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Surprise, Security, and the American Experience Hardcover – March 23, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0674011748 ISBN-10: 0674011740 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Series: Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lecture on American Civilization
  • Hardcover: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (March 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011748
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #656,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The post–September 11 strategy of the Bush administration is often described as a radical departure from U.S. policy. Gaddis, one of America's leading scholars of foreign policy and international relations, provocatively demonstrates that, to the contrary, the principles of preemption, unilateralism and hegemony go back to the earliest days of the republic. Gaddis resurrects the 18th-century idea of an "empire of liberty": whether as a universal principle or in an American context, liberty could flourish only in an empire that provided safety. The British burning of Washington in 1814 highlighted American vulnerability to certain forms of surprise attack. In consequence, Gaddis recounts, John Quincy Adams developed a strategy of seeking control over the North American continent with minimal coercion, but through preemptive action where necessary. The attack on Pearl Harbor extended the concept to global dimensions, eventually expanding the U.S. sphere of influence exponentially. The events of September 11 extended the concept of preemptive action even at the expense of sovereignty when terrorism is involved. Gaddis describes this latest expansion of American power in response to surprise attack as a volatile mixture of prudence and arrogance. But instead of the usual caveats, he recommends the U.S. continue on an interventionist course, and he has no qualms about calling America the best hope of liberty in the eyes of most of the earth's inhabitants. The ability to question all values that is liberty's essence depends, he finds, on defending certain values—unilaterally and preemptively when necessary, but not randomly. This compact, provocative history of an idea-in-action has the potential to alter the U.S.'s collective self-image.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Historian Gaddis places U.S. reaction to 9/11 in the context of national security policy. In 1817, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, reacting to the burning of Washington, D.C., by British forces during the War of 1812, inaugurated three policies to secure the nation as it grew: preemption --the U.S. would react swiftly and forcibly to attacks; unilateralism--the U.S. would reject alliances requiring response to unforeseeable developments involving other nations; hegemony--the U.S. would predominate in the Western Hemisphere. Polk in the Mexican War and McKinley in the Spanish-American stretched the limits of preemption, and Wilson's internationalism foundered on unilateralism, but the enormously popular Franklin D. Roosevelt significantly altered security policy by allying for World War II and crafting postwar developments, including the UN, to expand U.S. hegemony worldwide. Gaddis argues that George W. Bush in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq attempted FDR's exploitation of multilateralism but ultimately elected preemption ("shock and awe") in the service of global hegemony. Even Bush's staunchest opponents stand to be edified by Gaddis' impressive presentation. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Gaddis chronicles the evolution of American Foreign Policy from John Q. Adams to the present.
TheCardinal
Unlike most pundits and naysayers however, he actually has a couple of useful suggestions, that are quite constructive within the context of present US doctrine.
Kevin C. B.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in American history or American foreign policy.
Michael Magoon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The surprise attack of September 11 brought about, in the eyes of many learned observers, a radical shift in American national security policy. Since World War II and up until the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a policy of containment and deterrence. During the 1990s, in the wake of the collapse, there was a feeling that democracy and capitalism would eventually triumph everywhere; the Clinton administration reasoned that the US "only needed to engage and the rest of the world would enlarge the process."

In response the 9/11 attack the Bush administration formulated a new strategy, outlined in the national security speech at West Point on June 1, 2002. This speech called for a new strategy which looked like a departure from American tradition. The key elements of this new strategy were preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. In the beginning, it was little noticed; however, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, people began to examine this strategy more closely.

Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, in this short and well-written little book, argues that this was not a new policy, in fact it had deep roots in American history that go back to the earliest days of the republic. Gaddis demonstrates that after the British attack on Washington DC during the War of 1812, the then secretary of state, John Quincy Adams asserted the same three principles. Preemption was the rationale for Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida, the "failed state" of its day being a haven for marauding Seminoles, runaway slaves and profiteering pirates. With the diminishing authority of the Spanish in Latin America, the US sought to restrict the influence of other European powers in the Western Hemisphere.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery Steele on May 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
After 9-11, when the Bush administration began laying out the framework for a new strategy to deal with security threats to the United States, several scholars and commentators judged elements of the nascent strategy to be without precedent in American history. John Lewis Gaddis, a scholar who has written extensively about the history of U.S. national security, argues otherwise. Rather than an unprecedented strategy, Gaddis says the Bush administration has put forward a security framework that reaches back into the nineteenth century for its central ideas.
This short book, which was based on a series of lectures Gaddis presented at the New York Public Library in 2002, builds its case of an evolving U.S. security strategy around three events: the 1814 burning of the White House by the British, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and 9-11. Gaddis argues that each of these events forced the U.S. to change its strategy to fit the new circumstances of the time. Bush's recent unilateral policies after 9-11 and FDR's multilateral response to the U.S. entry into WW2 (that was also the basis of the U.S. Cold War strategy) are familiar to most readers, but it is Gaddis's description of John Quincy Adams and his nineteenth century strategy (one that was largely followed by almost all American presidents until 1941), and the comparison of Adams's strategy with Bush's, that is likely to spark the reader's interest.
Gaddis makes the case that Bush's so-called "unprecedented" strategy combining preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony finds its precedents in Adams's policies. Like Bush, Adams felt it necessary to occasionally preempt neighboring states, non-state actors (Indians), and even failed states (Spain's faltering hold on its colonial possessions).
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By marshak on November 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Readers should take note of Gaddis' disclaimer in the opening chapter of this compact volume, that, "... we might as well try to know our recent history as best we can, however imperfect the exercise may be." This largely describes this thought-provoking, yet ultimately intellectually rushed volume.

Gaddis argues that the United States has historically ensured its security through expansion rather than isolation and that the current administration's policy of preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony has roots in American 19th century foreign policy. What can be easy to miss in the theory is that Gaddis delineates a difference between preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony limited to the Western Hemisphere and that which is used today to protect American global interests.

In my opinion, Gaddis' historical examples do not specifically define what he believes preemptive action is and he does not answer the critical question that exists today: Is it justified? He writes that in the 19th century the US employed the doctrine of preemption in several instances. Along the Western frontier, President Jackson argued that preemption was necessary to safeguard the lives of pioneers and settlers against potentially hostile Native Americans. The resulting preemption evenutally expanded the boundaries of the US to the Pacific Ocean and pushed these populations into easily controllable reservations.

On the international stage, Gaddis writes that President Adams believed that in any situation where a state within the US sphere-of-interest might fail or create a power vacuum, the US could preempt this occurrence by force.
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