on January 29, 2013
I purchased this book with some trepidation as Stone is pretty well known as having a certain "bias" about US foreign policy and I feared the book might be a rant. Instead the book turned out to be a well-ordered and very-well footnoted history of roughly the last century of mainly, but not exclusively, American foreign policy, one that all too often has been shortsighted, foolish, and with the advent of the atomic bomb, terrifying. I'm a faily old dude going on 71 and the more history books I read the more apparent it is that there is no such thing as "the truth" or "reality." Stone looks at the past using a different set of facts that the American Exceptionalist crowd would omit from their histories. From these two different viewpoints two different conclusions could be drawn; however, as long as the facts presented are correct, so is each different view. It's up to the reader to decide where the weight of the evidence falls.
There were a number of times when I felt certain issues were dealt with too briefly - the Balfour Declaration being one - but given the scope of the book this brevity is understandable, and for those who might want a more thorough exegesis than a few sentences on something like Balfour whole books have been written. Guess my point is history, even very recent history, is comprised of many elements lurking in the shadows and a fuller understanding of events can only be achieved by looking at those the political class would rather have swept under the rug - permanently.
This book is probably a must-read for those of us concerned with the fact this country spends nearly half the planet's military budget and has less-than-nothing to show for it, a stupendous misallocaton of resources (at least in my book) that's gone on for now over half a century. Defenders of this policy would site "national security." Stone pretty well destroys this argument; Pogo was right. How we got stuck in this Tar Baby is a fascinating, if depressing, story that begins with the Truman administration, and continued to march on down the decades through various presidencies until here we are. If you have read David McCullough's "Truman" a rather positive image was revealed; not in this book. Many sides to any story and this one is definitely worth reading to better understand how we got from there to here.
on December 8, 2012
The authors of this book, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, tell us that: "The United States' run as a global hegemon - the most powerful and dominant nation the world has ever seen - has been marked by proud achievements and terrible disappointments. It is the latter - the darker side of U. S. history - that we explore in the following pages." That there is a considerable dark side can be attested by the fact that this book is 750 pages long. I don't know how many historical incidents are encompassed within its covers but there are 91 pages of notes and 37 pages of index just to give you a clue. In the index itself entries dealing with nuclear arms race, nuclear warfare and nuclear weapons take up almost an entire page of small print - by far the largest number of entries in any one category. In second place are entries dealing with the CIA which take up a half a page.
Fourteen chapters plus an introduction give us an alternative history of the growth of the American Empire as Stone and Kuznick see it. It's not a pretty picture (although there are many bright spots) and, while it may be untold, for the most part, it is not unknown.
Although Donald Rumsfeld has stated: "We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been," dissenting voices have proclaimed otherwise. One of the earliest of these was General Smedley Butler, who at the end of his long and highly decorated carreer, said: "I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country"s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
One of the most conflicted of our Imperialistic presidents was Woodrow Wilson. He hoped to spread democracy, end colonialism, and transform the world. His record is much less positive. "While supporting self-determination and opposing formal empire, he intervened repeatedly in other nations" internal affairs including Russia, Mexico and throughout Central America. . . . While championing social justice, he believed that property rights were sacrosanct and must never be infringed upon, Though endorseing human brotherhood, he believed that non-whites were inferior and resegregated the federal government. While extolling democracy and the rule of law, he oversaw egregious abuses of civil liberties. While condemning imperialism, he sanctioned the use of the global imperial order. And, while proclaiming a just, non-punitive peace, he acquiesced in a harsh, retributive peace and inadvertently helped create the preconditions for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis."
While this book is about the dark side of American history, it is not without its heroes. Here is one of FDR's most famous speeches: "We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by orghanized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob . . . They are unanimous in their hate for me --- and I welcome their hatred."
On the role of the Soviet Union in World War II: "Until the invasion of Normandy , the Red army was regularly engaging more than two hundred enemy divisions while the Americans and British together rarely confronted more than ten. Churchill admitted that it was the Russian army that tore the guts out of the German military machine. Germany lost over 6 million men on the eastern front and, approximately, 1 million on the western front and in the Mediterranean."
I was in high school when feisty little Harry Truman gave the Republicans their comeuppance in 1948 just as Barrack Obama did 64 years later. On both occasions the Republicans were "surprised." I've read David McCullough"s biography so you might say that I've been farorably disposed toward Truman over the years. I thought that his bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a military necessity. In this book there is overwhelming evidence that it was not. Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur strongly opposed its use as did Admiral Leahy and General Telford Taylor (the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials who stated the the "rights and wrongs of Hiroshma may be debateable but I have never heard of plausible justification for Nagasaki.") One hundred and fifty-five scientists at Chicago's met lab and uranium plant at Oakridge opposed it and the Vatican condemned the bombing. General "Hap" Arnold of the Air Force opposed it as did Admrals King and Nimitz and others too mumerous to mention. If the Japanese had used the atomic bomb on American civilians it would have been a "war crime." I fail to see that our using it on them should lead to any differect conclusion.
There is no question that the unsung hero of this book is Henry A. Wallace. According to the authors he had incurred the wrath of party conservatives by calling for a worldwide "people's revolution," toward which end the United States and the Soviet Union would work together" and by championing the cause of labor unions, women, African Americans, and the victims of European colonialism. His enemies included Wall Street bankers and other anti-union business interests, southern segregationists, and defenders of British and French colonialism. Henry Wallace has been largely lost to istory. Few people remember how close he came to getting the vice-presidential nomination on that steamy Chcago night in July 1944. What might this country have become had Wallace succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman. Would atomic bombs still have been used in World War II? Could we have avoided the nuclear arma race and the Cold War? Would civil rights and women's rights have triumphed in the immediate postwar years? Might colonialism have ended decades earlier and the fruits of science and technology been spread more equitably around the globe? We'll never know.
During his time in office Dwight Eisenhower would be confronted with repeated opportunities to roll back the Cold War and arms race and he could have taken bold action that could have put the world on a different path. But because of ideology, political calculations, the exigencies of a militarized state, and limited imagination, he repeatedly failed to seize the opportunities that emerged. However, in his Farewell Address to the nation he gave one of the most memorable presidential speeches of all time warning of the dangers of a "military-industrial complex."
John F. Kennedy "had many enemies who deplored progressive change just as fervently as did those who had blocked Henry Wallace in 1944 when he was trying to lead the United States and the world down a similar path of peace and prosperity. Kennedy bravely defied the powerful forces who would have pushed the United State into a war with the Soviet Union. His courage was more than matched by Krushchev's. Future generations owe an enormous debt, and possibly their very existence, to the fact that those two men stared into the abyss and recoiled from what they saw. In his inaugural address Kennedy said that a torch had passed to a new generation but, with his death, it was passed back to Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan who would systematically destroy the promise of the Kennedy years as they returned the country to war and repression."
It's hard to believe that a man as coarse, crude and vulgar as Lyndon Johnson could have been elevated to the presidency (his language frequently came right out of the toilet and the f-word was omnipresent.) When it came down to it Johnson made his fateful choice: he would rather lose the Great Society than be defeated in an illegal and immoral war in southeast Asia. The war, which the U.S. would lose ignominiously despite Johnson's best efforts, would also spell the end of the last significant period of social and political reform the United States has seen.
My favorite chapter title in the whole book: Chapter 9 "Nixon and Kissinger: The Madman and the Psychopath." That certainly sums it all up. Read this chapter and you will learn all you want to know about "the odd couple."
Jimmy Carter, "who has performed in exemplary fashion out of office, was inept in office disappointing his supporters, betraying his convictions, and leaving office with an approval rating of 34 percent. . . . His most enduring legacy was in opening the door to the dark side, legitimizing the often brutal policies of his successor, Ronald Reagan - policies that re-kindled the cold war and left a trail of innocent victims stretching from Afghanistan to the World Trade Center."
According to the authors Ronald Reagan was "one of the most poorly informed and least engaged chief executive's in U. S. history. He empowered a right-wing resurgence of hard-line anti-communists who militarized U.S. foreign policy and rekindled the cold war. He paid lip service to democracy while arming and supporting repressive dictators. He turned local and regional conflicts in the Middle East and Latin America into cold war battlegrounds, unleashing a reign of terror to suppress popular movements. He spent enormous sums on the military while cutting social programs for the poor. He sharply reduced taxes on the wealthy, tripling the national debt and transforming the United States from the world's leading creditor in 1981 to the world's biggest debtor by 1985. In October 1987 he oversaw the greatest stock market collapse since the Great Depression. He let the chance to rid the world of offensive nuclear weapons slip through his fingers because he wouldn't let go of a childish fantasy. And as for his much-vaunted role in ending the cold war, as we will see, the lion's share of credit goes instead to his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev."
Warning signs abounded in the summer of 2001 that something "spectacular" was about to happen. According to the writer Thomas Powers, in the nine months before September 11 intelligence personnel had warned the administration as many as forty times of the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden, but that is not what the administraitlon wanted to hear and they did not hear it. The Bush-Cheney administration then used this "surprise" criminal assault on the United States as an excuse to launch wars against two Islamic nations (one of them totally unjustified) - wars that would cause more damage to the United States than Osama Bin Laden ever could and to begin shredding the U.S.Constitution and the Geneva Convention.
George W. Bush was legendary for his misstatements and malapropisms. But sometimes, through the mangled syntax, a bit of truth would slip out. Such was the occasion in 2004 when he declared, "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country or our people, and neither do we."
"Obama, Managing a Wounded Empire" is the longest chapter in the book (is this because it has the most dark sides?) There is no doubt in my mind that, as between the two major parties in America today, the Democratic Party is the lesser of the evils by several orders of magnitude. Fortunately, I live in a very "blue" state and was able to vote for a third party candidate (Dr. Jill Stein) wihout affecting the outcome in any way. Here are some of the reasons why I could not vote for Obama: President Obama has asserted and exercised the right and power to secretly place human beings, including U. S. citizens on "kill lists" and then ordered the CIA to extinguish their lives - all without due process of law; he refuses to prosecute war criminals(Bush, Chaney, et al) despite overwhelming evidence of their wrongdoing; he has declared war on whistle-blowers whose only wrongdoing has been to expose war criminals; he practices indefinite detention; he engages in warrantless surveillance of American citizens; he practices extraordinay rendition of individulas to other countries; he monitors citizens without court order; he engages in drone warfare resulting in the death of numerous innocent victims; and he contiues to engage in the torture (a war crime) of Bradley Manning.