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House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power Hardcover – May 4, 2006
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. If there were nothing more to Carroll's book than its chronicling of the U.S. military's amassing of power and influence from WWII to the present, it would still be valuable history. But the National Book Award winner (An American Requiem) makes the story something else altogether. "The lifetime of the Pentagon is my lifetime," he asserts, noting that the building had its dedication ceremony the week he was born; he also grew up playing in its maze-like corridors while his father worked as a high-ranking air force general. The nuclear dread that dominated the Cold War era thus plays out as personal and family drama, turning the book into "[my] long-delayed conversation with [my] father." It's strongest in its first half, where the development of atomic power and the turmoil of the Vietnam era hold the greatest personal significance for Carroll; later sections on the Reagan and Clinton eras are informative but less intimate. Carroll's approach can be poetic—he makes much, for example, of the coincidence that the Pentagon groundbreaking took place on September 11, 1941—but the emotional weight he brings to a Chomsky-like critique of American militarism results in an aggressively compelling history. Photos. (May 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
Carroll was born the same week in January, 1943, that the Pentagon was dedicated, the Manhattan Project got under way, and Roosevelt declared that the goal of the war was the enemy's "unconditional surrender." In this "biography" of the Pentagon, he extends these moments into a fuguelike history of American military power from Hiroshima to Iraq. The dominant theme is personal: growing up, Carroll, whose father, a general, worked in the Pentagon, saw the building both as his "twin" and as "a kind of dark woods." On the practical side, he argues that "in the nuclear age, civilian oversight of American military policy had become largely mythical," that the Pentagon had "Congress in its thrall and presidents at its mercy." And yet his most fascinating stories involve momentsas in the Berlin crisis and the Vietnam Warwhen civilians successfully opposed the Pentagon's monolithic power.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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The tale begins with the Pentagon groundbreaking 11 September 1941 (sixty years to the day before the 2001 terror attacks). America was then a `reluctant warrior' with a peacetime military and protective oceans. Three months later we entered World War II, and everything changed. Fifty million perished, and any remaining human innocence vanished with them in the ruins. Devastating weapons helped deliver victory but left a world that could neither eschew them or survive their reuse.
The struggle for postwar primacy initiated development of weapons worthy of Armageddon, fulfilling Oppenheimer's prediction that rivals would resemble "scorpions in a bottle." Euphemisms like `Mutually Assured Destruction' and `Duck and Cover' blandly masked unprecedented militarization as the planet staggering from crisis to crisis, at times narrowly avoiding nuclear conflict in conventional wars (`peacekeeping') no less calamitous to proxy hosts. All of these events are carefully related by the author.
Eisenhower warned against a "ruthless" and "insidious" foe 17 Jan 1961 (three days before JFK took office) but famously concluded "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
That's the real question raised in this volume. Are we prisoners of a permanent `complex' that leverages fear, threats, and conflict (real or imagined) to survive and reap profits for weapons that will destroy us if ever `successfully' used? We now spend more on `defense' than all other nations combined (much of it for weapons designed to defeat long-defunct Cold War foes). Many contracts are no-bid and cost-plus (a prime incentive for incompetence and inflation).
Months after Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address, the Bay of Pigs failure, the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna stalemate, and the Berlin Wall construction the author met his father at the Pentagon and was charged by his father to lead his family to safety if the unthinkable occurred. In a sense, this book is the author's honest search for the deliverance of safety his father sought.
Also of interest (lest readers think the author delusional):
Richard Rhodes `The Making of the Atomic Bomb' & `Dark Sun'
Historically ruled by the most paranoid of the super hawks, its leaders have been able to silence, fire, or marginalize doves. It always needs a bogeyman to justify the budget. Bogeymen are often created through exaggeration and paranoia. During much of the height of the 50's Cold War scare, the USSR had only four ICBM's but our presidents were continually advised of a yawning missile gap and Soviet leaders hell bent on global destruction. The truth is that our own behavior has been more provocative than the Reds.
We had a golden opportunity to scale back when the Cold War ended but the war budget did not change a bit. Hence, we have transformed into an imperial nation with one tool at our disposal....the sledge hammer.
Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Bush get the credit they so richly deserve for.....you fill in the rest.
This is a great book and would get five stars but Carroll needs to leave more prose on the editing room floor. Aw heck, I just gave it five stars due to the importance and conprehensiveness.
The next years can make the world a better place or yield a nuclear winter that few will survive. It is up to us, as individuals to choose which!
There were many revelations for me in House of War, including the thread of Roman Catholic concern and conscience; but the most important was how John Paul II, Reagan and Gorbachev contributed to the end of the cold war, and why each of them did so. I respect Ronald Reagan's humanity more than I did, but Gorbachev now stands out as a true profile in courage.