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A Postmortem

edited by Andrew J. Bacevich

Pub Date: March 19th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-674-06445-4
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

A set of scholarly responses to Henry Luce’s 1941 essay in his Life magazine, “The American Century.”

Editor Bacevich (International Relations and History/Boston Univ.; Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, 2010, etc.) provides the beginning and ending chapters in this collection of historical and analytical pieces that, combined, claim: there really wasn’t much of an American century; it was always an illusion, anyhow; it has been extraordinarily arrogant and purblind to believe that America was unlike other empires and that its way of life is suitable for the rest of the world. The pieces share a conventional academic structure, which eventually becomes tiresome: introduction, body, conclusion—don’t any of these notable contributors know how to frame an essay in a fresher, more engaging way? They also share an anti-imperialist, leftish slant that will allure some readers and alienate others. David M. Kennedy begins with an essay about American military power and our decision to put most of our chips on air power. Several contributors—Emily S. Rosenberg, Jeffrey A. Frieden and Eugene McCarraher—highlight economic aspects of the topic, variously attacking materialism, the arrogance of the business mind and the effects of globalization on the American economy and way of life. Others looks at the effects of immigration and race, historical antecedents (Manifest Destiny, the Truman Doctrine), military misadventures since World War II (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq) and the influence of some significant players on the stage, among them Walter Lippmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Randolph Bourne and Charles Beard. Many attack Republican administrations, though McCarraher has some sharp words for President Obama, sharper ones for Thomas J. Friedman.

Bracing and provocative, despite the tendentiousness and the uniformity of structure.