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The Short American Century: A Postmortem Hardcover – March 19, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Bracing and provocative. (Kirkus Reviews 2012-01-01)

This collection of essays constitutes a how-to manual for people who sense something deeply wrong with the current bipartisan consensus on American power, but can't quite articulate what it is. (Nick Baumann Commonweal 2012-05-18)

Declining empires are dangerous. Popular enlightenment is urgent, and this book...will help...It is a valuable step toward the self-knowledge Americans will need if we and the rest of the world are to survive the long centuries ahead. (George Scialabba Dissent 2012-06-01)

About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University.

Akira Iriye is Charles Warren Professor of American History, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Emily S. Rosenberg is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.

Nikhil Pal Singh is Visiting Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History Director of the Program in American Studies at New York University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (March 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674064453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674064454
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #973,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Andrew Bacevich, West Point graduate, retired Army colonel, and current professor of history at Boston University rejects wasting time pursuing ideological battles. 'Ideology makes people stupid. Employing ideology as the basis for policy is a recipe for disaster. Surviving in a complex, uncertain environment requires flexibility, pragmatism, and perhaps above all self-awareness. That's true if you're in the business of making cars or selling donuts. It's truer still for those whose business is statecraft.' Bacevich's flexible, pragmatic, self-aware approach is visible throughout his latest book, 'The Short American Century.' 'The Short American Century' is a collection of essays examining American global preeminence following WWII, written in response to Henry Luce's February, 1941 'Life' magazine article titled 'The American Century' that made a case for U.S. entry into WWII and that we must share our way of life with all others. Editor/author Bacevich asserts it was more of an illusion, and extraordinarily arrogant.

WWII helped reaffirmed Luce's thinking. We were transformed from a Depression-ridden country to a global manufacturing powerhouse, the only nation to emerge from that contest in a superior position. Unfortunately, we also overstated our role in victory - the Russians contributed far more in manpower and casualties, and the actual turning point can be traced to Russia turning back Germany at Stalingrad. Regardless, the U.S. took the lead in creating many post-war institutions, including the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the USIA (to publicize/export America's values and accomplishments). The 'bad news' is that we also began meddling in other nation's affairs - China (Taiwan), Cuba, Iran, Israel (and its neighbors), and Vietnam among them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bacevich and his cohort contributors are right on the money. Manifest Destiny and American foreign policy are equally off the rails. This excellent collection of thoughts from nine concise thinkers describe the reality shortfall that has led to years of wasted lives and money pursuing various versions of "American Exceptionalism". We could all have far more rewarding lives by discarding the fantasy that we are tasked with directing the development of the rest of the world. We could help other people of good faith realize their dreams without sacrificing our own. To resist evil is an occasional challenge to be met, not a plan of crusade to be imposed on assumption of moral superiority.

"The Short American Century" is an opportunity to clear your mind and to think with a new perspective about our national agenda.
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Format: Hardcover
Andrew Bacevich introduces us to a symposium of eight different authors that tackle the question of what American Century meant to these authors in terms on how Henry Luce's pivotal 1941 editoral in Life Magazine shaped the destiny of American dominance over the world during and after World War II. The consesnus among them was that America had a sense of bringing its Manifest Destiny to the world and impose American values of consumerism and democracy to a world that was not quite ready to accept them. The only essay that seems to prevaricate from this consensus was Nikkil Pal Singh's in that this author put a decided racial spin on the American Century. Whatever, the motivation, all of the authors agree that such efforts to bring America to the world by hook or crook was akin to a crusade for peace on American terms, although one of the authors held that the Christian aspect of this crusade had long since atrophied before the outbreak of World War II. One author contended that American Century never took hold in the first place.

Bacevich is to be commended for this work that he edited. The book's 239 pages of text was accompanied by a solid amount of end notes and an index. To summarize, America's efforts to bring the American Century to the world has been counterproductive and has caused a cultrual and economic decline in our nation that perhaps we cannot recover from. five stars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book joins others recently published, which outline features of the decline of American predominance in the world. Its editor, Andrew Bacevich, and eight contributors look at different aspects of global changes during the last seven decades, i.e. since Henry Luce published his article in 1941 proclaiming the impending American century. Most of them critically enumerate America's failures and setbacks culminating in the premature end of America's primacy during the Bush-43 presidency and the U.S. financial crisis of 2008. In fact, W. LaFeber asserts somewhat blusteringly, the American century was stillborn and never happened. My feeling was he was part right and part wrong. He was wrong by basing his conclusions on selective reasoning, considering only our failures and ignoring the wealth of America's splendid cultural and scientific accomplishments, its mastery of space travel and computer technology, its steadfast protection of the non-communist world and its appeal to worldwide admiration. Yet he was right in condemning the foolishness and hubris of the popular belief in divinely granted "American Exceptionalism". That condemnation is, in fact, shared by almost all the other contributors. E. McCarraher points to its historical origin all the way back among the Puritans, "who believed in their predestined, redemptive role as God's chosen people". He shows how it stubbornly persisted to the idea of the so-called Manifest Destiny of the 1840s and on all the way to the God-inspired, pugnacious views in the G. W. Bush White House. He says, the decline of our imperial hegemony will be a pivotal feature of the new century and, yes, lists its details in devastating terms.

According to Bacevich's introduction, these discussions were intentionally meant to be critical rather than celebratory, for history needs to discomfit before it can teach. That is exactly what this book does.
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