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

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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: 7.5 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 82 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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37 of 39 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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18 of 20 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Yvette Adele Spratt on September 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, William Appleman Williams argues that U.S. foreign policy has, from the late nineteenth century, been guided primarily by the drive for economic expansion. According to Williams, this drive resulted from an emerging, American Weltanschauung, or world view, which interpreted foreign affairs through the lens of domestic economic prosperity. He argues that the perceived link between domestic prosperity and the need for economic expansion was the primary motive behind every U.S. foreign policy, trade agreement, and military excursion since the Spanish-American War. Williams asserts that the Open Door Policy, though originally intended to assure all nations equal trade rights in China, was the embodiment of America's twentieth-century economic-policy-as-foreign-policy modus operandi.

Tragedy examines American foreign relations from the 1890s up through Vietnam and the Cold War, and uses the recurring theme of the American push for economic expansion to interpret international affairs. Williams uses quotes from speeches, newspapers, diaries, and various publications and communiqués to reveal U.S. policy makers' firm assumption that finding foreign markets for America's surplus goods secured domestic prosperity, happiness, peace and, ultimately, political stability. The tragedy, according to Williams, is that while claiming to uphold the right of all nations to free trade and to choose what kind of cultural, economic, and political systems it desired, American economic expansion and diplomacy, in practice, undermined these ideals by instituting a new, economic form of colonialism.
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