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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Extremely pithy (it took only two hours to read) and very insightful. Transformed my understanding of how (some, influential) Americans see the world. Highly recommended for any foreigner trying to understand contemporary American foreign policy.
Published on 8 Dec 2007 by Peter Piper

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DREADFUL
If I could give this book no stars at all I would. Gaddis abandons the mantle of a historian completely in this overtly patriotic eulogy to American expansionism. (See the final line in the conclusion: he relays an anecdote about a student who asked him on 11th Sept whether it would be ok now to be patriotic. Gaddis concludes the book with the line,"Yes, I think it...
Published on 29 April 2007 by Maria


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DREADFUL, 29 April 2007
If I could give this book no stars at all I would. Gaddis abandons the mantle of a historian completely in this overtly patriotic eulogy to American expansionism. (See the final line in the conclusion: he relays an anecdote about a student who asked him on 11th Sept whether it would be ok now to be patriotic. Gaddis concludes the book with the line,"Yes, I think it would".)

Gaddis argues that American expansionism--both across North America and overseas--has only ever been an attempt to find security against constant threats to the United States. For example, he argues that Native Americans were the 19th century equivalent of terrorists, who threatened the security of the US. In fact the Native Americans, who occupied the country long before the European settlers arrived, were slaughtered indscriminately in a simple case of genocide. Instead, Gaddis claims that this expansion amounted to an "empire of liberty" from the East to West coast. His critique completely omits economic factors that drove expansionism, which is probably why he is so quiet on the issue of slavery: that would put rather a blot on the "empire of liberty" thesis, along with the Native Americans.

He goes on to argue that the rise of American power in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries led to an extension of the "empire for liberty" overseas (although not an empire in the literal sense obviously). The abstractness of his thesis allows Gaddis to ignore many of America's actual policies, such as the standard US Cold War practise of supporting brutal authoritarian regimes around the world as long as they were anti-communist (see, for a very small selection of examples,Pinochet/Chile; the Shah/Iran; Somozas/Nicaragua; Saudi Royal Family to this day; Mobutu/Congo; Saddam/Iraq) plus assassinations and coups against leaders/governments that Washington disliked (e.g. Guatemala 1954; Iran 1953; Chile 1973; Nicaragua 1980-1988). Where are these cases in Gaddis' thesis? Nowhere, because his argument would be unsupportable if he addressed them.

Finally, it is beyond belief that a professional historian could claim that the Bush administration's post-9/11 actions were solely the result of a recalibration of security threats that came about after 9/11. Even most standard accounts of the Iraq War now include a chapter or so about the origins of these policies in the 1990s. Many members of the Bush administration spent several years before they entered office lobbying for the policies (prevention, Iraq, unilateralism where necessary)that Bush implemented ostensibly as a result of 9/11. These policy preferences were favoured by Bush's advisors years before 9/11 and for Gaddis not to acknowledge this is intellectual dishonesty.

It says everything that after reading this book, President Bush invited Gaddis to the White House for a chat. I'm sure Bush enjoyed the book because it's certainly not designed to hold the actions of his administration up to serious or genuine scrutiny.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 8 Dec 2007
By 
Peter Piper (Jakarta, Indonesia) - See all my reviews
Extremely pithy (it took only two hours to read) and very insightful. Transformed my understanding of how (some, influential) Americans see the world. Highly recommended for any foreigner trying to understand contemporary American foreign policy.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 3 Dec 2004
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This review is from: Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization & Government) (Hardcover)
This is quite possibly the single greatest book I have ever read on the subject of America's role in the world. For those who have read Robert Kagan's "Paradise and Power", this book is an ideal companion for placing current American Foreign Policy in context. You may not like what he says, but you should be in awe of how he does it. As a student of a Master course in International Relations, I can safely say that this book is essential for understanding Amercia's past, present and future. it also comes highly recommended by the Economist.
Buy it and enjoy it.
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11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A flawed history may be better than no history at all, 1 May 2004
By 
Theodore A. Rushton (PHOENIX, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization & Government) (Hardcover)
John Lewis Gaddis, an apologist for the War on Iraq, claims, "The American ideal -- the reason so many people over so many years were willing to risk so much to become Americans -- had been to insulate domestic life from a violent external world: to avoid the collision between the personal and the historical that causes dates to be divorced, in our minds, from the years in which they occur."
Unknown to Gaddis, many other lands let people "insulate domestic life from a violent external world." Australia is a classic example. In the 1860s, Canada offered the security of "life, liberty and good government;" an alternative was going to the US to enlist in the Union armies and face "death, injury and constant risk." The US was the overwhelming choice.
Why? The lure of the US was the absence of intrusive government, stifling tradition, a static state religion and the old habits and ancient customs of one's fellow villagers. "Freedom" isn't the right to vote for George Bush or John Kerry -- it's the right to be left alone, to live as one pleases and to chart one's own future.
Gaddis is also weak on the history he uses to justify the war on Iraq. The basis of his book is the American reaction to three surprise attacks on US soil -- the burning of Washington in August 24, 1814; the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941; and the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, no reputable historian can claim "the first surprise attack on United States soil" was the burning of Washington.
This attack was part of a war which the United States unilaterally launched on Canada in 1812. However, the US had been soundly defeated at Detroit, the Niagara Peninsula and enduring a total blockage of New England to the extent that some states considered seceding to join Canada. The raid on Washington was in response to American troops who burned the capital of Ontario and ravaged farms along the St. Lawrence -- the British had to buy much of their supplies from farmers in New York state, who refused to sell produce to the US Army.
Having launched an aggressive war to seize Canada -- the "surprise attack" on Washington was as surprising as Jimmy Doolittle bombing Tokyo a few months after Pearl Harbour, or the US Navy sinking Japanese ships at Midway in 1942.
Granted, American defeats in the War of 1812 did produce major changes in US military and civil policy -- but not for the reasons cited by Gaddis. If he can mess up such a simple experience, what hope does he have in analysing Bush policies?
In his defense, Gaddis offers a concise articulate explanation of current Bush administration policy. He also suggests adoption of "federalism" to enhance Bush's recent brilliant successes in pacifying Iraq. His conclusions may have some validity. After all, if a flawed watch dog is better than no dog at all, then a flawed historian may be better than no historian at all.
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