The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power

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9780465007219: The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power

America's "small wars," "imperial wars," or, as the Pentagon now terms them, "low-intensity conflicts," have played an essential but little-appreciated role in its growth as a world power. Beginning with Jefferson's expedition against the Barbary Pirates, Max Boot tells the exciting stories of our sometimes minor but often bloody landings in Samoa, the Philippines, China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere. Along the way he sketches colorful portraits of little-known military heroes such as Stephen Decatur, "Fighting Fred" Funston, and Smedley Butler. From 1800 to the present day, such undeclared wars have made up the vast majority of our military engagements. Yet the military has often resisted preparing itself for small wars, preferring instead to train for big conflicts that seldom come. Boot re-examines the tragedy of Vietnam through a "small war" prism. He concludes with a devastating critique of the Powell Doctrine and a convincing argument that the armed forces must reorient themselves to better handle small-war missions, because such clashes are an inevitable result of America's far-flung imperial responsibilities.

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Review:

Whether fought for commercial or strategic concessions or even moral reasons, whether little-known or well-publicized, America's "small wars"--against, say, the Barbary pirates and the rebellious Boxers--played a large part in the development of what historian Max Boot does not hesitate to call an American empire. All arguments to the contrary, Boot insists, America has never been an isolationist power; it has "been involved in other countries' internal affairs since at least 1805," when American marines landed on the shores of Tripoli, and it has "never confined the use of force to those situations that meet the narrow definition of American interests preferred by realpolitikers and isolationists." Closely examining the record of those small wars, which far outnumber major conflicts, Boot argues that Americans have a historic duty to deliver foreign nations from aggression, even to intervene in civil wars abroad, especially if the product is greater freedom--for, he writes, "a world of liberal democracies would be a world much more amenable to American interests than any conceivable alternative." Readers may take issue with some of Boot's conclusions, but they merit wide discussion, especially in a time when small--and perhaps large--wars are looming. Boot's book is thus timely, and most instructive. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Max Boot is a senior fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His writing has appeared in many publications, and he has twice been a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award. His previous book, Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption, and Incompetence on the Bench, was published by Basic Books in 1998. He lives with his wife and three children in Westchester County, New York.

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Boot, Max
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