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The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New Edition) Paperback – July 17, 1988

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Editorial Reviews


“The influence of Williams's The Tragedy of American Diplomacy . . . is beyond challege. An iconoclastic attack upon conventional wisdom, it is equally important because it framed arguments about its subject. . . . No comprehensive scheme, no broad generalizations, and few but the narrowest studies of episodes in American foreign relations will be written, if they are to shine, without an awareness of and an accommodation to [this book].” (Bradford Perkins, University of Michigan, in Redefining the Past: Essays in Diplomatic History in Honor of William Appleman Williams)

“Stimulating and provocative. . . . A highly interesting contribution to today's great foreign policy debate.” (American Historical Review)

About the Author

A former president of the Organization of American Historians, William Appleman Williams taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin and Oregon State University. His books include The Contours of American History, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, and Empire as a Way of Life.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 17, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393304930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393304930
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,037,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Tyson D. Rahmeier on April 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
The term "revisionist historian" has come lately to describe one who conforms to an ideology of "politically correctness". William Appleman Williams, however, embodies the true definition of a revisionist: one who examines the evidence from a new angle and breaks with the traditional interpretations. "The Tragedy of American Diplomacy" is such a text. Beginning with the Spanish-American War of 1898, Williams presents the United States as a tough and, at times, ruthless aggrandizer of its economic power and expansion. The traditional teaching of US history involves emphasis on American isolationist tendencies and stress on the nonexistence of an "American Empire." Williams challenges that presentation. While acknowledging that the US has never really had an empire on the model of the British or French empires, Williams argues that the US empire has always been economical. The Open Door Policy, generally associated with US-Chinese relations, actually formed a larger US economic philosophy adhered to in US relations everywhere. The American opposition and responses to Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba (the culminating event in the book) stemmed largely from the loss of economic privileges, rather than the nebulous ideology of anti-Communism. Williams provocative analysis goes a long way toward altering traditional portrayals of US foreign policy and its goals, and inspired the careers of a whole generation of truly revisionist historians.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By J. Lindner on June 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
In the Tragedy of American Diplomacy, William Appleman Williams illustrates how America fails to honor its own principles when it approaches foreign policy. America believes in self-determination and the right to develop its own brand of democracy. Unfortunately, no other nation is afforded the luxury of self discovery. Other nations must conform to America's vision of democracy or face the terror of America?s military might. This, to Williams, is the tragedy.
Cuba is his first case. America wanted Cuba to adhere to American visions which meant wealth for the sugar planters and their American backers. When Cuba sought its own course and threw off a repressive regime, America objected. The rift has existed ever since as no American administration will ever acknowledge Cuba's right to govern its own affairs so long as Castro is in power.
Williams then systematically follows the years from 1898 through 1961 and paints a similar picture. It does not take the reader long to get the idea and carry the argument beyond Williams' parameters and show that everything from Grenada to Lebanon to Afghanistan to Iraq can be shown in the same light. American puppet governments are not granting freedom and democracy to their constituents as much as they are part of a ruling class dominated by the business interests that exploit their workforce and deny requests for reform until the entire population is ripe for rebellion (remember the Shah of Iran). One wonders if the Saudi government is the next great western ally to fall victim to a popular revolt of Muslim fundamentalists.
Williams is a master of detail and works his arguments creatively in an entertaining fashion.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Karun Mukherji on April 8, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Williams book explores paradoxical nature of US Foreign Policy.

Firstly author refutes orthodox view that accidental,inadvertent turn of events transformed America into a global power.Williams has argued market forces unleashed by private free enterprise economy dictated the growth of American power;it has also molded country's foreign policy and continues to do so.To comprehend this fully one has to understand the intricacies of Capitalism.

It goes without saying that Capitalism carries within it the seed of self destruction.Late 19th century American economy was convulsed by frequent bouts of economic depression which led to wide spread social unrest.Home markets saturated with goods which people find difficult to absorb as they had only limited purchasing power.'Frontier' had close down and country's leading intellectuals [William Jackson Turner,Brooke Adams,Alfred Thayer Mahan] frantically called for overseas expansion avert an impending economic doom

Thus economic considerations compelled successive American Presidents[Grover Clevland,William Mckinley,Thedore Roosevelt,Woodrow Wilson]to remake the world in America's image.Unfortunately this policy boomeranged because Afro,Asian,Latin American world refused to share American view

Iniquitous,unfair trade practised by US helped Washington to enrich in detriment to welfare of latter economies.This was closely followed by American tendency to externalise evil.It posits the view that other nations have a stake in America's continued,prosperous existence.This preposterous notion,according to the author, has been the starting point America's troubles.Actually problem lay in funamental nature of capitalist economy.Attempts to reverse this trend triggered counter revolutionary wars in Asia,Latin America.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tim on December 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
The fact that this book has become a classic is hardly debatable. Williams' examination of American foreign policy is now in its fourth printing with this 50th anniversary edition. The book takes a detailed look at "The Open Door Policy" which evolved out The Open Door Notes of the late 19th century. It shows that, for better or worse, American Capitalism had to find and constantly expand into foreign markets in order for there to be freedom and prosperity at home. Williams argues that not only American leaders but the general population internalized this belief so deeply that it was considered the very basis of morality in the world. Any other way of looking at society was believed to be simply wrong, and in fact, evil. Williams undoubtedly knew that this way of looking at Capitalism, and the world at large, coincided directly with the predictions of Marx concerning Capitalism's globalization. The Policy of the Open Door can be used to explain the objectives of every foreign military excursion we have undertaken since the end of the 1800's. It continues to this day in our oil-hungry drive for control of the nations in the Middle East and South Asia. It creates real and imagined enemies that have accounted for the build up of America's military might over the years. Overall I found this examination of American foreign policy to be quite satisfactory and rational in explaining the successes and failures of American actions over the years. Where I would criticize Williams is in his characterization of America's leaders having a truly benevolent anti-colonial attitude towards the lesser nations in which America invested and set up "trade".Read more ›
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