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In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Dispatch Books) Paperback – September 12, 2017
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In the Shadows of the American Century persuasively argues for the inevitable decline of the American empire and the rise of China. Whether or not one is a believer in American power, the case that Alfred McCoy makes—that much of America’s decline is due to its own contradictions and failures—is a sad one. He provides a glimmer of hope that America can ease into the role of a more generous, more collaborative, if less powerful, world player. Let’s hope that Americans will listen to his powerful arguments." —Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the Sympathizer
“[A] brilliant and deeply informed must-read for anyone seriously interested in geopolitics, the history of Empire, and the shape of the future.” —New York Journal of Books
"What is the character of this American empire?" Alfred McCoy asks at the outset of this provocative study. His answer not only limns the contours of the American imperium as it evolved during the twentieth century, but explains why its days are quite likely numbered. This is history with profound relevance to events that are unfolding before our eyes.
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
"Alfred McCoy offers a meticulous, eye-opening account of the rise, since 1945, and impending premature demise of the American Century of world domination. As the empire’s political, economic, and military strategies unravel under cover of secrecy, America’s neglected citizens would do well to read this book."—Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers
"Sobering reading for geopolitics mavens and Risk aficionados alike..." —Kirkus
"McCoy’s detailed, panoramic analysis of the past, present, and future of the American empire covers all spheres of activity including not just land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, but also the netherworld of covert operations--and seasons all of this with some fascinating personal vignettes. His new book, The Shadows of the American Century, joins the essential short list of scrupulous historical and comparative studies of the United States as an awesome, conflicted, technologically innovative, routinely atrocious, and ultimately hubristic imperial power."—John Dower, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Embracing Defeat, War Without Mercy, and The Violent American Century
“One of our best and most underappreciated historians takes a hard look at the truth of our empire, both its covert activities and the reasons for its impending decline,” —Oliver Stone
"In the Shadows of the American Century is a valuable contribution to geopolitical discourse that draws
important lessons from history."—Foreword Reviews
"McCoy’s latest book, In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, provides an autopsy on a dying empire, which has squandered its moral capital by promoting wide-scale torture and mass surveillance....The end of empire scenarios relayed by McCoy in dark terms could in turn provide positive opportunities for societal change as the necessity for constant war is removed." —The Progressive
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The book is divided into three parts:
McCoy’s personal involvement in the Vietnam era and Philippines as a graduate student makes very interesting reading. CIA involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was a miserable failure.
CIA meddling in world affairs from Bill Clinton to present, another costly and colossal failure is the second part of the book.
McCoy’s third part centers on future US world hegemony based on cyber and outer space warfare. Although professor McCoy was critical of past military failure, it seems to me that he finds something to admire about China’s rise to power and the US decline in the Shadows of the American Century from 2020 to 2040.
I am not in agreement with McCoy that competition with China will be America’s downfall. I think the gigantic waste of human and physical resources by our nation’s military, will lead to the collapse of the American Empire. McCoy’s depiction of future cyber spying in American’s decline, made part three of the book drag with his description of CIA, NSA and military espionage.
First, it’s future-oriented. The question that ties the book together is “What does America do now?” McCoy is a first-rate historian, and there is a lot about the past. But the review of the past is directed to encouraging Americans—leaders, readers, and citizens—to grasp what we can and should do in the challenging decade ahead. It’s not a call to action so much as an overview that could help make intelligent action possible.
Second, perspectival shifts give depth and nuance to the panorama McCoy paints. The book begins with the “US Global Power and Me,” a personal, anecdotal account, and then shifts radically to geopolitical theory: a surprising turn, but one which gives insightful architecture to the book as a whole. Plenty of history follows, but narrative is always in the service of eliciting basic patterns in imperial America’s conduct, which are in turn related to the historical dynamics of empire. For example, we find out plenty of details regarding America’s use and promulgation of torture, but also learn about the role torture has played in shoring up and unwinding empires. A good combination of specifics and generalities.
Third, the book speaks to a lot of different people, not only history buffs and armchair policy experts but also servants of the imperium at the Pentagon, agencies, think tanks, and so on. It works because McCoy, like Andrew Bacevich, is exposing follies and abuses out of patriotic motives. He wants America’s rivalry with China to work to the benefit of America, and hence the world. The result is a book that is controversial without being ideological.
McCoy is pragmatic, not dogmatic. He insists on the practical need for a strategy commensurate with America’s power and goals, and gives Obama surprisingly high marks for at least trying to pivot in a direction that responds to the challenge of Chinese ascendancy. The author’s avoidance of pat conclusions will dissatisfy readers who want to be given answers and stimulate those willing to seek out answers themselves.