can do best. We also limited it to prevent the worst parts of it from taking over. The method we used was a combination of 2 things: One thing was to use gov't to establish rules that Capitalism had to follow, and to use gov't to do the social-benefit things that Capitalism won't do and cannot do, i.e., aspects of Socialism. We had a healthy balance of the best parts of both Capitalism and Socialism so that they kept each other in check. The 2nd thing was to use Labor to keep Ownership in check, which is how workers started to be treated decently, rather than just being used up and thrown out based on whim. That combination was the model for the entire Free World of industrial civilization (not counting the dictatorships in Third World countries) that competed with Communism.
The Cold War was essentially a 50-year contest to see which system could/would do the best job of providing a decent life for normal people. The entire claim of Communism that it would do a better job at that than Capitalism would. The way we defeated Communism was to invent the hybrid thing that incorporated the best elements of both Capitalism and Socialism. The entire Free World used it, with different countries having somewhat different balances between the Capitalism-part and the Socialism-part. From the end of WWII up until the 80's, we did the best job of that of anybody. We did it so well that after 50 years of seeing which system would work best, the Commies basically just gave up. They admitted that our system worked better, at which point they started to abandon Communism and adopt aspects of what we had done. The best thing that ever happened to most people in America was that hybrid system we invented, back when we were competing with the Communists. That hybrid system was... and still is... the only political/economic system in the entire history of the world that proved successful at creating and sustaining the middle class as the backbone of properous society.
Tragically, for the last 30 years we've been conned into dismantling that hybrid system we invented, the system that defeated Communism and changed the world. Once the Commies gave up, certain forces started rewriting history and started claiming that it was somehow pure Capitalism that deserves the credit for killing Communism, and claiming that the US Gov't that pretty much led the Free World is somehow a bad thing. But that story is complete and total BS. It wasn't pure Capitalism that did it, it was the American hybrid system that integrated the best features of Capitalism and Socialism that did it. And in that American system that did it, it just is not at all true that "gov't is the problem", that's BS. The actual fact is that gov't was a crucial part of the solution that actually worked. That hyrbid system that workd is what we had *until* we won the Cold War. Then, once we won, we got conned into dismantling it. We got conned into dismantling it so that American corporations could turn their back on America and boost their profits at the expense of America. We got conned into thinking that our own gov't is somehow bad at things that it proved to be very good at. We got conned into accepting the exact opposite of what MacArthur had the Japanese doing. We got conned into thinking that shipping US jobs overseas is just fine, when it's not just fine. We got conned into giving up pensions... and healthcare... and vacation days... and job security. We got conned into thinking that giving up all that good middle class stuff was somehow the all-American thing to do. It's not the all-American thing to do; rather, it's getting conned by ignorance into cutting our own middle class throats.
By the time we won the Cold War , the countries we helped to rebuild were rebuilt enough that they could compete with us. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that. Then, China got on the Capitalism bandwagon and they started competing with us too. Nothing wrong with that either. To the contrary, that's basically a good thing: in just 25 years, China has created an almost-middle-class from nothing ,and now they've got 300 million people in it, when just 25 years ago they were poor as dirt. That's an amazing achievement if you think about it. The problem isn't mainly them. The main problem is that we didn't adjust our policies to the world we created. Make no mistake: that *is* the world the US created... a world that can compete with us. We deseve immense credit for that. We didn't set out to keep our thumb on everybody. We set out to establsih the Free World where everybody can compete if they want to. That was a very radical and very unselfish thing we did, and we deserve a ton of credit for doing that.
The problem is that we've been heading back to the human disaster of pure Capitalism and away from the proven American hybrid Capitalism/Socialism system that works so well. There is no doubt about where that leads. We know what pure Capitalism does: it creates the world of Dickens, the world that Marx witnessed in England, the system that he was reacting to when he invented the ideas of Communism. The world of pure Capitalism is harsh and treats normal people like dirt. It is perfectly fine for taking people who are worried about starving and turning them into a downtrodden working class. That's why it worked here when people starving in Europe showed up here a hundred years ago. That's also why it's working for China: their challenge is to get away from starvation and make progress towards being able to survive hand to mouth. But pure Capitalism is not something that builds the kind of middle class where people can do things like retire and have ample money in the bank and things like that. Pure Capitalism is hostile to that level of well-being for people who work for a living, because that interferes with Maximal Profit.
The only system in the history of the entire world that has worked at creating a huge and growing middle class is the American hybrid version that combines the best features of Capitalism and Socialism. We already invented that. We already proved that it works. We just failed to update it to deal with globalization. We could have updated it, but we didn't. We didn't update it becasue we don't solve problems anymore. We didn't update it because corporations are not citizens, they don't care about what's good for America, they just care about what's good for their stock price, and they own Congress. Can't blame them for that, it's just the nature of corporations to do that, it's their job. If we want them to have the responsibilities of acting like citizens who care about America, we have to make that part of the rules, like MacArthur was able to do in Japan after the war. Sadly, it seems like most folks today think it's fine and proper to let corporations decide what they will and won't do, as if society should have rules for people to follow but no rules for corproations to follow. If we keep doing that, we're going back to a Dickensian society. Even Adam Smith knew that, and he knew it way back in 1776. I don't know why we don't realize it now. The greatest American postwar invention is a huge, growing, and prosperous middle class. I just hope we remember that fact, remember how we did it, and update society's rules so we can do it again. That will work out immensely better than if we continue to let ourselves get conned.
So, bottomg line: America's postwar accomplishments include two hugely important things that have no precedent in all of history:
1. Creating the Free World, in which each country gets to be it own self, not a colony of some other country, and gets to run itself pretty much however it wants.
2. Inventing the hybrid political/economic system that integrates the best aspect of Capitalism and Socialism to create a large and prosperous middle class of normal people.
I don't see how anything could be more important than those two things. The immense goodness of those two things is huge, and that's true nomatter what crappy things we also did (like send the Marines into Latin America whenever we felt like it, and the various other things we shouldn't have done but did anyway). The crappy things we did are unfortunate and regrettable, but they don't negate the good things we did. The good things we did are hard to beat. No other country did the good things we did, back when we were actually facing problems and solving them, instead of getting distracted by crazy stuff and doing nothing like we have been lately.
ps: I didn't even mention all the science/knowledge/technology breakthroughs, which are almost entirely the result of the American invention of academic/government partnerships. That kind of thing was part of the postwar American formula too, and is something else we've been conned into dismantling lately as part of our tragic do-nothing-but-maximize-profits stance.