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The Short American Century: A Postmortem
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116 of 125 people found the following review helpful
Andrew Bacevich, West Point graduate, retired Army colonel, and current professor of history at Boston University rejects wasting time pursuing ideological battles. 'Ideology makes people stupid. Employing ideology as the basis for policy is a recipe for disaster. Surviving in a complex, uncertain environment requires flexibility, pragmatism, and perhaps above all self-awareness. That's true if you're in the business of making cars or selling donuts. It's truer still for those whose business is statecraft.' Bacevich's flexible, pragmatic, self-aware approach is visible throughout his latest book, 'The Short American Century.' 'The Short American Century' is a collection of essays examining American global preeminence following WWII, written in response to Henry Luce's February, 1941 'Life' magazine article titled 'The American Century' that made a case for U.S. entry into WWII and that we must share our way of life with all others. Editor/author Bacevich asserts it was more of an illusion, and extraordinarily arrogant.

WWII helped reaffirmed Luce's thinking. We were transformed from a Depression-ridden country to a global manufacturing powerhouse, the only nation to emerge from that contest in a superior position. Unfortunately, we also overstated our role in victory - the Russians contributed far more in manpower and casualties, and the actual turning point can be traced to Russia turning back Germany at Stalingrad. Regardless, the U.S. took the lead in creating many post-war institutions, including the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the USIA (to publicize/export America's values and accomplishments). The 'bad news' is that we also began meddling in other nation's affairs - China (Taiwan), Cuba, Iran, Israel (and its neighbors), and Vietnam among them. Trade alliances became a favorite mechanism to spread America's prosperity while also impeding the growth of Communism - Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were early beneficiaries.

At first, everyone thrived, and American workers were touted as the world's most skilled and productive. (I recall a National Geographic photo of a number of Chinese workers, comparing their output unfavorably to a single American using a bulldozer - clearly self-deceptive.) Ultimately, however, these trade pacts, along with others with eg. China, Mexico, Singapore, etc. weakened our economy via trade deficits, the relocation of production, services, and R&D. It became increasingly necessary to 'force-feed' the economy via low-interest rates and increased use of credit. Vietnam had also been a warning sign. For a time, however, these problems were hidden by euphoria over the collapse of the Soviet Empire - Washington promoted this as vindication of the American Century. Then came Iraq War I - at first appearance a stunning American victory; closer reflection, however, shows it (along with our reluctance to confront North Korea) to have motivated other nations to pursue nuclear weapons (eg. Iran, Libya).

September 11, 2001 should have convinced us that the U.S. was nowhere near invincible. Instead, it redoubled our martial tempo - wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a worldwide War on Terror. And it also took our eye of China and its rapidly growing economic strength, at our expense, as well as the fact that American businesses had separated their interests from those of the nation. What was good for business was often no longer good for America.

When did history turn against the U.S.? Bush II thought we'd reached a new historical peak when U.S. troops occupied Hussein's palaces. But 'Mission Accomplished' actually turned out to be 'Mission Just Begun' and we ended up with egg on our faces. Bacevich believes the 'American Century' (if it ever existed) ended between 2006 and 2008 when Bush gave up on victory in Iraq (and transforming the Middle East) and the Great Recession brought the U.S. economy to its knees, only about 16 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

A major cause - continued assertions by presidential contenders that, despite a Constitution mandating separation of church and state, 'God is on our side,' 'we are his instrument,' and their desires to lead us off into new mandated-from above open-ended quixotic quests for human rights and military supremacy. Somehow we are supposed to reinvigorate American by bombing Iran in a second preventive war, confronting China, and proclaiming Reagan-like 'Morning in America' mantras. Why - we can't face the truth. Collectively we overlook seemingly bombed-out cities such as Newark, Cleveland, and Detroit, globalization that has brought ballooning national debt and a floundering economy, failure in Iraq, the world's most expensive health care system, imminent failure in Afghanistan, a paralyzed political system, the Great Recession, insecurity despite the world's largest defense expenditures (even more so if Homeland Security is included), an ineffectual response to Katrina, and China's recently developed asymmetric weapons capable of destroying our vaunted 'Blue Water Navy' notwithstanding. And individually we are unable to either manage our household budgets or commit the parent/child effort to compete with other nations' education accomplishments.

War has become the new normalcy for the American public. Meanwhile, our image, for all the preceding reasons plus Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, special renditions, and water-boarding, has sagged. Not surprisingly, the 'Arab Spring' demonstrators have avoided any reference to the U.S. as the source of their inspiration.

Bacevich's Conclusions: It simply makes no sense to pretend the U.S. is promoting a special message in pursuit of a special mission from God. We are merely attempting to cope, and need to admit such. It's time we stop instructing the Chinese, or anyone else, on how to manage their affairs, and it's also time to put away our homemade 'World's Sheriff' badge. The era of ideological fancy is over. It's time to live within reality and within our means.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2012
Bacevich and his cohort contributors are right on the money. Manifest Destiny and American foreign policy are equally off the rails. This excellent collection of thoughts from nine concise thinkers describe the reality shortfall that has led to years of wasted lives and money pursuing various versions of "American Exceptionalism". We could all have far more rewarding lives by discarding the fantasy that we are tasked with directing the development of the rest of the world. We could help other people of good faith realize their dreams without sacrificing our own. To resist evil is an occasional challenge to be met, not a plan of crusade to be imposed on assumption of moral superiority.

"The Short American Century" is an opportunity to clear your mind and to think with a new perspective about our national agenda.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Andrew Bacevich introduces us to a symposium of eight different authors that tackle the question of what American Century meant to these authors in terms on how Henry Luce's pivotal 1941 editoral in Life Magazine shaped the destiny of American dominance over the world during and after World War II. The consesnus among them was that America had a sense of bringing its Manifest Destiny to the world and impose American values of consumerism and democracy to a world that was not quite ready to accept them. The only essay that seems to prevaricate from this consensus was Nikkil Pal Singh's in that this author put a decided racial spin on the American Century. Whatever, the motivation, all of the authors agree that such efforts to bring America to the world by hook or crook was akin to a crusade for peace on American terms, although one of the authors held that the Christian aspect of this crusade had long since atrophied before the outbreak of World War II. One author contended that American Century never took hold in the first place.

Bacevich is to be commended for this work that he edited. The book's 239 pages of text was accompanied by a solid amount of end notes and an index. To summarize, America's efforts to bring the American Century to the world has been counterproductive and has caused a cultrual and economic decline in our nation that perhaps we cannot recover from. five stars.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2012
This book joins others recently published, which outline features of the decline of American predominance in the world. Its editor, Andrew Bacevich, and eight contributors look at different aspects of global changes during the last seven decades, i.e. since Henry Luce published his article in 1941 proclaiming the impending American century. Most of them critically enumerate America's failures and setbacks culminating in the premature end of America's primacy during the Bush-43 presidency and the U.S. financial crisis of 2008. In fact, W. LaFeber asserts somewhat blusteringly, the American century was stillborn and never happened. My feeling was he was part right and part wrong. He was wrong by basing his conclusions on selective reasoning, considering only our failures and ignoring the wealth of America's splendid cultural and scientific accomplishments, its mastery of space travel and computer technology, its steadfast protection of the non-communist world and its appeal to worldwide admiration. Yet he was right in condemning the foolishness and hubris of the popular belief in divinely granted "American Exceptionalism". That condemnation is, in fact, shared by almost all the other contributors. E. McCarraher points to its historical origin all the way back among the Puritans, "who believed in their predestined, redemptive role as God's chosen people". He shows how it stubbornly persisted to the idea of the so-called Manifest Destiny of the 1840s and on all the way to the God-inspired, pugnacious views in the G. W. Bush White House. He says, the decline of our imperial hegemony will be a pivotal feature of the new century and, yes, lists its details in devastating terms.

According to Bacevich's introduction, these discussions were intentionally meant to be critical rather than celebratory, for history needs to discomfit before it can teach. That is exactly what this book does.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2012
This book is a compilation of essays (not all of them by Col. Bacevich) around the theme of loss; namely, the loss of America's pre-eminence on the world stage in terms of leadership, virtue, and correctly defended strategic ideas.

Like many of us, Bacevich rues the money-driven drift that has brought us to this impovershed spiritual place. Unlike most of us, he has the credentials to back up his analyses. One has the feeling that he has sacrificed a great deal in order to tell the truth in such a direct manner.

This book is valuable in that it makes honor, and the precepts of honor as defined in a military sense, real and understandable. And that simplifies things in an age of spin.

Bacevich bemoans the loss of American sovereignty in a globalized world, and he aches for the service men and women who sacrifice the most as well as the manner in which they see all too many of their beliefs shattered.

Would that America knew Andrew Bacevich better than it does Oliver North. But then, it would have to know itself.

Col. Bacevich does, however, give one the impression that he would sacrifice so much more in behalf of the goodness of the American republic, (what's left of it,) and its people.

He inspires me to want to rebuild.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2013
A wonderful collage of the post WWII period in America assembled by Dr. Bacevich documenting the confluence of unique events that, although no longer present, drive our befuddled and bankrupting foreign policy today.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
I purchased the book after watching the author, Bacevich, on a Sunday News Talk show. The book looks at both the accomplishments and failures of the "American Century". I like the style and cynicism if you will of the writing.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Multiple academics writing different views of post WW I America. There were two I liked, the others I thought pages saturated with words a waste of reading. Very disappointing. I looked up some of the worst to find out why they had been selected. Obviously selected because of past performance not because of current submissions.
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