The United States at War
Distributed for Reaktion Books
“The United States does not do nation building,” claimed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld three years ago. Yet what are we to make of the American military bases in Korea? Why do American warships patrol the Somali coastline? And perhaps most significantly, why are fourteen “enduring bases” being built in Iraq? In every major foreign war fought by United States in the last century, the repercussions of the American presence have been felt long after the last Marine has left. Kenneth J. Hagan and Ian J. Bickerton argue here that, despite adamant protests from the military and government alike, nation building and occupation are indeed hallmarks—and unintended consequences—of American warmaking.
In this timely, groundbreaking study, the authors examine ten major wars fought by the United States, from the Revolutionary War to the ongoing Iraq War, and analyze the conflicts’ unintended consequences. These unexpected outcomes, Unintended Consequences persuasively demonstrates, stemmed from ill-informed decisions made at critical junctures and the surprisingly similar crises that emerged at the end of formal fighting. As a result, war did not end with treaties or withdrawn troops. Instead, time after time, the United States became inextricably involved in the issues of the defeated country, committing itself to the chaotic aftermath that often completely subverted the intended purposes of war.
Stunningly, Unintended Consequences contends that the vast majority of wars launched by the United States were unnecessary, avoidable, and catastrophically unpredictable. In a stark challenge to accepted scholarship, the authors show that the wars’ unintended consequences far outweighed the initial calculated goals, and thus forced cataclysmic shifts in American domestic and foreign policy.
A must-read for anyone concerned with the past, present, or future of American defense, Unintended Consequences offers a provocative perspective on the current predicament in Iraq and the conflicts sure to loom ahead of us.
"This provocative, intelligent gem of a book could not be more timely. The authors challenge conventional wisdom about the consequences of America's wars, from the struggle for independence to the war in Iaq, by marshalling persuasive evidence and by presenting their findings in clear, accessible, and lively prose. Highly recommended for general readers and specialists alike."
“For too long the western military have looked at Clausewitz as if he can provide the magic silver bullet with regard to strategic military thinking. This book has quite rightly turned conventional thought––hero worship––of that particular military guru upside down. In a world where the threat is no longer likely to be an easily identifiable nation state, conventional military responses are perhaps no longer appropriate. Not only does it prove that the unintended consequences may outweigh the reason for the action in the first instance, but, in the contemporary world, results are likely to be even further divorced from those originally anticipated. It is just what is needed in today’s world––historians who are prepared to stir the hornets’ nest!”
“Mincing no words, these accomplished historians, one Australian and one American, plumb the past, from the American Revolution through to Iraq, keenly demonstrating that U.S. wars have produced unintended, often negative, outcomes. U.S. leaders’ exaggeration of threats, their ignorance of local conditions, and their flawed assumptions that political ‘victory’ can be achieved through military force have led to unforeseen, unwanted consequences. Clausewitz got it wrong: war is not a continuation of policy but rather a radical alteration of policy. Sharply departing from the traditional way of thinking about u.s. wars, Bickerton and Hagan challenge us to understand that war has raised more problems than it has solved.”--Thomas G. Paterson, professor of history emeritus, University of Connecticut, and past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR)