Author: Edward S. Miller
Reviewer: Noriko Kawamura

Edward S. Miller. Bankrupting the Enemy: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007. 352 pp. $32.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59114-520-2.

Reviewed by Noriko Kawamura Published on H-Diplo (October, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

The Perils of Bankrupting the Enemy

Ever since Japan launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, American historians have offered numerous accounts as to what caused Japan to go to war with the United States. Many agree that one of the immediate factors that prompted Japan's war decision was the U.S. oil embargo in the summer of 1941. Some of the leading scholars in the United States have pointed out that this oil embargo was the unintended consequence of president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order on July 25, 1941 to freeze all Japanese assets in the United States. At that time, neither the president nor secretary of state Cordell Hull meant to implement a complete oil embargo through the freeze order because they were aware that the oil embargo might provoke Japan into war. Yet, the mid-level hard-line bureaucrats in the State and Treasury departments instituted a virtual oil embargo through manipulating the financial freeze. Michael Barnhart's valuable study has already shown that the financial freeze and the unplanned U.S. oil embargo had unfortunate effects on Japanese leaders, who had been pursuing the policy to build an autarkic empire up to that point, for they now felt that Japan must fight for national survival.[1]

Edward S. Miller's new book, Bankrupting the Enemy, sheds new light on the Roosevelt administration's policy to employ economic sanctions to curb Japan's aggression on the Asian continent, first in China in the 1930s and later in French Indochina in the early 1940s. By doing so, it makes an important contribution to the historical debate over Japan's motives behind its decision to go to war with the United States. Miller takes a new approach toward the U.S. financial and trade sanctions against Japan by treating “embargoing” and “bankrupting” of a hostile nation's economy as two different economic sanction strategies. The author suggests that the trade embargos (both export and import controls) that the Roosevelt administration employed against Japan, although discriminatory enough to hurt the Japanese trade and their feelings, did not produce desired outcomes, and he even goes so far as to argue that the abrogation of the 1911 Commercial Treaty in January 1940, traditionally considered as an important step in U.S. economic sanctions against Japan, was "a meaningless gesture because the United States did not invoke any trade penalties" (p. 83). The book's main argument is clear: the U.S. government deliberately pursued the policy to launch economic warfare to deter Japanese aggression by financially bankrupting its economy. On the road to Pearl Harbor, in the author's words, "the most devastating American action against Japan was the financial freeze" (p. 1). In the end, although Miller does not state it outright, the financial freeze was most devastating not only to Japan but also to the United States. The U.S. attempt to defeat the enemy by bankrupting its economy provoked the enemy into the very war that the Roosevelt administration hoped to avoid.

Miller, an expert on international finance, carefully builds his case by providing statistical evidence throughout the book.The strength of the study lies in his close examination of newly available records from the Treasury Department's Office of the Assistant Secretary of International Affairs, the Division of International Finance of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve system, and the files of the U.S. Alien Property Custodian, as well as his extensive use of the records that were recently rearranged for easier access from the Tariff Commission and the Export Control Administration." He also carefully studies "The Place of Foreign Trade in the Japanese Economy" prepared by the U.S. Office of Intelligence Coordination and Liaison (a joint office of the Department of State and the Office of Strategic Services), as well as the detailed statistical data on Japan's trading and financial activities. Although some of the details of statistical discussions may seem excessive to some readers, the meticulous examination of statistical data is a necessary and valuable contribution.

According to Miller, as early as 1933 the Roosevelt administration was aware that Section 5(b) of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 empowered the president to regulate American financial dealings with all foreign countries and entities, and Roosevelt momentarily flirted with the idea of a financial freeze against Japan when Japan invaded China in July 1937. However, his administration continued to rely mainly on ineffective moral embargos partly because U.S. financial experts at that time did not believe that Japan could wage a long war because of its lack of hard currency, and partly because the Japanese banks had cleverly hidden a reserve of dollars large enough to postpone its bankruptcy perhaps to 1943. Miller argues that the beginning of 1941 "marked a turning point in the will of the United States to advance from a patchwork of export restrictions to full-blooded financial warfare against Japan" (p.108). Roosevelt obviously provided the momentum toward this move by appointing an "ardently anti-Axis" lawyer, Dean Acheson as assistant secretary of state in January 1941, and by requesting a freezing committee composed of the heads of the State, Treasury, and Justice departments in February (p. 109).

In the meantime, the Economic Control Administration (ECA) undertook vulnerability studies of Japan's strategic resources, including commodities essential for the Japanese people such as food and clothing on the premise that in total war there should be no distinction between soldiers and civilians. Miller's discussion of the vulnerability studies by the ECA reveals the extent of the U.S. government's understanding of the state of Japan's economy and its vulnerabilities and how to exploit them. The U.S. government was fully aware that petroleum was the most vulnerable resource for Japan's economic life and especially for its military, and that petroleum supplies from the United States were irreplaceable. According to Miller, what emerges from the vulnerability studies report on May 1, 1941, is "a show of determination of the export control bureaucracy to deny Japan almost all commerce with the United States and the British Empire," sounding "a trumpet of total embargo, not a partial embargo" (pp. 123,167).

The most fascinating and valuable section in Miller's book, in my opinion, is his accounts on how the Roosevelt administration moved toward the financial freeze, and consequently toward the de facto oil embargo, in the midst of a rush of events from May to August 1941. Starting with his "fireside chat" declaring the United States to be in a state of unlimited national emergency on May 27, Roosevelt expanded his executive order to freeze the assets of all of Europe under Axis control, thereby changing the emphasis of freezing control from a "defensive weapon" to an "aggressive weapon" (pp.171-172). Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, apparently not by design, terminated Japan's trade with Germany and the rest of Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway, which made the U.S. dollar Japan's only medium of international exchange. Here Miller injects an alarming estimate on oil: as of June 1941, Japanese companies had already obtained approved licenses for "7.1 million barrels of gasoline, 21.9 million barrels of crude oil, and 33,000 barrels of lubricants, altogether worth about $50 million," which meant that Japan could legally purchase from the United States "gasoline for another nine months and ordinary crude oil for an astonishing thirty-two months--enough to supply it until the end of 1943!" (p. 175). To Dean Acheson and some other hard-liners the idea of freezing Japanese assets became increasingly attractive, for a financial freeze by a single stroke of pen could cut U.S. exports to Japan to zero despite the approved licenses for oil purchase Japan had already obtained.

In response to Japanese troops' occupation of southern Indochina, Roosevelt wanted to impose "a dollar freeze that would subject all transactions with Japan to licensing" (p. 176), which gave the United States flexibility to decide later how much trade Japan should be allowed to resume based on its future behavior. Miller offers valuable details on how a dual-track control system that emerged in the process of deciding how to administer the final freeze eventually led to the total embargo against Japan. According to the plan, the State Department and the Export Control Administration would continue to grant Japanese export licenses for oil, but a newly created three-man interdepartmental policy committee, the Foreign Funds Control Committee (FFCC), had to release funds for licensed exports. According to Miller, the FFCC was dominated by assistant secretary of state Dean Acheson, who was determined to release no funds to Japan. Miller elaborates on the fact that the FFCC, which was composed of the three "second-tier cabinet officials," "proved to be almost immune to direction from higher authorities" (p. 178) and carried out a total oil embargo without the approval of the president or secretary of state.

On the crucial question of why Roosevelt accepted the unplanned embargo, Miller hints at an alternative scenario: "Roosevelt wanted all along to prod Japan more forcefully than his diplomatic and naval advisers wished, and Acheson was carrying out the unwritten and possibly unspoken wishes of the commander in chief" (p. 203). This could have been another revisionist conspiracy theory if Miller tried to prove it, but he quickly admits that "an absence of evidence prevents an undisputed conclusion as to whether Roosevelt accepted the unconditional freeze of Japan's dollars because it was thrust upon him or because it was the policy he desired" (p. 204). Like many other FDR mysteries, historians may never be able to find a clear-cut answer on this question.

Whatever Roosevelt's true intentions were, the financial freeze order prompted Japan to carry out what the United States tried to prevent--Japan's southward expansion. Even worse, as Miller puts it, "in the Japanese eyes the bankruptcy was a lethal threat, an assault on the nation's very existence" (p. 242). Therefore, the Japanese leadership justified the war as self-defense against the United States, who was trying to strangulate and pauperize Japan. However twisted and misguided the Japanese leadership's thinking may have been in 1941, my own research suggests that this view prevailed among the majority of government and military leaders in Japan at that time.

Miller critically points out the fact that prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor no agency in the U.S. government analyzed how the financial freeze would affect the Japanese economy and people. Only after the war in the Pacific began did the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) compile a secret 519-page study entirely from prewar information. By utilizing this document Miller retrospectively estimates a probable Japanese economic condition under a freeze in 1942-43. According to Miller, "a reduction of 35-40 percent of customary imports for consumption" in the trade-dependant society in Japan would mean "a rollback of the Japanese standard of living of about 15 to 20 percent." He best describes the probable living condition in Japan as follows: "an apt comparison might have been to the most poverty-stricken families in the most miserable regions of the United States in the worst depths of the Great Depression, surviving but enduring lives of grim deprivation with little hope of relief" (p. 235).

Miller's book suggests important lessons for historians of foreign policy and international relations. First, he offers an important lesson about the danger of blowback entailed in the use of relentless economic sanctions against a state that misbehaves itself. Certainly, historians who understand the folly of resorting to war to solve a country's economic vulnerabilities will readily agree that it was the Japanese government that chose war; and in view of the magnitude of destruction, deaths, and misery caused by the war, many thoughtful readers may sympathize with the author's counterfactual question: what if Japan had chosen a different path by "renouncing imperial aggression in return for thawing of the freeze"? (p. 245). Nevertheless, Miller's book reminds us of possible grave consequences when a powerful country with abundant resources attempts to overpower and strangulate a have-not nation fighting for its existence.

Second, with respect to theinternal decision-making process, Miller's book also offers a warning that, even in the most sophisticated democratic government, it is possible for a handful of ambitious individuals to abuse power by exploiting and manipulating a loophole in a complex legal system and bureaucracy. Miller's example demonstrates that hard-line bureaucrat lawyers like Dean Acheson could twist "a cautious squeeze designed 'to bring Japan to its senses, not its knees' into strangulation" (p. 242), with devastating consequences.


[1]. Herbert Feis, The Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War between the United States and Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950); Jonathan G. Utley, Going to War with Japan, 1937-1941 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985); and Michael A. Barnhart, Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987).

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Citation: Noriko Kawamura. Review of Miller, Edward S., Bankrupting the Enemy: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2008. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Pat Southern
Reviewer: Mark E. Hall

Pat Southern. The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History. Oxford University Press, 2007. x + 383 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-532878-3.

Reviewed by Mark E. Hall Published on H-War (October, 2008) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Marching along with the Romans.

In many books, the introduction is a place to put the acknowledgements.  The introduction to this book is one that is actually meant to be read; after giving a brief overview of the author's aims, this section focuses primarily on the source materials for the Roman army that are available for scholars today.  Archaeology, written records including papyri and narrative histories, law codes, epigraphy, and sculpture are all rapidly covered.  This is an ambitious overview covering the categories of evidence, but it is important since it illustrates the limitations of our knowledge concerning the Roman army.  Southern does not shy away from the controversies and complexities, but detailed explanations are lacking, though she does provide an ample bibliography at the end of the chapter. 

In the second chapter, Southern spends just under fifty pages giving an overview of Roman political history.  In most cases, the events are detailed and listed, but the “how” and the “why” are often reduced to single-line sentences.  This chapter stresses the gradual transformation from a republican form of government to an imperial one, the ties between the republic and the army, and finally, the ties between the emperors and the army.  

The third chapter examines the history and organization of the Roman army.  This chapter is rich in information, ranging from the army’s legendary history to accounts by Livy and Polybius, to the organization of the army, units, salary, and the ranks.  While this sounds like a diverse set of topics, there is a logical progression to the subchapters. 

Southern makes one simple point repeatedly throughout the third chapter, and it is an important one given the distortions in many popular histories of Rome.  While the written records concerning the Roman Empire and army are impressive, there is a lot we do not know from these records.  Our ignorance concerns some fairly basic issues.  For instance, how big was a legion?  Estimates for the functioning size of a legion range from 5,000 to 6,000 individuals during the republic and early empire, down to circa 1,000 after Diocletian’s reforms.  How were logistics managed?  How much was each individual soldier expected to carry?  How much food did the army produce around its forts, and how much came from the local area?  How far were the Romans willing to transport food to supply the army?  The exact definition of key terms like territorium and prata is open to debate.  How we define these terms affects our understanding of how the army was supplied. 

Chapter 4 attempts to deal with Roman “military culture.”  “Culture” is used in a colloquial and not a strict anthropological sense here; more appropriate terms would be “Roman military society” or “Roman military organization.”  Like national military units today, the Roman army had its own distinctive garments, its own rules and regulations, and often lived apart from most town and city dwellers.  Despite this, it was the Roman army that spread Roman society and culture throughout the empire.  Not only did it impose Roman rule and order on the provinces, when veterans left the army, they usually received an allotment of land in one of the many colonies throughout the empire.  The settling of retired soldiers was another way the provinces were Romanized.

“The Roman Army at War” looks at how the Romans waged war.  This chapter covers such topics as doctrine, strategy, tactics, command and control, forts, and the frontier.  These are all topics on which our evidence is incomplete.  Southern provides a nice survey of what we know and what we do not on these topics.  She also has a good summary of the debates on whether there was a master strategy for the Roman Empire.  While not explicitly taking a side in the debate, she does provide an ample set of references for the reader to seek out. 

Chapter 6 looks at Roman weapons and tools of war.  In addition to discussing weapons like the pilum, spatha, and gladius, it deals with Roman artillery, logistics, maps, intelligence, and medicine.  Overall, this is an informative and nicely referenced survey. 

Reading chapters 5 and 6 it becomes clear that while we often have a static view of the Roman army, it was actually quite adaptable and continually changing.  While it suffered defeats at times from the second century BCE through the third century CE, it was flexible enough to learn from its mistakes and change tactics and operations.  Both the republic and the empire also had the wherewithal to bear a conflict until they triumphed. 

In chapter 7 Southern gives a useful summary of the book she co-authored with Karen Dixon, The Late Roman Army (1996).  In this chapter, she summarizes the changes that occurred in the army between the third and sixth centuries CE.  While most of the major changes seem to have occurred in the fifth century, she again notes that this is an example of where there is a paucity of written sources.  One of the major changes involved splitting the army into mobile field armies and stationary frontier troops.  It is clear that part of this process started with Diocletian’s reforms of the army, but we are uncertain of the extent of those reforms.  Another change occurred in the attitude of the empire--the empire assumed a defensive stance and used the army in a defensive fashion.  This caused a change in fortification design. 

The penultimate chapter in the book gives short biographies of Roman generals and descriptions of famous battles.  In terms of personages and battles, there is an emphasis on the late republic and early empire.  For a specialist, this may be the least satisfying chapter, but it is required if one plans to use this text in teaching an introductory course.  The chapter bibliography could, for instance, be used as a launching point for further intensive study of the generals and the campaigns. 

The closing chapter gives an overview of directions and developments in the study of the Roman army.  In part, this chapter serves as a summary of the questions brought up in previous chapters.  Considering directions for future work, Southern points out the need for dual edition texts modeled after the Loeb Classical Library series, and more organized and directed archaeological research. 

My only real complaint about this book is that, aside from the chapter on the late Roman army, there are no cohesive summaries providing a description of the Roman army at any point in time.  It would be useful to have a few overview sections structured along the lines of: “in the first century CE, a legion consisted of X men, led by a legatus legionis.  Each soldier was equipped with a ....”  To get a view like that, one has to winnow through the various sections and chapters of the book.  However, this is a minor complaint, and does little to detract from the overall quality and usefulness of the volume. 

The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History gets a hearty recommendation from this reviewer.  It could serve as an ancillary text on general courses on the Roman republic and empire.  Alternatively, teamed up with a collection of sources (for example J. Brian Campbell’s The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337: A Sourcebook [1994], it could serve as a primary text for courses on ancient or classical warfare.

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Citation: Mark E. Hall. Review of Southern, Pat, The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2008. URL:

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Author: Michael S. Goodman
Reviewer: Sergey Radchenko

Michael S. Goodman. Spying on The Nuclear Bear: Anglo-American Intelligence and The Soviet Bomb. Stanford University Press, 2007. xv + 295 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-5585-6.

Reviewed by Sergey Radchenko Published on H-Diplo (October, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Shadows in the Nuclear Cave

For those of us suspecting that Western intelligence estimates of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capabilities during the Cold War were based on a combination of off-the-wall numbers, wild guesses, and pure conjecture, Goodman’s book, Spying on the Nuclear Bear, provides welcome reassurance: more often that not that was indeed the case. Based on meticulous research in the archives and private collections, and on the author’s extensive interviews with those in the know, the book offers a close-up look at the operation of British (and to some extent, U. S.) atomic intelligence in the early years of the Cold War, some of its successes and, alas, its many obvious failures. More importantly, however, Goodman wonderfully demonstrates how, quite apart from the actual results of intelligence gathering, U.S.-U.K. cooperation in atomic intelligence served a host of other aims, none more important than bolstering the special relationship between London and Washington. In other words, there were some important benefits to atomic intelligence--just not in the sphere of atomic intelligence.

Perhaps I should not misread Goodman. While acknowledging persistent failures of U.K. atomic intelligence in predicting the progress of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, he argues that, given the circumstances, it was fairly effective. After all, given the difficulties of penetrating the Soviet Union--a police state with a strictly compartmentalized atomic program--it is not at all surprising that the intelligence experts in the United Kingdom were widely off the mark when it mattered. For example, they were unable to predict the first Soviet nuclear detonation, Joe-1 in 1949, or the Soviet progress in thermonuclear science, or in missile development. A meager list of successful intelligence operations included penetration of the Soviet uranium operations in Germany, sporadic data on nuclear-related industries in the Soviet Union, and the approximation of the Soviet stocks of plutonium. One should also not forget British successes, in cooperation with the Americans, in registering Soviet atomic explosions. Most of these intelligence coups provided plenty of information for a historical narrative of the Soviet nuclear program and much, much less for up-to-date analysis and policy recommendations.

There is no denying, however, that Western atomic intelligence services were remarkably capable in the remote detection of Soviet nuclear explosions. The book is full of fascinating details about some of these little-known monitoring programs, which entailed the operation a large number of stations around the world, regular air sampling, radio interception, and a host of other tricks. Just take the so-called Music program (p.167). The idea was to collect air samples around the world and to check them for the presence of Krypton-85, an artificial gas, which indicated the amount of plutonium production around the globe. By subtracting the known figures for plutonium production in the United Kingdom and the United States, the atomic intelligence people came up with the likely figure for the Soviet plutonium stocks. This is the place where my undergraduate students would comment: “that’s cool!” Then we are told that the amount of plutonium in the Soviet stocks was actually quite irrelevant in estimating the Soviet Union’s nuclear capabilities, because one could never know how they used it in the making of bombs. For this reason, the Music program, which probably cost thousands and thousands of pounds, came within a hair-width of being closed down but for the fact that it proved useful in advancing the U.K.-U.S. atomic partnership.

The analysis of the little-known politics of atomic intelligence is one of the stronger aspects of the book. Goodman shows that, at least for the United Kingdom, watching the “nuclear bear” was a ploy for closer cooperation with the United States, all the more so once a series of espionage scandals cut the flow of technical information across the Atlantic. In a way, then, atomic intelligence helped strengthen the proverbial special relationship between London and Washington, quite irrespective of what the experts predicted or failed to predict. The author gives an interesting, if sometimes overly detailed, analysis of how the head of atomic intelligence in the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service, Eric Welsh, fought off efforts by a rival, Director of Scientific Intelligence R. V. Jones, to swallow atomic intelligence on the excuse, among other things, that such a reform would spoil cooperation with the Americans (pp.132-133). My first reaction to this complicated story was: so what? My second reaction was: it is certainly interesting how bureaucratic politics, personalities, and various political agendas affected as sensitive an area as atomic intelligence.

One area which I wish the author developed a bit further is the connection between the U.K. assessments of Soviet nuclear capabilities and Soviet intentions in the early Cold War. In the conclusion Goodman argues that because atomic intelligence experts downplayed Soviet capabilities to wage a nuclear war at least until the late 1950s, policymakers, linking capabilities with intentions, perceived Soviet intentions in the late 1940s/early 1950s to be “far less aggressive” than one would have thought (p. 215). Goodman makes no attempt to elaborate this point or to show how this assessment of Soviet capabilities and intentions squared with British policymaking vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in the early Cold War. The book is missing some of the essential analysis which would help us connect the history of British atomic intelligence with the bigger picture of the early years of the Cold War. Despite this interpretative shortcoming, the book is a welcome contribution to the study of history of intelligence. Full of technical detail and surprising insights, Spying on the Nuclear Bear tells the story behind the dry statistics of Western intelligence estimates of the Soviet nuclear program. It is a great story and it deserves to be told.

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Citation: Sergey Radchenko. Review of Goodman, Michael S., Spying on The Nuclear Bear: Anglo-American Intelligence and The Soviet Bomb. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2008. URL:

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Author: Erez Manela
Reviewer: Michael Provence

Erez Manela. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 352 S. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-517615-5.

Reviewed by Michael Provence Published on H-Diplo (October, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Wilsonianism beyond Europe

Erez Manela’s new book offers a perspective long missing from accounts of Great Power diplomacy and colonialism. He asks what Woodrow Wilson’s wartime critique of the European system and advocacy of self-determination meant for colonized peoples around the globe. This is a worthy and overdue project, since libraries are full of detailed studies of what this or that statesman said and did, but the same libraries are nearly silent on what such actions meant to the hundreds of millions in the colonized world. The strange silence extends to today, when an American senator (Joseph Biden, among others) can publicly discuss the partition of Iraq without presuming to consult any citizen of the country in question. The upside-down injustice of such discussions generally passes without notice.

Manela goes a long way to addressing this historical blind spot, and while he has used the adjective “Wilsonian” in his title, he is at pains to make clear that his book is not about Wilson, or his speeches, or his supposedly tragically incomplete mission to save the world. “Despite the title of this book it is [mobilized nationalists], and not Wilson, who are the main protagonists of the story that follows” (p. 13). Manela promises to tell us something really worthwhile: what a moment of literally earth-shattering historical change meant outside Europe, and how people used the language of the moment to pursue their dreams and goals. Does he deliver on his promise?

In the first two chapters, Manela unearths the foundations of Wilson’s ideas and the language used to express them. He argues convincingly that Wilson’s origins in the Jim Crow south and his inability to seriously consider the aspirations of African Americans was a defect that extended to his considerations of the indigenous citizens of Europe’s colonies. Wilson believed that equality between peoples could only be based on the gradual tutelage of non-Europeans within a human hierarchy--a theory that found substance in the mandate system. 

What accounts, then, for the enthusiasm with which colonized peoples greeted Wilson’s words? Manela argues, again convincingly, that colonial intellectuals harnessed Wilson’s words and vision to their separate anticolonial struggles, often moving far beyond what Wilson or any other liberal reformers intended. Colonized intellectuals saw the outlines of a new universal equality of nations in Wilson’s speeches. 

Manela also traces the evolution of two terms that came to characterize Wilsonian liberalism: “self-determination” and “consent of the governed” (p. 22). Drawing on earlier Wilson scholars, Arno Mayer and Thomas Knock, Manela offers a masterly excavation of how Wilson’s call for the “consent of the governed” came to be synonymous with “self-determination.” While the first was a standard feature of Wilson’s earlier American political campaigns, calls for self-determination emerged when Leon Trotsky, immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution, used it to denounce the imperialist plans of the Great Powers. British Prime Minister Lloyd George used Trotsky’s expression in a speech in January 1918 when he collapsed Wilson’s “consent of the governed" into Trotsky’s “self-determination” (p. 50). Wilson followed Lloyd George’s example in his famous Fourteen Points speech before Congress one month later. Wilson’s wartime propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information, used telegraphic news wire services to publish his speeches around the world.

After the war, and during the weeks of the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson grew alarmed at the expectations and hopes his earlier proclamations had provoked. Wilson’s advisors noted that such expectations would make “dissatisfaction permanent” and challenge the legitimacy of the British Empire in India and Africa (p. 61). Wilson drafted the covenant of the League of Nations with no mention of self-determination. 

The book’s second part is more ambitious and fulfills the promise of Manela’s approach. The section examines and compares Wilson’s reception in Egypt, India, China, and Korea. In each of the four countries, Wilson’s speeches were widely reported and wildly popular among the literate public. By comparing the specifics of each and drawing on the Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Korean press, among other contemporary sources, Manela argues that Wilson’s calls for self-determination inspired and radicalized many colonial intellectuals. Nationalist activists began to see the world through the lens of universal rights and equality between nations. French and British colonial functionaries moved quickly to stamp out such arguments. The disappointment that followed was greatly intensified by the hopes that Wilson had stoked. 

The book’s final section, “The Failure of Liberal Anticolonialism,” chronicles the results of Wilson’s failure. There were several fatal defects in the settlement that emerged: the inability to trim the appetite for imperial conquest among Europe’s great powers, the failure to satisfy the newly inspired dreams of the colonized, and the failure to engage American politicians and citizens in the wider world. Uprisings against colonial rule erupted all over the globe in the years after the Treaty of Versailles, and Manela devotes the remainder of the book to these radicalized movements in Egypt, India, China, and Korea.

The brilliance of Manela’s book is that he succeeds in drawing a direct line between Wilson’s promise, the failure of liberal internationalism, and nationalist rebellions throughout the world. Historians of China, Egypt, or American diplomacy may quibble with various details of his interpretation, and some will find elements of the story familiar, but Manela succeeds in drawing people, places, and the anti-imperialist struggles of the twentieth century together in a new and utterly convincing way.   

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Citation: Michael Provence. Review of Manela, Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2008. URL:

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Author: Sean L. Malloy
Reviewer: Campbell Craig

Sean L. Malloy. Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb against Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008. xi + 223 pp. $26.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4654-2.

Reviewed by Campbell Craig Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

A Victorian Gentleman in the Atomic Court

The U.S. decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remains a subject of sustained and contentious historical debate.  Historians and other scholars differ deeply in their answers to two related questions.  Was the decision morally justifiable?  And, what were the real reasons behind it?  Scholars who believe that the Harry S. Truman administration was motivated in the end by its desire to end the war quickly and avoid any possibility of an invasion of mainland Japan tend to argue that it was justifiable; scholars who argue that other factors played a more important role, especially America's desire to intimidate the Soviet Union and prevent it from advancing into Asia, tend to believe that the decision was morally wrong. 

The debate continues on for three reasons.  The atrocious nature of the attacks, which killed instantly perhaps one hundred thousand Japanese civilians and gruesomely injured and sickened hundreds of thousands more, has long tarnished our memory of America's “good war,” as Studs Terkel described it in his eponymous 1984 book.  The fact that the attacks both ended World War II and ushered in the Cold War puts them at the center of any account of the rise of American superpower.  Moreover, historians have never been able to find definitive, “smoking-gun” documents that demonstrate precisely why Truman went ahead with the bombing.  Our understanding of the decision, therefore, relies more on circumstantial evidence and deductive reasoning than do many other pivotal historical episodes.

With his fine study Atomic Tragedy, Sean L. Malloy enters cautiously into this debate.  Malloy provides a political biography of Henry Lewis Stimson, who served as secretary of war under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman, that ranges from his early career as a Wall Street lawyer at the turn of the century to his final act as a public official, which was to make an impassioned call for international atomic control just after the war came to an end.  But, as its subtitle suggests, all roads in the book lead to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Was the bombing just and necessary?  Malloy does not directly answer this question; rather, he describes how this traditional Victorian man of affairs, outspokenly opposed to the bombardment of civilians, dedicated to the notion of fair play, wedded above all to the idea that the United States was a moral nation led by moral men, found himself accepting that it was.

By anyone's definition, Stimson played a central part in the long train of decisions leading up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Before Pearl Harbor, he distinguished himself as one of the Republican Party's foremost advocates of intervention, something that led President Roosevelt, keen to garner bipartisan support, to name him secretary of war.  He was the inner cabinet's point man on the Manhattan Project, serving as an intermediary between the president and officials primarily concerned with the bomb, though during most of the war Stimson, obviously occupied with innumerable other issues, did not pay detailed attention to the project.  When it came time to decide how the bomb might be used, in the late spring and early summer of 1945, he established study groups and conveyed his ambiguous views to the new president, Truman.  As Malloy shows, Stimson consistently, if quietly, denounced the idea of targeting a population center with atomic bombs, and managed to omit the ancient city of Kyoto from the target list. 

But he never took more forceful steps to dissuade Truman from using the bombs when they became ready.  At Potsdam in July, Stimson related to Truman the news of the successful Trinity test and went along with the decision to exclude the Soviet Union from the Potsdam Declaration, a move that was shaped by America's intention to use the bomb (and redoubled Joseph Stalin's determination to get his own).  When Truman went ahead with the planned bombardment in early August--the president never actually “decided” to use the atomic bombs; rather, he decided not to prevent their scheduled use--Stimson did nothing.  Soon after the end of the war, Stimson, clearly disturbed by his complicity in the attacks, demanded in his last act as secretary of war that the United States find some way to establish international control over the bomb.  At a cabinet meeting on September 21, he passionately urged his colleagues to act now to negotiate with the USSR an agreement to avoid an atomic arms race: “civilization,” he said, demanded nothing less (p. 150).  Over the next several months, the Truman administration failed to heed his advice seriously.  Malloy's account of Stimson's dark acquiescence and guilt during the victorious months of July, August, and September 1945 is historical writing of the first order.

Why did Stimson fail to dissuade Truman from using the bomb on civilian populations, and why did he fail to persuade the White House to pursue international control?  To these questions Malloy offers perhaps too circumspect answers.  Had Stimson insisted on an overture to the Japanese, assuring them perhaps that the emperor would not be harmed, or had he promoted an idea put forward by undersecretary of the navy Ralph Bard that Japan both be informed of the bomb before its use and told that the Soviet Union was prepared to enter the war against it, it is possible (though I would say doubtful) that Truman might have secured a Japanese surrender before Hiroshima or at least been persuaded to postpone the attack.  Malloy plausibly suggests that Stimson's earlier inattention to the bomb prevented him from forming a resolute view on the question of how to use it; thus, the secretary of war iterated his opposition to directly targeting civilians and urged Truman to consider modifying unconditional surrender to avoid the bombing, but in the end chose not to insist on either issue.  In the end, he rationalized, as did Truman, the obliteration of residential areas in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as attacks on “military targets” (p. 117).

Similarly, while Stimson rhetorically dedicated himself to the danger of atomic anarchy after the attacks, the fact remains that in his September 21 peroration he provided no concrete guidance to the president on how he might go about achieving international control.  The objective was going to be exceedingly hard to meet.  As Malloy states, such pursuit posed grave political challenges to Truman because of the growing suspicions of the USSR around Washington, and the unique levels of international trust that would have to be reached to work out a serious regime of international atomic control.  In my view, a much more immediate factor, at least from Truman's perspective, was the recent discovery of a major atomic espionage operation in Canada, with implications coming in (from the irrepressible J. Edgar Hoover) that it had spread deeply into the United States.  Truman knew that a plan to share atomic secrets with the Soviet Union and cooperate closely with it to establish international control was going to be a hard sell in any event, but with headlines blaring news about atomic spies running around Los Alamos and Washington it would be impossible.  Stimson, however, had no answer to this problem--as Malloy notes, he never much cared for domestic political wrangling.  Moreover, as he was about to retire, he would not be able to provide Truman any political cover, nor press for his cause in a White House full of nascent Cold Warriors.  His call for atomic peace in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stands more as a statement of ideals than as a concrete plan of action.  This is the way forward, gentlemen: good luck.

Malloy aptly presents Stimson as a Victorian figure of tragedy.  Clinging to traditional notions of honor, individual morality, and political moderation, he found himself swept away by the tide of modern war and a logic of international politics played for the highest stakes.  There is much to this analysis.  I am not sure, though, that the secretary of war was quite as ingenuous as Malloy sometimes portrays him.  Perhaps he went along with Truman's rationalization that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “war plant” targets, but did he really believe it?  If so, why did he go to such lengths to spare Kyoto, where there were probably more actual military targets than in the two cities that were bombed?[1]  Perhaps he believed that his overriding mission was now to convince the president that the advent of atomic weaponry demanded a new form of international cooperation, but did he really believe that Truman, president for only a few months, in possession of an atomic monopoly, and not wishing to be run out of Washington on a rail, could take the extreme political risks of pursuing it?  If so, why did he leave the city as fast as he could and never, even as his health improved, seriously push Truman on the issue?  Stimson was torn between a Victorian and a modern understanding of politics, but that does not mean he was blind to the latter’s dictates.  He famously once said that “Gentlemen do not read each other's mail.”[2]  But during World War II, the Americans broke codes with the best of them.


[1]. For an original answer to this question, see Jason Kelly, “Probity, Strategy and Culture: Stimson and the Sparing of Kyoto in Postwar Historiography” (master's thesis, Yale University, 2005).

[2]. Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948), 188.

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Citation: Campbell Craig. Review of Malloy, Sean L., Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb against Japan. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2008. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Victor H. Mair, trans.
Reviewer: Eva Goldschmidt

Victor H. Mair, trans. The Art of War: Sun Zi's Military Methods (Translations from the Asian Classics). New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Lii +189 pp. $19.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-13382-1; (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-50853-7.

Reviewed by Eva Goldschmidt Published on H-War (September, 2008) Commissioned by Brian G.H. Ditcham

Another Sun Zi Translation?

Many readers might have asked themselves this question, because translations and elaborations of Sun Zi Bingfa (Master Sun’s Military Treatise) and how to read and apply them to daily life are manifold in the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Presumably Columbia University Press asked Victor H. Mair to set a counterpoint with his translation and save the work attributed to Sun Zi from becoming pulp fiction. Victor H. Mair’s work includes not only a translation, but also a glossary and introduction which are fully accessible and intelligible to non-specialists.

The present volume is divided into four parts: the foreword by Arthur Waldron, a glossary of key terms and their explanation, Mair’s introductory notes, and finally his translation of the thirteen canonical chapters and the pseudo-biography of Sun Wu. Arthur Waldron compares the two most popular books ever written on war, Sun Zi Bingfa and Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 Vom Kriege (On War). Despite their the very different sociocultural backgrounds, both authors agree that the ultimate goal of warfare is victory leading to the submission of the enemy forces and that warfare should be undertaken only as a last resort. The two authors differ greatly in the way to pursue this goal, however. For Sun Zi waging war is a psychological contest, and deception of the enemy is the root of his soldierly methods. Deception is applied not only to gain supremacy in a battle, but to subvert the foundations of the enemy state as a whole. Carl von Clausewitz writes about war as a general phenomenon, an interaction between politics and fighting and a contest of manpower and technological devices. The foreword is followed by a glossary of key terms, providing the reader with the necessary explanations to understand the translation, and a light introduction to Chinese philosophical thought.

In his introduction, Victor H. Mair focuses on the unusual style and composition of Sun Zi, its Daoist aspects, its historical context, the level of military technology during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), and its counterparts in world history. Sun Zi Bingfa is the earliest extant Chinese volume dealing with military affairs and summarizes all military knowledge acquired up to the Warring States Period. During the closing years of the Warring States Period and the early years of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE -63 CE), a rich military lore attributed to Master Sun was circulated and evaluated by at least 200 commentaries over the centuries. Mair argues that Sun Zi, the alleged single author of the work, is a fictional entity. Sun Zi is often mentioned in one breath with Sun Wu, Sun Bin, Wu Zi, and Wu Sun. Of the four, only Sun Bin is a historical person and probably the initial Sun Zi, as Mair puts it. The remaining three are, he suggests, fictional. Analyzing the content of the thirteen canonical chapters, Mair concludes that compilation of the Sun Zi Bingfa began around the middle of the fourth century BCE and was finished toward the end of that century. His arguments are that the military rank of a general (jiangjun), the use of massed infantry, the use of the convex crossbow, and the wide use of war chariots are typical features of the Warring States period. Semantic peculiarities and the different length of the chapters support his arguments (for instance the remarkably high frequency of the word "therefore" marks the work as a collection of military maxims).

In the last two sections of the introduction, Victor Mair briefly touches on the Daoist aspects and translation history of the work. Two editions of Sun Zi Bingfa are incorporated in the Daoist canon. Possible reasons for this may be the defensive and minimalist approach to waging war advocated by Sun Zi and his failure to invoke key Confucian terms such as De (virtue), or Li (etiquette and civility). The enormous popularity of this book is also due to its long translation history, which started in the twelfth century with a translation into Tangut. This initial translation was followed by Japanese, Manchu, French, and English ones.

The present translation is based on the Song dynasty (966-1279 CE) edition and its eleven commentaries. Each of the thirteen chapters of the translation is preceded by a summary of the content and Sun Zi’s intentions. The translation itself is a very elegant rendering of a Chinese classical text known for its difficulty and obscurity. Mair’s translation, however, can be read with pleasure by specialists and non-specialists alike, because his emphasis lies on a clear and lucid rendering of the text, without any bias toward the military or philosophical sides. The translation of many passages has the style of a poem or a rhyme. This makes it easier to follow them and highlights the character of the text. In fact the translation is a masterpiece. The design of the book is also elegant and stylish.

There is only one remark left to make. This concerns the foreword by Arthur Waldron. As perspicacious as his arguments are, comparing two authors Sun Zi and von Clausewitz on the basis of similar book titles is not very persuasive. These two authors have one major characteristic in common--they are widely quoted, and rarely read.

The book can be recommended for non-specialists who are interested in the classical literature of ancient China and are willing to invest some time reading the translation and the accompanying notes as well as for specialists of military history and military strategy and students of Chinese philosophy and history at all levels.

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Citation: Eva Goldschmidt. Review of Mair, Victor H., trans., The Art of War: Sun Zi's Military Methods (Translations from the Asian Classics). H-War, H-Net Reviews. September, 2008. URL:

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Author: Jeremy Pressman
Reviewer: Jeffrey W. Taliaferro

Jeremy Pressman. Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008. x + 178 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4671-9; $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8014-7443-9.

Reviewed by Jeffrey W. Taliaferro Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Keep Your Allies on a Short Leash

In an essay written more than thirty years ago, historian Paul W. Schroeder observed that alliances can be both "weapons of security and instruments of management." He cited several examples from modern European history suggesting that the desire to control one's allies was a frequent occurrence. Ultimately, however, he did not systematically address the questions of when, why, or how alliance restraint will likely occur. Instead, he concluded that there was no "magic formula for using alliances as tools for management for the purpose of promoting international peace and stability."[1] What is surprising is that international relations scholars devoted so little attention to the dynamics of alliance restraint for the next three decades, thus leaving the following questions largely unaddressed: How often do states ally primarily as a strategy to restrain their would-be allies, rather than primarily as a means to deter or defeat a common adversary? Under what conditions are allies more likely to succeed in restraining each other from undertaking provocative and arguably counterproductive military actions toward third parties? Are "special relationships" between liberal democracies, such as the United States' longstanding alliances with Great Britain and Israel, more likely to embody a norm of cooperation and successful restraint than other types of alliances?

In Warring Friends, Jeremy Pressman addresses each of the above questions. He draws on and critiques rival alliance theories taken from structural realism, constructivism, liberalism, and (neoliberal) institutionalism. Pressman then develops a neoclassical realist theory, which posits a crucial role for the ability of more powerful states to mobilize their power resources to restrain their allies. As he puts it, "The 800-pound gorilla has to throw its weight around; merely being heavy is not enough to force allies into line" (p. 2). He defines "alliance restraint" as "an actual or anticipated diplomatic effort by one ally to influence a second ally not to proceed with a proposed policy or not to continue with an existing military policy" (p. 6). Restraint, however, only pertains to attempts to influence allied states' military policies, including military interventions, war, arms sales, nuclear proliferation, and the formation of alliances with third parties.

Pressman advances four propositions: First, states forge alliances to restrain their would-be allies more often than existing international relations theories would have us believe. Second, the success or failure of restraint within an existing alliance is not simply a function of the relative power distribution between allies. Rather, successful restraint depends on the ability and willingness of the more powerful ally to mobilize its power resources. As Pressman writes, "If the powerful ally mobilizes, it can compel weaker allies to be restrained. If the powerful ally is the restrainee, it can mobilize its power resources to go it alone and ignore the restraint attempt" (p. 15). Third, several conditions affect the likelihood of power mobilization in cases of alliance restraint: deception by the weaker ally; the degree of unity within the restrainer's leadership; the restrainer's hierarchy of national security objectives; and the availability of alternative pathways (or strategies) to the same outcome its weaker ally seeks. Fourth, the dynamics of alliance restraint are different from efforts to influence policies among non-allies.    

This is a well-written, historically rich, and theoretically smart book. It is also surprisingly brief. In less than 174 pages, Pressman examines eighteen cases of alliance formation and alliance restraint over the span of 150 years. Chapter 2 establishes the plausibility of the author's theory by examining six cases of bilateral or multilateral alliance formation: Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1879; Great Britain and Japan in 1902; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and West Germany in 1949; the United States and South Korea in 1953; the United States and Taiwan in 1954; and Egypt and Syria in 1964-66. Drawing largely on secondary sources and published documents, Pressman finds strong evidence that the states initiating the alliance (Germany, Britain, the United States, and Egypt) did so, at least in part, to prevent their would-be allies (Austria, Japan, West Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and Syria, respectively) from dragging them into unwanted war with a regional adversary (North Korea, China, and Israel) or a great power (Russia and later the Soviet Union).  

The bulk of Warring Friends concerns the dynamics of restraint within the U.S.-British and the U.S.-Israeli alliances. Chapter 3 examines four cases in which the United States or Britain attempted to restrain the other during the Cold War. The cases are: the successful effort by President Harry S. Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett to dissuade Prime Minister Clement Atlee's government from using force to halt Iran's nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951; the successful effort by Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill's government to dissuade the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration from sending forces to relieve besieged French forces in Indochina in 1954; the subsequent unsuccessful effort by the Churchill government to prevent the Eisenhower administration from sending forces to defend Taiwan in 1954-55; and the Suez War of 1956. Suez really constitutes two cases. In the first, the Eisenhower administration failed to restrain the government of Prime Minister Antony Eden from using force to reverse Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal. In the second, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles used economic means to force the Eden government to accept a UN-sponsored cease-fire and then to withdraw British troops from Egypt.

Chapter 4 examines eight cases where the United States attempted to restrain Israel: the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administration's failure to halt Israeli nuclear weapons development in the early 1960s; the Johnson administration's failure to prevent Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's government from launching a preemptive attack on the Egyptian and Syrian armies in June 1967; the successful effort by the Richard Nixon administration to dissuade Eshkol's successor, Golda Meir, and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, from launching a preemptive attack on Egyptian forces in 1973; the Jimmy Carter administration's inability to restrain small Israeli operation against Lebanon in 1977; the Ronald Reagan administration's failure to restrain Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon from launching a full-scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982; the George H. W. Bush administration's successful effort to restrain Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his government from retaliating against Iraqi ballistic (SCUD) missile attacks in the 1991 Persian Gulf War; and the efforts by the William Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations to dissuade Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his successor Sharon from selling advanced airborne early warning systems and upgrading previously purchased Harpy anti-radar drones to the People's Republic of China in 2000 and 2005, respectively.

The dynamics of alliance restraint pose various anomalies for existing international relations theories. Structural realists, such as Kenneth N. Waltz and Stephen M. Walt, argue that states generally forge alliances to aggregate their material capabilities against a common adversary (balancing). Balance-of-power and balance-of-threat theories expect that alliances will be temporary marriages of convenience and that the more powerful state will generally prevail in intra-alliance disputes.[2] However, weaker states sometimes prevail in disputes with stronger allies, and neither theory appears to explain the circumstances under which this is more likely to occur. Simply looking at relative power distributions or the existence of common threats does not explain why the more powerful United States acquiesced to British objections to military intervention in Indochina. Nor, as Pressman notes, do purely systemic theories explain why the United States successfully restrained Israel in 1973, 1977, 1991, and 2000/2005, but failed to do so in 1961-63, 1967, and 1982.

Institutionalists like G. John Ikenberry argue that multilateral alliances (which are a subset of international institutions) not only facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation among their members states, but also restrict the autonomy of their more powerful members. Specifically, by engaging in what Ikenberry terms "institutional binding," the United States not only facilitates cooperation, but actually reduces the implications of asymmetries of power between itself and other states.[3] Then again, NATO is unique among military alliances in its sheer degree of institutionalization. Historically, most alliances have been mutual defense pacts or ad hoc war fighting coalitions. NATO has only fought one war in its sixty-year history: the 1999 Kosovo War (Operation Allied Force) against Serbia. NATO came perilously close to losing that war precisely because its institutional framework made decision making so cumbersome. More often than not, as Pressman's case studies illustrate, the United States either flaunts institutional frameworks or rewrites the rules to suit its purposes.

Finally, constructivists, such as Thomas Risse, and some liberals, such as John M. Owen, argue that alliances among liberal democracies embody shared identities and norms of consultation and mutual respect, which, in turn, minimizes the likelihood of serious disagreements among allies.[4] For all of the rhetoric about an Anglo-American special relationship based on shared values, culture, and democratic principles, Pressman compiles substantial evidence that realpolitik considerations were paramount in shaping the inter-alliance strategies of successive presidents and prime ministers. Nor is this pattern confined to Anglo-American relations. Pressman writes, "Israel and the United States did not coordinate their policies, and Israel often relied on deception to try to avoid American restraint efforts. Deception featured prominent in four of the seven cases [examined in chapter 4]: Israeli nuclear proliferation, Israel's intervention in Lebanon with U.S. military equipment, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Israel's arms sale to China in 2004-2005" (p. 118).

The one minor weakness of Warring Friends lies in the use of the term "power mobilization" in reference to the explanatory variable. Pressman explicitly draws on Randall Schweller's recent book, Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (2006). Schweller, like many social scientists, uses the term "power mobilization" to refer to a state's ability to extract societal resources for internal balancing (arms racing) or external balancing (alliance formation). Successful alliance restraint, in contrast, seems to depend less on the stronger state's ability to extract and mobilize resources from society (a process that often takes months or years) than on the willingness and ability of national elites to use existing resources (power-in-being) to influence allies.

This quibble aside, Warring Friends is a superb contribution to the literature on alliance politics and neoclassical realism. It should be required reading for scholars and students of security studies, international history and politics, and international relations theory for some time to come.


[1]. Paul W. Schroeder, "Alliances, 1815-1945: Weapons of Power and Tools of Management," in Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, ed. Klaus Knorr (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1975), 227-263, quotations on 227, 256.

[2]. Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: Random House, 1979); and Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

[3]. G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

[4]. John M. Owen IV, "Transnational Liberalism and American Primacy; or Benignity is in the Eye of the Beholder," in America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power, ed. G. John Ikenberry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 239-259; and Thomas Risse, "U.S. Power in a Liberal Security Community," ibid., 260-283.

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Citation: Jeffrey W. Taliaferro. Review of Pressman, Jeremy, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2008. URL:

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Author: Marc J. O'Reilly
Reviewer: Richard McAlexander

Marc J. O'Reilly. Unexceptional: America's Empire in the Persian Gulf, 1941-2007. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008. xxi + 345 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-0590-0.

Reviewed by Richard McAlexander Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Mis-Titled But Insightful

With the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003, observers and pundits have offered various categories to classify the latest adventure of the United States in the Middle East. Supporters of the invasion have argued that the George W. Bush administration’s actions in the Middle East are simply another installment of America’s benevolent but heavy-handed involvement in the Persian Gulf. Realist observers protested the overtly ideological nature of the war and disregard for realpolitik principles. Critics on the left (and some self-proclaimed neoconservatives on the right) argued that the latest Iraq war was beyond a mere hegemonic act but instead constituted a textbook example of imperialist behavior. In Unexceptional, Marc J. O’Reilly has crafted a welcome addition to the current debate on the nature of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf while also providing new insights into American Middle East policy since World War II.

O’Reilly, an assistant professor of political science at Heidelberg College in Ohio, argues that America’s involvement in the Persian Gulf was and remains similar to previous empires’ involvement in the region. Fully aware of the implications employing “empire” as an analytical tool, O’Reilly introduces the book with a survey on the contemporary debate on the definition of "empire," including a range of views from Niall Ferguson to Immanuel Wallerstein. O’Reilly tackles the taxonomists preferred alternative to "empire"--"hegemony"--by arguing that the two terms are meant to diagnose different ailments. The term "hegemony" implies that a state possesses a high level of cultural, economic, and political power, and then uses this power to coerce or encourage other states to bend to the will of the state. O’Reilly cites President Bill Clinton’s bailout of Mexico in 1994 and the stabilization of the world economy in the wake of the Asian financial panic of 1997-98 as hegemonic acts. Contemporaneously, Washington unleashed multiple waves of air strikes against Iraq, which prompts O’Reilly to ask: “Why would a hegemon employ what could only be construed as imperial methods” (p. 23)? This question gets to the heart of O’Reilly’s project: his goal is not to examine the essence of America’s preeminent role in the world but to find an adequate framework and characterization for interpreting the aims and actions of America’s involvement in the Middle East.

The bulk of O’Reilly’s project consists of examining discrete episodes of larger periods of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf, and then placing those episodes into a framework that explains how empires act. O’Reilly offers five propositions for how the United States has exercised imperialism in the Persian Gulf, taking into account whether America’s interests are at stake, and whether the United States itself, or an ally, can act to protect those interests. The first episode occurred during World War II, when the United States supplanted Great Britain in Iran and Saudi Arabia as the protector of the support line that shipped weapons and materiel to the Allies. The United States sought to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran to “counter Great-Power threats [from the Soviets], a favorite imperial tactic” (p. 57). U.S. encroachment increased when Britain’s empire declined, and thus “the United States, the superpower with atomic weapons and the most productive economy in the world, officially joined the Great Game” (p. 56). The replacement of Britain’s role by the United States in Saudi Arabia and Iran as British power waned bolsters O’Reilly’s thesis. This trend intensified in O’Reilly’s second period, 1948-58, when British power declined precipitously in the wake of the Suez crisis and the United States responded with the Eisenhower Doctrine, which declared that the United States would be concerned with the internal politics of all Middle Eastern states. U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958, as intended, demonstrated to the Middle East that the United States would act on its promises, as if the ultimate imperial act (the covert overthrow of Mohammed Mossadeq in 1954) was not enough.

In examining the third stage of American expansion, from 1959-72, O’Reilly acknowledges that it “defies easy explanation” (p. 116). With the Vietnam War the central issue in U.S. foreign policy, involvement in the Middle East, declined. However, O’Reilly offers a convincing explanation for this seemingly anomalous behavior: with a military bogged down in Vietnam, the United States relied on its close relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran to protect its interests, known as the Twin Pillars strategy. The central interest of the United States--unfettered access to oil--remained safeguarded despite the turbulence of the Six Days' War, the Yemeni civil war, and border skirmishes between Iraq and Kuwait. The United States was more concerned with limiting the negative effects of these conflicts than with preventing them.

The detached role of the United States in the Middle East continues into O’Reilly’s fourth stage of analysis, from 1973-89. O’Reilly admits that calling “the American performance in this era imperialistic would seem rather preposterous,” but “informal empire ... allows for the contraction of interests and influence” (p. 155). O’Reilly rescues his thesis by arguing that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s success in convincing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to abandon its oil embargo further insinuated the United States into the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, the inaction of President Jimmy Carter as he watched the Iranian shah fall and the Twin Pillars strategy crumble weakens O’Reilly’s argument. Nevertheless, O’Reilly argues that Carter’s inaction was consonant with imperialism. He writes that inaction was due to a lack of "decisive presidential leadership" (not a lack of will), and that "in contrast, a Truman, Eisenhower, or Nixon might have ordered some kind of action" to save the shah (p. 156). This exercise demonstrates that O’Reilly’s minimum criteria for an imperial act includes nonactions--just as long as the idleness is driven by a reliance on proxies or ineffective government. Moreover, this means that O’Reilly’s functional definition of "empire" is primarily concerned with the intentions or even desires of the purportedly imperial state. While his definition proves adequate for most of the examples that O’Reilly examines, his characterization of the detached role of the United States as the shah fell as imperialistic will prove problematic for some readers.

The heart of Unexceptional lies in O’Reilly’s largest and most incisive chapter, which retells the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan through the lens of his interpretative framework on imperialism. O’Reilly argues that U.S. post-9/11 policy transformed from “informal” empire to “formal” empire, largely due to the American public’s acquiescence to indefinitely deploying U.S. troops into foreign lands. This acquiescence was the result of the public’s post-9/11 tolerance of the costs of occupation of foreign land--the rhetoric of the “Global War on Terror” provided a cover for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or formal empire. This, in conjunction with the significant military superiority of the United States, allowed the Bush administration to jettison the favored tactic of the United States in the region--reliance on proxies--for invasion and occupation. O’Reilly rightfully notes that the United States created the “archetypal imperial dilemma” in Iraq--the occupation inevitably fuels resentment and reprisals by the occupied, yet the occupied cannot risk abandoning the occupation to a “failed state” (p. 241). As expected, O’Reilly’s thesis that U.S. policies in the Middle East are imperial is most convincing when U.S. policy shifted from informal to formal empire. 

Ultimately, the central flaw in Unexceptional resides in the disconnect between the stated aims of the book and its contents. In the introduction, O’Reilly writes that, “above all else,” his goal is to "answer one question: Is the American empire in the Persian Gulf exceptional? In other words, is American behavior different from that of previous Gulf imperialists" (p. 26)? To answer this important question, he would had to have undertaken a comparative study of British, Ottoman, and U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf. Yet, O’Reilly’s book is not a comparative study--it lays out a framework for interpreting U.S. actions in the Middle East as imperialistic, and then examines discrete episodes of U.S. involvement (and sometimes non-involvement) in reference to that framework. In that sense, the work is an enlightening and welcome addition to the debate on the imperial status of postwar U.S. foreign policy. However, O’Reilly simply does not address the question he lays out in the introduction. He includes only a handful of mentions of British involvement in the Middle East throughout the text, and his references to Ottoman involvement are even rarer. The reader looking for even a cursory answer to O’Reilly’s central inquiry will surely be disappointed. 

There are other flaws. For no obvious reason, O'Reilly confines significant discussion of the relationship between the United States and Israel to the latter two chapters, ranging from 1990 to the present. O’Reilly offers no explanation for why Israel suddenly appears in his analysis, which is especially odd when the incorporation of the formation of the special relationship around 1958 could bolster his overall thesis. Also, only U.S.-based, English language sources (albeit extensively researched ones) are used. Primary sources in Arabic could have shed some light on the effects, rather than just the intentions or goals, of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Despite its flaws, Unexceptional will be of interest to those concerned with the current debate on U.S. imperial status and those interested in examining the continuity between past U.S. actions in the Persian Gulf and the current Iraq war. The latter theme is where O’Reilly’s project succeeds. O’Reilly presents a convincing case that “empire and imperialism can explain the U.S. rise to prominence in the Gulf since 1941 as well as the evolution of American policy and strategy in that region” (p. 5).

The overt and formal imperialism of the current Iraq war has clearly inspired O’Reilly to reevaluate past U.S. involvement in the region. Ultimately, Unexceptional succeeds because the interpretive framework is both relevant to contemporary debates and a provider of new insights into past U.S. actions without being marred by presentism.

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Author: David M. Barrett
Reviewer: David McCarthy

David M. Barrett. The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006. 544 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-1400-4.

Reviewed by David McCarthy Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

No Free Ride: Congressional “Oversight” of the CIA, 1947-1961

In September 1975, after learning that the White House planned on withholding records from his committee’s investigation of the intelligence community, Rep. Otis Pike (D-New York) took aim at assistant attorney general Rex Lee. Pike forcefully rejected Lee’s claim of executive privilege and provided him with a history lesson: “For decades, other committees of Congress have not done their job, and you have loved it in the executive branch ... the executive branch comes up and whispers in one friendly Congressman’s ear or another friendly Congressman’s ear, and that is exactly what you want to continue, and that is exactly what I think has led us into the mess we are in.”[1] In the aftermath of the investigations that unfolded in 1975 and 1976, the Senate and House of Representatives established separate intelligence committees, which have remained in place for over three decades. But to what extent was Pike correct in asserting that Congress had neglected to properly monitor the intelligence establishment in the past? In other words, did Congress provide effective oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prior to the mid-1970s? This is the primary question that David M. Barrett attempts to answer in The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy

Barrett’s study is both fascinating and provocative, and it is unquestionably one of the most important books ever published on the early history of the CIA. It nicely expands on the narrative that David Rudgers outlined in Creating the Secret State (2000). Focusing on the CIA’s interactions with Congress from 1947 through the fallout from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, Barrett convincingly argues “that Congress was more assertive in relation to the CIA than has been understood” (p. 461). In addition to the four committees responsible for monitoring the agency--House Appropriations, Senate Appropriations, House Armed Services, and Senate Armed Services--the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE), the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Government Operations Committee also entered the fray on occasion. Barrett acknowledges that there were obvious limitations to this arcane system, and he estimates that only “10 to 12 of the 531 members of Congress were in the business of approving the increasingly extensive covert action programs, though some knew far more than others about them” (p. 100). In fact, CIA officials preferred to restrict information even within the “oversight” subcommittees, devoting most of their time to an elite group of powerful members. As a consequence, Barrett shows that the effectiveness of oversight depended more on personality than politics. Rep. John Taber (R-New York) closely watched the CIA’s escalating budget (p. 150), while Senator Carl Hayden (D-Arizona) gave “less attention to CIA oversight than any other subcommittee chair of the 1950s” (p. 204). In the final analysis, Barrett concludes, “the House carried out more effective oversight of the CIA than the Senate did in the early Cold War era” (p. 459).

As the book progresses, Barrett carefully illustrates how Congress became increasingly attentive to the CIA with the passage of time. The first director of central intelligence (DCI), who headed the agency, had just ten documented visits to Capitol Hill a year (p. 92), but by 1959, top CIA officials were involved in “an annual total of at least thirty or thirty-one ... appearances before formal legislative bodies (plus two informal groups sessions), apparently the highest number in the CIA’s thirteen years” (p. 331). Even though Congress held more hearings in the late 1950s, they were unwilling to modernize the oversight system. Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) had warned in 1954 that the status quo was unacceptable: “until we create some sort of ‘watchdog committee’ ... we will have nothing but continued anxiety about the Central Intelligence Agency and its widespread activities,” he declared (p. 174). Mansfield believed that Congress needed to establish a joint oversight committee. His resolution received the most support in 1956, but due in part to the shrewd maneuvering of DCI Allen Dulles, Congress voted down the proposal by a margin of 59 to 27.   

The book is arranged in three chronological sections, which are each divided into what might be called quasi-chapters. Part 1 examines Congress and the CIA during the Truman administration. For scholars familiar with the origins of the CIA, Barrett tells a familiar story: President Truman’s decision to disband the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the short-lived Central Intelligence Group (CIG), the creation of the CIA in the National Security Act of 1947, the approval of NSC 10/2 in 1948, and the CIA Act of 1949. The trajectory of Barrett’s narrative is mostly predictable, but the details he includes are often fresh and exciting. For instance, he frequently takes the reader inside complicated congressional debates. In the hands of a less talented author, this would have been an incredibly tedious book. Barrett, however, has a good eye for revealing quotations and fun anecdotes. The description of the fist-fight between Taber and Rep. Clarence Cannon (D-Missouri) is great entertainment (pp. 116-117). 

Yet despite the internal feuds on some of the subcommittees, Barrett points out that a consensus emerged in Congress on the relationship between secrecy and democracy. “[W]hile committee leaders envisioned having a few legislators monitor the CIA on behalf of Congress,” he observes, “they agreed with [Allen] Dulles and administration leaders that secrecy took priority over openness” (p. 22). The congressional commitment to secrecy was clearly revealed in Section 10 of the CIA Act of 1949. When debating the legislation, few members of Congress expressed concern about granting the agency top-secret funds that could be hidden within the Pentagon’s budget. Interestingly, several did complain about a provision in the bill that would allow the CIA to bring one hundred foreign assets into the country every year, circumventing normal immigration rules and regulations. Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-New York) worried about the arrival of “communists, Hitler sadists, morons, moral perverts, syphilitics, or lepers” (p. 45). The CIA Act passed the Senate unanimously, while only one vote was cast against it in the House (p. 48). Although it is doubtful that any lepers entered the United States as a result of the CIA Act, the law placed a shroud of secrecy over the agency’s overall budget that has been lifted only three times in six decades.  

Another argument that Barrett develops in the opening section is that Congress frequently took notice of intelligence failures. When rioting disrupted a conference in Bogota in April 1948, the CIA was unfairly blamed for not anticipating the crisis. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, the CIA director from 1947 to 1950, later revealed to a congressional subcommittee that warnings had been sent to the State Department the previous month (p. 36). Despite the accuracy of the Bogota reporting, however, CIA analysts faltered badly the following year when they estimated that the Soviet Union would probably not develop an atomic bomb until the middle of 1953. The problem, of course, was that the Soviets had already detonated a bomb in August. For obvious reasons, Barrett calls this “perhaps the most embarrassingly ill-timed and mistaken estimate of the CIA’s early years” (p. 55). Hillenkoetter did not perform much better on June 23, 1950 when he appeared at a secret session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Specifically asked about the situation in South Korea, he seemed confident that the agency’s intelligence on the region was solid and gave no indication of an impending crisis (p. 82). Less than forty-eight hours later, North Korea attacked South Korea. The CIA survived the embarrassment, but Hillenkoetter did not. General Walter “Beetle” Smith soon replaced “Hilly.”

Part 2 covers the Dwight Eisenhower years, a period that is commonly known as “the golden age” of covert operations at the CIA. Barrett works diligently to piece together what Congress knew about covert operations and when they knew it. The immense difficulty of this endeavor becomes apparent once Barrett reveals “[n]o full transcript of a CIA subcommittee hearing devoted to covert action has ever been declassified, forcing historians to rely on other documentation plus the memories of those who attended” (p. 100). Presumably because of the paucity of documents, Barrett says nothing about Operation TPAJAX in Iran. He does, however, include a section on PBSUCCESS in Guatemala during 1954, contending that “[w]hile direct evidence of what congressional leaders knew of the operation before, during, and immediately after its occurrence is fragmentary, a suggestion that they did not know something of what was happening is thoroughly implausible” (p. 162). In fact, in all his years of research, Barrett says that he “very rarely encountered a legislator privately telling a DCI or president that the agency should avoid covert action” (p. 460). An anecdote involving Senator Harry Byrd (D-Virginia) makes congressional enthusiasm for covert tactics abundantly clear. When Dulles denied that the agency behaved in a ‘free-wheeling’ manner, Byrd was astonished: “If you’re not a free-wheeling outfit, why aren’t you?” (p. 174).

During the 1950s, as the agency embarked on a long list of covert operations, its analytical capability did not improve. (This was probably connected to the fact that the CIA spent less than 25 percent of its annual budget on analysis.) In 1955, a CIA estimate on Hungary envisioned almost no potential for a major uprising there: “active and organized resistance is virtually impossible, because of elaborate and effective police controls” (p. 254). The CIA performed somewhat better in reports on the Middle East in 1956, but Barrett shows that Dulles intentionally misled Congress to cover up deficiencies in the agency’s analysis. Based on his reading of the evidence, “the substantial declassified records of the Suez crisis do not especially vindicate the CIA head” (p. 255). 

The section on the Iraq coup of 1958 is arguably the strongest of part 2. CIA officials are apparently still embarrassed by their inability to foresee this event, since they refuse to declassify how Dulles responded to a question on “whether CIA had notice of the coup in Iraq” (p. 292). Although Dulles provided an answer fifty years ago, what he said remains classified. He probably was just acknowledging the obvious: the CIA had been caught off guard once again.

Researchers who study the CIA are fully aware of the long-standing “culture of secrecy” at Langley, and they can certainly empathize with the difficulties that Barrett confronted in his extensive research. From this perspective, the book is a 463-page example of everything wrong with current declassification policies. The reader is frequently told that documents have been lost, destroyed, heavily redacted, or withheld, allegedly for reasons of national security. In one of the books most important contributions, Barrett painstakingly reconstructs the CIA’s budget in the mid-1950s (pp. 102, 120-121, 154-155, 221). Since the relevant CIA documents were classified, Barrett was forced to sift through the personal papers of congressmen and senators. The information on the agency’s budget is an impressive demonstration of Barrett’s research skills, but it also reveals the absurdity of government secrecy. After all, what damage could be done to national security if the American public learned that the CIA had a budget of about five hundred million dollars in fiscal year 1953? The reader is also left to wonder the motivations for withholding the internal CIA history of congressional relations, the work schedules of General Smith, and the key sections of a memo that describes one of Dulles’s meetings on Capitol Hill after rioters threatened Richard Nixon during his visit to South America. (There are several other instances of irrational redactions and unnecessary classification of records over fifty years old.)

In fairness, however, there is a glimmer of hope for researchers in Barrett’s study. He was able to track down helpful information using the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) at the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland. Barrett, for instance, took full advantage of the work diary of Walter Pforzheimer, the CIA’s liaison to Congress from 1947 to 1956. Based on the information that the CIA has released, it is easy to understand why the agency hates to declassify records for historians. Pforzheimer, while still working for the CIG, ran a domestic operation in order to acquire a transcript that was locked inside a congressman’s safe (p. 17). A decade later the CIA’s top lawyer privately admitted that the agency was involved in activities “that are certainly technically improper. It doesn’t bother me too much” (p. 260). 

The documents that Barrett unearthed on Dulles are equally disturbing, shattering the mystique that Dulles cultivated in the 1950s. During a conversation in 1956, Dulles lamented that the Soviets had not killed thousands of Czech protestors three years earlier (p. 251). Such a massacre would have made for terrific American propaganda. Even in situations where Congress was upset with the CIA, Dulles had a striking ability to turn the tables on his inquisitors. He brought concerned leaders to “the Highlands” (his estate in Washington, DC), poured them a stiff drink, and reminisced about the glory days of the OSS in World War II while smoking his trademark pipe. It was masterful public relations. In 1960, after the U-2 incident, Congress was furious. Yet by the time Dulles finished his testimony, he received “a standing ovation” (p. 391). Dulles did not expect this response, and he almost caught fire after dropping his pipe. But even Dulles could not repair the damage that was done the following year after the Bay of Pigs, an event that Barrett explores in part 3. 

It is hard to say anything critical about The CIA and Congress. The depth of Barrett’s research makes the book essential reading for scholars of the intelligence community, and it will also appeal to both diplomatic and political historians. Having said this, however, I must end with three points of criticism--two minor and one major. First, the section on McCarthyism in part 2 needed to be placed in a broader context. Barrett reveals that at least one high-ranking CIA official considered infiltrating Senator Joseph McCarthy’s staff, but it remains unclear whether this actually happened. Barrett discusses how McCarthy targeted CIA employees Carmel Offie and William Bundy. Yet he neglects to mention Cord Meyer who, like Offie and Bundy, fell under suspicion. After finishing his career in the Directorate of Operations, Meyer wrote a memoir and became a prominent conservative columnist.[2] 

My second complaint pertains to a statement that Barrett makes in the afterword. “Possibly, someday, researchers will find documentation suggesting that members of Congress did know of [domestic] activities,” he says (p. 458). This is quite puzzling, because on p. 259, Barrett demonstrates that Senator Mansfield discovered a shadowy group operating inside the United States known as the American Friends of the Middle East that received CIA funding. One can only speculate what this organization was doing in the 1950s to influence the American public.       

Finally, when Barrett evaluates whether congressional oversight was “irresponsible” between 1947 and 1961, he is profoundly unconvincing. “A simple answer is not obvious,” he concludes (p. 461). Barrett proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Congress was sometimes displeased with the CIA; there were even times when legislators sought to cut the agency’s funding. But while Congress did not grant the CIA a blank check during the early years of the Cold War, it provided the agency with a massive annual budget and demanded very little accountability in return. Based on the evidence that Barrett presents, Congress was extremely irresponsible, time and again allowing secrecy to undermine American democracy. It is indeed a tragedy that Senator Mansfield’s colleagues did not listen to him in the mid-1950s. Barrett has every right to be skeptical of what a joint oversight committee could have accomplished. If nothing else, though, it would have made agency leaders think twice before engaging in domestic espionage during the Vietnam War or destabilizing Chile in the early 1970s. 

Ultimately, of course, readers should decide for themselves whether they agree with Barrett’s interpretation, and I sincerely hope that this book finds an audience outside of academic circles. Members of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate would benefit from reading this cautionary tale of what can go wrong when leaders fail to ask tough questions and demand openness.       


[1]. Kathryn S. Olmsted, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 123.

[2]. Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (New York: Harper and Row, 1980).

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Author: Bernard Bailyn
Reviewer: Matthew Schumann

Bernard Bailyn. Atlantic History: Concept and Contours. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. 150 pp.p. $18.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-01688-0.

Reviewed by Matthew Schumann Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

In Search of the Atlantic

If scholars of American foreign relations were to study the diplomatic history of North America before the War of Independence, what would it look like? What place would the future United States hold in international relations? How would it manifest its power in the realms of economics, war, power politics, and cultural exchange? Bernard Bailyn's conception of "Atlantic history" does not pretend to answer all of these questions, but it is, at least, an intriguing starting point.

Bailyn's goals in Atlantic History have little if anything to do with state-level diplomacy, and yet, the contents of his two major chapters, "The Idea of Atlantic History" and "On the Contours of Atlantic History," have everything to do with international relations more generally. Although Bailyn concentrates on the major themes of religion and economics, diplomatic history occasionally shines through as a significant motivating force. Thus, the field originated with strategic considerations of the twentieth century as much as with those of the early modern period, and the relationship between four continents--Europe, Africa, and North and South Americas--had as much to do with prevailing currents of international thought as with the currents of the ocean.

As Bailyn notes in the first part of "The Idea of Atlantic History," the field came as a byproduct of strategic considerations among high-level government officials and a politically literate press. Thus, some of the first proposals for academic study of the Atlantic came from the journalist Walter Lippmann, from 1917 through the 1930s, noting the responsibility of the United States for intervening in times of need among their cultural brethren in Europe. In the aftermath of World War II, government agencies on both sides of the North Atlantic, in particular, turned to scholars for historical explorations and explanations of the cultural and strategic bloc then developing in opposition to the nascent Warsaw Pact. It is perhaps more than coincidence that the treaty organization then forming--the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)--referred not merely to the suddenly united states of Western Europe who opposed Soviet ambitions, but also to a cultural bloc and shared histories that spanned a massive oceanic hinterland. That sense of a common heritage helped, in Bailyn's formulation, to propel early ventures into Atlantic history, while, as students of the early Cold War well know, it inspired some of the first permanent commitments of U.S. troops and strategic interests on the far side of the Atlantic.

As a nebulous region acting both as barrier and corridor, the Atlantic conflated and confounded the national histories to which scholars of an earlier era had grown accustomed. On the one hand, Charles Webster, an acclaimed historian of British diplomacy, disputed whether the region could really be considered an autonomous region worthy of its own separate scholarly field. After all, nobody could claim ownership over the thousands of miles of ocean that separated the new world from the old, and that arguably separated the international systems of Africa and the Americas from the one in Europe. On the other hand, Jacques Godechot and Charles Palmer, among a select few others in the 1950s, noted that the Atlantic also brought these continents together--that they had cultural and economic ties and a shared heritage that offered historical as well as strategic grounding for bringing together the Atlantic world of their era in contrast to a very different civilizational bloc on the frontiers of the Soviet Union. Bailyn thus sites the rise of Atlantic history squarely in the political realm.

As he traces the contours of the developing field through its evolutions after the 1960s, however, he more closely engages academia, leaving behind the diplomatic and strategic imperatives that underlay the field's foundations. He notes the emergence of history's cultural turn, with questions about the migration of one hundred thousand Palatine Germans from their Rhenish homeland to British North America, about gender distinctions among European migrants to New Spain, and about the networks of political patronage to which so many colonial officials were bound, regardless of the empire they served. These, too, are important issues, with demographic and informal political trends ultimately obtaining strategic significance as the populations and values of the old world came to shape the new--not only in their emergence as independent states but also in their impact on European trade and geopolitics of a later era. These considerations, however, lay outside of Bailyn's scope.

Diplomacy likewise hangs on the fringe of Bailyn's second essay, "On the Contours of Atlantic History." Continuing to emphasize those areas of history where the cultural turn is strongest, he emphasizes the destructiveness of the colonial conquest and the motivations of religion and trade. He notes, for example, how some of the same drives--such as utopianism and millenarianism--both inspired Europeans to cross the oceans in search of a new life of purity and innocence, and fed their bloodlust against native peoples who refused to play a cooperative part. The same applies to his discussion of transatlantic trade, smuggling, and corruption, which just briefly touches on formal diplomacy in his discussion of the origins of the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739. More generally, he works with the exchange of labor and ideas, including the inspirations claimed by David Hume and Simon BolÌvar for their ideas on religion and politics. Overall, Bailyn's Atlantic world is predominantly the North Atlantic that he knows best (e.g., The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction [1988], and To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders [2003]), though with important considerations on a smaller scale for Latin America and the trades from Africa. It is odd, however, to see tiny Atlantic networks composed of a few hundred Rosicrucians and Moravians juxtaposed with the millions transported from West Africa and forced into slave labor. More clear, by contrast, is Bailyn's appreciation that North America, both before and after independence, fits into an international system more profound than the sum of its parts.

In sum, Bailyn offers a history in miniature of the evolution of Atlantic history, highlighting especially its origins and current contours, and drawing heavily on social, cultural, intellectual, and economic history. International relations enter his narrative as background and subtext--overlooked to a certain degree yet not to be ignored. For historians of American foreign relations, therefore, Atlantic History offers two related opportunities: one historiographical, in tracing the relationship between geopolitics and historians' interests in the twentieth century; and the other more historical, taking in what is known about culture, religion, economics, and demographics in the early modern Atlantic world of which North America was a significant part, and filling the apparently gigantic gap in our knowledge of its relationship to the era's geopolitics. Bailyn's work is thus invaluable as an introduction to Atlantic history and the place within it of North America before the War of Independence. It is no less important for its omissions, which historians of international relations are ideally suited to fill.

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Author: Chris Tudda, ed.
Reviewer: David Snead

Chris Tudda, ed. The Truth Is Our Weapon: The Rhetorical Diplomacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. 232 pp.p Index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-3140-4.

Reviewed by David Snead Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

Snead on Tudda

As with most historical subjects, the historiography of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency has undergone its share of adjustments and readjustments over the past fifty years. The gradual release of previously declassified materials over the last twenty-five years has allowed for more nuanced interpretations of his presidency, yet no true consensus has emerged. The golf-playing do-little president described by some in the 1960s gave way to the strong "hidden hand" president interpretation in the 1980s.[1] Now Christopher Tudda offers a new assessment that shows Eisenhower as an active president but one who was not very effective. Tudda makes an interesting and powerful argument that Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, pursued rhetorical diplomacy that severely hampered and, at times, impeded their efforts to achieve the goals they set. While not always convincing, Tudda's interpretation will force historians to re-examine their views of the Eisenhower presidency and the role of public diplomacy in decision-making.

Tudda uses three case studies to examine the Eisenhower administration's rhetoric and the deleterious effect it had on its policy goals. He explores the fight for the creation of the European Defense Community (EDC), the administration's public call for the liberation of Eastern Europe, and Eisenhower's desire for a reunited Germany. Tudda concludes that Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles "failed to understand the power of words in a climate of insecurity brought about by the Cold War. Their confidential decision to ease world tensions failed because Eisenhower and Dulles could not reconcile this with their determination to pursue rhetorical diplomacy" (p. 15). More specifically, while privately recognizing the need to coexist with the Soviet Union, they continually used ambiguous and often bellicose rhetoric that actually increased tensions, not only with the Kremlin but also their own allies--the exact opposite of what they intended.

Tudda argues that Eisenhower and Dulles's rhetoric in their public statements and in their private meetings with their allies and enemies exaggerated the threat of the Soviet Union and expounded the dangers of unilateralism. This rhetoric sharply contrasted with their policy goals that were dependent on careful and cautious thought. The disconnect between the rhetoric and their actual deliberations hampered their efforts to achieve any of their goals. Tudda initially explores the backgrounds of both Dulles and Eisenhower and concludes that each of them had a long history of using rhetoric that did not reflect their true beliefs. He argues: "Even as Dulles publicly preached toughness and confrontation with the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, close examination of the documentary record reveals that he confidentially counseled moderation and restraint" (p. 25). He found that Eisenhower shared many of Dulles's views and used rhetoric in similar ways. The result, Tudda explains, is that Eisenhower and Dulles "publicly pledged to pursue an activist foreign policy, including the pursuit of military, political, and economic unity in Western Europe, promised to liberate Eastern Europe, and endorsed the reunification of Germany on Western terms. All the while they secretly strove for coexistence with the Soviet Union and settled for the status quo in Europe" (p. 47).

Eisenhower and Dulles believed the EDC was the centerpiece of European security, yet Tudda contends that they failed to develop a coherent public message that actually supported their goals. Instead their public statements made many French and other European statesmen fear American unilateralism as much as communism. Furthermore, the American leaders' continued pressure on France to increase its commitment to fighting communism in Vietnam while the United States was publicly implying a possible reduction in its military presence in Europe did nothing to encourage confidence. The end result was that the French refused to support the EDC.

After his examination of the EDC, Tudda addresses the United States's policies towards Eastern Europe. He contends that Eisenhower and his advisers knew that public calls for liberation of Eastern Europe "would force the Soviet Union to react violently to any threats, real or imagined" (p. 75). However, they also knew that abandoning these "captive peoples" to communist rule would not play well in the domestic political arena. That, in Tudda's eyes, led Eisenhower and Dulles to make "ambiguous and dangerous statements" (p.75). He asserts that the Eisenhower administration "had failed to truly think through its rhetorical strategy and could not reconcile its public information campaign with its confidential repudiation of military liberation" (p. 86). The result was that their rhetoric encouraged many Eastern Europeans to believe incorrectly that the United States would provide aid if they indeed sought to break away from Soviet control.

Tudda continues his critique of Eisenhower's policies by challenging the president's private belief in a conciliatory approach to the reunification of Germany, while pursuing a confrontational public stance. Tudda stresses that "Eisenhower and Dulles consistently used bellicose rhetoric in an effort to convince the West of the danger of a permanently divided Germany, and tried to force the Soviets to agree to German reunification on Western terms" (p. 103). The problem was that European countries feared a reunified Germany almost as much as the Soviet Union; therefore, the Eisenhower administration's rhetoric actually encouraged Soviet resistance to reunification while failing to provide the assurance Western European nations needed. This failure intensified the Cold War--just the opposite of what Eisenhower desired. In the end, Tudda concludes, "Eisenhower's public rhetoric angered the allies even as he secretly pursued policies ostensibly designed to accommodate their needs" (p. 127).

Tudda has written a powerful book that will force historians of the Eisenhower administration to re-examine their interpretations and historians more generally to evaluate the importance of public rhetoric. Tudda could have strengthened his arguments by more clearly examining what alternatives Eisenhower did have, especially within the constraints of domestic political realities, and developed more clearly the influence of Eisenhower's rhetoric on other countries' policies. He has clearly shown that it did have influence, but by focusing almost exclusively on the rhetoric used by the Eisenhower administration, he unintentionally minimizes other factors that influence policy development. In other words, would a more conciliatory and less bellicose public diplomacy have produced different foreign policy results? Tudda believes so, but his point is not proven conclusively.

Regardless of this criticism, Tudda has done what any good historian should do. He makes you think and re-evaluate previously held positions. Future studies of the 1950s will have to take into consideration how successful Eisenhower was in devising policy goals and in articulating them to various audiences ranging from the general public to the Soviet Union. Tudda clearly shows in the areas he examined that Eisenhower could have at least done a better job of explaining U.S. goals and offering more appealing reasons for countries to follow the American lead. By not doing so, Tudda concludes that Eisenhower failed to achieve his primary strategic goal--reduced tensions with the Soviet Union.


[1]. Fred Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982). 

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Citation: David Snead. Review of Tudda, Chris, ed., The Truth Is Our Weapon: The Rhetorical Diplomacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2008. URL:

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Author: Andrew J. Bacevich, ed.
Reviewer: David Kaiser

Andrew J. Bacevich, ed. The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. xiv + 586 pp. $77.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-13158-2.

Reviewed by David Kaiser Published on H-Diplo (September, 2008) Commissioned by Christopher L. Ball

From Cold War to Long War?

Edited by Andrew Bacevich, The Long War does not quite live up to its title, since its twelve contributions divide the subject not chronologically or territorially, but thematically. Most of them focus on aspects of the workings of the American government in the second half of the century, and a few show some influence from newer historical approaches. Several are extremely valuable, both for the events that they summarize and the perspective they provide on the similarities and differences between the present and what is rapidly becoming the distant past of the Cold War. Any student of American foreign policy in the second half of the twentieth century will find plenty of interest here.

Arnold Offner’s essay--“Liberation or Dominance?”--is an interesting one, especially in light of the author’s long career as a Cold War revisionist. Offner has not changed his views of Cold War foreign policy, but unlike many on both sides of the political spectrum, he concludes unequivocally that the George W. Bush administration immediately broke with the entire postwar consensus by explicitly repudiating the principles of the Peace of Westphalia (national sovereignty), the United Nations (war only in self-defense), and the Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of prisoners. (There is a great difference between occasionally violating those principles and officially consigning them to the ash can.) Similarly, James Kurth argues that President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attempted something fundamentally different from “The American Way of War” in Iraq, and that those differences largely account for their lack of success (p. 53).

Striking another note in a long survey of American strategic nuclear policy, Tami Davis Biddle argues that American military planners rarely if ever succeeded in providing presidents with useable nuclear options during the Cold War, and adds that we have not really evolved any new paradigm for the use of nuclear weapons. Interestingly enough, presidential candidate Barack Obama, in a little-commented on speech in July, actually revived Ronald Reagan’s call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which Biddle notes was both seriously meant and very influential at some key junctures of the Reagan presidency. Perhaps Reagan’s biggest legacy is yet to come.

Anna Kasten Nelson contributes an interesting history of the evolution of the national security state. She suggests that the creation of the National Security Council (NSC) had little impact during the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations, during which the State Department maintained the primary policymaking role, but that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) emerged during the 1950s as a key player. I was not altogether persuaded by her discussion of the Eisenhower period because of the very important role the NSC structure played in both defining the goals of American foreign policy around the world and prescribing the military means to implement them. It was the Eisenhower NSC that decided, for example, that the United States would defend South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia against Communist aggression, without allied help and with nuclear weapons if necessary—and those policy statements, I found, led to a stream of recommendations for intervention in Southeast Asia beginning in late 1960 and continuing all the way to 1965. Marc Trachtenberg (A Constructed Peace [1999]) has also shown how the Eisenhower NSC structure loosened presidential control of nuclear weapons—a problem that President John F. Kennedy and his NSC advisor, McGeorge Bundy, were determined to fix. Nelson is correct to note that Kennedy and Bundy loosened the Eisenhower process somewhat, but Kennedy still met with an expanded NSC to make major decisions and, on at least two occasions (October 1962 and August-October 1963), to handle crises, first in Cuba and then in South Vietnam. What Kennedy and Bundy did not want was an Eisenhower-style set of approved policy documents for every contingency that would tie their hands, and they even resisted Walt Rostow’s attempts to write a new basic national security strategy. But Robert McNamara’s Pentagon certainly did eclipse Dean Rusk’s State Department under both Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Under Richard Nixon, as she discusses at length, the White House became the real center of decision-making power, and even of the execution of diplomatic and military strategy, for the first time. Nelson omits the Gerald Ford years, when Congress tried to reign in some of the covert excesses of the national security state, and rightly cites Reagan’s problems as a manager. She might have said more along the same lines about George W. Bush. The president’s critics have focused on the principles behind his policies, but I suspect that future historians will discover that an almost complete failure to coordinate their implementation or develop clear lines of responsibility on major issues has been another huge problem during the last eight years. On a related front, George H. Quester surveys changing approaches to war, both conventional and unconventional, during the second half of the twentieth century.

Not surprisingly, Bacevich provides one of the most stimulating contributions: a succinct and spicy history of American civil-military relations since the end of the Second World War. The subordination of the military to civilian authority, he argues, is a convenient myth spread to secure the position of the national security elite in an age of empire, and military and civilian authorities have collaborated to keep the American people from playing any significant decision-making role. Bacevich shows how the military has again and again thwarted civilian control. The Marine Corps and the navy, he argues, developed the modern techniques of resistance to civilian authority—mostly leaking to the press and cultivating favorable congressmen and senators—while successfully fighting the true unification of the armed services in the late 1940s. The army blew off President Truman’s 1948 desegregation order until the Korean War forced it to put it into practice. During the Eisenhower era, the air force seized control of nuclear strategy (and at times, he might have added, pushed for and even claimed the right to start a nuclear war on its own), while the army protested the reduction of its role. The McNamara era witnessed a new low in civil-military relations, although I personally believe that those problems had less to do with the American failure in Vietnam than the failure of either the civilian or the military leadership to understand what it would take to win the war. Bacevich then retells the story of the birth of the all-volunteer military and the assertion of military control over the use of force via the Caspar Weinberger and Colin Powell doctrines. He notes provocatively that Reagan’s renewed emphasis on the Soviet threat to Europe and the United States itself allowed the services to rebuild themselves and reestablish their reputation as practitioners of conventional warfare, a process that culminated, of course, in Operation Desert Storm.

Despite some of President George H. W. Bush’s rhetoric, civilians actually played a much more influential role in the design and execution of war plans in the Gulf War campaign of 1990-1 than they had for most of the Vietnam War. By this time, Bacevich adds, the entire military was in a fairly close alliance with the Republican Party. At the outset of the William Clinton administration, the new president, following in the footsteps of Truman in 1948, tried to allow a marginalized group, homosexuals, to serve equally and openly in the military, but he was no more successful than Truman was. However, Bacevich concludes accurately that relations between Clinton’s Republican successor and the military have been anything but smooth.

In “Intelligence for Empire,” John Prados identifies some interesting patterns in the growth of the U.S. intelligence community. Again and again, he argues, a combination of dramatic, frightening events at home and technological advances in intelligence gathering have led to reorganization, proliferation, and expansion of intelligence agencies. He also fills in the gap Nelson left by detailing the not-very-successful attempts of the 1970s to bring the CIA under control. Charles Chatfield provides a history of opposition to various aspects of America’s great power role from the 1920s to the present—a subject, alas, that is too broad to get much more than a schematic treatment in a single chapter.

The topic of each of the above contributions is sufficiently broad to set the reader thinking about the Cold War as a whole. Other chapters are much narrower in scope. In “The Military-Industrial Complex: Lobby and Trope,” Alex Roland both investigates the events that led to Eisenhower’s coining the term in his farewell address and looks at the meanings it acquired later in the 1960s. Benjamin O. Fordham, in “Paying for Global Power,” provides a well-documented survey of patterns in Cold War military spending and illustrates some of its domestic consequences as well. James Burk makes a complicated argument about changes in the expectations, rights, and privileges of soldiers during the second half of the twentieth century in “The Changing Moral Contract for Military Service.” William L. O’Neill explores various cinematic approaches to war since the 1930s in an essay marred by some mistakes and at least one bizarre omission. U.S. mortal casualties in Vietnam are too high for 1968--over sixteen thousand died of all causes, not twenty thousand. He confuses figures for deaths from all causes and deaths directly resulting from hostilities. In addition, although O'Neill discusses Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and JFK (1991) at length, he omits any discussion of Stone's Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which was based on a true story and probably did the best job of any Vietnam movie of putting the experience of the war and its aftermath in historical perspective.

How important, eventually, will the Cold War seem to be? Within another thirty years, I predict, those few historians who can still think big thoughts will see it quite clearly as a postwar, rather than a prewar era, a quite natural result of the Second World War, and similar, though far more heavily armed, to the half-century that followed the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The critical question that various contributors here raise is whether the United States is indefinitely to view its relation to events in various troubled parts of the world in ways similar to those of the Cold War—in other words, if we are to continue to believe that we must pick a dog in every fight, and back our chosen ally, if need be, with military force, all the while trying to remake more of the world in our own image. It seems to me that this is going to be more and more difficult. No contributor to the collection makes this point, but the size of our military forces, as a percentage of either our own or of the world’s population, is only slightly larger now than it was in 1940, and we have discovered over the last seven years the limitations that that imposes on us.  We do not yet know whether the Bush administration’s newly assertive interventionism will open a new chapter of American empire, or close a whole series of them.

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Citation: David Kaiser. Review of Bacevich, Andrew J., ed., The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2008. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Wolfram Wette
Reviewer: Geoffrey Megargee

Wolfram Wette. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. xix + 372 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-02213-3; $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-674-02577-6.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Megargee (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) Published on H-War (August, 2008)

Burying the Myth of the "Clean" Wehrmacht

On July 26, 1945, Wilhelm von Leeb received two brother officers, Heinz Guderian and Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, in his cell at the Seventh Army Interrogation Center. The two wanted to obtain von Leeb's advice and blessing before agreeing to take part in the historical research program that the U.S. Army was then organizing. In the course of their conversation, von Leeb opined that the Americans knew a great deal about how the Germans had fought the war, but not so much about why--and that German officers needed to treat this subject with great care because, after all, they would not want to say anything that would besmirch the reputation of the Fatherland. Now, thanks to Wolfram Wette's survey of the crimes that the German armed forces committed, especially in the east, we can easily understand the source of von Leeb's concern.

Wette is not the first historian to tell this tale, by any means. As he himself describes in the last part of his book, German historians began to tear apart the myth of the "clean" Wehrmacht as early as the 1960s. Until Wette's work, however, there was no concise, general survey on the Wehrmacht's crimes, at least for an English-speaking audience. Thus, his work fills a significant gap in the literature.

Wette begins with some background in the first two chapters. In chapter 1, he covers German perceptions of Russia, the USSR, and Bolshevism; in the second chapter, he addresses antisemitism in the armed forces up to the mid-1930s. Since the late nineteenth century, many Germans had viewed Russia as large but weak, while they also coveted Russian land and saw conflict as inevitable. The arrival of Bolshevism only strengthened those beliefs, while the right in Germany also linked Bolshevism with the Jews. Propaganda along those lines within the military prepared ordinary soldiers for the ideological and racial battle to come.

The third chapter examines the Wehrmacht's role in the murder of the Jews and in other crimes: the generals' broad agreement with Adolf Hitler's antisemitic attitudes, the killings in Poland and Serbia, the preparation of the so-called criminal orders before Operation Barbarossa, and the various measures by which the Wehrmacht participated in the persecution and murder of millions of Soviet civilians (Jew and non-Jew alike).

Wette then looks at the attitudes of German generals and men, combining top-down and bottom-up approaches to highlight the military's broad agreement with the Nazi world view. He devotes a good deal of space to some of the generals' key opinions. Germany's military leaders had emerged from the First World War believing that war was the legitimate final arbiter of international affairs, that force played a positive role in history, and that another conflict would be required to return Germany to its proper place as a world power. Hitler shared those attitudes, and that was a main reason why the generals--their postwar statements notwithstanding--usually got along with the Führer just fine. Moving to the end of the war, Wette also explains why the German army fought on so long, beyond the point at which defeat was certain. The generals, having experienced military collapse at the end of the last war, were determined not to see it happen again. Tellingly, Wette quotes General Staff officer Günther Blumentritt, who said in 1947 that he was proud of Germans for holding out in the fight against Communism. Apparently, he managed to suppress or ignore any knowledge of the reasons for which Germany had gone to war to begin with, as well as any regret over the huge toll that the Wehrmacht's last-ditch stand demanded, as Wette points out.

In the last two chapters, Wette looks first at the efforts by politicians and former generals to cover up the Wehrmacht's involvement in the crimes, and second at the eventual destruction of the myth they created. Through a concerted public relations campaign (with which most Germans were sympathetic, in any case) Germany's military leaders were able to twist the history of the Nazi period and so avoid blame (and prosecution) for their crimes. They gained quite a head start in the race for public opinion, and historians have needed most of the last forty years to catch up.

As one would expect of a survey of this sort, most of the numerous citations refer to secondary works or published primary sources. Wette displays a thorough knowledge of the literature, which he has amassed in the course of nearly forty years in the field, twenty-five of them with the Military History Research Institute, when it was located inFreiburg. (He is now a professor of contemporary history at Freiburg University.) There is no bibliography in the work, which is regrettable, but the reader can certainly glean a great deal from the citations.

Wette does miss some points that would have strengthened both the comprehensiveness of the book and the depth of its analysis. Although he covers the army's support for the crimes perpetrated by the SS in Poland, for example, he never mentions that the Wehrmacht carried out its own shootings of prisoners of war and civilian hostages. Nor does he look at the Wehrmacht's role in running many of the forced labor and concentration camps, or in setting up its own detention facilities, including brothels. His description of the "criminal orders" is too sketchy, considering their importance. The death of over three million Soviet prisoners of war receives hardly any attention. He entirely misses the interaction of German strategy and operational doctrine, on the one hand, with genocide, on the other. Of special importance in that regard, the book does not address the German approach to anti-partisan warfare that evolved from 1870 on, which usually emphasized the maximum application of brutality in order to cow the populace into submission. And Wette could profitably have explored the officer corps' attitude toward personal responsibility, an attitude that helped to smooth the way for its cooperation in aggressive war and mass murder.

The book reads very well, in part due to the skillful translation from the German original. The book's organization leaves something to be desired, though. There is no introduction, which leaves the reader wondering what Wette intends to accomplish, how, or for whom. One can safely assume, from the scope of the contents, that the intended audience consists of non-specialist scholars and the broader public. However, the structure of the work does not always serve that audience, and especially the broader public, very well. Wette does not work the material into a clear narrative that a lay reader would find easy to follow. Admittedly, that would be a difficult task, given the subject matter, but it would be worth the effort. At times the chronology is confusing, as, for example, when Wette discusses the orders that Walter von Reichenau and Erich von Manstein issued in November 1941. In part, those orders attempted to justify the killings that were going on behind the lines. From the text, one gets the impression that von Manstein wrote his order first, rather than elaborating upon von Reichenau's. In general, Wette seems to assume a great deal of knowledge on the part of his readers. These organizational problems, together with the gaps in the content, diminish the book's value as a survey of the subject.

One key question deserves some additional attention here: how does Wette assess the Wehrmacht's guilt, over all? A few scholars have promoted the view that all Wehrmacht soldiers were murderers. That certainly goes much too far, and although Wette seems at times to edge toward that position, he stops short. There is no doubt that he holds the senior generals fully responsible for their own complicity, and justifiably so. The picture is more mixed as far as the lower ranks are concerned, as is bound to be the case in any organization that drew in nearly twenty million men and women. Wette maintains that, through conscription, indoctrination, and wartime service, soldiers tended to lose their sense of personal responsibility, their capacity for guilt, and their feelings of humanity and justice. He also points out, based on soldiers' letters, diaries, and memoirs, that they generally accepted their superiors' world view, especially regarding Communism, and that most of them wanted to remake the world along Nazi lines. Regardless of their views, though, most of them never had the opportunity to commit the worst of the crimes. This is an area, as Wette admits, in which more research is needed.

The basic facts of the Wehrmacht's complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity are clear. They have been clear to specialists for some time, and in the recent past that awareness has reached a growing proportion of the general public. Wette's book, despite its flaws, will accelerate that process, which is all to the good; anyone with an interest in the period should add it to their library.

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Citation: Geoffrey Megargee. Review of Wette, Wolfram, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2008. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Richard P. Tucker, Edmund Russell, eds.
Reviewer: Eric G. Swedin

Richard P. Tucker, Edmund Russell, eds. Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2004. vii + 280 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-87071-047-6.

Reviewed by Eric G. Swedin (Department of Information Systems and Technologies, Weber State University) Published on H-War (August, 2008)

Combining Environmental History and Military History

Many of us remember the environmental catastrophes of the Gulf War in 1991, when the Iraqi deliberately spilled oil into the Persian Gulf and then deliberately set Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, turning the sky dark with smoke. It is an obvious statement that war affects the environment and that the environment affects wars. Very few books have been written on this subject and this collection of essays is the first volume of its kind. The editors admit that it was hard to find enough essays for the book because this new multidisciplinary approach, crossing military history with environmental history, is not attracting enough attention. The essays range across the globe and time, from India and South Africa in colonial times to America during the Civil War. Four of the ten essays cover aspects of World War II, perhaps because of plentiful source material. Considering how hard it was to find material, it is surprising that none of the essays are weak, and that the wide range of topics and approaches lend strength to the work.

Warfare has always exploited the environment. One of the essays describes the massive Mughal imperial army in India moving across the landscape like a lawnmower, stripping the countryside of fodder and food, leaving behind waste. Armies laying siege to ancient and medieval cities recognized that the siege was a race between the time the stored supplies in the cities would last and how long the besieging armies could live off the countryside while remaining tied to the siege. Armies throughout history have often had their strategy driven by the need to find fresh areas to forage.

During the American Civil War, the Confederate forces had to forage and scavenge off the land and relied on the local ecology to survive, while the Union forces relied on their entire nation, using the extensive rail network and industrial base to live off of preserved meat, hardtack, and other supplies made in factories. The Confederates were still confined to an older military ecology, with all the limitations of logistics that implied; the Union forces were a modern army, relying on industrial supply networks and not beholden to the local ecology.

At times, generals have recognized that destroying the local environment is a useful way to bring the enemy to heel, with examples found in British tactics during the Boer War, the American decimation of the bison on the Great Plains during the nineteenth century, and the American use of herbicides during the Vietnam War. Sometimes environmental damage is inadvertent, such as when whales are mistaken for submarines by ships dropping depth charges.

We often think of war as only destroying the environment. For instance, during World War II when Japan was cut off from normal supplies of raw materials, they cut down their forests for fuel, logging 15 percent of their forests in just four years. They even stripped the leaves and undergrowth from the forests in order to make compost for their fields because the raw materials formerly used to make chemical fertilizers were now needed to make munitions. Japanese scientists tried to develop new alternative fuels from pine-root oil and other organic products, most of which failed. Edible refined soybean oil, however, fueled the battleship Yamato on its famous final voyage in April 1945. The Japanese people used mist-netting and bird-liming to catch so many migratory songbirds for food that postwar American occupation troops noticed the lack of singing birds. But the war was not completely an environmental catastrophe; fishing stocks rebounded from over fishing because Japanese trawlers and factory ships were unable to conduct their business during the war. Fishing stocks rebounded similarly in the North Atlantic. Water pollution was reduced in Finland during the war because pulp mills and other logging operations were interrupted.

World War I and World War II both required advances in insecticides, and the terminology of war was applied to the war against insects. In order to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, American forces successfully fought malaria with medicine and insecticides at the same time, a struggle where eight soldiers caught the disease for every one who fell before the human enemy. Americans also brought pests and diseases with them, such as ticks and cattle diseases, which are still there. Another long term consequence of World War II was that before the war Japan supplied dried chrysanthemum blossoms to the United States for processing into insecticide. During the war, the Americans adopted dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) as an insecticide, and after the war the Japanese pyrethrum industry was unable to rebound, so DDT use continued.

Military necessity has also created environmental havens. Demilitarized zones, such as that which divides North and South Korea, are places where animals and birds often thrive. Military bases around the world, while often sources of environmental problems because of toxic chemical dumps and other types of pollution, are also often refuges for endangered wildlife and provide room for ecological diversity to thrive.

Interdisciplinary research is how we build grander, more complete historical narratives, which should be the goal of all historians. I hope this book will spark similar research, because the fields of military history and environmental history need more articles like these. As one of the editors writes in his essay, "humans' collective violence toward each other has had a profound parallel with humans' violent disruptions of the natural world. Neither can be fully comprehended without the other" (p. 37).

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Citation: Eric G. Swedin. Review of Tucker, Richard P.; Russell, Edmund, eds., Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2008. URL:

Copyright © 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at

In: H-War
Author: David J. Silbey
Reviewer: Edgar F. Raines

David J. Silbey. A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. New York: Hill & Wang, 2007. 272 pp. $26.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8090-7187-6; $15.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8090-9661-9.

Reviewed by Edgar F. Raines (U.S. Army Center of Military History) Published on H-War (August, 2008)

Scholar in the Sun

A War of Frontier and Empire is a short (219 pages of text) overview of the Philippine-American War. The author, David J. Silbey, a young historian at Alvernia College in Reading, Pennsylvania, argues that the conflict represented a culminating point for one of nineteenth-century America's dominant social movements--manifest destiny. By 1898 the North American continent appeared too confining for American ambitions. The creation of an overseas empire was one of the major consequences of the war with Spain, but at least some contemporaries saw other more appealing choices about how the United States might interact with the world in the dawning twentieth century. In the author's words, these conflicting currents of opinion made the United States's destiny in 1898 "less manifest and more ambiguous" (p. xiii). In slightly more than three years the conflict in the Philippines--particularly the last two years of guerrilla warfare--put paid to any hopes in American imperialist circles for further territorial expansion by shrinking popular support for such a policy. Somehow, this point eludes the author, despite the fact that he lays the groundwork for such an argument in his opening chapter.

The war became the defining national event for Filipinos, but only long after the fact. At the time, the Filipino war effort consisted of a shifting coalition of regions and groups. Although some Filipino historians have tried to read a collective national consciousness into the behavior of the revolutionaries (insurgents to the Spanish and the Americans), Silbey argues that most of them had no sense of a larger nation. Hailing for the most part from isolated villages, most of the Filipino soldiers gathered outside Manila had never before been more than twenty-five miles from home. Their primary allegiances were local and ethnic rather than national. Silbey extends this argument to explain the behavior of the Filipino army in combat. The glue that held that force together was the social ties that the soldiers brought with them from home into a military environment. The officer class was drawn from local notables while the soldiers came from the peasantry. Acts of good soldiership thus became ways that young men raised in a profoundly class-conscious and deferential society could demonstrate their loyalty to their patrons. Silbey goes even further to argue that the poor showing of the Filipinos in the first major engagement of the war, the battle of Manila (February 4-5, 1899), was due to the absence of officers, who were attending fiestas. Without their patrons available to see their behavior under fire, the peasant soldiers were inclined to decamp at critical moments in the fighting.

Silbey's linking of social structure, national consciousness (or lack thereof), and military performance is a stunning insight, one that opens up interesting lines for future research. Granted that the Filipinos came out of very isolated local backgrounds; yet we know that the experience of military service in the American Revolution, particularly in the Continental Army, was a profoundly nationalizing event for people from similarly isolated backgrounds.[1] Might something similar be occurring among the Filipinos? If so, might there be more than a germ of truth in the general thrust (if not all the particulars) of the arguments of the Filipino national historians whose work Silbey so easily dismisses? A survey of the type that Silbey has written cannot answer these questions, only raise them. That, Silbey has done in a very provocative fashion. On this issue, Silbey is probably more right than wrong, but a more definitive conclusion will require more work--if, that is, the surviving sources will permit the kind of detailed examination needed.

Admirable as Silbey's exposition of Filipino social structure is, he over relies on this analysis in explaining the Filipino army's battlefield performance. Community based military units have shown great esprit de corps and resilience in other wars (witness the volunteer regiments of the American Civil War), but those organizations drew upon existing military organization, tradition, and doctrine. At the sharp end, the hard military realities determine outcomes--decent equipment, adequate supply, proficiency at arms, realistic doctrine, hard training, and experienced noncommissioned and junior commissioned officers determine whether troops can hold their position or maneuver under fire. These were the attributes that the Filipino Army lacked and whose absence put it at a severe disadvantage when faced by a force that possessed such characteristics. Silbey is quite right to point out that many Filipino officers were absent from their units attending fiestas when fighting first broke out on the evening of February 4, 1899, but there is nothing to suggest that they were absent during the fighting on February 5, when the decisive American attack occurred--which rather undermines the author's argument.

Silbey, whose previous work has been in English social history, is obviously a quick study--perhaps too quick. His research is grounded in published primary and secondary sources; although, he has made good use also of the Spanish-American War veterans' survey in manuscript conducted by the U.S. Army Military History Institute in the 1960s and 1970s. In the process, however, he overlooks several valuable works, including Edith Moses's charming Unofficial Letters of an Officer's Wife (1908); James A. Le Roy's scholarly but incomplete The Americans in the Philippines: A History of the Conquest and First Years of Occupation, with an Introductory Account of the Spanish Rule (2 vols., 1914); James H. Blount's polemic, that includes snippets of memoir and a fair-minded discussion of some of his opponents, The American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898-1912 (1912); Heath Twichell's study of the founder of the Philippine Constabulary, Allen: The Biography of an Army Officer, 1859-1930(1974); and Ralph Minger's William Howard Taft and United States Foreign Policy: The Apprenticeship Years, 1900-1908 (1975), among others. This weakness extends into his discussion of one of his main protagonists, the U.S. Army. He depends heavily on Edward M. Coffman's The Old Army (1986), a wonderful social history of the peacetime Army, but not sufficient for Silbey's purposes, which is to indicate the combat readiness of the Army on the eve of conflict. His fascination with social structure leads him to ignore doctrine and training. He would have done well to consult recent works by Perry Jamieson and Andrew Birtle. Silbey does use Russell Gilmore's important 1974 article on marksmanship training, but only to provide the technical specifications of the Krag-Jorgensen Rifle. Had he also examined Gilmore's dissertation of the same year, he might have better discerned the thrust of Gilmore's argument and recognized its importance for his purposes.[2]

Although the title and introduction emphasize themes from U.S. history, the internal logic is determined largely by the Filipino perspective. Thus, Silbey's argument that Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo was justifiably concerned that reverting to guerrilla warfare would lead to a loss of control of the revolution--which he equated with a loss of sovereignty--leads the author to focus on the conventional phase of the war, with only a passing nod to the over two years of guerrilla war that followed. This is a brilliant insight into Aguinaldo's thinking, but whether the author should use it to structure his book is another question. One way to think about the Philippine-American War (or the Philippine Insurrection) is to look on it as a struggle for sovereignty. Before the outbreak of the fighting, the Americans under the international legal conventions of the time enjoyed de jure sovereignty over the entire archipelago but de facto sovereignty only over Manila, while the revolutionaries enjoyed de facto sovereignty over everything except Manila. The war determined who would exercise both over all. To win, the Filipinos had only not to lose, while the Americans actually had to achieve total victory. Given the disparities between the American and Filipino forces, there was no way that the Filipinos could reasonably anticipate not losing in conventional operations. So, for the U.S. high command, victory in the conventional phase was only the first and easiest stage. American forces had to prevail in counterinsurgency before achieving success. The great contribution of military historians of the past forty years has been to focus attention on this part of the war. By ignoring the importance of this phase, Silbey returns the historiography to the point it achieved with the publication of William T. Sexton's Soldiers in the Sun in 1939.

At the same time A War of Frontier and Empire enjoys the virtues of its defects. If the author puts too much emphasis on Filipino social structure, his description of that social structure and his linking of it to military organizations is very deft. Focusing on whole societies naturally leads him to examine domestic politics, policy formation, diplomacy, and their nexus with national strategy--and he does this very well for both the Filipinos and the Americans. If he overemphasizes the conventional phase, he has a very clear exposition of the competing campaign strategies of the two sides, including a good discussion of the logistics problem the Americans faced. In the process he continues the rehabilitation of Major General Elwell S. Otis's reputation as an insightful strategist with a hard-headed view of logistical realities. At the same time, Silbey integrates and encapsulates the historiography of a number of topics into the text. Over and above all this, he writes well. He combines clarity of exposition with graceful prose.

A War of Frontier and Empire will not replace Brian Linn's The Philippine War(2000) as the standard account of the conflict. Because it is both simpler and shorter than Linn's study, Frontier is a good undergraduate text, provided one keeps the reservations expressed above in mind. At the same time, because the author engages many of the most important historiographic disputes and, because as a Europeanist he brings a fresh perspective to these disagreements, senior scholars will find much to ponder. Finally, as this review suggests, the volume encourages readers to consider carefully the most basic issues involved in the Philippine-American War. This is, perhaps, the ultimate accolade for any book.


[1]. See Robert K. Wright Jr. and Morris J. MacGregor Jr., Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution (Washington, D.C: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1992).

[2]. Perry D. Jamieson, Crossing the Deadly Ground: United States Army Tactics, 1865-1899 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994); Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860-1941 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1998); and Russell S. Gilmore, "'The New Courage': Rifles and Soldier Individualism, 1876-1918," Military Affairs 40 (October 1976): 97-102; and "The Crack Shots and Patriots: The National Rifle Association and America's Military Sporting Tradition, 1871 1929" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1974).

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Citation: Edgar F. Raines. Review of Silbey, David J., A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2008. URL:

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