Customer Reviews: Unintended Consequences: The United States at War
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on June 26, 2007
Unintended Consequences challenges neoconservative strategic thinking that posits war is a manageable and constructive element of U.S. foreign policy. It further subjects the often-rosy public memory of many of America's "good" wars to critical scrutiny, and compels their reevaluation. Unintended Consequences is a timely book that is well written, thought provoking, and exceptionally useful because of its historical treatment of all major American wars.

Authors Hagan and Bickerton, noted historians of U.S. foreign and military policy, elected not to focus on merely the 20th century but to succinctly evaluate all wars from the American Revolution to the present Iraqi morass. Their treatment of each war provides an exceptionally useful and concise analysis of the foreign and domestic factors that led to the United States' entry into war, a focused assessment of the conflict's pivotal military dimensions--especially their strategic turning points, and an evaluation of the unforeseen and often undesirable consequences attendant with war. Many of their findings will surprise and likely disturb readers long-inoculated by "good war" mythology.

All legislators, strategists, commentators, and educated citizens should study this superb book. Unintended Consequences also lends itself readily for university-level classroom adoption as primer for foreign policy and military history courses.
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on July 17, 2007
Unintended Consequences is brilliantly written; it is a very concise yet suprisingly detailed book. In less than 200 pages, the authors reviewed the policies surrounding ten wars in U.S. history, and the consequences that resulted from the wars, in a very thought-provoking way. Not a moment of the readers time is wasted wading through information to get to the "meat of the argument". The book is a well-crafted story portrayed in a familiar way - I didn't want to put the book down. The authors challenged me as a reader to think of historical and current events differently. I enjoyed the arguments offered in this book and recommend it to students of U.S. military history and U.S. policy as a research reference and catalyst to analyze U.S. policy in a different way.
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on April 22, 2007
I agree with the thesis of unintended consequences of war pointed out in this book, but I have some gnawing questions:

1. The authors methodology seems to be to find facts that prove their thesis - but that is not how social science is done. Anyone can find selective facts to prove a thesis, while ignoring other non-confirming facts. What is critical, following philosopher Karl Popper, is to try to negate their own thesis - which they don't attempt to do. So how realiable and credible are their findings and conclusions?

2. The authors propagate a morally equivalent view of Nazism, Communism, radical Islamism and conservative Christianity/Republicanism. To them it makes no difference who wins a war? Is this valid? What about freedom?

3. The "unintended consequences" of the Korean War and WWII were that Japan, South Korea, and West Germany all became capitalist/democracies and North Korea, East Germany, and the USSR remained communist. On balance, was this a bad consequence? Does it outweight the other negative consequences? The authors don't attempt an answer.

4. An unintended consequence of WWII Pacific War was that Japan embraced rather than resisted defeat and has become one of the world's powerhouses of capitalism and a non-warring nation (see John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII). What does this tell us about the situations we face today?

5. In their conclusion the authors state that "the word negotiation whould become synonymous with the concept of power, rather than the word war." Power implies the use of either carrots or sticks, love or coercion. But as Machiavelli cautioned, it is better to gain respect than love in international affairs. How can negotiation be powerful without the threat of coercion?

6. The authors appearance of modest tone and lack of political agenda in most of their book breaks down in the conclusion when they state about the Iraq War: "The nation has lost faith in an administration controlled by religious fanatics who have wire-tappped citizens without warrants, tortured military prisoners and violated the principles of due process and the rule of law."

True, the electorate has lost faith in the stated aims of the Iraq War. But as Machiavelli pointed out, public opinion is fickle. Will public opinion swing back the other way again?

And whatever one wants to state about the present presidential administration they are not run by religious fanatics similar to the Islamic Jihadists (see Greeley & Hout - The Truth About Conservative Christians). This kind of over-the-top statement reveals an anti-religious bias of the authors, not "religious fanaticism" on the part of the administration.

Neither is it my understanding that the administration has wire tapped citizens -- only overseas telephone taps on selected persons of interest. So this is hyperbole on the part of the authors.

And the so-called torture at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo are wildly exaggerated as anyone without a political agenda can plainly see. In the end it has been revealed that the prisoners at Guantanamo are some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, not victims of torture. This makes me question whether the authors did have an agenda in writing this subtly persuasive book.

I recommend buying and reading the book, but I do not believe it is well balanced, as the authors implied methodology only finds what they want to believe. Perhaps the authors tipped their ideological prejudice in the Introduction when they cite Leftist intellectual Hannah Arendt as their mentor on the unintended consequences of war. Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, was the key intellectual who twisted history to read that Nazism was a conservative, not a socialist, movement (NAZI - National Socialist German Workers Party - German: Nationalsozialismus). This insidious twisting seems to have pervaded Hagan and Bickerton's book as well. That all the eminent academic endorsements cited on the book jacket have been unable to critically discern the twisting of history in this book is disturbing to say the least.
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on June 22, 2007
The basic premise of _Unintended Consequences_ will most certainly be rejected by William Kristol, Robert Kagan and their fellow neoconservatives. In fact, the book will likely infuriate them, for it serves to undermine their central contention, namely, that unilateral and assertive risk-taking, including war, is necessary in order to achieve "benevolent world hegemony" and to "shape the international environment" to the advantage of the United States.

One problem with such a formulation, according to the authors of _Unintended Consequences_, Kenneth Hagan and Ian Bickerton, is that it flies in the face of the historical record. In the case of this enlightening book, that historical record includes ten major wars, from the War of Independence to the wars against Iraq. In each instance, careful analysis reveals that the deployment of American power by means of war has invariably subverted the wars' original goals. Moreover,
"while the wars the United States has fought may have ended formally, in fact they continued, producing profound and unexpected consequences." Our experience in Iraq is the latest example of such unintended consequences and the subversion of original goals.

Each chapter of the book opens with a description of the usually disingenous political explanations for going to war. Next, each chapter, in effect, "fights" the war, clearly demonstrating how the war rendered impossible the achievement of its purported goals. Each chapter concludes with a description of some of the war's unintended consequences.

As a professor emeritus of American history, I believe the pedagogical potential of this book is enormous. It provides a very effective way to introduce students of American history to the challenges of foreign policy and to the often unacknowledged role played by war in the development of the nation-state. While packed with solid historical information, the book is nonetheless only 200 pages in length. This means that it can be assigned along with a number of other books and articles presenting very different points of view.

The authors are to be commended on their impressive accomplishemnts in this admirable book, which includes the necessary reminder, documented here in abundance, that there are limits to the use of overwhelming American military force.

Spencer C. Olin, Professor Emeritus of History, University of California, Irvine
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on April 9, 2007
The timing of this book is exceptional. In the policy making malaise of the "Long War," people look for scapegoats, for blame, for excuses, and sometimes for real reasons why "things" - my jargon for foreign and national security policy escapades - go awry, particularly for the United States and particularly in current times. Whether it be Somalia or Haiti, Afghanistan or Iraq, US foreign and national security policies and actions have fallen far short of achieving their estimable goals. Bickerton and Hagan now demonstrate to us that this always has been the way of foreign and national security policy with the US.

Their book uses historical analysis in the most classic of ways to prove their point, that point being that every - yes, every - American war has had unintended consequences that far outweigh the intended purposes of the war. Beginning with their superb analysis of the Revolutionary War, they point out that this enduring aspect of American foreign and national security policy is a result of our structural form of government, a representative democracy, coupled with the political behavior that has political leaders oversell the goals and demonize the would-be opponents.

This book is controversial. Readers looking for comfortable, pat answers to our current problems will find none. In fact, Bickerton and Hagan always recommend dipomacy over the military instrument of national power. However, that may indeed prove antithetical to the American character that demands decisive action immediately. And therein lies the true tragedy described in their book: paraphrasing the old Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, the American eagle ends up being shot with arrows made of its own feathers.
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I think enough of this book by Hagan and Bickerton, both, significantly, respected professors in the US military war college system, to recommend it very strongly. It is simplistic, but in combination with the books I list below, it is quite striking.

Key points:

1. Wars have consequences, not only in the defeated region, but within the USA where the national and regional cultures (Nine Nations) can be conflicted.

2. War *alters* policy for all future generations.

3. America's wars have been engines of economic growth, but the authors fail to observe that the rich benefit while the poor die.

4. The post-war period is a continuation of the war and cannot be ignored. Both explicitly and implicitly, they crucify Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith.

5. In every single case, the outcome of the war has been "far removed" from the stated objectives.

6. Each war brings with it repressive measures against those who dissent. I am reminded of Valley Girl Condi Rice suggesting that General Tony Zinni was a "traitor" for saying the idea of invading Iraq was idiocy. How now, cow?

7. War tends to loosen the bonds of traditional authority and undermine community.

8. Across our history, not just at our inception, Native Americans have lost big. Genocide was not only perpetuated in the wars of independence, but after the Civil War, when the US Army practices scorched earth war.

9. The most importance consequence of the war of 1812 was it total lack of achievement of ANY of its goals, together with an accentuation of sectional differences within the USA.

10. On page 47: "Enhanced chauvinism, ambitious jingoism, and patriotism [per Samuel Johnson, the last refuge of the scoundrel] were unintended consequences of the war. The slave trade continued.

11. The Indian Wars were deliberately genocidal.

12. In general, in its first hundred years, the USA was a belligerent against Canada, Mexico, and the Indian Nations.

13. The war on Mexico caused long-term host8ility and led to the civil war by aggravating differences between North and South (and one might add, Texas as the largest ego in the West). The war on Mexico was mostly fought and led by the South.

14. The Civil War was America's first ideological war.

15. The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to slaves in hostile states, not to Northern states.

16. Civil War extended the power of the Federal Government, which increasingly sold the American people out to special interests including European banks.

17. The authors provide a *fascinating* description of Abraham Lincoln's unprecedented abuse of presidential powers, including the suspension of habeas corpus, and I can now understand why "W" thinks he is following greatness by turning America into a police state.

18. Civil War introduced total annihilation (scorched earth) as an American "war of war."

19. Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino war is, in the author's view, most similar to the Iraq war in terms of the mendacity preceding and the insurrections following.

20. WWI, WWII, and the Cold War are discussed in terms that show the US to have been the more belligerent. Stalin learned not to trust the US, and this led to the ideological stand-off and the emergency of "fantasy war."

21. In Korea, General McArthur exceeded his authority, the Chinese warned the US via an Indian who was blown off, and the game was on.

22. The US concurrence in the restoration of the French in Indochina (now Viet-Nam), and the conflicts that Johnson had in having to support being a hawk on Viet-Nam in order to have his "Great Society," are covered.

23. The authors are *brutal* on the Bush Family, to the point that one is inspired to think of a lunatic asylum as the natural resting place for the whole lot of them.

24. According to the authors, Iraq is a "phony war" in every sense of the word except the casualties.

25. Iran is not in the index but the authors observe that US pressure on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon opened the door for Iran.

Bottom line: going to war does not solve problems, it creates more of them. The authors conclude that war is both folly and futile. I agree.

All Americans have a choice in 2008: they can continue business as usual, with the corrupt and inept Republican and Democratic "machines" that are "running on empty" and totally beholden to Wall Street, or Americans can reassert the fact that this is a Republic and the government as a whole can be fired for cause. See the books listed below. May God have mercy on our souls. It's time we started living up to our sacred responsibility as citizen-warriors, as Minutemen.

The authors lose one star to simplicty and an avoidance of both the intelligence availabale but ignored, and lack of couinter-vailing forces (e.g. Congress and the media inevitably fall for the Executive deceptions).

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America
The Nine Nations of North America
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
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on June 17, 2007
This is a timely book that should be read by those who care about our world's future. Wars and their unintended consequences distract nations from focusing on vital issues such as reversing global warming. In today's world, wars do not help a country expand its economic influence. Innovation does. The talent and energy wasted on fighting unnecessary wars could be better directed towards inventing new products (like iPod and BlackBerry) and new ways to do things (like Google and Flexcar). American presidents often touted war as the only path to lasting peace and security. But history has shown that wars often -and unintentionally-plant seeds for more wars. For the sake of our children, we must use our brains to solve our differences.
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on May 31, 2007
Did you know that:

The American Revolution could not have been won without the French Navy?

The Spanish-American War was fought to gain Cuba and Hawaii?

The sinking of the Luisitania did NOT bring the US into WWI?

The US went to war in Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism?

These are only a few of the many examples which will make you more educated with in 10 minutes reading about any conflict than you can get on Wiki. Another good reason to buy this book is that you can't cite Wiki.

Unintended Consequences as a must read for the military professional or anyone who cares enough to know a little more about the chain of events of armed conflict in the United States. Each chapter gives a short historical background of each war from the Revolution to Iraq. After a brief synopsis, Hagan and Bickerson dissect these issues to show the original means of warfare, and the subsequent ends.

Hagan and Bickeron's book is an excellent resources for anyone writing on, or studying American History.

Finally, at $20 on Amazon, it is about $10 cheaper than the list price.
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on November 13, 2007
I initially purchased this book expecting insight into historical conflict. However reading the book, I have found that any insightful or meaningful expression is overshadowed by the negative connotation abounding throughout the passage.

The book reads like a verbose college essay where the student has removed only the portions of history or evidence that support his novel thesis and disregarded any evidence to the contrary.

Often the book purports to deliver perspective to the reader but fails utterly as it eschews perspective in favor of connotative bias. I'm sorry I paid for the book as it reminds me of the muck raking of Ann Coulter, only with a more academic facade.
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on April 10, 2007
A timely treatment of a salient existential question: ought we to continue to kill each other en masse in the furtherance of goals that seldom come to pass as originally imagined? The authors' answer is a resounding "No." Hagan and Bickerton build a solid case with keen-eyed historical analysis that sheds new light on American conflicts young and old. A necessary (and accessible) read for even the most pessimistic mind.
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