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61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
"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
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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68 of 83 people found the following review helpful
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. Here are two brief excerpts from the manual:
"As applied to the United States, small wars are operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as are determined by the foreign policy of our Nation."
"In a major war, the mission assigned to the armed forces is usually unequivocal -- the defeat and destruction of the hostile forces. This is seldom true in small wars. [The more ambiguous mission is] to establish and maintain law and order by supporting or replacing the civil government in countries or areas in which the interests of the United States have been placed in jeopardy."
Thirty years later, as the war Viet Nam continued, it became obvious (at least to some) that the lessons to be learned from The Small Wars Manual may have been validated but, for whatever reasons, were either ignored or forgotten by President Johnson and others in his administration. With a new century underway, given the events of September 11th, it will be interesting to see to what extent (if any) the Marines' Small Wars Manual will guide and inform the allied response to global terrorism.
With regard to "the lessons of history," Boot offers this advice in his book's final chapter: "In deploying American power, decisionmakers should be less apologetic, less hesitant, less humble. Yes, there is a danger of imperial overstretch and hubris -- but there is an equal, if not greater, danger of undercommitment and lack of confidence. America should not be afraid to fight `the savage wars of peace' if necessary to enlarge the empire of liberty.' It has done it before."
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2003
The concept of this book is excellent, but it suffers from poor execution.
On the positive side, this book provides a good introduction to the many small wars that the US has conducted over much of the globe in more than 200 years, from the Barbary Coast to Kosovo. While some would dispute the inclusion of Vietnam in a book on small wars, Mr. Boot provides an excellent analysis.
Understandably, given the breadth of the topic, Mr. Boot has relied heavily on secondary sources. Perhaps far too heavily. There is a jarring lack of constancy - for example, when discussing the US role in the Caribbean, there is an undercurrent of concern about legality and imperial interventionism; when dealing with the two half-hearted US invasions of Russia late in World War I after the new Soviet government had signed a peace treaty with Germany, that undercurrent is notably absent. There are also distracting changes in style from section to section, along with some plain poor editing.
Perhaps most disappointingly, Mr. Boot failed to draw the obvious conclusions from the information he assembled. The reader is struck repeatedly by the contrast between the fortitude demonstrated by American fighting men in difficult circumstances and the casual incompetence (sometimes even venality) of the politicians and generals who put them there. Mr. Boot's conclusion is that, "In deploying American power, decision makers should be less apologetic, less hesitant, less humble". He really should have read his own book.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2002
Amid the welter of exploitation books starting to appear on terrorism and "America's New War," this splendidly-researched and handsomely-written overview of America's "little wars," some well-known, others obscure, stands out for its genuine value to any reader who wants to understand our long tradition of fighting what the author calls "The Savage Wars of Peace." The military missions we are called upon to execute now are not anomalies, but very much in the tradition of what our military has done frequently since the early days of the republic--and what it has frequently done well. This books reads like a labor of love for the author--the research is impressive and must have taken a number of years--but, best of all, it reads well. While the contents are scrupulous of fact in the best academic sense, this is no academic book in the dry, turgid, ivory-tower meaning. This is meaty, visceral writing, and the author tells fascinating stories very well. This "old Army" and Marine Corps tradition has long been an interest of mine, so I can attest that the book's facts and narrative lines are right on target. I'll leave it for other readers to address the book's political themes and conclusions--suffice to say that this is great, informative reading that follows our military from early fights against pirates, to expeditions into China, to the tough little fights in living memory. Highly recommended for soldiers, leaders of all kinds, interested citizens--and for academics who retain a streak of humility.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2002
A very well-written history of America's small-scale conflicts that should warm any soldier's--or (especially) Marine's-- heart. Having read the Corps' Small Wars Manual several years ago, I believe Boot's account belongs on every military historian's shelf. And it's exciting stuff. Yes, it's assiduously researched, but the writing is clear and tight. There are about 20 small chapters that prevent his stuff from getting bogged down the same way some of our troops do. His premise is that small wars are not only doable but also necessary. Referencing everything from the jarhead clash against the Barbary pirates to troubling deployments in Beirut and Somalia, Boot separates food service social work from incursions that are a necessary national interest. America needs a small wars strategy to complement its highly conditional 'Powell Doctrine' and Boot's book is a terrific piece of that puzzle
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2002
The Savage Wars of Peace is a fascinating summary of the United States' successes and failures during 200 years and twenty-plus "small wars" from the Barbary Coast in 1801 to the Philippines in 1899, the Mexican border in 1915, the Yangtze Valley in 1927 and Kosovo in 2000. This well written book provides both entertainment and food for thought. Most of these "small wars", especially the numerous pre-World War II conflicts, are little, if at all, remembered. Even military professionals seem to have forgotten some of the principles and lessons learned which could have served us well in more recent forays.
Besides the entertaining narratives, Boot makes a convincing case that 1) murky conflicts without identifiable conclusions or "exit strategies" can lead to favorable results (although sometimes it takes hindsight to realize that), 2) fighting styles that limit casualties (on both sides) can achieve lasting results and 3) there have been far more undeclared "small wars" in American history than big ones and yet the professional military perceives the small wars as aberrations rather than the norm.
The Savage Wars of Peace makes a great jumping off point for detailed study of the individual campaigns. The 22-page bibliography plus 34 pages of notes provides many starting points for further research. My only criticisms are that I would like to see more photographs and maps, and the proofreader needs to check more carefully for a few date errors (e.g., on page 305 a Marine unit arrives in Vietnam in June 1966 and then engages in a significant action in September 1965; which year is correct? This type of thing occurs elsewhere.).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to everyone interested in U.S. history or military history and strategy.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2002
Franklin Roosevelt once said that the US Navy could not see a ship smaller than a destroyer. To some extent the same thing applies to students of military history: they are considerably more interested in the great struggles than the minor conflicts. Max Boot's important and deftly written new book is both a history and an argument: a description of almost two centuries of American small wars and a case for the importance of being ready to wage them. The former are handled very well indeed: for those who know about Sandinistas but not Sandino this is a good place to go. The latter is powerfully put, although some will reject his contention that "undercommitment and lack of confidence" are more dangerous than "imperial overstretch and hubris." No matter, this is at once a contribution to military history and to contemporary policy debates -- a rare achievement.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
We tend to think of undeclared police action wars to be a rather new phenomena of the mid 20th century for America. Perhaps it is so that we can continue to think of ourselves as a generally peaceful nation with a live-and-let-live attitude. We can look back at our history and see just a few declared wars and so think ourselves a relatively peaceful lot. Max Boot challenges those assumptions with example after example of wars waged by fiat of executive rather than declarations of war by congress of the people. Oddly, the author's conclusion is that overall this is a good trend that should be continued and encouraged once it has been acknowledged. He takes the approach that American altruism is unquestionable and therefore America as a force for good is unquestionable. On this assumption he builds the house of cards to justify America's use of power as necessary and good for its own national security since, he says, a world of liberal democracies would be much more conducive to America's well-being. How exactly liberal democracy can be expected to flower from the end of bayonettes is never explored or even questioned.

Although the conclusions are questionable, Mr. Boot at least provides us with a challenge to the very dangerous assumptions about ourselves as a nation. The depth of the discussion is enough to understand many of the varied influences always present in historical events. You meet the key players in the "savage wars" that made American history and her rise to dominance in the world to the empire it has become. We can love our country in truth only if we recognize that she has not always lived up to the high ideals she espouses. Mr. Boot's solid scholarship can open eyes to make seeing patriots from blind nationalists or it will leave many blind nationalists headed down the road of aggression. Read it for yourself and consider where it will lead you.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2002
The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power is both polemic and history by a new, independent contributor. Most of the text includes expert prose narrating some of the more obscure events in world history across a dizzying span of time from the founding of the American Republic to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Like so much recent commentaries, 9/11 gives the argument greater importance. Max Boot argues, that small wars, often undeclared and with no clear purpose or exit strategy, have comprised most of the American military record and have contributed most to the Pax Americana. Drawing on stories of Americans from Decatur to Farragut to Butler, Boot recovers a sense of the American character more realistic than Hollywood movies.
Boot's audience clearly are isolationist and unilateralist elements within the political establishment, for whom he delivers a critique of the Powell Doctrine. Boot assumes, that America needs to be a global sheriff, as it has for almost two centuries through small wars. Boot argues, that the resistance to a more visible international role stems from erroneous lessons learned from the Vietnam War. First, Boot argues, that political leaders in Washington and senior commanders, like Westmoreland, fought a large war, when they should have learned from the history of small wars and conducted a counter-insurgency campaign. The resulting loss of nerve conditioned military leaders to eschew small wars, the overwhelming staple of military combat previously, for large set-piece wars where overwhelming force could be deployed. Also, after conducting two successful large wars in World War Two and Korea, the United States forgot the lessons, previous soldiers had learned in small wars.
Boot also argues, that American reluctance to conduct humanitarian missions and nation-building is also another legacy of Vietnam. However, before that, the United States had trained police forces, conducted civil affairs training, and health campaigns as a part of successful counter-insurgency campaigns in Asia and the Caribbean. American troops had even served under foreign commanders in such places as China, where the United States maintained a presence on and off for a century. When opportunities arose in the 90's for similar missions, American troops had little experience and military leaders were too reluctant to stay the course.
Implicit in Boot's argument is the assumption, that the United States' various campaigns contributed to world peace and the rule of law. His discussions of Caribbean campaigns in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua highlight the role of the Marines in construction, disease eradication, and police reform. He takes issue with the view, that the United States was merely protecting business interests. In the longest and most controversial counter-insurgency war against Filipino rebels, Boot highlights the benefits of American efforts, even considering the brutal military tactics employed.
Boot's narrative is buttressed with impressive accounts of colorful American and indigenous personalities, 30-odd pages of endnotes, an index and bibliography. His prose is competently lively and analytical. Aside from an awkward chapter on the Marine Small Wars Manual, his argument is expertly rendered. And his argument is never more needed, as the United States embarks on low-intensity counter-insurgency campaigns in numerous countries.
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