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Surprise, Security, and the American Experience [Hardcover]

John Lewis Gaddis
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 23, 2004 0674011740 978-0674011748 First Edition

September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities.

The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defeat authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-century tradition of unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony, projected this time on a global scale. How successful it will be in the face of twenty-first-century challenges is the question that confronts us. This provocative book, informed by the experiences of the past but focused on the present and the future, is one of the first attempts by a major scholar of grand strategy and international relations to provide an answer.

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

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: #1,218,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grand Strategy and its Discontents December 30, 2004
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
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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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of American foreign policy May 27, 2004
For all that has been written about the American reaction to September 11, who could have thought that a mere 128 pages could offer a sweeping and refreshing look into America's historic quest for security-and to do so while demonstrating the relevance of that historical exercise for the present.
John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Yale University, aims at "an admittedly premature effort to treat, as history, an event that remains inescapably part of our present": the September 11 attacks on America and the Bush Administration's response to them. The product is an intellectual and historical tour de force, which dissects the American desire for security by looking at what its government did the last two times it was faced with a similar predicament: after the British burned the White House and Capitol Hill in 1814, and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The three dominant themes employed (or conceived) by John Quincy Adams were unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony. Roosevelt's reaction to Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, rested on multilateralism and a rejection of preemption; ironically, he still achieved the third: hegemony. The book then proceeds to carefully craft an analysis (and critique) between those two historical precedents and President Bush's reaction after September 11.
It is hard to imagine another book that can look so clearly and refreshingly at the major security issues confronting American foreign policy at the time; and to do so in so few pages. Nor is it imaginable that anyone could have summarized in a single paragraph his or her suggestion about what America foreign policy should be aimed at (no spoilers here: read the book). Yet, this is precisely what one will encounter reading "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on topic.
This is a great intro for smart HS students or college students in general. Creates a great framework for a discussion on America foreign policy within a short, smart read.
Published 3 months ago by Lee W. Eysturlid
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Analysis of America
Great read for casual reading. Gaddis analyzes American actions very well and connects effectively to Bush administration's actions during 9/11.
Published 10 months ago by dwarakanath
4.0 out of 5 stars A Neoconservative Summary of American Policy
Gaddis's thesis is that American foreign policy has been, through much of our history, one of pre-emption, unilateralism, and hegemony. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Greg Camp
5.0 out of 5 stars A little gem of a book
This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the American foreign policy and grand strategy. Read more
Published on April 24, 2008 by Michael Magoon
4.0 out of 5 stars Putting contemporary US Foreign Policy into its historical context.
Gaddis does an excellent job putting current US foreign policy into its historical context. I especially appreciate the way he begins the book by noting that there are certain... Read more
Published on April 17, 2008 by Rob Bittick
1.0 out of 5 stars American ethnocentrism.Intellectual weakness
John lewis Gaddis displays a lot of the most annoying features of the scholars who want to be remembered for their 'version/vision of history' rather than to take upon the (much... Read more
Published on August 18, 2006 by pr52David
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL WRITTEN AND ACCURATE
Published on January 2, 2006 by T. M. Monroe Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars Right idea? Mabye. Wrong tactics - unquestionably
What John Gaddis omits is that the strategy he outlines has to be bold, innovative, imaginative and lead by a gifted communicator - George Washington. Lincoln. FDR. Read more
Published on December 26, 2005 by John Hibbs
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defense of Professor Gaddis
Just a word to those uninformed reviewers who critique Gaddis' historical prowess: John Lewis Gaddis is the premier cold war historian in the United States. Read more
Published on October 19, 2005 by Justin Siegel
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Old American Way of War
Excellent, Concise and Illuminating

Professor Gaddis does not have a Military background but don't let that deter you. Read more
Published on February 10, 2005 by Terry Tucker
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