THE ROCKETS' RED GLARE: When America Goes to War by Richard J. Barnet

THE ROCKETS' RED GLARE: When America Goes to War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An up-to-date analysis of American political history and foreign policy, by an astute and knowledgeable commentator. Barnet (Roots of War, The Lean Years, Real Security, etc.) focuses here on the politics of war, and capably sifts through two centuries of conflict between the will of the people and presidential decision-making, with regard to calls to arms. Barnet asks many insightful questions, the primary one at the outset: ""What difference have the people made?"" in guiding the course of American foreign policy. His elaborate answer winds through the years, starting with Washington's term of office, when popular support for the French Revolution generated pressure for participation in that conflict. American presidents and policy-makers quickly learned how best to ignore and influence popular opinion, with the War of 1812 being appropriately titled ""Mr. Madison's War,"" and they started a tradition that extends to the present day and ""Mr. Johnson's War"" in Indochina. The primary emphasis, however, is placed on examining the shifting fortunes of popular consensus in the 20th century, when America came into its own as a world power. Woodrow Wilson and FDR receive careful scrutiny: the former for his efforts to tame the public beast, the latter for his desire to arouse it. Cold War foreign policy, including Reagan's ample contribution, and Vietnam round out this overview. The scope here, intentionally broad, leaves the analysis thin until it reaches modern times, but this is partly compensated for by Barnet's inclusion of fascinating ephemera of American political history (Thomas Jefferson, as first Secretary of State, had his office in N.Y.C. with five employees and a budget of $8,000). Using political theorist Walter Lippmann as a foil for his own conclusions, the author indicates that the American people have been systematically misled by their leadership in matters of war and peace, to the increasing peril of the nation and of global stability. A provocative and thoroughly readable discussion, with a persuasive marshalling of evidence.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster