on May 5, 2010
This concise, powerfully written and densely documented "alternative interpretation of the American past" from Captain John Smith at Jamestown (1609) to President Barack Obama today unreservedly gets five stars! Paul Atwood, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and son of a WWII Marine combatant evidently has concluded from his experience, as did two-time Medal of Honor winner USMC Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler in 1933, that "War is a racket. The few profit--the many pay." Or as Atwood concludes in his Preface, "every war in the American past was at bottom a matter of choice, not, as our national ideology proclaims, a necessity. War has never made the world safe for peace but only for more war."
Atwood's quarter-century career at the University of Massachusetts at Boston has been a passionate, professional attempt to demonstrate this fact to students from "the United States of Amnesia" (in Gore Vidal's characterization); and this book is a clear and convincing exposition of his thesis which he amplifies first in the 16-page "Introduction: American Ideology versus American Realities." The 10 main chapters then compellingly unfold under a series of summarizing rubrics. (View the "Contents" pages at this website.) Illustrations and maps are absent in this book; but the narrative is crystal clear and engaging without them. This overview of American history is thoroughly referenced in 16 pages of Notes based on a Bibliography of over 100 volumes.
"War and Empire" concisely complements "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn (Atwood's graduate thesis advisor). It concentrates on U.S. foreign policy rather than domestic history but illustrates how financial and military-industrial interests have consistently used ideology and propaganda to create and exaggerate foreign threats and thus overcome popular opposition to war and empire. Atwood's 9-page "Conclusion" observes that "The term 'democracy' is employed constantly to imply that it actually exists, yet the republican form of government allows only the merest voice for most citizens while ensuring that real power is concentrated in the hands of insider elites, drawn primarly from corporate America, who maneuver the levers of rule to serve their own interests first." He illustrates how this continues to be true under the Obama administration.
The author, Marine Corps veteran and academic veteran Paul Atwood, is "gung ho" about the true history of America as opposed to the common, mythological one. In "War and Empire" he passionately and bravely but professionally distills the knowledge of many scholars and the wisdom of his own experience and research in order to enlighten readers and warn them that "Terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States, though another global war will be; and the continued U.S. armed intervention in the Muslim world shows every indication of promoting just that."
Read this book for serious enlightenment regarding our national history. Read it for motivation to change that trajectory so there will continue to be a history for our children and grandchildren.
on May 27, 2010
An excellent and well-developed antidote to the sanitized version of US history taught in schools that has served to build up self-serving national myths. Beginning with America's roots in Europe (and especially Great Britain) and covering all the way to the election of President Obama, this book shines light on the development of US foreign policy and on the real reasons how the United States grew from a British colony into a global empire.
I didn't give it the highest rating though because it is edited in a strange way where summary pieces from the introduction are repeated verbatim in each chapter and sometimes the chronology inside a chapter will leap around a bit and repeat pieces of information. I found it distracting. Also, I would have preferred if the author had made his case more fully in some spots rather than simply assert motivations. While I know he is correct from more in depth coverage of these subjects that I've seen elsewhere, critical readers not familiar with these subjects will have trouble simply taking his word for it.
Despite these flaws, it is still a worthy book that should be widely read.
on June 16, 2013
Former US President Ronald Reagan called in a speech to the "National Association of Evangelicals" in Orlando, Florida in 1983 the former Soviet Union an evil empire". Having read War and Empire" by Paul L. Atwood this characterization fits perfectly well to US-American foreign policy. What the author presents to the reader makes one shiver.
Starting out as a nation born in the fight against British colonialism, the US has become the world largest imperial power. The US does not only wage two neocolonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the later together with Nato, but it has also military bases in 141 states and 11 territories, out of 191 states comprising the United Nations. American arms patrol all the seas and skies, including outer space. This is not enough, the Pentagon declares flatly that it wants to achieve nothing less than full-spectrum dominance" over any potential foe in the future.
When former US President George W. Bush stated that Muslims might hate the US because of they hate freedom and American values, he was totally wrong. If Muslims hate at all the US, it would be solely for their brutal occuption of Muslim countries and their double standards in international affairs, especially towards their "albatross-like ally, Israel" as the autor calls it. After 9/11 the majority of Americans demanded revenge. President Bush initially called for a "crusade" against Muslims. Attacking Afghanistan was not enough.
Paul L. Atwood, Senior Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, set the record stright right from the beginning: The US is not a peace-loving nation that will avoid violence at all costs. On the contrary, "War is the American way of life." Every American schoolchild cut its teeth learning that "the United States represents principles and values that are the only hope of a rational, orderly, just and peaceful society". This template for current policies and war was set before the Founders rebelled against their government, writes Atwood. It appears like that: "we are a people apart, exceptional and singled out by God or Destiny to redeem humanity". Ideologically, the US government support to a morality "that defends self-determination universally and for all". The author writes "that assertion is mainly honored in its breach".
American history exemplifies that the US lives by the sword in order to "seek peace". Several chapters of Adwood's book deal with conquest of the American continent, which was not limited to slaughtering the indigenous Indian population but by defeating the British, French, and the Spanish colonial powers. The conquest of the American continent was marked by aggression, extreme brutality, genocide and 'ethnic cleansing`". Since the US emerged from World War II as the most potent nation in history, it "slaughtered millions (...) the vast majority being helpless civilians". The proclamation of "A New American Century" by the neo-conservative ideologues of the Bush administration depends on maintaining control of the critical fuel necessary to power the American economy and its massive military machine that now straddles the globe". In 1992, the outline for this "New American Century" was laid down by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. He crafted a Defense Policy Guidance which became the policy template of the neo-conservative manifesto under the Bush government. The basic thrust constitutes the so-called Bush doctrine, which called for actions to ensure the status of the US as the sole world power able to shape the global system to serve American geo-political interests. In order to uphold American hegemony the US should be prepared to act unilaterally and pre-emptively against any power that could undermine US dominance.
In the chapter entitled "war on terror" Atwood describes the close cooperation that took place between the US and Mujahideens after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The CIA recuited up to 50,000 Muslim volunteers from around the world, trained them und supplied them with weapons. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advicer, puts matters pluntly in his book "The Grand Chessboard". "Now we can give the USSR its Vietnam War." The US designated at the time the Mujahideens "freedom fighters" that valiantly resisted Soviet occupation. Today the US calls the Taliban who resist the occupation of Afghanistan "terrorists". The author rejects the idealistic rhetoric of freedom and democracy with which the US tries to justify its policies of aggressions against the Muslime world. The interventions are directed against China and Russia. The US wants to prevent China from becoming a superpower, writes the author.
Atwood's statement that "war is the american way of life", is based on his determination that the military-industrial complex "has developed a vested interest in a permanent state of tension and preparation for war". The history of the US demonstrates "when the US prepares for war it usually goes to war", writes the author. According to Atwood, a "National Security State requires enemies and it functions to create them and then exploits that manufactured state of affairs to promote further actions in the name of national security." The author does not think that terrorism is an existential threat to the US but warns that "the continued US armed intervention in the Muslim world shows every indication of promoting just that". The book provides a deep insight into the real motives for the last empire's policies of aggression, policies which will probably lead to its self-destruction.
Dr. Ludwig Watzal works as a journalist and editor in Bonn, Germany.