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The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs Hardcover – February 16, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Our national security has been supported by a state of military preparedness based on the conflicts of the two world wars and fears of the Cold War, argues foreign-affairs commentator Unger. Despite evidence (including the 9/11 attacks) that our military might has not ensured our protection, as a nation we have not adequately examined the continued need for such military preparedness and its enormous economic cost. We are now in permanent crisis mode, maintaining a worldwide network of military bases, spending money on security rather than domestic needs, and accepting a level of government intrusion that is at cross-purposes with our constitutional ideals. Unger points to the abuses of the George W. Bush administration, including the Patriot Act, but notes that the issue goes beyond any particular president to a willingness to allow secretive agencies to maintain a state of emergency that has made us “more vulnerable, more isolated, and less free.” He examines the primary institutions involved in keeping the U.S. secure and explores the new challenges of globalization that are forcing reanalysis of how we look at national security. --Vanessa Bush



“Ambitious and valuable”


"Unger should be commended for contributing to the debate... persuasive."

“Unger’s broad indictment of defense policy—bipartisan if not nonpartisan—is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate.”

"An important perspective about opportunities missed and roads not taken"

Thoughtful work for your smart political readers.

“David Unger's informative, historical and incisive narrative clearly illustrates that that the challenge of upholding democratic principles is a constantly evolving challenge for even the most mature of democracies and makes clear that there is no trade-off between security and the respect for human rights and civil liberties.”
— Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006)

"Like a skilled surgeon, David Unger lays bare the pathologies that have disfigured U. S. national security policy over the course of many decades.  The result is a thoughtful, judicious, immensely readable, and vitally important book."
— Andrew J. Bacevich, author of WASHINGTON RULES and THE LIMITS OF POWER

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press (February 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203244
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,475,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Aronson on April 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read the book and both reviews. In my opinion, this is an important book and easily worth five stars. Unger's approach is political and very, very valuable.

I have evolved into a libertarian and David Unger is an editorial writer from the NYT. I expected to find a "Democrats were good but Republicans were bad" line of thought but I found nothing of the sort. I can find no fault with his treatment of the imperial presidency that evolved after 1933. Surprisingly, Unger confirmed my own assessments of both FDR and Ronald Reagan.

My only observation is that in the body of the work he ignores the long line of Supreme Court decisions that allowed all this to happen and he still seems to think that the fundamental divisions are conservative and liberal rather than statist and republican; with the qualification that both the modern Republican and Democratic Parties are the liberal and conservative wings of the fundamentally statist nationalist party that has been in power since 1933.

In my opinion and at every step along the way that Mr. Unger describes, the Supreme Court was the grey eminence that always seemed to affirm the executive, the police and secrecy at the expense of Congress, individual rights and liberties and the basically republican structure of the Constitution. At many points a discussion of the Supreme Court's "political questions" maxim and it willingness to use the "commerce clause" and "national security" to evade examining what the executive was doing with respect to the Constitution would have been enlightening. But those are other books for other authors. Mr. Unger has given us the main line and it is a very valuable contribution to our collective knowledge.

Depressingly, Unger presents a persuasive case that the people want it that way and so we are going to be riding this down to the dénouement; just like Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on February 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Unger believes we have assembled an increasingly complicated, costly, and ineffectual security system over the last seven decades. Direct costs run well in excess of several trillion dollars. Indirect costs include also seriously undermining our economic strength via innumerable trade pacts aimed at increasing our military sphere, sacrificing the jobs of American workers as payment. These 'Free Trade' (offered to obtain more military pacts) have allowed China and others to accumulate trillions of U.S. reserves, hollowed out much of our manufacturing base, and now threaten our high-technology capabilities as well.

'Constitutionalists' and avid fans of the 'Federalist Papers' have more reasons to take umbrage - limited government (eg. declaring war, rights to privacy), and the doctrine of limited foreign entanglements have also been sacrificed by 13 straight Presidents (7 Democrat, 6 Republican) since Pear Harbor.

How does more military lead to less military security? When we base troops in about 100 nations, in some instances locales not populated with admirers of the U.S. - eg. Saudi Arabia (Bin Laden), its like poking others in the eye. Flying spy planes, our 7th Fleet sailing up and down China's coast doesn't do much for minimizing world aggravation either. Rogue nukes and potentially off-balanced weapons keepers are another source of danger. The most obvious, however, is that spending as much/more on the military as the rest of the world, combined, is not a foundation for economic growth, and forgoes opportunities to instead rebuild our infrastructure, lower our debt.

As for the State Department's similar contribution - how about our 'to-the-death' devotion to Israel and its abuse of Palestinians?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Efrem Sepulveda on July 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Since the days of Woodrow Wilson, America has tried to form the world in its own image with disatrous results to our liberties and our Constitution. In his 311-page discussion, Mr. Unger tells the story of the Emergency State from Woodrow Wilson's crusade to make the world safe for democracy through to Obama's constant mishandling of the Constitution through indefinite dentention and the extention of the Patriot Act. Various subjects realting to the Emergency State are covered including the Palmer Raids, the interment of Japanese-Americans, the fabircations surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the lack of vigilance before the 9/11 attacks. All lead to the conclusion reached by the author that despite the massive amount of money and weapons used to keep us secure, we are less safe than ever before. Moreover, our liberties now hang in the balance and that no matter which party is in power, our rights have deteriorated. Unger spells out some solutions toward the end of the book that would rein in the abuses and power of the state and restore the limited government envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

As with Andrew Bacevich, another fine author dealing with foriegn affairs, Unger falls into the pit of providing too many opinions on domestic policy regarding the welfare state that have little to do with the subject of abhorrent international policy. It is plain to see that government in Washington is not to be trusted and that goes for domestic as well as foriegn policy. An outstanding read nonetheless that is nonpartisan in its accusations against both parties.
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