A Military History of the United States of America
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Pub. Ed. $28.00
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Review by Geoffrey Wawro
The third edition of this indispensable book brings the story of the US military, hatched in the seventeenth-century Virginia colony, up to the present day. Those Tidewater colonists of 1622 suffered Indian surprise attacks on outlying farms that pressed the colonists back on heavily defended settlements like Jamestown. Then began a decade-long campaign to recover lost ground, detach Indian defectors and purchase Indian allies. More than seven hundred pages later, For the Common Defense concludes in Afghanistan in 2012, with US forces doing many of the same things the Virginians did to weaken the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In our military history, you might say, we have come full circle.
The first and second editions of this book—published in 1984 and 1994—reflected Millett and Maslowski’s frustration with aspects of the great Russell Weigley’s The American Way of War (1973). That was a marvelous book, and still is, but the authors of this one believe that Weigley was so struck by the apparent imperviousness of the Vietnam War to the American way of war—big, bureaucratized and industrial—that his thesis took on a pessimism from which future historians and readers could not easily escape.
Millett and Maslowski see Vietnam for what it was—a chapter, bracketed by other chapters in which the US reacts and adapts, as it always has. From the threadbare early days to the juggernaut of the Cold War and beyond, the lavishly funded US military has made a science of “lessons learned” and adaptation.
This massive volume covers everything: the war presidents, the strategies, the procurement programs, the inter-service rivalries, the great theorists (like Alfred Thayer Mahan and Billy Mitchell), generals, admirals and, of course, the central subject—the wars. The writing is superb, making this at once a grand, sweeping history of the United States, its wars abroad and at home, the domestic-political clashes inhered in shaping the “national security state,” and the dominant decision-makers of our history. The authors are guided by six themes they set out in the introduction, all of which have to do with the essentially “pluralistic” nature of American defense, the way it is—and always has been—cobbled together by competing constituencies, beginning with the early constitutional debates over whether defense ought to be a function of the federal or state governments.
The authors write about war in a quite sophisticated way. Millett, Maslowski and—added for this latest edition—William Feis look at the interplay of policy and strategy, civil-military relations, and wrangles with Congress. They understand the intimate connection of technology, finance and economics to warfare, and never lose sight of the interaction of the enemy, and how that too shaped strategy, budgets and decision-making, whether in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the world wars, the Cold War or the 9/11 wars. Truman would never have dropped atomic bombs on Japan had the emperor and his entourage reacted in a normal way to the fact of their defeat. When they did not react normally, he was faced with a terrible dilemma that had to be worked out on multiple levels. In this story, as in so many others, the authors crisply reveal the levers of American power in action.
Softcover Book : 720 pages
Publisher: Free Press/Div Of Simon&Schust Don ( September 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-600912
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 27.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)