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The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power Paperback – May 27, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Whether fought for commercial or strategic concessions or even moral reasons, whether little-known or well-publicized, America's "small wars"--against, say, the Barbary pirates and the rebellious Boxers--played a large part in the development of what historian Max Boot does not hesitate to call an American empire. All arguments to the contrary, Boot insists, America has never been an isolationist power; it has "been involved in other countries' internal affairs since at least 1805," when American marines landed on the shores of Tripoli, and it has "never confined the use of force to those situations that meet the narrow definition of American interests preferred by realpolitikers and isolationists." Closely examining the record of those small wars, which far outnumber major conflicts, Boot argues that Americans have a historic duty to deliver foreign nations from aggression, even to intervene in civil wars abroad, especially if the product is greater freedom--for, he writes, "a world of liberal democracies would be a world much more amenable to American interests than any conceivable alternative." Readers may take issue with some of Boot's conclusions, but they merit wide discussion, especially in a time when small--and perhaps large--wars are looming. Boot's book is thus timely, and most instructive. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As editorial features editor of the Wall Street Journal, Boot (Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption, and Incompetence on the Bench) has a reputation as a fire-breathing polemicist and unabashed imperialist. This book addresses America's "small wars" in chronological order, dividing the action from 1801 to the present into three sections ("Commercial Power," "Great Power" and "Superpower") to argue that "small war missions are militarily doable" and are now in fact a necessity. Beginning with a description of going to work on September 11 as the World Trade Center tragedy displaced the WSJ newsroom, Boot quickly gets down to some historical detail: from the U.S. expedition against the Barbary pirates to violent squabbles in Panama, Samoa, the Philippines, China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, Beirut, Grenada, Somalia and Bosnia. Examples of wars "that were fought less than `wholeheartedly,' " of wars "without exit strategies" and wars "in which U.S. soldiers act as `social workers' " are decried. Each of the 15 short chapters might have been the focus of a separate in-depth book, so Boot's take is once over very lightly indeed. While America's and the world's small wars certainly seem more and more related, Boot's historical descriptions are too thin to provide a solid foundation for relating one war to another. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (May 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046500721X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465007219
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Boot is one of America's leading military historians and foreign-policy analysts. The Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, he is the author of two-widely acclaimed books: "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" and "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today." His latest book--"Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present"--will be coming out in January 2013. He is also a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. He has advised military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his books have been assigned reading by the military services. He has been called "a master historian" by the New York Times and a "a penetrating writer and thinker" by The Wall Street Journal. For more information, see

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on June 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"The Savage Wars of Peace" is a book that is likely to surprise all but the most ardent military history buffs. Once and for all it does away with the myth that before World War Two, America was completely "isolationist" in its foreign policy. The book focuses on America's many "smaller" military actions, from the Tripolitan War circa 1801-1803 to the hundred years (1840-1941) that American troops were continuously stationed in China to the Phillippine "Insurrection" (1900-1902) to the many 20th Century American interventions in Latin America.
Surprises abound, the biggest being how Author Max Boot demonstrates that for the most part America's interventions happened for idealistic reasons, rather than the usual sterotype that has the U.S. always watching out for big business interests. Also surprising is Boot's account of how effective America was at fighting anti-guerilla wars, at least up until Vietnam, when our misguided tactics may have actually snatched victory from our grasp. Boot covers each intervention seperately, combining politics with actual battle narratives in an excellently readable manner. Colorful figures emerge, like "The Fight Quaker" Marine General Smedley Butler, who for over thirty years was America's foremost (and most successful) guerilla fighter, only to become a staunch pacifist upon retirement.
Though it is a historical narrative, it is obvious that the author is trying to send a message to today's military leaders, especially in the wake of such misguided post-Vietnam policies as the "Powell Doctorine." The message is that America has a duty to continue to fight small wars to make the world a safer place (especially after September 11th), but that it should also not encorage our enemies by cutting and running from such engagements after the first casualties.
Overall, Boot has wrtitten and extremely enjoyable military history book that carries with it a powerful message.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. St Onge on August 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Max Boot has a very interesting and informative book here, one that I recommend to all interested in military history or public policy. In fact, it's really three books.
The subject of the first book is USAmerica's 'small wars': the minor conflicts with foreign powers, starting with the war against the Barbary Pirates, and continuing through the our Caribbean adventures in the twenties and thirties. It's well documented and excellently written. My only complaint is that it isn't longer and more detailed.
The second book is only a few chapters long. It covers Viet Nam, and Boot's thesis is that our greatest military mistake there was that we DIDN'T fight it as a small war. Had we done so, he believes we would have won, at a far smaller price than what we paid to lose.
No one can prove might have beens, but I find his argument convincing, and even those who disagree should find it intriguing and thought provoking.
Finally, there's the third book, which is policy prescription. Here I really disagree with Mr. Boot. Boot wants us to go haring around the world, civilizing the 'natives' with M-16s. We tried this in the Phillipines, in Haiti, in the Dominican Republic, and in Nicaragua. Boot recounts all these attempts to "Take up the white man's burden," and by his own account, at least three were utter failures. The only one that sort of succeeded was the Philipines, where we stayed over forty years, and ended with an ex-colony that isn't sure it likes us, tends to lapse into dictatorship, and suffers a revolt every decade or so. For this we spent four thousand lives on our side, and tens of thousands on the Phillipino side. This is success?
Mr. Boot would like us to do this again, in lots of places all over the world, because he thinks the 'natives' will be better off being conquered by us than ruling themselves. Perhaps so, but I'm a USAmerican, and I think MY country would be decidedly worse off if we undertook these imperial adventures.
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69 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For non-scholars such as I who have a keen interest in U.S. military history, this book provides information and analysis which are probably not available in any other single volume. Boot tracks various "small wars" during the rise of America's global power from the Barbary Wars (1801-1805, 1815) until the application of the "Powell Doctrine" during the Gulf War in the 1990s. In the final chapter, he then provides what he calls "In Defense of the Pax Americana: Small Wars in the Twenty-First Century." Boot identifies four (among several) distinct types of small wars: Punitive ("to punish attacks on American citizens or property), Protective ("to safeguard foreign territory"), Pacification ("to occupy foreign territory"), and Profiteering ("To grab trade or or territorial concession"). For me, one of the book's greatest strengths is comprised of Boot's analysis of lesser-known but uniquely important historical figures such as Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, Smedley D. Butler, Stephen Decatur, William Eaton, William Edmund ("Tiny") Ironside, Victor H. Krulak, Augusto C. Sandino, and Littleton W.T.. Waller. Within his narrative, he also analyzes the role played by each of various U.S. Presidents, notably Jackson, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and George H.W. Bush.
I also wish to commend Boot on his brilliant analysis of the pivotal (often decisive) role played by the Marines Corps throughout more than 200 years of U.S. military history and, especially, his explanation of the importance of the The Small Wars Manual which the Marines created in the 1930s. This handbook grew out of the their own experiences in the early years of the 20th century as well as Britain's colonial involvements.
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