The United States at War
Distributed for Reaktion Books
The United States at War
“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 As a result, war did not end with treaties or withdrawn troops.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."
Robert J. McMahon, Ralph D. Mershon Professor of History, The Ohio State University
"This is an imaginative, wonderfully written but sober satire on the conceits of an age whose leaders still suppose that war is the way to power over others. Unintended Consequences identifies with the tradition of great scholarship that stretches from Adam Ferguson to Hannah Arendt, in order to show how and why the greatest military power in human history does not know why it does what it does. Bickerton and Hagan brilliantly show that American military actions have typically had effects quite different from what their leaders have said, or imagined. And so Unintended Consequences cleverly helps us grasp why the present Bush administration is sleepwalking its way through problems of its own making—and why, disturbingly, it seems to want nothing more than to bequeath a global crisis to the next administration."
John Keane, professor of politics and director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London
“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!”
Lieutenant Commander T.T.A. Lovering, mbe, rn, editor of Amphibious Assault: Manoeuvre from the Sea
“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)
Thomas G. Paterson
"Hagan and Bickerton demonstrate that Clausewitz’s nostrum is little more than glib nonsense. . . . The book persuasively demonstrates that there will always be unintended consequences flowing from war."
Bruce Elder | Sydney Morning Herald
"There is little to argue with in this take on history, and the fresh point of view does give certain insights. The two authors also tell their tale well and keep the reader turning pages."
Mark Lawson | Australian Financial Review
"What this book so succinctly points out is that America’s involvement in wars—from the War of Independence through to Iraq (and the authors reject the whole idea of the War on Terror as a war)—has always produced the ’unintended consequences’ of the title. Their analysis of World War II, for example, brilliantly points out the unintended result of how President Truman used the atom bomb—that it effectively started the Cold War."
Steven Carroll | The Age
"What the authors offer is a radical re-interpretation of American military history. This is not a triumphalist book. . . . It is a bold thesis, and one persuasively told in their account of ten different wars the United States has found itself fighting. And of course it is vitally important for the future."
Christopher Coker | Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies Journal
"Highly relevant. The two authors give an informative summary of the cause and course of American war since 1775, and then analyse their consequences. . . . Essential reading."
Richard Broinowski | Australian Book Review