In: H-War
Author: Sylvie Murray
Reviewer: Terry Shoptaugh

Sylvie Murray. Writing World War II: A Student's Guide. Commentary by Robert D. Johnston. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010. 208 pp. $16.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8090-8549-1.

Reviewed by Terry Shoptaugh (Minnesota State University Moorhead) Published on H-War (November, 2011) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

A Guided Missive for a Target Audience

Any historian who has ever faced yet another stack of student papers knows all too well that feeling of resignation as he or she peruses a number of simple, one-sided arguments--all Americans wanted freedom in 1776, every woman fought to get the vote before 1920, everyone did “his part” to win World War II. Instructors with such experiences will feel kinship with Sylvie Murray (professor of American history, University of Fraser Valley, British Columbia), when she complains in the introduction to her essays in this book that students too often neglect “the basic principles of historical writing,” and rely too frequently on glib summaries and sweeping conclusions based on limited reading (p. ix). For this reason, Murray has produced Writing World War II.

This is a somewhat unusual book. The heart of it is nine essays by Murray, on various aspects of the American effort in World War II. But there is also a second level of remarks, consisting of brief commentaries by a second historian, Robert D. Johnston, explaining what he does and does not like about Murray’s interpretations. The promotional squib on the back cover of the book, and an additional flyer inserted by Hill and Wang, refers to Johnston’s comments as a design for “demystifying [Murray’s] techniques while helping you [the student] become more critical of all sorts of historical writing--including your own.” Writing World War II offers the students, as the publisher’s promotional flyer states, a way of learning through “Murray’s own writing as a model for constructing a persuasive essay.” This is an unusual approach, and I think it will succeed with students only up to a point.

Murray’s stated purpose for her essays is to outline for students a much richer, more textured view of this biggest of all American wars. By doing so, she hopes to open their eyes to the more heterogeneous challenges confronting anyone who wants to write meaningfully about such a major, complex historical event. Murray’s essays are very good, well argued, and cleverly laid out to harmonize her major points. In one essay, she underscores the complex maneuvers and the pragmatic motives of Franklin Roosevelt as he steadily and stealthily nudged his nation toward greater support for the Allies. In another essay, she chides text publishers for relying too much on “stereotypes and misrepresentations” in portraying the war years, and especially for casting the “isolationists” (a term she rejects as misleading) as being naïve and unfair (p. 20). In a blistering essay, she takes to task popular writers, like Tom Brokaw and Stephen Ambrose, for championing “ the paradigm of the Good War.” In what is perhaps her best essay, “Gendered Patriots,” she points out that only a slim minority of women worked in actual war industry jobs, and paints a variegated and nicely balanced picture of the many roles American women played in the war. Yet another essay examines letters that soldiers wrote home to highlight their mixed desires and the frustrations while in the armed services. The remaining essays that round out the collection concern the limits of tolerance, patriotism, and wartime propaganda.

Murray’s essays, aimed at her target audience of students studying the war era, are well documented with sources that should guide careful readers toward more sophisticated research and historical analysis in connection with this one, admittedly very large, subject. While the book adds little new to what other historians have already presented in larger, more detailed works--most notably, John Morton Blum’s V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture during World War II (1976); the much-respected Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (1987) by Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black; and David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999)--Murray’s clear and simple summaries should work well with undergraduates. Taken together with the numerous other works that Murray provides in her notes, Writing World War II challenges students to look beyond the “good war” image of so many books and examine the conflict more deeply.

Inasmuch as this is the book’s purpose, it succeeds. But the book also has a serious limitation. As A Student’s Guide, it lacks direct and pointed advice for good writing. Murray’s essays contain no specific advice to students on how to write about the war years, how to assemble their research, or how to argue and support their views. Johnston’s remarks, which were added, the publishers imply, to provide such guidance, are also limited. The closest Johnston comes to giving specific advice to the reader is in his comments on Murray’s criticism of Robert Westbrook’s Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II (2004). Noting that he is “a bit disappointed” in her summary, Johnston states that he would have liked more analysis (p. 89). But Johnston provides no real advice of his own, and for the most part he is content to add a muted kind of “me too” to Murray’s general themes.

Many of those who have endeavored to teach history students the techniques of writing a good paper know well the challenges: overall writing and reading abilities have steadily declined in past decades. Most students, especially those in high school and early years of college, now need specific guideposts to aid them when writing. But this book does not really follow through on what its title implies. I suspect that many students who try to use this book without help will find this double layer of statements by Murray and Johnston confusing. Instead of finding detailed advice for assembling and analyzing information and interpretations about the war, students are largely left to extract the lessons themselves. Since this Guide faces tough competition in a market that is already well stocked with handbooks for writing history, this is a real weakness. For that reason, this book will be most valuable when an experienced instructor uses it while helping students in writing papers.

Hill and Wang should consider targeting teachers for this publication, perhaps with other WWII-related works in its catalog. Scholars engaged in research on the war years would profit from looking at Murray’s essays, and those who teach classes on the Second World War would find the work helpful, particularly as they assign papers on the subject. But in the hands of unassisted students, it may well miss the mark

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Author: Susan A. Brewer
Reviewer: H. Matthew Loayza

Susan A. Brewer. Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. x + 342 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-538135-1.

Reviewed by H. Matthew Loayza (Minnesota State University, Mankato) Published on H-Diplo (October, 2011) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Truth or Consequences

The concluding chapter of Susan A. Brewer’s Why America Fights begins with a quotation from the climactic scene of the 1992 film A Few Good Men, where Marine Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) contemptuously dismisses the right of prosecuting attorney Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) to weigh in on national security matters.  When the furious Jessep roars “You can’t handle the truth!” to Kaffee, he echoes the verdict that U.S. policymakers have customarily rendered upon the American public for over a century.  In Why America Fights, Brewer explores the U.S. government’s use of overt propaganda to handle, manipulate, and advance specific versions of the truth to convince the public that the wars that they are asked to fight are worthwhile and virtuous.

Brewer guides the reader through the major U.S. conflicts of the past century in an engaging narrative that analyzes how various presidential administrations devised and conducted propaganda campaigns to rally public support for the Philippine War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).  Devoting separate chapters to each of these conflicts, she finds that the government’s “strategies of persuasion” follow a general historical pattern featuring a narrative that cast the president of the United States in the lead role of a Manichean drama where the United States reluctantly took up arms to defend liberty, democracy, and civilization against a relentless and barbaric enemy who threatened not only U.S. interests, but also the very existence of American society (p. 12).

The decision to send troops to fight overseas invariably provoked public debate about both the wisdom of going to war and the extent to which the purpose and conduct of the war lived up to national ideals.  To contend with dissent, potential and actual, U.S. officials have managed the news in varying ways in order to better define and settle disputes on their own terms.  To this end, the state has taken advantage of its role as the source of official information and its power to censor the news.  The mass media, the author finds, has historically abetted rather than impeded government propaganda campaigns.  In some cases, the media found the state’s dramatic narratives depicting heroes and villains too compelling and marketable to pass up.  In others, the government simply imposed restrictions to prevent journalists from conveying unwanted truths to the public, such as the official ban on using the word “retreat” in reporting during the Korean War (p. 162).

The Second World War, according to Brewer, temporarily diverged from the general pattern when the Roosevelt administration originally defined the target audience for wartime propaganda as an educated, informed citizen who needed to be persuaded of the viability and righteousness of Uncle Sam’s plans.  However, this idea neither survived the war, nor was it resurrected in subsequent conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.  These limited conflicts, unlike the total mobilization of 1941-45, required relatively fewer contributions or sacrifices, and as Brewer observes, less civic participation.  Indeed, the author advances a compelling, if disturbing argument that since 1945, civic participation in wartime has declined to the point where citizens are asked to serve only as spectators and cheerleaders.  The mass media, she contends, has usually failed to challenge the official line in any meaningful way until discrepancies between the official narrative and reality became so evident (as occurred in both Vietnam and Iraq) that sticking to script would be to indulge in fantasy.

Although examining the propaganda campaigns of six major wars over a hundred year period is a daunting task, Brewer’s clear, concise, and engaging prose enables her to synthesize an extensive body of scholarship and archival materials, resulting in a work that effectively places the various propaganda campaigns in their respective historical contexts.  Brewer has an excellent eye for lively and revealing quotes, which are drawn from an extensive and varied body of sources.  In addition to mining the National Archives, presidential libraries, and regional archives, she consults newspapers and such mass-circulation magazines as Time, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as Hollywood films and such genre-oriented periodicals as Rolling Stone and The Onion.  The author supplements the text with a number of photographs and compelling poster art that attest to the importance of visual media in propaganda and thereby enrich the work.

Why America Fights capably demonstrates how U.S. officials have sought to manipulate public sentiment while the country is at war.  Rather than portraying propaganda as a monolithic, static body of ideas, the author shows how policymakers developed, disseminated, and modified messages and arguments according to their specific needs.  The success of their efforts, argues Brewer, depended on “the legitimacy of the policy being promoted,” the extent to which events conformed to the official narrative, and the ability of policymakers to prepare the public for postwar realities (p. 282).

What is sometimes unclear, however, is precisely why various presidential administrations were able to persuade the public to the extent that they often did.  Here, the work could have benefited from a more extended discussion of when and why the public (or perhaps more precisely, publics) questioned the legitimacy of wartime policies.  Doing so would have enhanced an already solid chapter on Vietnam, a conflict during which public dissatisfaction with the government’s conduct of the Vietnam War reached arguably historic levels.  For example, one opinion poll taken shortly after the 1969 Tet Offensive showed “doves” outnumbering “hawks” by 42 to 41 percent.[1]  Yet while such indications of antiwar (and antiadministration) sentiment are indeed striking, the number of self-described hawks is even more startling given mounting evidence by this time that Washington’s policies in Vietnam were ineffective and bankrupt.  Even allowing for the Nixon administration’s skillful redefinition of wartime aims, troop withdrawals, and recasting the United States as a victim by manipulating the prisoner-of-war issue, the extent of support (or at least acquiescence) for Richard Nixon’s calls for “peace with honor” in Vietnam is nevertheless surprising and worthy of further study.

In its appraisal of public responses to wartime propaganda, the work might have devoted greater emphasis to the role of nationalism.  Brewer’s work shows that successful propaganda campaigns tapped and exploited deep cultural beliefs rooted in national identity and national mythology.  Although the work implicitly raises the issue of nationalism in its analysis of patriotic symbols and notions of American exceptionalism, the topic merits closer scrutiny, especially given Brewer’s observation that propaganda won over the hearts and minds of the public by telling them what they wanted to hear about their own society.  World War II information campaigns, she notes, offered Americans a potent cocktail that mixed both fact and belief, “blurring what was true with what people wanted to believe was true” (p. 89).  We need to know more about what the American people wanted to believe was true, and why some Americans, as war correspondent Malcolm Brown observed during the Vietnam War, prefer “cheering the home team” over “honest reporting” (p. 228).  As Brewer demonstrates, Brown’s remarks are not exclusive to the Vietnam War.  Although the historical context, figures, and events of American wars are unique to themselves, Americans appear to have a remarkable capacity for receiving wartime propaganda, filtering the message that they want to hear, and minimizing or ignoring the rest.

Why America Fights is a well-researched, provocative, and convincing work that makes an important contribution to our understanding of how the government constructs and disseminates rationales for initiating and sustaining armed conflict.  Both academic and public libraries are advised to acquire it, as professional historians, graduate and undergraduate students, and interested general readers alike should benefit from reading and considering Brewer’s work.


[1]. Mark Hamilton Lytle, America’s Uncivil Wars: The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 249.

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Citation: H. Matthew Loayza. Review of Brewer, Susan A., Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2011. URL:

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Author: Daniel H. Nexon
Reviewer: Andreas Osiander

Daniel H. Nexon. The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change. Princeton Studies in International History and Politics Series. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. xv + 354 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-13792-6; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-13793-3.

Reviewed by Andreas Osiander (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) Published on H-Diplo (July, 2011) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Published as part of the Princeton Studies in International History and Politics series, Daniel H. Nexon’s new book mixes historiography and international relations theory. On the one hand, its principal concern is with the impact of the Protestant “Reformations” (Nexon uses the term in the plural) on the political structures of sixteenth-century Europe. On the other hand, Nexon’s concern is with “appropriate forms of comparative-historical generalization” (p. xi). He endeavors to identify patterns in the processes shaping the evolution of sixteenth-century Europe that may help to understand structural change and structural dynamics, in other historical periods as well, not least our own.

Employing an approach that he calls “relational institutionalism,” Nexon bases his theoretical discussion of structural political change on network theory (p. 14). He argues that the “composite” polities of sixteenth-century Europe do not fit the “states-under-anarchy” paradigm that is central to the “realist” school of international relations (IR) (p. 13). Whereas IR realism essentially views states as unconnected “billiard balls,” the rulers of sixteenth-century Europe in fact presided over “star-shaped networks” (p. 99): dynasts ruled a plurality of heterogeneous dominions or segments of the network that had little in common, apart, precisely, from the person of the prince positioned at the center of the network. The emphasis on the composite aspect of the political structures of the period is of course not new, but I do not think that its implications for political theory have yet been worked out as systematically and perspicaciously as Nexon does in this book. He presents us with a brilliant piece of IR theorizing and derives from that methodological tools whose analytical purchase he demonstrates impressively.

He underscores that a key element of “composite” political structures is the combination of “indirect rule with heterogeneous contracting”: “the ties that run from central authorities through each of their local intermediaries ... to local actors ... in each segment all represent a different combination of rights, rules, and obligations.... This tends to prevent a concordance of interests between segments” (pp. 101, 104). In other words and applied to sixteenth-century Europe, subjects of the same prince but located in different dominions of that prince were unlikely to make common cause against him; even within separate dominions they were, moreover, divided by class barriers. Since the prince exercised only indirect rule, unpopular policies could be blamed on his local “intermediaries” or representatives, giving him a degree of “plausible deniability” (p. 116); if dissatisfaction became too intense, local representatives could be replaced. In addition, rulers could present themselves differently, project a different identity to subjects in different dominions--what Nexon refers to as “multivocal” or “polyvalent signaling” (p. 114 ). Because rulers did not have to bother with running their dominions directly, indirect rule was cheap. Even though their “extractive capacity” was limited in comparison with that enjoyed by governments today, the low cost of indirect rule combined with revenue accruing from plural dominions gave rulers an advantageous position (p. 7). It also gave them a strong interest in acquiring additional dominions, by marriage, inheritance, or conquest. Nexon insists that “the logic of international politics generated by an order dominated by dynastic agglomerations departed from realist conceptions of world politics in a number of important and highly consequential ways. First, ‘reason of dynasty’ rather than modern conceptions of state interests drove international-political competition.... Second, the heterogeneous nature of dynastic agglomerations and the logic of dynastic practices ensured that international politics contained what we would now call a significant ‘transnational’ component” (pp. 93, 96). At the same time, “notions of territorial control remained, at best, embryonic” (p. 95).

According to Nexon, the most significant effect of Protestantism on this structural setup had little to do with religion per se. Rather, what made the “Reformations” such a potent factor of structural change was that confessional solidarity promoted links between subjects within and across different dominions, enhancing their leverage: “The spread of reformation and counterreformation movements often ... linked actors in different regions and provided them with common orientations toward the policies of the center” (p. 109). Indeed, networks of coreligionists might transcend the borders between “dynastic agglomerations” in the manner of today’s “transnational” actors and thereby gain still more power. Concurrently, confessionalization impeded the ability of rulers to engage in “polyvalent signaling” while also restricting their marriage options. Both factors helped push Europe in the direction of a more territorial, bounded conception of political units, though Nexon insists that this was a contributing factor, not the single or main cause of the process or processes that eventually brought about the idea of the territorial nation-state.

Not surprisingly, the greatest among the dynastic agglomerations of sixteenth-century Europe, the Habsburg dominions, was hit hardest by the advent of Protestantism. Nexon largely devotes his two central chapters to the emperor Charles V and Philip II of Spain, respectively. He shows how Charles’s decision to defend religious orthodoxy helped strengthen his initially shaky authority as king of his Spanish dominions but undermined his position in a Holy Roman Empire most of whose princes and free cities were going over to Protestantism, in the process forging new mutual bonds, such as the League of Schmalkalden, in order to strengthen their position. Philip II, who inherited the Spanish and Burgundian possessions of the dynasty from Charles, likewise suffered a major setback when he proved unable to keep hold of much of the Low Countries. Nexon’s analysis of the Dutch Revolt uses his approach to its best advantage. He shows how religious heterodoxy in the Netherlands kept confronting the Spanish crown with dilemmas, beginning with the circumstance that the attempt to extinguish heresy required an intensification of central rule that inevitably increased dissatisfaction with the crown and drew subjects in different provinces as well as of different social strata together. As the revolt against the crown came to be equated with a religious struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, the Dutch rebels were able to draw on networks of co-confessionals especially in Germany and France as well as gain support from Queen Elizabeth of England and the French crown. Philip found himself obliged to combat not only the Dutch Calvinists, but also their Huguenot brethren in France while trying unsuccessfully to weaken the English crown by means of a direct invasion or by supporting rebellion in Ireland.

Nexon does an excellent job showing how the rise of Protestantism and the resulting cross-border ties and networks complicated the management of the Habsburg dominions and caused them to splinter. The method of blaming royal representatives in the Netherlands for unpopular policies and replacing them still worked to some extent, but “polyvalent signaling” became impossible. When he inherited the Spanish kingdoms, Charles of Habsburg, born and raised in the Netherlands, initially had trouble establishing himself in Castile because his new subjects perceived him as a foreigner. He strengthened his authority in his Iberian dominions not least by establishing his Spanish and Catholic credentials, at the price of greatly complicating his position in the Holy Roman Empire. As a Spanish Catholic, his son Philip in turn came to be seen as a “foreigner” in the Netherlands, the beloved homeland of his father--an irony to which Nexon draws attention on pages 115-116. Nexon likewise applies his approach to the French Wars of Religion and to the Thirty Years’ War

The book is certainly not without its problems. The historical narrative presents itself as a distillation of the writings of other historians who are credited extensively even for rather trite information. The resulting impression of a certain lack of expertise is at odds with the self-assured tone of the mainly theoretical and analytical sections of the book and corroborated by the fairly numerous factual errors; the bibliography, incidentally, contains only works in English. Many pages in the historiographical portions of the book seem to exist for their own sake, consisting essentially in a run-through of events without much analysis. Where such analysis exists it tends to be buried in footnotes (good examples of this are on pages 222-223). The reader is often left to wonder how the detailed description of events is relevant to the argument of the book. Characters are introduced without making clear their exact role and significance. This is true, for example, of the remarks about Archduke Matthias on pages 218-219. On page 138 we read: “Ferdinand’s decision to declare Charles his successor stood on dubious legal ground”--but since Ferdinand has not been introduced the reader is left to guess that Nexon is talking about Charles’s grandfather; soon afterward Ferdinand’s wife Isabella is likewise mentioned without the reader being told who she was. In the most striking example of this, Jacques d’Albon, hardly a well-known figure, is mentioned a single time on page 247 without any indication who he was or what role he played. Maybe this is the result of hasty revision of a text that was originally more detailed.

Names are a weak point. For example, Cesare Borgia becomes “Cesare Borge” on page 116 (and “Borge, Caeser” in the index). The d’Albret dynasty of Navarra is consistently called “d’Albert” (pp. 155, 244, index). Such minor instances could be multiplied. There are numerous references to somebody called “the Elector of the Palatine” (e.g., pp. 167, 175): he was, of course, the Elector-Palatine ruling a part of Germany known as the Palatinate. One alleged incumbent mentioned repeatedly, John Casimir, never did hold the post: referring to events in 1578, Nexon tells us on page 219 that “the frightened leadership in Ghent invited John Casimir, elector of Palatine [sic], and his German troops to their defense.” In reality, the Elector-Palatine in 1578 was John Casimir’s brother Louis. Oddly, earlier on the very same page and for the same year 1578, Nexon refers to John Casimir as “the administrator of the Rhine Palatinate” (the correct form for the country)--which he became on Louis’s death in 1583, when he assumed the regency for his nephew. But this was five years later and John Casimir never became an elector himself.

The cavalier treatment of names here shades into the kind of more substantial error found quite frequently in the book. Examples: “Although technically part of Castile, the cities of Andalusia--the recently conquered Kingdom of Granada--not only spurned the Comuneros but even formed a league against them” (p. 144): in fact, Andalusia is of course far larger than the former kingdom of Granada, not coextensive with it. “On 19 April [1521] the [German] Diet condemned Luther; within a month Charles [V] published the Edict of Worms, which banned Luther’s writings” (p. 152): on April 19, the day after Luther had refused to recant, Charles personally rejected Luther’s doctrine in an autographed French text that he communicated to the diet; he put Luther under the ban of the empire in an edict backdated May 8 but only promulgated on May 26 after the formal proceedings of the diet had been closed. Although Charles asked for and obtained the informal assent of those estates of the empire that were still present in the city, the diet of Worms as such never condemned Luther. “In 1525 Albrecht von Hohenzollern ... dissolved the Teutonic Order, and became the first Duke of Prussia” (p. 158): Albrecht appropriated the holdings of the Teutonic Order in Prussia, turning them into a duchy that he received as a secular fief from the Polish crown. The Teutonic Order, which for the time being held on to Livonia and moreover had substantial holdings in the Holy Roman Empire, remained in existence; it currently has a membership of about one thousand with its headquarters in Vienna. “In 1527 Habsburg forces compelled Pope Clement VII to accept a separate peace, and not long after that the infamous sack of Rome ... left the papacy firmly under Charles’s control” (p. 160): the sequence is wrong. It was of course the sack of Rome itself that put Pope Clement under Charles’s control and induced him to make peace with Charles. However, Charles’s control over the pope was hardly firm, or at least did not remain so for long--Clement soon resumed his collusion with the French crown against Habsburg, for example by arranging the marriage of his niece Catherine de’ Medici to the future Henry II of France (indeed he officiated personally at the wedding). “With Charles’s victory over the Schmalkaldic Leage in Germany the Burgundian ‘circle’ was finally established in 1548” (p. 196): the “circles” (Kreise) of the Holy Roman Empire were regional administrative units. Six were created in 1500, four more, among them the Burgundian circle, were added in 1512; this had nothing to do with Charles (elected to the German throne only in 1519) or his victory over the League of Schmalkalden. What happened in 1548 was that at Charles’s request the diet removed the Burgundian circle, which consisted almost exclusively of Charles’s Burgundian hereditary lands, from the jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire even though technically it remained part of the empire.

All these errors are minor. Two are more serious. One concerns the German crown. “From 1273 until the ascension of the second Habsburg emperor (Frederick III) in 1440, the princes of the empire limited imperial power by refusing to elect successive members of the same dynasty” (p. 80). This simple sentence is wrong on more than one count, and does not begin to do justice to a complicated situation. For one thing, the princes of the empire--in the sense of “all the princes”--had no say in the matter: the right to choose the German king lay with the seven electors alone. Further, Frederick III was not the second, but the first Habsburg emperor, the first member of the dynasty to obtain, in 1452, the imperial coronation from the pope. (The only other Habsburg to be crowned emperor by the pope was Charles V in 1530--but from 1508 onward papal intervention was no longer considered necessary for the German king to assume the imperial title.) At the same time, Frederick was the fourth Habsburg to be elected to the German throne, after Rudolf I (d. 1291), Albert I (d. 1308), and Frederick’s immediate predecessor Albert II (d. 1439). Finally, despite the elective character of the monarchy, dynastic continuity was prized highly, and overall there was quite a bit of it during the period in question. This is the one pattern that does emerge, whereas what dynastic discontinuity can be found seems attributable to various and indeed contingent factors. To show this requires going into some historical detail--readers less interested in this should skip the next two paragraphs.

If, following the death of Rudolf I (reigned 1273-91), Count Adolf of Nassau was elected to succeed him rather than Rudolf’s son Albert, it may indeed have been that in his capacity as head of the empire, Rudolf had greatly increased the power of his family. To the original Habsburg hereditary lands, limited to quite modest holdings in northern Switzerland and Alsace, Rudolf had added the extensive fiefs of the extinct Babenberg dynasty--the duchies of Austria and Styria and other lands. This made Albert a very powerful lord to whom the electors apparently preferred a middling count--such as Adolf was and Rudolf himself had originally been. Much like Rudolf, however, if less successfully, Adolf as king developed a mind and ambitions of his own, earning him the collective enmity of the electors. In 1298, they deposed him in favor of none other than Albert, suggesting that if their original rejection of the Habsburg candidate was indeed motivated by fear of his power, this fear had abated; or, alternatively, that in light of recent experience a satiated prince seemed preferable to one whose attempts at enlarging his relatively narrow power base would likely continue to collide with the interests of one or other of the electors. Nonetheless Albert was soon himself on bad terms with the electors. At his death in 1308, his eldest son Frederick was only seventeen; moreover, with the Bohemian throne--whose incumbent was one of the electors--an object of dispute following the extinction of the Pržemyslid dynasty, no vote was cast for Bohemia in 1308. That made it easier for Archbishop Baldwin of Trier to persuade his fellow electors to opt for his brother Count Henry of Luxemburg. In his mid-thirties, Henry had the right age and fit the profile of the “middling count,” whereas Frederick of course inherited the vast new Habsburg hereditary lands. Henry died in 1313, but succeeded during his short reign to secure for his son John the Kingdom of Bohemia. In adjudicating the Bohemian succession in his capacity as head of the empire, Henry denied a competing Habsburg claim. With John king of Bohemia and Baldwin archbishop of Trier, the Luxemburg dynasty disposed of two out of seven votes in the upcoming election. Though he too was only seventeen at the time, John’s prospects of succeeding his father looked good until Frederick of Habsburg also announced his candidacy and several electors seemed attracted by the idea of restoring the Habsburg dynasty to the throne once more. The reason for this cannot have been a desire to limit the power of the crown. With the addition of Bohemia, the holdings of the Luxemburg dynasty were comparable to those of the House of Habsburg, so that in this respect there was now little difference between the two. But, if Frederick had become king, he might well have tried to secure Bohemia for Habsburg after all, making him more powerful than John. In light of this latter danger, Archbishop Baldwin now made the strategic choice of putting the long-term interest of the Luxemburg dynasty in holding on to Bohemia ahead of the short-term goal of having John follow his father as German king. He leaned on John to withdraw in favor of a new candidate, Duke Louis of Bavaria, a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty who gave assurances that he would honor the Luxemburg claim to Bohemia. With the help of the two Luxemburg votes he narrowly prevailed against Frederick. The next three elections once again put members of the Luxemburg dynasty on the German throne, which it held for almost a century from 1348 until it became extinct in 1437. To be sure, in 1400 some of the electors deposed King Wenzel (Venceslas) of Luxemburg and replaced him with the Elector-Palatine Rupert (another Wittelsbach)--not because Wenzel was too powerful but because, on the contrary, he completely neglected the empire in favor of his Kingdom of Bohemia, where he spent his time battling local nobles and rival members of his own family. When Rupert, whose legitimacy as German king was somewhat doubtful, died in 1410, the electors, glad of the chance to restore dynastic continuity, gave the crown to Wenzel’s younger brother Sigismund.

It is true, then, that the norm of dynastic continuity was violated in 1291, 1298, 1308, 1313, and 1400--but note that four out of these five instances are concentrated in a relatively short period around the turn of the fourteenth century, and that a desire to limit the power of the crown does not emerge as a clear or consistent motive here. Moreover, even regarding this transitional period around 1300 it is significant that Albert did follow his father, albeit not immediately, and that Albert’s son Frederick came very close to doing the same. The 1313 election was split (four votes for each of the two candidates, as the Bohemian vote was cast twice, by rival contenders), and Frederick claimed the throne until defeated in battle by Louis of Bavaria in 1322. After Louis’s death, dynastic continuity was restored with the single and somewhat questionable exception of the decade of Rupert’s kingship. In 1437, at the death of the emperor Sigismund, the throne passed back to the Habsburg dynasty for the simple reason that Sigismund was the last of his line. The electors respected his wish to put his son-in-law Albert of Habsburg, designated heir of the Luxemburg hereditary lands, on the throne, and when Albert died in 1439 they replaced him with the new head of the Habsburg dynasty, Frederick. Thereafter, the German crown remained in Habsburg hands, elective though it was. Nexon’s assertion that “the lack of a continuous dynasty between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries ... contributed to the decentralized nature of political authority in the empire” must therefore be treated with skepticism (p. 81).

The second major lapse concerns Sweden and Poland-Lithuania. “The [Polish and Lithuanian] nobility,” Nexon writes, “elected [Sigismund] Vasa ... to gain Swedish support for Poland-Lithuania’s wars with Muscovy.... The resulting Swedish claim to the Polish crown led to ‘a half-century of futile and destructive wars between Sweden and Poland’” (pp. 91-92; the quotation is from a book by H. G. Koenigsberger and George Mosse, Europe in the Sixteenth Century [1968]). Nexon has it the wrong way round. There was no Swedish claim to the Polish crown, since that was elective--even though here, too, dynastic continuity was a paramount consideration for the electors, who in the following decades put members of the Polish branch of the Vasa dynasty on the Polish throne until the dynasty became extinct. Conversely, the Vasa kings of Poland-Lithuania--Sigismund and his descendants--continued to claim the Swedish crown and fought for it after Sigismund, who following his election to the Polish throne in 1587 also inherited the Swedish crown in 1592, was deposed in Sweden and replaced by his uncle in 1600. The reason for that was that Sigismund was a Catholic but most of his Swedish subjects were Lutherans. Prior to the advent of Protestantism, Sigismund in all likelihood would have had no problem holding on to both the Swedish and the Polish thrones. But the fact that he was of a different faith than his Swedish subjects first induced him to strengthen royal rule in Sweden at the expense of the traditional elite (he bypassed the Riksråd or royal council, a mouthpiece of the Swedish magnates, by appointing six governors directly answerable to him when he returned to Poland) and then caused the magnates, with support from the Swedish church, to oust Sigismund--another fine example of a composite monarchy splintering on account of religious heterodoxy, but due to his factual error Nexon apparently failed to recognize it.

It is a tribute to the strength of Nexon’s general argument that such errors do not really undermine the book. Overall I find his approach and his analysis of concrete historical processes illuminating and convincing. It would be a pity if factual inaccuracies of the kind listed above were to prevent professional historians, often distrustful of political scientists, from taking the book seriously.

As mentioned, Nexon does not limit himself to shedding light on the evolution of sixteenth-century Europe but also seeks to identify patterns that might be valid across time and space. He displays a welcome caution concerning “the degree to which historical structures display actual isomorphisms,” but nevertheless does not despair of the possibility to “explain how we might construct specific theories of international continuity and transformation that balance the goals of taking historical particulars seriously with producing generalizable propositions” (p. 61, emphasis in original). His solution is to “construct ideal types in order to create an idealization of a phenomenon’s characteristics that can then be compared against other, related ideal-typifications. A particular ideal type will never accurately or exhaustively describe the concrete manifestations of a specific phenomenon, but it does provide a benchmark for the comparison of real political formations. This approach enables us to connect explanations of particular outcomes ... with more general causal claims. To the extent that specific formal properties of relational contexts endure across time and space, we should expect to see similar mechanisms and processes at work” (p. 65).

As noted, Nexon’s interpretation of the politics of sixteenth-century Europe is undergirded by his notion that the principal political actors of the period sat at the center of “star-shaped networks” responding in specific ways to the large-scale ideological mobilization produced by Protestantism and the opposition to it. Nexon points out that neither composite political units nor ideological and religious mobilization are a monopoly of sixteenth-century Europe. He adduces the example of colonial empires faced in the twentieth century by the spread of nationalist secession movements. Although the dependent colonial territories were linked by few, if any, historical, cultural, or economic ties, anticolonial mobilization spread everywhere, causing the hold of the metropole to crumble. As examples of present-day composite political entities Nexon points to the European Union and the Russian Federation. The latter is indeed faced with secessionism fueled by religious heterogeneity, in particular in Chechnya. For Nexon, even the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan can be interpreted along “relational-institutionalist” lines. He notes that “even temporary ‘occupations’ create relational structures akin to those found in imperial composite polities: indirect rule through an occupying authority or local regime, coupled with a bargain specific to that territory” (p. 296). Here, too, the element of transborder religious mobilization against the occupier is an important factor.

Indeed, Nexon reaches the conclusion “that treating composite polities ... as ideal types will probably prove more productive than using the ‘nation-state’ as the most important benchmark against which to judge contemporary political communities” (p. 299). Not everybody will be convinced by the case his book makes in support of this claim, but it is a strong one from which readers are sure to benefit.

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Citation: Andreas Osiander. Review of Nexon, Daniel H., The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. July, 2011. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Beth L. Bailey
Reviewer: J. Garry Clifford

Beth L. Bailey. America's Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Illustrations. xi + 319 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-03536-2.

Reviewed by J. Garry Clifford Published on H-War (February, 2011) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

This superb study demonstrates why social and cultural historians should pay more attention to military history. The author of previous books on the history of dating and on the sexual revolution in Kansas, Beth L. Bailey recounts the checkered history of the all-volunteer army from President Richard M. Nixon’s opportunistic promise to end the draft during the divisive Vietnam War to the current travails of fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with an overstretched mix of enlistees, reservists, and civilian mercenaries. She shows in vivid detail how the army adapted to new conditions, how it overcame its reliance on draftees and entered the consumer and labor marketplace to attract volunteers by selling service as opportunity rather than obligation, how it relied increasingly on women and African Americans to fill the ranks, how key innovators such as General Max Thurman successfully rejuvenated the “all-recruited army” of the Reagan era, and how after 9/11 the army refurbished its “Warrior ethos” in order to fight “for the first time in its modern history ... an extended war with a volunteer force” (p. 244).

Throughout her study Bailey emphasizes that the military has been a principal arena in which America’s struggles over race, gender, and social justice have played out in the past half century. For example, recruiting commercials, such as “Today’s Army Wants to Join You,” “Be All That You Can Be,” “Some of Our Best Men Are Women,” and an “Army of One,” stressed the language of opportunity and equality, even as the military pondered how best to integrate more women into new roles and stood firm on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward gays. In the mid-1990s, writes Bailey, the army was marketing itself as “the embodiment of the American dream of full inclusion and equal opportunity ... a force for good in civilian society ... a creator of good citizens, of good employees, and of good leaders” (p. 206). By 2007, statistics indicated that the war in Iraq was not being fought “on the backs of the poor and black” but that the army’s rank and file were “fairly solidly middle class” with a quarter of enlistees coming from families with incomes in the highest 20 percent and with only 11 percent drawn from “the bottom quintile” (p. 258). When the Supreme Court considered the legitimacy of affirmative action for admission to the University of Michigan in 2003, retired army generals “weighed in heavily” in support of racial diversity (p. 215). In short, despite recurrent calls for a return to the draft, an institution that “once seemed mired in crisis has achieved remarkable successes, both as purveyor of military force and provider of social good” (p. 260).

Perhaps Bailey’s most significant discussion involves the ideological rationale for the all-volunteer force wherein a group of libertarian economists, headed by Martin Anderson, persuaded President Nixon to end the draft with two major arguments, namely, that “individual liberty is the most essential American value, and the free market is the best means to preserve it” (p. 33). Nixon added his own rhetorical flourish by claiming that “upholding the cause of freedom without conscription” would demonstrate “the superiority of a society based upon the dignity of man over a society based on the supremacy of the State” (p. 32). Antiwar activists also condemned the draft because of its alleged unfair deferment practices and because they believed that readily available manpower through conscription made it easier for presidents to wage misguided wars like Vietnam. Some observers worried that an all-volunteer force would refute the maxim that military service was on obligation of citizenship and ignored issues of fairness and shared sacrifice. With only 6 percent of Americans under the age of sixty-five having any experience in the military by the new century, it was not surprising that the unpopular war in Iraq sparked far fewer protests than when the draft touched, at least potentially, nearly every American family. Even though young American males still register for a standby selective service system (an ironic legacy of President Jimmy Carter’s response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), nothing short of a large-scale protracted war will suffice to reinstitute the draft. Nonetheless, as Bailey notes, “there is something lost when individual liberty is valued over all and the rights and benefits of citizenship become less closely linked to its duties and obligations” (p. 260). As more and more Americans prefer to “bowl alone,” in political scientist Robert Putnam’s famous phrase, so too does America’s army mirror our increasingly individualistic society.

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Citation: J. Garry Clifford. Review of Bailey, Beth L., America's Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2011. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage
Reviewer: Erik Lund

Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage. Vauban and the French Military under Louis XIV: An Illustrated History of Fortifications and Strategies. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. viii + 292 pp. $49.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-4401-4.

Reviewed by Erik Lund Published on H-War (February, 2011) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Vauban's Fotresses Reviewed

To speak of the fortresses of Louis XIV is still to conjure up powerful emotions. Louis, more than most, is hero or monster depending on one's vantage point, and many perspectives are entangled with his great frontier fortification project. Germanophones, at least, still see where those frontiers were fixed. Raising the claim that these "scientific" fortresses constitute Enlightened progress is a call to the barricades on another approach entirely. It is no wonder that some would turn to lesser figures, such as Marshal Sebastian Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), who, after all, just followed orders. (And, as Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage inevitably reminds us, Vauban put some distance between himself and his king's project with a well-timed memorandum.)

So why do we need another book about Vauban and his fortresses? For one, the bookshelves dedicated to the subject include many written at the high point of teleological history and entertain ridiculously out-of-date claims about military and engineering professionalization and France's "natural frontiers." Lepage is not entirely free of old-fashioned Whiggism, but he is far better than most, writing in a format that will reach readers who might not otherwise get any exposure to more modern ideas. He also writes in an only occasionally eccentric English, making this work accessible to unilingual enthusiasts. Also, the mere fact of publishing now puts the hoary old collection of out-of-copyright plans, maps, and sketches here included into the wider marketplace of ideas. Finally, he provides a helpful guide to the practices of siege warfare that is actually better in some respects than Christopher Duffy's Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare (1975). This book will not replace Duffy, but it is convenient to have this discussion appended to Lepage's account of some forty of Vauban's fortresses.

Unfortunately, what this is not is a history of "strategies." Admittedly, this line of inquiry would be better pursued in Janis Langins's Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution (2004) and Jamel Ostwald's Vauban under Siege: Engineering Efficiency and Martial Vigor in the War of Spanish Succession (2007), but this reviewer has a more basic concern. The project of understanding the fortresses of the France of the grand siècle at one's reading desk was transformed over 150 years ago by the publication of the atlases of the French official history by Françoise Eugène de Vault and J. J. Pelet (Mémoires militaire relatifs à la Succession d’Espagne sous Louis XIV [1835-62]).

This reviewer appreciates that elephant folio volumes are not cheap. Access has always been limited. Over time, wear and light fingers have made them more difficult to consult. For that reason, one suspects that many historians of all levels of academic professionalism are unaware of the enormous value of these volumes. The problem, in short, has been a publishing problem, andsomeone should really try to resolve that issue. For the moment, however, Lepage's book provides a useful introduction to the issues.

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Citation: Erik Lund. Review of Lepage, Jean-Denis G. G., Vauban and the French Military under Louis XIV: An Illustrated History of Fortifications and Strategies. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2011. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Thomas Cardoza
Reviewer: Jasmin L. Johnson

Thomas Cardoza. Intrepid Women: Cantinières and Vivandières of the French Army. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. xiv + 295 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-35451-8.

Reviewed by Jasmin L. Johnson Published on H-War (February, 2011) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Les Filles du Regiment Analyzed

Thomas Cardoza begins his study by reminding us that “women and armies have been closely linked throughout  history” (p. 3). For generations before the advent of organized military logistics, armies were kept in the field to a large extent by that undersung heroine of military campaigning, the woman belittled by the term “camp follower”; she who provided the troops with food, drink, clean clothes, shelter and often,  sex, in order to make ends meet. She can be summed up in Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s feisty invention, Mother Courage, and there were many others like her.

The author’s first “real life” example is that of Madeleine Kintelberger, who in 1805 in the middle of the Austerlitz campaign, saw her husband killed by cannon shot, was herself wounded to the extent of losing an arm and was so determined to resist the Russian troops attempting to capture her that she fought, sword in hand, until bought down by another shot from a pistol. Meanwhile her children were also on the field of battle cowering behind an ammunition wagon. She survived this and a Russian prison camp and lived to be awarded a pension by the Emperor Napoleon upon her return to France. There appear to have been many equally fascinating tales to tell, most of which have been overlooked by generations of military historians.

However, as Cardoza is also quick to remind us, military history was usually written by men, so such women were, until the fairly recent past, written out of military history except where there was a wish to make moralizing points under the assumption that all camp followers were prostitutes. Ironically, even that anything but ordinary woman, Joan of Arc, was to make this mistake during her campaigns.

Cardoza further does well to remind us (and those who still snipe at the idea of women serving in the military) that the masculinized concept of military service is essentially a nineteenth-century construction and he chooses the cantinières and vivandières of the French armies (who survived up to the eve of World War One as a French military institution) to examine the role of women in a military organization other than as camp followers in the classic mold.

The first chapter explains that cantinières and vivandières find their formal origins in the French royal armies of the eighteenth century, although women providing such services were to be found in the armies of early modern France as far back as the seventeenth century. This formalization can be seen as an attempt to control prostitution and sharp dealing (which undoubtedly existed) by controlling the nature of their businesses and insisting that they be married to a soldier of the regiment (although the definition of the term “married” could be very loose indeed). Given the appalling nature of military logistics in the French armies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the rationale behind the cantinière’s role was to provide the soldiery (and in many cases, the officer corps) with the food, drink, and other supplies they needed in camp rather than relying on civilian contractors as it was believed that this would discourage desertion and absences without leave while men sought these things elsewhere. Nevertheless King Louis XIV attempted to reduce their numbers and while the authorities realized the value of the women and the fact that they filled many essential roles within a regiment, the authorities never really trusted them. As a result records for this period are patchy at best.

Chapter 2 examines the period of the French Revolution which bought not only monumental changes to society as a whole but also to the military. Women gained rights as citoyennes and while this could mean very little in real terms for the great majority of the female population, it meant a great deal to the women who had become vivandières. The tendency toward misogyny of the revolutionary government actually took away the right of any other woman to work within the military, let alone their right to serve in combat roles. What the revolutionary period did achieve, however, was to formalize the status of the cantinière as a businesswoman in her own right and one not necessarily reliant on some man to be able to run her often lucrative business within a regiment. With a beleaguered revolutionary government having to fight a war on several fronts for its very survival, the cantinière was to become “absolutely necessary” (p. 30). Many of the women who became cantinières appear to have been of peasant origin and were often  foreigners--examples exist of women from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland amongst other countries. Cardoza provides fascinating examples of women for whom records survive and it is perhaps not surprising that many of them appear to have been “daughters of the regiment”--born to cantinière families within a regiment and going on to provide that unit with further generations of cantinières as well as “fils du regiment”--boys who would go on to be soldiers and often extremely effective ones, having been almost bought up with musket in hand. For many, the regiment was an extended family and given the high death rate amongst the fathers of such children, this was often an important anchor in life.

The third chapter goes on the examine imperial France and the fortunes of the cantinières under the emperor. Napoleon Bonaparte plainly approved of the concept and for the first time cantinières could expect a proper pension for their service where previous regimes had only recognized this as a semi-official status at best. There was a price to be paid however given Napoleon’s constant warfare which led to an increased risk for the cantinière corps not made any the less by the women’s willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to provide their services to the soldiery. The author was able to find particularly good  sources for the Napoleonic era (not altogether surprising given how bureaucratic the First Empire was to become) and tells a wonderful tale of finding cantinière service records in the archive of Vincennes still in their original bundles and with the original official seals unbroken (p. 5)! Once again, one is aware of the tension which existed as to whether the cantinière was part of the official military strength or simply a civilian doing a job within a military context. This tension never seems to have entirely vanished throughout the long history of the cantinière service. However, this did not prevent acts of extreme bravery by cantinières who knew that they were part of the regimental strength whatever the War Ministry might say. Their behavior during the hellish retreat from Moscow speaks volumes as to their loyalty to the regime.

Chapter 4 of the study examines the period 1814-52. Under the Bourbon Restoration cantinières were not always trusted because they had shown such loyalty to the Emperor Napoleon (repeated during the Hundred Days). The author cites the example of the wonderfully nicknamed Marie Tete de Bois (Woodenhead), a Napoleonic loyalist who, left without a regiment after the Restoration, rejoined the colors at the start of the Hundred Days and having nothing to go back to, chose to fall with the Old Guard at Waterloo (p. 105). Women who had served Napoleon struggled to gain recognition and assistance once their careers in the military came to a close during the Restoration, though Cardoza suggests in his chapter heading they were still perceived as “useful and necessary” (p. 103). Charles X’s somewhat half-hearted attempts to achieve “la gloire” in Algeria opened up further avenues for cantinières with the increasingly fashionable Zouave regiments of that period. It was during this time that the cantinière finally gained the uniform which was to become so recognizable for the rest of the corps’ existence. The author provides us with some good-quality monochrome illustrations of the women both in uniform and prior to this between pages 91 and 103 of the study.

The fifth chapter examines the life of the cantinière corps under the Second Empire of 1852-70. This is usually perceived as the golden age of cantinières. The emperor Napoleon III seems to have been a great champion of cantinières as they were so much part of the Napoleonic myth which he was careful to utilize. It wa in this period that cantinières genuinely became figures of popular folklore and advertising, parading in full uniform at the head of their regiments on regimental high days and holidays. Uniforms became more ornate and the women finally began to receive military decorations for their undoubted acts of heroism and bravery under fire. However, the experiences of the Crimea and Italy, campaigns during which the weaknesses of French military logistics became horribly obvious, nevertheless suggested that the days of the cantinières as anything but a romantic reminder of the past were fast becoming numbered. They were still useful as a source of supplementary rations and day-to-day necessaries required by the troops but the ever-extended use of rifled hand weapons and artillery, combined with the beginnings of a masculine reaction to anything perceived as less than “feminine” from women meant that the battlefield heroics of the past were considerably more dangerous and the battlefield “not a place for women” in an increasingly masculinized military. This did not prevent the redoubtable “Mere Ibrahim” a cantinière of the Second Zouave Regiment going to her grave at 75 after a long career, with full military honors (p. 131). It was during this period that Queen Victoria met with and spoke to a group of cantinières and expressed a wish that such units existed within the British army--one formidable woman recognizing others, perhaps?

The final chapter covers the years immediately after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune from the founding of the Third Republic in 1871 until the outbreak of World War One when the history of the cantinière corps effectively ended. Its demise was almost accidental. Cantinières were again suspected of Bonapartist leanings and there was a deeply rooted political drive to replace the old professional army with a properly republican system of national service which was to last until the very recent past; indeed, the reviewer remembers seeing young conscripts on their way to and from barracks, heading from Gare du Nord to Gare de L’Est in Paris, or in the reverse direction, for many years. There were also social reasons--a strong temperance movement had begun to make inroads even before this period and the concept of troops being sold alcohol both on the battlefield and off was no longer seen as socially acceptable, removing one of the cantinières’ main source of income. French military logistics had improved in the wake of experience in the Crimean War meaning that cantinières were also no longer the main source of meals for the NCOs of a regiment, cutting into another income stream. The cumulative result of these developments was an official attitude of repressive tolerance which chipped away at the ability of cantinières to earn a legal living and made it effectively impossible for new women to take up the role. It is also noticeable that perceived female emancipation in other areas had led to a reaction amongst the more conservative elements of society which may have impacted on the cantinières even though they retained support at lower levels of the military hierarchy. The outcome was a slow process of attrition as cantinières retired or died and were not replaced; the corps slowly aged and withered away in the years around 1900 without any formal decision to abolish it.

Cardoza takes the view that cantinières could still have had a role to play in World War One, but this seems to suggest a somewhat romanticized view of the nature of that war. Cantinières had already been exposed to rifled weaponry and heavy artillery in the Crimea, Italy, and the Franco-Prussian War and the results had been catastrophic. One can only imagine these admittedly feisty women trying to provide food and home comforts at Verdun or on the Chemin des Dames--and the impact on contemporary troop and even civilian morale of potentially significant female death and mutilation. At best, the cantinière corps might still have provided a colorful parade element for some regiments, but the day of their real usefulness was undoubtedly past by the turn of the twentieth century.

Thomas Cardoza is to be congratulated on his attempt to shed some light on the role of the cantinière in both war and peace. The role of women in war has been overlooked for far too long. The author quotes the French historian Louis Gosselin who, writing in 1932, stated that of the cantinières, “only a silhouette” had survived: “although one desires a completed portrait” (p. 11). Cardoza takes us some way down the road to providing that portrait and his experience of finding material for his researches may encourage others to reach further into the experience of those remarkable women, the cantinières of the French army.

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Citation: Jasmin L. Johnson. Review of Cardoza, Thomas, Intrepid Women: Cantinières and Vivandières of the French Army. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2011. URL:

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Author: Michael Grow
Reviewer: David Sheinin

Michael Grow. U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions: Pursuing Regime Change in the Cold War. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. xiv + 266 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-1586-5.

Reviewed by David Sheinin (Trent University) Published on H-Diplo (February, 2011) Commissioned by Dustin Walcher

It’s the President, Stupid! Decision Making in Cold War Interventionism

Michael Grow tells his readers early that this will be a “fresh interpretation of the root causes of U.S. interventionism in the Western Hemisphere during the Cold War--a reconceptualization that seeks to move the historiography of hemispheric interventionism beyond old orthodoxies of ‘security versus economics’” (p. xiii).  It is that, in addition to a rich, fast-moving historical synthesis, that works extremely well.  Grow has produced a wonderfully readable overview of U.S. interventionism in Latin America during the Cold War, with each key intervention laid out as a chapter.  This is not a history of the interventions themselves or of historical context outside of one very specific objective: Grow is concerned with showing how and why presidents made decisions to intervene.  The author makes a compelling case that repeatedly the buck stopped with the president.  There are few surprises.  In a Cold War context, U.S. presidents broke from a focus on the Soviet Union at key moments to intervene in Latin America.  They announced that national security was at stake when there was no real danger to U.S. interests.  The presidential decision to intervene in Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1961), British Guiana (1963), the Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1970), Nicaragua (1981), Grenada (1983), and Panama (1989) was always the result of a combination of domestic U.S. political factors, presidential muscle flexing, Cold War power politics imperatives, and a sense that there was a strong, imminent threat to security.

Much of Grow’s skill lies in his mastery and ordering of information and analysis with which many readers will already be familiar.  At the same time, the scholarship has moved past some of the assumptions that drive Grow’s approach, like the orthodoxy of “security versus economics” as a policy imperative binary.  Here and elsewhere, Grow is treading over familiar ground in highlighting the work of revisionists and postrevisionists as he searches for lessons in the longstanding failure of U.S. Cold War foreign policies.  He does not address the work of a host of authors who have discussed a range of measures by which we might reasonably assess a number of the problems raised.[1]  Moreover, Grow asserts that he is concerned with the roles of Latin American and Caribbean actors in U.S. decisions to intervene (what he calls intervention by invitation).  However, he draws on no Spanish language sources, no Latin American or Caribbean primary documents, and only a small handful of analyses of national historical processes outside the United States that framed intervention in the hemisphere.

Chapter organization is chronological, by intervention.  In that ordering, there is a puzzle.  Why does the U.S. role in the 1973 overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende merit no chapter and no significant place in the volume?  At the same time, why did Grow include a chapter on the much less historically significant U.S. intervention in the 1970 Chilean election that brought Allende to power?  Moreover, why does Grow include a chapter on “Nicaragua, 1981” while there is no chapter on the 1986 Iran-Contra Scandal (and only passing reference to it in a subsequent chapter on the 1989 Panama invasion)?  The excision of the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and Iran-Contra is enormously problematic; in so doing, Grow sets aside key touchstones in the narrative of U.S. interventionism, Cold War regime change, and the changing role of the president.  By leaving out these interventions, Grow has removed two cases where the absence of immediacy in presidential decision making on intervention raises doubts about the force of the book’s key argument.  Despite this, readers will find that in making the choices he did on chapter organization and emphasis, Grow has quite rightly directed an important spotlight on “Chile, 1970” and “Nicaragua, 1981.”  These two historical moments show very clearly how presidential decision making set the United States on a course for ugly intervention; they certainly should have received more attention than they have until now.

Grow’s rejection of economic or business imperatives as driving policy is a theme that appears repeatedly.  While economic interests were perhaps not at the forefront of presidential decision making in the episodes outlined, and in the manner presidents reached their decisions to intervene, day by day in the lead-up to action, Grow sometimes seems too anxious to dismiss them altogether as factors that may have framed those same decisions.  By announcing the problem as an economics versus presidential policymaking binary in a manner that excises the melding of those motives in the mind of the president or his advisers, and marginalizes other potential prompts, he removes economic motives as a factor.  The scholars Grow cites on the economic motivations for intervention are at times weak foils for his analysis.  In his chapter “Chile, 1970,” for example, Grow notes that several authors have attributed President Richard Nixon’s “Chilean intervention to economic motives” (p. 99).  He cites James Petras and Morris Morley (The United States and Chile: Imperialism and the Overthrow of the Allende Government [1975]) on Nixon’s interventionism as “the effort of an imperial state to defend the interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations in Chile” (p. 99).  However, Grow neglects that Petras and Morley’s argument is structuralist.  It would not necessarily contradict Grow’s points on presidential policymaking and may well enhance them.

The chapter on the 1983 Grenada invasion is representative of other chapters in the book in that it adds little that is new in broad strokes on the invasion and U.S. policy (and anticipates, in this case, what will shortly be the release of a deluge of relevant U.S. government documents).  It succeeds, though, as do other chapters, in ordering available material and analysis usefully and in a way that establishes great clarity on timing and decision making, bringing together a range of elements including fears of another Iranian hostage crisis and the roles of Grenada’s neighbors in the Caribbean.  Here as elsewhere in the volume, Grow is at his best digesting a rich secondary literature and some published primary documents to follow three analytical trains.  First, he argues compellingly that the decision to intervene, while prompted by many factors, came down to what the president wanted and did.  Second, he tersely shows precisely what mattered to the president in the lead-up to the decision to intervene.  Finally, day by day, and even hour by hour, in the lead-up to the trigger being pulled on Grenada, Grow leads readers through how Ronald Reagan and his advisers came to be in a position to decide--then how the president himself made the decision to intervene.  There is simply no other historical synthesis of U.S. interventionism during the Cold War that so effectively combines these features in weaving a strong narrative on presidential power and interventionism.


[1]. See, for example, Eric Paul Roorda, “The Cult of the Airplane among U.S. Military Men and Dominicans during the U.S. Occupation and the Trujillo Regime,” in Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the History of U.S.-Latin American Relations, ed. Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 269-310; Jonathan Haslam, The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende’s Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide (New York: Verso, 2005); and Christian G. Appy, “Eisenhower’s Guatemala Doodle, or: How to Draw, Deny, and Take Credit for a Third World Coup,” in Cold War Constructions: Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966, ed. Christian G. Appy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 183-214.

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In: H-War
Author: Frank McLynn
Reviewer: Joseph Frechette

Frank McLynn. Marcus Aurelius: A Life. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2009. 720 pp. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-306-81830-1.

Reviewed by Joseph Frechette Published on H-War (February, 2011) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

An Ambitious Biography of a Complex Life and Times

It is perhaps inevitable that a volume of this size and ambition might have corresponding difficulties.  Frank McLynn does not restrict himself to a mere biography of Marcus Aurelius.  Over the course of nineteen chapters and three appendices, he treats the reader to lengthy discussions not only of Marcus’s immediate life and times, but also his philosophy, attitude toward Christianity, and significance to posterity, as well as the terribly fraught question of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  All of this is in an assertive and engaging style with a polymath’s facility at drawing historical parallels from the ancient to the modern.  Given the presentation of such a large amount of material it might be a bit ungracious to complain about what else might have been included.  To his credit, McLynn includes much material that provides useful context for the lay reader and it is clear that he familiarized himself with a great deal of the specialized primary and secondary literature.  The result, as the London Times note on the dust jacket proclaims, is a “polished and panoramic” biography.

The very size and complexity of the task, however, do not always lend themselves to such narrative facility.  The reader might never guess that much of what McLynn relates so confidently is the subject of ongoing debate.  Even worse, Da Capo Press has not done the reader or McLynn any favors in its treatment of his bibliographic materials.  The use of endnotes rather than footnotes is especially unwieldy in a tome of this size, as is the frustrating and inexplicable lack of line breaks between notes.  The lack of a general bibliography for all but the ancient narrative sources further complicates the reader’s task in pinning down exact citations to secondary materials in one hundred pages of notes.  This is a pity, because many of McLynn’s endnotes are fairly substantial and often make clear that, despite the directness of his prose, he is not unacquainted with many of the nuances of the current historiography.

In the end, however, McLynn must bear the burden of his authorial choices.  Despite all the hand-wringing over academic historians losing sight of readability in their narratives, in this case, a bit more nuance in the text might have made for a better book.  As McLynn freely admits, “the plain truth is that there are vast chunks of Marcus Aurelius’ life about which we know nothing” (p. 86).  Given that acknowledged reality, as well as the manifest difficultly in establishing the facts of any of the events eighteen centuries past, a bit more circumspection might have been beneficial for the unwary reader.  Instead McLynn is given to aggressive conclusions on topics about which there might be reasonable differences of opinion.  For instance, it is not clear to this reviewer that “a more priggish, inhuman, killjoy, and generally repulsive doctrine would be hard to imagine” than ancient Stoicism, particularly given the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (p. 209).

Perhaps most seriously, McLynn’s text is replete with details drawn from the tendentious collection of late imperial biographies collectively known as the Historia Augusta.  McLynn even goes so far as to refer to them as the “official histories” (p. 37).  Although it is generally conceded that the earlier biographies in the series, which begin with that of the Emperor Hadrian, tend to be more reliable, they are hardly straightforward contemporary sources.  This easygoing attitude toward a problematic source does not always combine well with McLynn’s self-assured style of characterization.  To refer in passing to Hadrian as possessed of “psychopathic tendencies” seems a bit strong when McLynn admits that the Historia Augusta’s portrait of Hadrian can only really represent senatorial opinion (pp. 30, 42).  Likewise, despite conceding that most historians treat the biography of Avidius Cassius “at arm’s length,” he boldly concludes, based on this source, that Cassius was “more than usually contemptuous of human life, and perhaps driven by sadistic urges” (p. 375).  It may well have been that the Emperor Lucius Aurelius Commodus was a monster of the first order, but one wonders if simply retelling the lurid tales of the Historia Augusta as unproblematic is entirely appropriate.  It is also a bit jarring to see an off the cuff reference to the Emperor Trajan simply as an “alcoholic homosexual” even after a lengthy digression on his reign (p. 319).  More restraint, qualification, and source discussion within the narrative would have been welcome.

McLynn’s discussion of the “decline and fall” of the Roman Empire is also problematic.  He relies heavily on such classics as Michael Rostovtzeff’s Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (first published in 1926), Eric R. Dodds’s Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (1965), and Arthur E. R. Boak’s Manpower Shortage and the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West (1955).  Although justly respected, these works are all at least forty years old.  McLynn concludes regarding the empire’s demise that “the writing was on the wall for those who chose to read it” a full two centuries before the Battle of Adrianople and three centuries before the deposition of Romulus Augustus (p. 457).  Given the track record of relatively transient modern imperial powers, it is a dubious proposition that the period AD 180-476 was three centuries of constant and inevitable decline.  Such a proposition neglects the enormous amount of scholarship on the vitality of Late Antique society over the last forty years and the lively debate currently taking place over whether “decline and fall” or “transformation” are better models for the later Roman Empire.[1]

Perhaps unconsciously, McLynn perpetuates certain anachronisms that more recent scholarship eschews.  Terms like “bourgeoisie” (pp. 10, 468, 475, 486) and “proletariat” (pp. 10, 79, 82, 158, 409, 440) echo Rostovtzeff, but are also loaded terms that may mislead as well as enlighten the lay reader.[2]  The portions of the work most likely to be of interest to the H-War readership are the discussions of the Parthian campaigns of Trajan and Lucius Verus, Marcus’s wars with the Marcommani, and the revolt of Avidius Cassius which include some discussion of the imperial army.  There is not much new here for specialists, although McLynn does provide an engaging resume of events.  What does jar a bit are the occasional narrative inconsistencies.  McLynn describes Trajan as a “hard driver” who still “lolled” in Babylon with no attempt to reconcile the two comments (p. 135).  Likewise, he treats the reader to a lengthy discussion on Lucius Verus’s peccadilloes and foppish behavior (esp. pp. 120-125, 142-143), but then notes that Verus was “no fool” (p. 158)  McLynn does note the lack of a powerful officer class and central army command, but still resorts to such anachronistic shorthands as “northern frontier command” and “general staff,” which may confuse the unwary (pp. 141, 143).

To be fair, it is unlikely that McLynn or Da Capo Press intended this volume for a specialist audience or as an undergraduate textbook.  Despite the reservations noted above, the dedicated and wary nonspecialist who chooses to peruse the endnotes carefully may read the work with enjoyment and possibly some profit.


[1]. A good introduction to the debate is Jeanne Rutenburg and Arthur M. Eckstein, “The Return of the Fall of Rome,” International History Review 29 (2007): 109-122.

[2]. For a discussion of Rostovtzeff’s views and the sea-change in the study of ancient economics taking place in the 1960s, see Bryan Ward Perkins, “Jones on the Economy,” in A. H. M. Jones and the Later Roman Empire, ed. David Gwynn (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 193-210.

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In: H-War
Author: Gilberto N. Villahermosa
Reviewer: Thomas E. Hanson

Gilberto N. Villahermosa. Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953. Washington DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2009. xv + 329 pp. $33.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-16-083324-3.

Reviewed by Thomas E. Hanson Published on H-War (December, 2010) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

The Borinqueneers in Korea

Honor and Fidelity joins an ever-growing list of regimental histories covering twentieth-century American military history. What sets it apart from many recent offerings is its role in expanding our understanding of organizational evolution during long-term commitment to combat operations. Author Gilbert N. Villahermosa, a serving army officer, has done a masterful job detailing the experiences of a unique outfit in the post-World War II U.S. Army. Through archival research, exhaustive interviews with surviving participants, and an engaging narrative, Villahermosa forcefully argues that the devolution of the 65th Infantry Regiment's combat effectiveness and cohesion resulted from both internal and external factors, the cumulative effects of which led directly to the mass combat refusals seen in late fall 1952.

The 65th Infantry was a typical Regular Army unit in 1950, in that it lacked a significant percentage of authorized personnel, equipment of all types, and adequate training areas. It was atypical, however, in that it was one of only two segregated regiments remaining in the Regular Army, the other being the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment on occupation duty in Japan. Although the army had no policy restricting assignment of Hispanics in general or Puerto Ricans in particular, the 65th had always been explicitly Puerto Rican. During the first year of the regiment's service in Korea, this was, in the author's view, a source of strength. Villahermosa argues that the ethnic ties among soldiers and a deep sense of trust and respect between leaders and the led allowed the unit to fight effectively even under the hellish conditions prevailing in northern Korea in December 1950. As time passed, however, and attrition and rotation brought new infusions of manpower into the regiment, this trust and respect eroded as more non-English-speaking soldiers from Puerto Rico filled the ranks of the regiment while fewer and fewer Spanish-speaking noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and officers were assigned.

Villahermosa ably depicts this devolution of effectiveness in the chapters covering the regiment's defeat at Outpost Kelly in late summer of 1952, and the mass combat refusals that followed at Jackson Heights in October. Following a long period in corps reserve, the lackluster regimental commander Colonel Juan C. Cordero-Davila failed to make adequate plans or provide adequate supervision during the attack to seize Outpost Kelly, resulting in piecemeal defeats by the Chinese that reduced the number of combat-experienced leaders at the company level and lowered the morale of the soldiers. The fact that all parties continued to believe that Puerto Rican soldiers should be segregated into their own regiment exacerbated the disconnect between the soldiers and their leaders. By late 1952, there were few NCOs or officers in the Puerto Rican National Guard who had not already served in Korea; Major General Robert L. Dulaney's calls for more Puerto Rican leaders remained unanswered. Although Puerto Rican soldiers continued to fill the 65th's ranks, fewer and fewer spoke any English. Because several of the officers both spoke no Spanish and appeared disdainful of Puerto Rican cultural sensitivities, by late 1952 a gap of catastrophic proportions had opened between platoon leaders and company commanders on the one hand and the soldiers and even NCOs whom they led on the other hand. Following the regiment's humiliation at Outpost Kelly, a Continental officer replaced Cordero-Davila as regimental commander. Although Colonel Chester B. DeGavre had served with the 65th prior to World War II and spoke Spanish, one of his first orders prohibited his men from wearing mustaches "until they proved their manhood" (p. 239). Predictably, DeGavre's order had the opposite effect from what was intended. And because few of the leaders could adequately explain the purpose of orders issued to their non-English-speaking soldiers, almost no one outside of DeGavre's command group understood that his emphasis on discipline and appearance resulted directly from his fears that the regiment would be inactivated or otherwise discorporated as a Puerto Rican unit if their combat effectiveness did not improve. Unfortunately for DeGavre and the regiment, events at Jackson Heights seemed to validate prejudices of some members of the 3d Division and IX Corps staffs. Not only was the regiment unable to retain possession of the outpost, but repeated counterattacks also failed when substantial numbers of Puerto Rican soldiers disobeyed the orders of their officers and refused to fight.

Villahermosa concludes that the regiment's decline over the course of its years in Korea is directly attributable to three primary factors. First, the army's insistence on maintaining the 65th as a "segregated" regiment meant that there would never be a pool of experienced officers and NCOs of sufficient size to sustain a high level of combat effectiveness over the long term. And because the army had never restricted assignment of Hispanic soldiers the way it had for black soldiers, there was no guarantee that individual Puerto Rican replacements would be assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment. Second, senior leaders at the division and corps level ignored the widespread inability of most replacement Puerto Rican soldiers to speak English, as demonstrated by the complete lack of any guidance issued to the 65th or 3d Infantry Division to remedy the problem. Major General Dulaney could not have been ignorant of the near-universal use of Spanish by members of the 65th Infantry Regiment during his almost daily visits to the regimental command post. But rather than scour the ranks of his division for combat-experienced bilingual officers and NCOs, the only program that received any emphasis was the accelerated promotion to sergeant of junior enlisted soldiers already in the regiment--a program that did nothing to address the continuing inability of most platoon leaders and company commanders to communicate orders effectively in battle. Third and most important, the decision to place Colonel Cordero-Davila in command of the regiment and Major General Dulaney's failure to mentor that officer once his leadership deficiencies became apparent directly led to the lax discipline that allowed the Chinese to overrun Outpost Kelly. Not only did Cordero-Davila demonstrate an ignorance bordering on stupidity in the face of numerous indicators of a major Chinese attack, but he also displayed a crippling indecisiveness long after it was apparent that a robust counterattack was necessary to restore the outpost line. Instead, Dulaney failed to issue any directives to his less-experienced subordinate and he continued to underwrite Cordero-Davila's poor performance until he was himself replaced.

Villahermosa's work provides an outstanding examination of the effects of sustained combat at both the macro and micro level. The work is firmly based on archival research from both the National Archives and the U.S. Army Military History Institute, augmented by numerous interviews with veterans from all three phases of the 65th's participation in the Korean War. The themes Villahermosa highlights in this work--organizational policy, leadership, arguments over the wisdom of ethnic identity as a basis for combat effectiveness, and the impact of politics on army policy--will resonate with scholars, professional soldiers, and the general public. This work has a place in a number of academic programs and should be required reading for all military pre-commissioning programs.

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Citation: Thomas E. Hanson. Review of Villahermosa, Gilberto N., Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953. H-War, H-Net Reviews. December, 2010. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Kyle F. Zelner
Reviewer: Jasmin L. Johnson

Kyle F. Zelner. A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip’s War. Warfare and Culture Series. New York: New York University Press, 2009. Maps, illustrations. xv + 325 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8147-9718-1.

Reviewed by Jasmin L. Johnson Published on H-War (June, 2010) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

"Able and Fitt Soldjers"?[1]

Specialists in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms have long been aware of the "New England connection" in regard to the civil wars through such figures as the siege master Colonel Thomas Rainborowe and the preacher and regicide, the oft-misspelled, Hugh Peter. This creates an interest in what became of the less well-known colonial fighters for the new order when and if they decided to go home. Reading Kyle F. Zelner's A Rabble in Arms leads one to hope for some enlightenment on these matters.

It has to be admitted that "King Philip's War" is largely unheard of on the British side of the Big Pond other than via revisionist discourse, which tends to cast colonial militias in a very dark manner over their treatment of the Native American people who had the misfortune to fall into their hands. However, Zelner's volume goes some way to examining the facts behind the myths and attempts to explain how militia recruiting practices may have led to some of the more egregious excesses. The book consists of an in-depth study of Essex County, Massachusetts--a community for which very good meeting records, court records, and muster rolls survive. Essex County is a useful model because it contains examples of all the community types to be found in the early modern colonial structure.

Traditional assumptions about colonial militiamen suggest that they were hardy yeomen, professionals, fine members of families of high standing, and volunteers to a man; Zelner's study, however, suggests that these were the very people who generally avoided impressment and that the "rabble" mentioned in the title--the criminals, the drunkards, the poor, and outsiders, those who had least investment in a community and who could be sacrificed with little cost--were the ones who were sent to war against King Philip's forces. As Zelner states: "who was sent [emphasis in original] to fight colonial New England's wars is a deeply complex and important one" (p. 2). The first generation of settlers (as so often) blamed the rising generation for all the ills of the colony; the fulminations of Increase Mather and other senior clerics against the godlessness and criminality of younger colonists led to the impressment of the very sort of men whom the older generation blamed for the existence of the wars in the first place.

Chapter 1 attempts an institutional history of the Massachusetts militia, and it is interesting to note that the military reforms wrought in England by the much maligned King Charles I and even the "new modelling" of the parliamentarian army seem to have largely passed by the authorities in New England. They preferred a deeply conservative model based on the Elizabethan system of impressment with local militia committees playing the role of the English county Lord Lieutenant, apparently unaware of that system's poor results in its English homeland and the evil reputation that this system had come to have. Its shortcomings might go some way to explaining the disasters that befell colonial militias in the opening days of the war. It is striking that none of the senior New England participants in King Philip's War appear to have seen service in the British wars in their youth.

The second chapter examines impressment methods and gives some attention to how volunteers were used as well as the use and abuse of substitution as a means of filling ranks. Compulsion to attend militia training and to assist with building fortifications at first fell upon deaf ears until the threat came close enough to communities to be real. Militia committees were slow to learn lessons. The initial reaction to indigenous people's "skulking and lirking [sic]" ways of war was one of outraged complaint that the enemy was not "playing by the rules," though eventually a learning process saw the development of "Ranger Scout" style units of a sort usually credited to the American Civil War (p. 45).

Chapter 3 examines impressment practices in four of Essex County's more prosperous towns: Ipswich, Rowley, Topsfield, and Marblehead. Why these towns sent particular members of its communities to fight is intriguing. Ipswich used impressment as a means to get rid of "undesirables" (as defined, of course, by town elites). Rowley had an unpleasant religious controversy brewing and the losing faction among the town elite exploited impressment as a means to turn the tables in this dispute. Topsfield had a fair number of volunteers and filled the gaps by impressing outcasts and undesirables, while Marblehead, after experiencing the loss of valuable townspeople in the 1675 massacre of Captain Thomas Lathrop and his unit at what became known as Bloody Brook, was careful to impress only outsiders and those with no real link to the community.

The fourth chapter examines the outcomes of impressment in some of Essex County's smaller communities: Manchester, Beverly, Wenham, and Andover. Many impressments in these smaller communities were on men simply in the right place at the right (or wrong, depending on one's point of view) time. These towns often had very little choice in who was sent to fight and had to obey impressment orders from larger communities.

Chapter 5 is an impressive and exhaustive study of all the men who were sent to fight from Essex County and for whom records survive. What is striking about the 357 impressed men is not so much who they were, but rather who they were not. Very few farmers or their sons were sent to fight--a logical enough decision in a community always at threat from famine or starvation. Most of the men sent to serve were young and unmarried. Married men of good standing largely avoided impressment, which could again be seen as logical. However, it is also striking that few members of recognized elite families or their sons were sent to fight. The overwhelming majority of the pressed men were "criminals" (as defined by the elites), the poor, individuals at odds with their community in some way, outsiders, or strangers. It is not hard to understand why such appalling military disasters followed or why massacres took place when colonial forces finally came out on top in the struggle. There were many reasons why certain members of society went off to war, but being a heroic volunteer in a citizen army was generally not one of them.

The book's final chapter attempts to examine the aftermath of the conflict. What became of the men who survived and came back to the communities that had shown so little regard for them? As with survivors of many a war, men came back disabled in both body and mind or hatefully at odds with a society that had rejected them. The wrecking of the meeting house in Newbury by three veterans of the campaign in an orgy of revenge taking against the community that had put them through so much is a startling example of how war could affect young men. More surprising is that the community stood up for them and asked for their crimes to be treated with leniency.

Zelner's volume contains impressive notes and appendices including muster rolls, tax lists, age profiles, and employment profiles of the men impressed--a useful tool for anyone wishing to attempt further research in this area. The book also contains interesting illustrations and useful maps.

All in all, this is an impressive deconstruction of the populist historical view of colonial militias as a group of citizen soldiers and willing volunteers; it ably demonstrates how far the personal interests of elite groups could be placed above genuine military needs of a conflict with often devastatingly damaging outcomes. It is an open question as to whether the Puritan "city on a hill" was ever to be the same again in the aftermath of King Philip's War. 


[1]. The title is a quotation from a document dealing with the first militia levies (p. 54).

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Citation: Jasmin L. Johnson. Review of Zelner, Kyle F., A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip’s War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. June, 2010. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Thomas J. Craughwell
Reviewer: Timothy May

Thomas J. Craughwell. The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan's Mongols Almost Conquered the World. Beverly: Fair Winds Press, 2010. Illustrations. 272 pp. $19.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-59233-398-1.

Reviewed by Timothy May (North Georgia College & State University) Published on H-War (June, 2010) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Long Titles and Lavish Illustrations

As one might gather from the title of Thomas J. Craughwell’s book on the Mongol Empire, it is intended for the general public. Indeed, from a scholarly perspective there is little to recommend--there are no new interpretations of events or analysis. While the sources are fairly up to date, the author relies on equal parts popular works as to scholarly books. Also, the book has numerous errors. So why is it being reviewed? Other than the fact that I was asked to review it, the book must be judged for its merits. Furthermore, it is a book such as this that first awakened my interest (and I suspect others’) in the Mongol Empire, and for that reason alone it should receive some attention.

The book is organized in sixteen chapters. The first eleven deal with the life and conquest of Chinggis Khan. Craughwell uses the “G-word,” or Genghis Khan. I assume he makes this choice because the popular audience might be more familiar with this name or rather title and would become confused with the more proper Chinggis Khan. Why the publishing industry perpetuates this is beyond me: how many famous Mongolians do they think the American public knows? The second half of the book discusses the reign of Ögödei, Güÿük, and Möngke, using many of the now standard tropes for chapters, such as the title of chapter 13, “How One Man’s Death Saved Europe from Destruction.” The final two chapters then focus on Kublai Khan and Mongol rule in China, with little to no attention given to the rest of the Mongol Empire after 1260. The book itself is lavishly illustrated using artwork from the period as well as latter woodcuts, lithographs, and old maps. Thus it is colorful and eye-catching. Readers will be drawn to it for this reason. It also has useful sidebars that provide information on tangential aspects of the empire, such as the role of shaman. 

Unfortunately, the book is, as stated earlier, rife with errors. Indeed, because of the lack of footnotes, it is difficult to determine from where the author derived his errors--did he misread the sources, come to his own conclusions, or simply repeat another’s error? Part of the problem arises from the attempt to summarize a complicated series of events while also focusing on a few key figures. For instance, the author discusses the conflict between Chinggis Khan and his blood-brother and rival, Jamukha. In Craughwell’s book this conflict is continual, but he neglects to include that after 1201, Jamukha was only a bit player in the affairs of Mongolia and the conflict was between Chinggis Khan and more powerful polities (pp. 75-77).

Other more factual errors also occur. He has Senggüm, a Kereit prince, dying in the Gobi Desert instead of in the kingdom of Xixia (p. 80). Craughwell also indicates that Ögödei was selected heir because Chaghadai and Jochi (all were sons of Chinggis Khan) quarreled after Chinggis Khan died in 1227. Although it is true that Ögödei was chosen due to the quarrelling of Jochi and Chaghadai, the problem is that Jochi died before Chinggis Khan did (probably in 1225) and that Ögödei was named the successor as early as 1219. Another factual error is that Craughwell has Chinggis Khan stopping at his capital of Karakorum, although the city was built during the later reign of Ögödei (p. 158). 

Craughwell’s interpretations of events are also a bit disconcerting. In discussing the Mongol invasions of Georgia, he mentions that the initial invasion by Subotai in 1220 not only was undertaken as part of the pursuit of the Kharazmian Shah and as a reconnaissance, but was also done to gather intelligence for an invasion of Europe (p. 167). While the Mongols certainly did gather intelligence, this was standard operating procedure. Although this may seem a minor issue, Craughwell’s assertion gives the impression that the Mongols intended to invade Europe as early in 1220. There is no indication of this anywhere in the documentary sources or from an evaluation of Mongol actions. Furthermore, intelligence gathered in Georgia had very little practical use in Hungary or Poland (both targets of the Mongol invasion twenty years later). 

So, what value does the book have? As I mentioned, the illustrations alone make the book worth a perusal. My criticisms come from being a specialist on the Mongol Empire, but for a sixteen-year-old or a casual reader, it is unlikely to alter their perception of the Mongols. Craughwell writes well enough and is likely to engage the interest of a reader so that they then read a book or two listed in his bibliography. And then, perhaps when the high school student is in college he or she will take a course on the Mongols or if that person is an adult, perhaps they will read a more scholarly work. Thus, while I would never assign the book to a class, for a person who has an interest in the Mongol Empire, this book will suffice as an introduction as it is well written, nicely illustrated, and has the general flow of events correct even though some of the facts and interpretations are misleading on close inspection.

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Author: E. M. Primakov
Reviewer: Dima Adamsky

E. M. Primakov. Russia and the Arabs: Behind the Scenes in the Middle East From the Cold War to the Present. New York: Basic Books, 2009. 432 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-465-00475-1.

Reviewed by Dima Adamsky (Harvard University) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2010) Commissioned by Sergey Radchenko

Adamsky on Primakov, Russia and the Arabs

If one looks for the Russian equivalent of Henry Kissinger (especially in Middle Eastern affairs), then probably Evgeny Primakov--one of the leading scholars and practitioners of international relations in the Soviet and Russian eras--would come to mind. A student of the Arab world by training, Primakov has been Pravda Middle Eastern correspondent, secret envoy for special political and intelligence missions, head of the Institute of Oriental Studies and the Institute of World Economics and International Relations, the first head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (the successor to the First Directorate of the KGB), foreign minister and prime minister of Russia. On the scene and behind the curtains, for more than fifty years Primakov has been at the epicenter of formulating and conducting Soviet and Russian foreign and particularly Middle Eastern, policy. 

It is difficult to overestimate the breadth, depth, and richness of Russia and the Arabs. With his unique firsthand experience with every major political figure in the Middle East, Primakov offers a combination of personal memoir with thorough and all-encompassing analysis of the forces that shaped the region for decades. The book offers a tour d’horizon of Middle Eastern history since the end of World War II and presents a view from Russia on the Cold War trends in the region. An excellent storyteller, Primakov offers his account of the superpowers; Egyptian, Syrian and Israeli history; and regional interactions since early 1950. He pays specific attention to the behind-the-scene dynamics on the eve of and during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, and describes the subsequent attempts to embark on the peace process, both locally and globally. Separate chapters deal with the political history of the Arab world, Lebanon, the history of the Palestinian national movement and Yasser Arafat’s role in it, and the political history of Iraq, with a focus on Saddam Hussein. Several chapters deal with the post-Cold War international relations in the region. 

Primakov skillfully synthesizes descriptions of broad regional trends and superpower dynamics with colorful portraits of specific political figures. The author is careful not to rely only on his memory and notes taken at the time, but also utilizes collections of documents from the Russian Presidential Archive. The use of unique primary sources in most of the nineteen chapters significantly multiplies the historical contribution of this book. Although based on Soviet and Russian sources, with some occasional reference to non-Russian materials, Primakov’s analysis is not only sound, but balanced and evenhanded. This brief summary cannot adequately describe the richness of the book and its contribution to the existing knowledge of Russian policy in the Middle East and Cold War historiography. 

With the varying level of details many facts and ideas presented in Russia and the Arabs might be found in several previously published books and memoirs, however they are outweighed by the new material and analysis. Specifically, I found two portions of the book particularly revealing and new. First of all, scholars of the nuclear component of international security might be interested in the last two chapters, in which Primakov outlines his views on the strategic history of the Israeli, Iraqi, and Iranian nuclear programs, and shares his observations about the emerging security regime in the Middle East. These reflections are particularly valuable since Primakov’s account not only reveals what the Soviets and Russians knew and thought about these programs, but also presents the current view on these issues from Moscow.

The second contribution will probably fascinate Cold War historians. Russia and the Arabs fills an important lacuna of knowledge related to the Soviet decision-making process during the Arab-Israeli conflict. The book reveals for the first time the existence of twenty years of secret contacts between the Soviet and Israeli governments. This portion of the book is based on documents from the Politburo’s special file (osobaia papka) on secret talks with the representatives of the Israeli government, which started in 1971. This clandestine channel was kept operational until the establishment of official diplomatic relations in December 1991. Until the publication of the book, Cold War historians had only a very vague idea about Soviet-Israeli secret contacts. All the data related to this unexplored Cold War episode are still classified in the Israeli and Russian archives. As such, the book is a welcome addition to the existing classical works dealing with Soviet-Israeli relations by Galia Golan and Yaacov Roi.

During the Cold War, the Soviet leadership frequently deployed loyal scholars and journalists in non-official diplomatic missions when official contact was impossible but highly desired. After the breaking off of the diplomatic relationship with Israel this became the case also with Jerusalem. In 1971 the inner circle of the Politburo decided to initiate secret negotiations with Israeli leaders, notwithstanding their terminated diplomatic relations. The back channel was an attempt to compensate for Soviet inferiority vis-à-vis the United States, which Moscow suffered due to its lack of diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. This was a Soviet attempt to minimize the damage of its own impulsive behavior during the 1967 war, overcome the American diplomatic monopoly, and play the role of moderator in the conflict. In the longer run this was a first step towards restoration of diplomatic relations. Yevgeny Primakov and the KGB officer Yuri Kotov were chosen by the Soviet leadership to establish this back channel. The Soviet highest political level orchestrated this enterprise; the documents from the special file were signed by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Andrei Gromyko, and Aleksei Kosygin. 

Since August 1971, as part of this exclusive channel which Primakov maintained personally, several high-ranking meetings took place clandestinely in Israel and Europe. Primakov had been to Israel twice to meet with Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yigal Alon, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Menachem Begin. He had also been to Europe several times to meet with other Israeli senior officials, including Shalheveth Freier and Mordechai Gazit. In 1978 Primakov transferred the maintenance of the back channel to other Soviet officials. Responsibility for the meetings, communications, and operational arrangement was entrusted to the KGB. 

Based on his notes and the archival materials, Primakov delivers picturesque and detailed descriptions of his encounters with each and every one of the Israeli leaders. The initial encounters in Israel are particularly fascinating, because in the background there was still a real danger of direct Soviet and Israeli military confrontation. The first bilateral meeting took place exactly one year after the ceasefire of the War of Attrition,when the Soviet army was fighting with the Israeli Defense Forces for the first (and last) time during the Cold War. For the Israeli Air Force and the Soviet Air Defense units deployed in the vicinity of the Suez Canal, in spring and summer 1970, Egypt turned into a hot battlefield of the Cold War. When Primakov met Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, thirteen months after the dogfight when the Israeli pilots shot down five Soviet MIGs, tension was still in the air. Although Dayan assured Primakov that Israel “was anxious to avoid any kind of confrontation with Soviet military personal in Egypt and that the Israeli air force have been given direct orders to that effect,” Golda Meir lost her calm demeanor at some point in the heated conversation: “‘If there is a war, we’ll fight that war,’ she said. ‘If any aircraft get in our way, we’ll shoot them down’... I asked her: ‘Could you clarify whose aircraft you intend to shoot down?’ ... Meir could tell from my reaction that she had gone too far. Hurriedly, she reiterated the importance of Israel’s dialogue with the Soviet Union” (pp. 271-272). This is just a glimpse into Primakov’s ability to provide a fascinating sketch of the views of the most important Israeli decision makers on many subjects of peace and war in the region. 

Primakov’s revelation of the back channel adds a previously unwritten chapter to Cold War history in the Middle East. His account enables us to reassess the conventional view of Israeli-Soviet relations during the Cold War, to examine the impact of this channel on the formulation of the Soviet policy, and to reexamine several Soviet, Egyptian, Israeli, and U.S. foreign policy initiatives before and after the Yom Kippur War. (Primakov is positive that Moscow regularly updated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat about these meetings, and it is reasonable to expect that the information arrived to the White House as well.) An inclusion of a small collection of the most relevant archival documents as an appendix to the book would be a welcome addition to this work. That being said, Russia and the Arabs is probably one of the most illuminating contributions to scholarship on Russian involvement in the Middle East published in recent years.

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Citation: Dima Adamsky. Review of Primakov, E. M., Russia and the Arabs: Behind the Scenes in the Middle East From the Cold War to the Present. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. April, 2010. URL:

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Author: Adekeye Adebajo, ed.
Reviewer: Ryan M. Irwin

Adekeye Adebajo, ed. From Global Apartheid to Global Village: Africa and the United Nations. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2009. xxviii + 664 pp. $66.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-86914-172-1.

Reviewed by Ryan M. Irwin (Ohio State University) Published on H-Diplo (April, 2010) Commissioned by Dustin Walcher

Apartheid, Act II

Adekeye Adebajo opens From Global Apartheid to Global Village with a bleak vision of our contemporary world. Mankind, in his words, is faced today with a system of “global apartheid” that separates the rich North from the impoverished South, and sucks life from the ideals of justice and equality that animate the world’s one true universal organization--the United Nations. Adebajo quotes South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki to reinforce this point, but the maxim is recognizable to anyone familiar with Africa’s ambiguous place in the postcolonial world, having formed already the conceptual scaffolding of work by Kwame Nkrumah (Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism [1965]), Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa [1972]), and Ali Mazrui (UNESCO General History of Africa, vol. 8, Africa since 1935 [1999] and with Michael Tidy, Nationalism and New States in Africa [1984]), among many others. One should not, in other words, approach Global Apartheid to Global Village with the expectation of new insight on the political, social, or cultural paradoxes of independent Africa.[1] Adebajo’s edited volume, featuring contributions from thirty different scholars, activists, and policymakers, is a treatise on historical injustice with its eyes fixed firmly on the political present.

Global Apartheid to Global Village is the first scholarly book to tell the story of Africa at the United Nations. Its scope is difficult to describe, in part because the volume covers such an eclectic range of topics. After two introductory essays, focused principally on current events, the project delves into a diverse series of thematic contributions, which provide summaries of key UN organs, actors, and processes; present arguments about the nature of human rights, peace, and security; and examine the actions of the United Nations’ various development programs, funds, and offices. For the most part, these essays are interesting and well composed. The reader is treated to primers on the Trusteeship Council and the International Court of Justice, as well as thoughtful ruminations about Chapter VII of the UN Charter, UN peacekeeping in Namibia and Angola, and the role of African women at the United Nations. Taken collectively, the contributions point toward a coherent thesis: while African activities have modified aspects of the United Nations’ agenda, they have not altered fundamentally the structures of world order. Not all of the authors suggest how to fix this problem, but those who do gravitate toward a comparable set of policy recommendations: Africans need a greater voice at the UN Security Council, more control over UN spending, and greater authority to direct UN cultural programs. Political power in New York City, the argument goes, will help Africa’s representatives break down the wall between the rich North and the poor South, and establish a more equitable, sustainable “global village” for future generations.

It is not difficult for a historian to criticize a book like Global Apartheid to Global Village. With a handful of notable exceptions, the essays tend to attach themselves firmly to the well-trodden colonizer/colonized binary. Twenty years ago this would not have been a problem. However, beginning in the 1990s, a host of scholars--eager to transcend the limits of area studies and move beyond the interpretive strictures of the Cold War era--began highlighting the historical instability of this framework. They illuminated instead the complex interactions between empires, international organizations, and nation-states in the twentieth century.[2] Adebajo’s volume does not engage this scholarship. Absent here, for instance, is any consideration of the United Nations’ deeply ambiguous origins.[3] Nor do the authors investigate the contested meanings of terms like “sovereignty,” “development,” and “freedom.”[4] By focusing so closely on African actions at the United Nations, and framing this inquiry explicitly around the challenges facing African diplomats today, the authors tend to flatten the historical specificity that characterized Africa’s relationship with the international community between the 1960s and 2000s. There are a number of excellent exceptions, such as Christopher Saunders’s essay on UN peacekeeping, Tor Sellström’s piece on the Trusteeship Council, and Francis Deng’s interesting chapter on the sovereignty of responsibility. However, on the whole, the contributions in Global Apartheid to Global Village do not so much narrate Africa’s recent engagement with the world as they draw selectively on the past to buttress political assertions about the present. Put simply, the book is not a work of history.

Considering the fact that Adebajo is not a historian, this criticism probably deserves to be placed in its proper context. In fact, if one chalks up the book’s “problems” to pedagogical free will, a useful set of insights emerge from its multifarious essays, relevant not only to scholars of Africa but also to historians interested in decolonization, foreign relations, and international civil society. Adebajo’s volume is one of the first, for instance, to acknowledge the existence and importance of the so-called African Group. Formed on the eve of second-wave decolonization, the African Group was the UN General Assembly’s most assertive lobbying force in the early postcolonial years. Composed of African diplomats united by a desire to influence world affairs, this group energized the efforts of the Afro-Asian bloc, spearheaded the fight against the white regimes of southern Africa, and authored many of the resolutions that altered the United Nations’ formal stance toward racism, colonialism, and crimes against humanity. Most academics have either missed or dismissed this story, partly because of the recent methodological push to focus on local African voices and experiences, and partly because these diplomatic initiatives cut across the archival collections used most often by international historians. However, the African Group deserves to have its story told. The United Nations was a vital intellectual and political incubator within the Cold War--a place that organized and then redefined international norms, and laid the foundation of the rights revolution that transformed global politics in the final decades of the twentieth century--and the African Group sat at the center of these macro-historical trends.

Equally important, Global Apartheid to Global Village speaks to scholars interested in the story of the third world. Slowly but surely, as international historians have begun to update their research agendas in the post-Cold War world, attention has fixed more firmly on the transnational place of nonalignment, anticolonialism, and antiracism. For example, the past decade has seen the publication of award-winning works on both the military interventions orchestrated by superpowers in the latter half of the twentieth century and the efforts of non-Western activists to counter these developments throughout the Southern Hemisphere.[5] Adebajo’s volume contributes to this discussion by reminding scholars that bonds of third worldism overlapped frequently with a host of other ethnic, racial, and intellectual markers. The protagonists of Global Apartheid to Global Village are, first and foremost, African. Their relations with each other are fragmented, and their connections with advocates of pan-Asianism and pan-Arabism appear contested and transitory. Despite the rhetorical ubiquity of anticolonial nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, in other words, the third world--both as a physical place and as an imagined political project--was always immensely complicated, susceptible to cross-cutting political considerations, as well as financial, ideological, and temperamental fault lines. Does that mean that international historians should abandon their burgeoning interest in the global South? Hardly. It reminds us simply that we need to reflect carefully on the political specificity of international discourse, and chart skillfully how, where, and why transnational connections formed and fragmented in the historical past. Global Apartheid to Global Village is a useful tool toward this end. For scholars of Africa in the world, it deserves to be read widely.


[1]. For context, see Frederick Cooper, Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Kwame A. Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994); E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983); Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); Robert H. Jackson, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Bertrand Badie, The Imported State: The Westernization of the Political Order (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000); and Prosser Gifford and William Roger Louis, eds., Decolonization and African Independence: The Transfers of Power, 1960-1980 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).

[2]. For an especially influential volume, see Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997). For excellent reworkings of the colonizer/colonized binary over time, see Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965); Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963); Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967); Edward Said, Orientialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978); and Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: Heinemann, 1986).

[3]. See Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Elizabeth Borgwardt, A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005); and Paul Kennedy, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations (New York: Harper Collins, 2006).

[4]. See, among others, Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005); James Gerguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, ed. Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997); and Jackson, Quasi-States.

[5]. Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2007). For other useful texts, see Forrest D. Colburn, The Vogue of Revolution in Poor Countries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); D. K. Fieldhouse, The West and the Third World (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999); G. H. Jansen, Nonalignment and the Afro-Asian States (New York: Praeger, 1966); Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 38-39; Tony Smith, “New Bottles for New Wine: A Pericentric Framework for the Study of the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 24 (Fall 2000): 567-591; Peter Willetts, The Non-Aligned Movement: The Origins of a Third World Alliance (London: Frances Printer, 1978); Carol Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); Penny M. Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Kevin Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Michael Krenn, Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969 (Armonk: Sharpe, 1999); Paul Gordon Lauren, Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial Discrimination (Boulder: Westview, 1988); James Meriwether, Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); and Brenda Gayle Plummer, ed., Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

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Citation: Ryan M. Irwin. Review of Adebajo, Adekeye, ed., From Global Apartheid to Global Village: Africa and the United Nations. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. April, 2010. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Sarah-Jane Corke
Reviewer: Mark Montesclaros

Sarah-Jane Corke. U.S. Covert Operations and Cold War Strategy: Truman, Secret Warfare and the CIA, 1945-53. Studies in Intelligence Series. London: Routledge, 2008. ix + 240 pp. $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-42077-8.

Reviewed by Mark Montesclaros Published on H-War (April, 2010) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine

Lessons Not Learned

Sarah-Jane Corke provides new insight on policy and intelligence planning during the Truman administration, specifically in the area of covert operations and psychological warfare during the period 1945-53. Benefiting from the flood of documents recently declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the author examines in detail the inner workings of the Cold War-era Washington interagency, as it tried to come to grips with new threats and the means to combat them. In doing so, Corke makes some strong assertions that merit serious attention. Corke is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Corke’s primary contention is that under President Harry Truman, the United States had no overarching, coherent strategy for conducting its Cold War foreign policy. This, in turn, had a direct and largely negative impact on the planning and execution of covert operations, which, in turn, had an abysmal record of success, particularly in Eastern Europe. “Covert operations,” the subject of the author’s work, is an umbrella term used to describe U.S.-sponsored activities against adversaries or in support of friends for which U.S. government involvement is not evident to the general public, or which can be plausibly disclaimed. Corke also uses the terms “political warfare” and “psychological warfare” extensively, the former a more encompassing term while the latter may refer to more specific operations including propaganda, guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and contact with underground groups in adversary territory. The author is careful to point out the nuances and contexts behind use of these terms, and explains their evolution effectively, as they came to be associated, at times, with a particular agency within the Washington national security bureaucracy.

The author argues her thesis by interweaving several themes, each of which is devoted a chapter in her work. Foremost is that Cold War policy under Truman was at best ambiguously stated and responsive primarily to internal vice external factors. Corke interestingly (and counterintuitively) maintains that Soviet policy was much more a result of U.S. domestic politics and bureaucratic infighting than it was based on Soviet action and American counteraction. In the vacuum of ambiguous policy, the various institutions charged with national security policy jockeyed for power and influence in the realm of covert operations and psychological warfare, and in doing so often operated at cross purposes, resulting in flawed policy and failed operations in the field.

Corke also contends that the key organizations involved in national security decision making--the National Security Council (NSC), State Department, Defense Department, and the CIA--largely ran amok and rudderless, all influenced by the relative inability of the Truman administration to corral them. The CIA, for example, was singularly influenced by the legacy of Wild Bill Donovan, its founder and soul. Donovan’s penchant for derring-do and initiative above all else produced a climate that rewarded action vice inaction, regardless of results on the ground.

Of course, Donovan was but one strong character in a narrative replete with larger-than-life personalities--including George Kennan, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, Alan Dulles, Paul Nitze, James Forrestal, etc. It is no wonder that a single entity or personality was unable to harness the collective energy of the interagency, to include President Truman, and provide a single, unifying vision for U.S.-Soviet policy. In military parlance, what was lacking was unity of command and, perhaps more important, unity of purpose in interagency efforts at the time.

Interestingly, frequent and recurring administration attempts to give structure to covert operations and psychological warfare only resulted in further confusion and mismanagement. Corke maintains that such organizations as the Psychological Strategy Board, specifically designed to remove gaps between national policy and operations on the ground, only served to cause further interagency squabbles and confusion. In the end, nearly all of the interagency structures designed to improve the efficacy of covert operations were doomed to inefficiency based on the continuing failure to reconcile visions and agendas of the participating agencies and their heads. Thus, the fundamental strategic problem--getting the “ends” right, was never reconciled, leaving the “means”--caused psychological warfare and covert operations to flounder.

The magnitude of the tragedy in failed covert operations during the period will most likely never be known. The author uses as one case in point the curiously named Operation Valuable (later Project BGFIEND), a covert operation designed to destabilize the government of Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha between 1949 and 1954. Scores of commandos, consisting of Albanian refugees and Albanians of American descent, were inserted into the country to drum up popular support and initiate a potential overthrow of the Hoxha regime. Despite numerous failures and setbacks, CIA operations continued and were even expanded several times. Corke notes that between two hundred and one thousand people died during these unsuccessful operations, which accentuated “the complete breakdown between policy and operations that existed during these years” (p. 99).

Perhaps what readers will find most interesting about the book is the nuanced view of Cold War policy and strategy, along with their attendant national security documents. Those familiar primarily with the policy of containment and NSC-68 may be surprised to learn about the various policy gradations proposed, to include “liberation,” “rollback,” and “Titoism.” These competing strategic visions had their various political and interagency proponents throughout the period and addressed the seminal question of how to deal with Soviet aggression. Likewise, readers may be fascinated by Corke’s meticulous dissection of interagency bureaucratic politics and the policies they produced. The author does a thorough job of explaining how and why the interagency acted the way it did, and how competing personalities and visions resulted in ambiguous policy and multiple interpretations of what the United States was trying to accomplish. As a result, covert operations and psychological warfare continued to thrive, often without government oversight or checks and balances.    

Corke’s work has obvious relevance in the modern context, as multiple government agencies struggle to define national security policy and outcomes in the post-9/11 world. It underscores that there is a difference between lessons and lessons learned; that is, national security policymakers must consciously decide whether to incorporate what is learned from the past or choose to ignore such knowledge. There has to be a formal mechanism for this to happen; otherwise, bureaucracies will continue to churn out flawed policies. Next, the author clearly demonstrates the impact of domestic considerations on the foreign policymaking process. As a teacher of the national security strategy making process, it is all too often the case that one focuses on external causes and events vice internal happenings to explain how and why policy is made. Corke clearly shows that Cold War-era policymaking was largely done in the context of domestic politics and bureaucratic infighting rather than as a response to Soviet actions.

Additionally, the author’s painstaking analysis of the interagency process during 1945-53 clearly demonstrates the difficulty in formulating national security policy in a democracy. The author presents a detailed and much more nuanced view of U.S. Cold War policy, one that goes far beyond well-known directives, such as the seminal NSC-68, and such personalities as Truman, Acheson, Kennan, and Nitze. Her explanation of the labyrinthine national security decision-making architecture under Truman is of great value to those studying the interagency process and anyone interested in how national security policy is formulated. Corke’s work makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of Cold War policymaking, adding insightful depth as well as breadth.  

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Citation: Mark Montesclaros. Review of Corke, Sarah-Jane, U.S. Covert Operations and Cold War Strategy: Truman, Secret Warfare and the CIA, 1945-53. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2010. URL:

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Author: Jana K. Lipman
Reviewer: Robert S. Robinson

Jana K. Lipman. Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 344 S. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-25539-5; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-520-25540-1.

Reviewed by Robert S. Robinson (Ohio University) Published on H-Diplo (March, 2010) Commissioned by Dustin Walcher

GTMO and Guantánamo: Labor Relations between Cuba and the United States

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to serve on a Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations panel with Jana K. Lipman. She stole the show with a fascinating history of Cuban workers laboring on the U.S. military base at Guantánamo (GTMO). This book, Guantánamo, is the impressive culmination of that avenue of research. Tracing the history of these Cuban base workers allows Lipman to place GTMO firmly in its Cuban context. With impressive research in Cuban archival records and oral interviews, this work is an important contribution to U.S.-Cuban relations.

These workers lived primarily in the Cuban town of Guantánamo. In Lipman's work, and therefore in this review, the name Guantánamo refers only to the town, while the base is referred to by its well-known acronym. Although Lipman sketches the history of GTMO from the Spanish-American War through the 1930s, her story begins in earnest with the beginning of World War II. At this point, GTMO went from being a fairly unimportant outpost with a few hundred soldiers and sailors, to a massive modern base with thousands of military personnel and up to thirteen thousand employees working for the military and private contractors. The logical source to meet the resulting labor needs was the city of Guantánamo.

During this first stage, U.S. officials were faced with two primary challenges: dealing with efforts by the Cuban workforce to unionize and demand better pay and working conditions, and managing the often fraught relationship between U.S. service personnel and the local community. In dealing with the challenge of unionization, the U.S. military did have to make a series of fairly minor concessions, but overall workers were consistently outmaneuvered by management. The military physically controlled the workers to an almost shocking extent. Cubans would undertake a journey of up to two hours each way to arrive at work. Once there, they would have to go through security at tightly controlled checkpoints, with their belongings and persons subject to increasing levels of scrutiny. By the 1960s, workers were forced to disrobe entirely on entering or exiting the base. This meant that Cuban workers were largely isolated from even the meager protections of their home government when they were at work. They existed in a sort of legal limbo in which the United States alternately denied that Cuban law protected workers, or, when it benefited them, denied that U.S. law applied. Cubans seeking to improve their working environment on the base were also faced with a significant labor surplus. The military could dismiss employees at will, finding no trouble locating eager replacements. Increasingly, the U.S. military also turned to hiring West Indian workers as an alternative to dealing with the demands of their Cuban workforce. Finally, the U.S. military found it more and more useful to get out of the business of directly dealing with Cuban workers, instead contracting with U.S. companies, and thus unloading the burden of labor negotiation to those firms.

The other problem faced by U.S. officials was the relationship between their personnel and the community of Guantánamo during the frequent leave visits soldiers and sailors took to the city. Guantánamo elites, on the one hand, relied on the U.S. dollars that these leave visits generated. On the other hand, military personnel also created social problems by generating demand for gambling and prostitution, and by engaging in acts of rape, assault, and destruction of property. U.S. officials sporadically worked to solve these problems in collaboration with local elites, but ultimately the cycle continued until the leave visits ended as a result of the 1959 revolution.

Despite these issues, this labor arrangement worked and was fairly stable until the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro's successful revolution profoundly changed the relationship of GTMO to Guantánamo. The most striking result was to isolate the base from the surrounding countryside to the point that the base's geographical location became nearly irrelevant to those who served there. As U.S. and Cuban officials bickered over jurisdiction, leave visits from U.S. military personnel came to an abrupt halt. Cubans working on the base also came to be viewed with increasing suspicion by both the U.S. military and the Cuban government. In neither zone was their loyalty taken for granted. By 1964, Lyndon Johnson seized on a relatively minor pretext, the temporary shutting off of the water supply by the Cuban government, to summarily dismiss the majority of the Cuban workforce. Although a few hundred intrepid souls deemed either essential or nonthreatening by the United States continued to make the commute for decades, the vast majority of Cuban workers were replaced by West Indian labor.

Although the Cold War looms large in Guantánamo, one of the striking features of Lipman's work is to revise the typical chronology of U.S.-Cuban relations. For workers, the most remembered dates included labor disputes, the death of a worker under suspicious circumstances, and eventually the dismissal of large numbers of workers in 1964. Such events as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs captured the attention of workers and GTMO personnel, but they were largely observers in these dramatic events. Lipman privileges a chronology defined by local interests, and by the particular struggles and challenges in the lives of the workers she studies.

If much of Lipman's work represents an effort to place GTMO in its Cuban context, she uses the epilogue to suggest that recent U.S. policies and uses of GTMO have been an attempt to do just the opposite. That is to say, in the war on terror, U.S. officials have preferred to define GTMO as neither Cuban nor American, but as a sort of international exclusionary zone in which neither nation's laws apply. She argues that when "military bases attempt to operate in hermeneutically sealed compounds and with no social ties to nearby communities, GTMO is created--GTMO circa 2002, complete with orange jumpsuits and cages" (p. 227). The epilogue is not without insight, although its overtly political tone ("I add my voice to the chorus of those who believe the U.S. government should 'close Guantánamo'") represents a somewhat jarring break from the rest of the book (p. 218).

Lipman's discussion of transnational history is a good place to begin an analysis of Guantánamo. In many ways, this work represents the best of what transnational history is supposed to be about. These Cuban workers lived in one nation but worked in another, while U.S. military personnel lived and worked in one country, but spent their leisure time in another. Lipman shows how Cuban and American culture and political ideas mixed and interacted in both Guantánamo and GTMO.

However, Lipman is reluctant to embrace the label "transnational." She argues that much of transnational history goes too far in decentering the role of the state. The workers she studies "had to navigate and travel between these two poles; there was nothing transcendent about it" (p. 5). In this, Lipman is reminiscent of Theda Skocpol's argument for "bringing the state back in" to social scientific methodology.[1] Perhaps transnational history could benefit from a similar corrective. Certainly in the context of GTMO's labor history, the Cuban and U.S. states are ever-present.

Lipman's Guantánamo is an important contribution to a recent literature probing the role of U.S. labor unions during the cold war. U.S. labor leaders, such as the ubiquitous Serafino Romualdi, worked to shape union organization in Latin America along ideologically tolerable lines, blunting any radical tendencies. A similar theme appears in Stephen Rabe's recent U.S. Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story (2009). A thriving cottage industry has developed in the historiography examining the international role of the AFL-CIO and such institutions as the American Institute for Free Labor Development. In Cuba, the AFL-CIO aided in the organization of a base union, but just as quickly withdrew that support when the union went beyond a narrow definition of working conditions to deal with larger issues facing workers, such as whether the U.S. or the Cuban legal system protected them while on the base.

Lipman's greatest strength is the quality of her research in Cuban sources. She conducted research in numerous Cuban archives, collections, and published works and collected "more than a dozen" oral histories from former base workers (p. 14). Lipman's use of these oral histories, collected in 2004-2005--a half century after most of the events--faces some clear challenges. Memories fade, and the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent tension between the United States and Cuba has no doubt altered workers' memories of distant events. Lipman's U.S. nationality may have exacerbated such distortions as these histories were collected. Further, although finding even a dozen interviewees this long after the fact is impressive, the number of interviews is ultimately fairly small, and thus any conclusions drawn from them must be tentative. Finally, the reader is given very little information about the interviews. In an understandable effort to protect the privacy of her sources, Lipman does not provide real names, dates of interviews, or even a complete count.

Conscious of these challenges, it is to Lipman's great credit that she generally manages to use these problematic sources in creative and appropriate ways. The oral histories in Guantánamo typically serve to introduce a topic, raise questions, or emphasize a point supported by archival evidence. They are deployed judiciously and add a significant sense of presence and immediacy to Guantánamo.

In any case, one almost has to search for such minor quibbles in this work. Lipman's account is impressive, original, and well researched. Its subject matter should interest foreign relations scholars, Latin America area specialists, and labor historians. The size is manageable and the writing engaging, making this an appropriate text for undergraduate classrooms.


[1]. See Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

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Citation: Robert S. Robinson. Review of Lipman, Jana K., Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. March, 2010. URL:

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