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Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 31, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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The 20th century was the bloodiest in world history, and it is a moral imperative for humanity not to repeat the mistakes that made those hundred years so numbingly violent. In Wilson's Ghost, Robert S. McNamara, U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, and James G. Blight, an expert on international relations, look to Woodrow Wilson for inspiration. (Previously, McNamara and Blight collaborated on Argument Without End.) President Wilson, they say, "was one of the first leaders of the 20th century to sense that without radical political changes, the human race might destroy itself in ever greater numbers in what he called metaphorically the 'typhoon'--catastrophic wars of ever greater destructiveness." Wilson, however, "failed utterly" in his goal of making the United States and other countries "take a thoroughly multilateral approach to issues of international security."

McNamara and Blight offer advice on how to achieve Wilson's dream today. This makes them, to use the lingo of diplomats, foreign-policy idealists: "It seems to us that the realists are in fact unreal in their analysis of the world in the 21st century," they write. They call for "bringing Russia and China in from the cold," by which they mean Americans should treat the Russians and Chinese more like equals than they do currently. The United States, in short, must "not apply its economic, political, or military power unilaterally, other than in the unlikely circumstances of a defense of the continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska." McNamara and Blight assert that developing antiballistic technologies will lead to "an increased risk of arms races, instability, and even nuclear war." Readers whose foreign policy runs left-of-center will appreciate the authors' efforts and find it a pleasing contrast to a recent right-of-center foreign-policy tome, Henry Kissinger's Does America Need a Foreign Policy? --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the 20th century, 160 million people died in war and political violence, the bloodiest century on record. But, warn the authors, unless there is a radical change in the conduct of international affairs, the 21st century could see far more carnage. Drawing on the Wilsonian tradition in American foreign policy, former Secretary of Defense McNamara and Brown University international relations professor Blight (the two also coauthored Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy) offer two imperatives the U.S. should follow: a "Moral Imperative," to make it a major goal of U.S. foreign policy to avoid the violence of the previous century, and a "Multilateral Imperative," to disavow the unilateral use of U.S. economic, political and military power when confronting foreign crises or challenges. A moral imperative does not mean violence will never occur, but with such an imperative in place leaders will be far more cautious than in the past in resorting to violence. For the U.S., the moral imperative must be tied to a multilateral imperative. The U.S. is indeed powerful and must lead, but it is not omnipotent, say the authors. Multilateral action can help ensure that the U.S. does not act precipitously, in an ignorant and arrogant fashion. The authors amplify on these imperatives in separate vignettes on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, where they were applied, and on the Vietnam War, where they were not (McNamara was a participant in both). Finally, the authors address in detail three major problems confronting U.S. foreign policy bringing Russia and China fully into the world community, reducing communal or ethnic violence, eliminating nuclear weapons. Deftly written and cogently argued, this is one of the best recent books on foreign policy. (On-sale: June 5) Forecast: The day before this book hits the stores, McNamara will appear on the Today Show, kicking off a tour to New York, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given McNamara's position and background, this will generate media attention, but is unlikely to bolster sales much beyond foreign policy-wonk circles.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (May 31, 2001)
  • ISBN-10: 1891620894
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620898
  • ASIN: B0000C4JBT
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,183,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William C. Hunt on October 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
McNamara and Blight have crafted a clear and persuasive argument for avoiding the carnage of 20th century wars that took some 160 million lives, left many more injured, and caused hundreds of billions of dollars of destruction. They ask: How can we avoid a similar fate in the 21st century?
An analysis of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson vision for the 20th century in the aftermath of the First World War serves as a starting point. The authors endorse Wilson's realization of the unimaginable disaster that awaits humanity if we do not create the climate and institutions for peace. They also admire his moral approach, his notion of peace without defeat, and his multilateral approach envisioned in the League of Nations.
However, there is also Wilson's ghost - his promotion of fragmenting national self-determination, his sometimes patronizing moralism, and his failure to persuade the Senate and the American people to abandon a unilateral approach to foreign affairs.
McNamara and Blight adopt two imperatives. The moral imperative for U.S. foreign policy is to avoid in the 21st century the carnage caused by conflict in the 20th century. The multilateral imperative is to refrain from using our economic, political, or military power unilaterally, other than in defense of the United States itself.
The authors suggest three steps as essential to securing peace in the 21st century. First, we must prevent great power conflict. This can only come if we truly seek to understand and appreciate the perspectives of other nations, especially Russia and China - what the authors call empathy.
Second, we must reduce communal killing by intervening in "dangerous, troubled, failed, murderous states.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of all the books I have read or reviewed in the past two years, this is the only one that comes close to addressing the bitter truth about the fundamental disconnect between our perception of ourselves as "the beacon of truth", and the rest of the world's perception of us as "interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, and hypocritical." Those that would seek to understand just how long our Dark Ages will last would do well to start with this book while also buying a copy of the map of "World Conflict and Human Rights Map 2000" available from the PIOOM Project at Leiden University. Beyond that, selected portions of the Shultz et al book on "Security Studies for the 21st Century", where detailed comments are made about both knowledge gaps among our policymakers and non-traditional threats, are recommended.

There is no question but that the Attack on America of 11 September 2001 has awakened and even frightened the American public. It has elicited conventional assurances from other nation states. What most Americans do not understand, what this book makes brilliantly clear, is that two thirds of the rest of the world is glad it happened. I quote from page 52: "...at least two-thirds of the world's people--Chinese, Russians, Indians, Arabs, Muslims, and Africans--see the United States as the single greatest threat to their societies. They do not regard America as a military threat but as a menace to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity and freedom of action.
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Format: Hardcover
This book, which tackles a daunting series of challenges in less than 250 pages, probably would serve as a good introduction for the general public. To the uninitiated, some of its propositions will indeed sound shocking, novel, and, as the authors would have it, innovative.
For readers and students who have spent the last few years dealing with the issue of post-Cold war conflict, however, or for anyone whose political views lean towards the left-side of the spectrum, the propositions elaborated upon in this book will probably sound familiar, if not a little repetitious.
While I do not disagree with most of the ideas propounded by the authors, I would recommend that intermediary to advanced policymakers, or readers who already have some familiarity with security issues, instead turn to John Steinbruner's Principles of Global Security - which, interestingly enough, is quoted on a number of occasions in McNamara's and Blight's cooperative effort.
On the other hand what did strike me about this book is Mr. McNamara's willingness to admit mistakes he or the various groups he has been part of might have committed in the past, most luridly during the Vietnam War. This was unexpected, and I appreciated the authors' openness. Much can be learned from mistakes committed, hence the importance of history.
Hopefully the ideas contained in this book will seep into the consciousness of the general public, engender discussion, and ultimately awaken the western civilization from its prevailing political stupor and outrageous disinterestedness.
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