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Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security - From World War II to the War on Terrorism Hardcover – December 28, 2009

2 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Despite its title, this insightful examination of the impact domestic politics has had on American foreign policy actually begins with the Spanish-American war. Zelizer (Taxing America) traces changing attitudes toward foreign engagement through WWI, including Wilson's failed advocacy for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, and arrives at the cold war era, his principle focus. His key themes are the competition between the Republican and Democratic parties for electoral advantage on issues related to international affairs and the expansion of executive authority that began with the Korean War in the Truman administration and continued intermittently through the George W. Bush era. The author emphasizes foreign policy throughout, devoting mere paragraphs to major domestic events like the Kennedy assassination and the contested presidential election of 2000. Zelizer's excellent analysis concludes with charting the rise and fall of conservative internationalism from Reagan to the election of Barack Obama, advancing a consistently thoughtful, complex and balanced argument about the decisive effect domestic politics has had on the evolution of the national security state. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Written by a university professor, this history tracks the post–World War II electoral competition on foreign policy between the Democratic and Republican parties. Zelizer focuses on every national political campaign since 1946, outlining the two parties’ struggle (and that between factions within the parties) for advantage as an outgrowth of the constitutional tension between the Congress and the president for control of foreign affairs, pure partisanship, and each party’s intuition about voters’ attitudes toward the national-security apparatus. Favoring the Democrats in the 1940s, the electorate’s switch to Republicans in 1952, reversion to the Democrats in 1960, and general preference from 1968 to 2008 for Republican leadership on national security guide the author’s discussion. Foreign policy, as such, lies beyond the book’s scope; instead, it is the domestic ramifications of events overseas—such as the draft and war casualties—that characterize this detailed and evenhanded account. Covering election campaigns, election winners’ interpretation of the results, and votes on Capitol Hill, Zelizer makes the case to general-interest readers that American politics have never stopped at the water’s edge. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (December 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465015077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465015078
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,129,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan Leader on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a reasonably well-informed student of history, I found Arsenal of Democracy by Julian E. Zelizer a cut-and paste version of America's national secruity program from Wold War II to the present. Professor Zelizer seemingly covers all the bases, offering at least one summary paragraph on everything from Progressiveism to terrorism. Yet, there is an important lack of anecdotes or a felicitous writing style, so vital in a book like this that does not really cover new ground. American history is known for its great authors, from Bancroft to Schlesinger. Professor Zelizer is clearly not among them. So if you want to learn about some diplomatic event of the last one hundred years, go to Wikkepedia and save yourself the money. This book is a big bore.
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Format: Hardcover
There is a method of writing which I call "Biased Objectivity" whereby, in the guise of being fair and balanced, one omits key facts or accentuates some points above the level of their importance and decreases others to create a biased account. Both sides of the political spectrum engage in this flawed method of discourse, but because the left is more strongly represented in the media and academia, they seem to engage in it more often.

For example, I found about four years ago, that The New York Times had published 1500 articles about Abu Ghraib and only 7 on the hundreds of thousands of Kurds that Saddam had murdered and whose bodies we are still digging up to this day. And The Times ran a single two-paragraph blurb in the back pages when the Pentagon released a 600 page report proving that Saddam had been funding and training virtually every terrorist network in the Middle East, including branches of Al Qaeda (in fairness to The Times, that was two paragraphs more than Professor Zelizer gives it).

Arsenal of Democracy is a prime example of Biased Objectivity, but not a very clever one. Half of the time, the author labels conservatives, even moderate ones, with the sinister "right-wing," whereas the only person in the book called a "left winger" is Fidel Castro (even Henry Wallace's Communist backed 1948 Presidential campaign is called "progressive"). And if George W. Bush's abysmal college grades are worth mentioning, then isn't it also important to note that his GPA was actually better than both Al Gore's and John Kerry's (not to mention the lousy grades of FDR and JFK)?

But there are more serious flaws with this book.
Read more ›
12 Comments 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I needed a book for a report on Detroit during WWII, and this really had little to nothing to do with Detroit. FDR nicknamed Detroit the Arsenal of Democracy, so that's why I thought this book would be about Detroit, and it wasn't. Recommend looking for a different book.
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