Readers familiar with the work of Frank Ninkovich know to expect big ideas and unexpected juxtapositions. Ninkovich, after all, wrote a history of the domino theory that placed the Cold War concept’s origins in the era of Woodrow Wilson. Ninkovich’s latest book is no less bold. This time around, Ninkovich argues that the notion of “civilization” represented the late-nineteenth century’s equivalent of today’s “globalization.” He also posits that scholars have overestimated the influence of biological racist thinking in the late nineteenth century. Ninkovich instead calls attention to a cohort of liberal elites in the Gilded Age (circa 1865 to 1890) who held a more optimistic and even egalitarian view of non-white peoples. This liberal view, he argues, helped make possible Americans’ more internationalist outlook later in the twentieth century. Not every reviewer in this roundtable fully accepts these claims, but the vitality of the debate underscores how Ninkovich has, once again, assembled creative arguments worth serious attention.
Professor Michaela Hoenicke Moore’s Know Your Enemy: The American Debate on Nazism, 1933-1945 received the Myrna F. Bernath Book Award in 2010 from the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) for the best book written by woman in the field of U.S. foreign relations history and honorable mention for the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize which is awarded annually to an author for her or his first book on any aspect of the history of American foreign relations. The roundtable reviewers certainly agree with this favorable recognition. J. Simon Rofe praises Hoenicke Moore’s study as a “tour de force”; Justus Doenicke begins his review by declaring that Know Your Enemy “is an academic tour de force, equal in research to several doctoral dissertations;” Heather Dichter concludes that Hoenicke Moore has produced an “excellent book” that “will appeal to scholars interested in a variety of topics;” and David Schmitz describes the book as a “path breaking work” and a “model of combining cultural analysis with more traditional approaches to the study of foreign policy.”
Several years before the 1979 publication of his Harvard doctoral thesis, Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954, John Dower had already earned a reputation within the fields of Asian and international studies as a pioneer radical historian and keen critic of U.S. cold war policies and the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
Joseph Maiolo’s basic argument in Cry Havoc is summed up in the book’s subtitle: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941. Maiolo does not accept the traditional view that the democracies in the years before World War II made a terrible mistake “by failing to arm fast enough to stop Axis aggression”(2). As he sees it, it was the arms race itself, and not the failure of the western powers to participate in it actively enough, that lay at the heart of the problem. The arms race, he argues, was “an independent, self-perpetuating and often overriding impersonal force,” a “vast maelstrom, a tremendous torrent,” a “vicious system” that no one could escape—and which sped, in 1938-39, “toward its inevitable climax”(2-3, 402, 271, 207).
In the following exchange Dan Reiter defends his argument that democratic states win most of the wars that they fight primarily because they choose which wars to engage in more carefully than authoritarian states do. This is called the “selection effects” explanation because democracies are selecting which wars to fight and which to avoid. Here, Reiter is replying to previously published criticism by Michael C. Desch and Alexander Downes that detailed examinations of several historical cases that Reiter cites do not in fact support his arguments. Desch and Downes respond and then Reiter has a rebuttal. They primarily debate both how historical evidence should be interpreted and how their hypotheses should be evaluated in the 1920 Russo-Polish War, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 1965 escalation of the Vietnam War.
In Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger, Bruce Kuklick focuses on the role of intellectuals in foreign policy making from the end of World War II through the end of the Vietnam War. Kuklick concentrated on three overlapping circles of scholars and writers including experts associated with the RAND corporation, a second circle centered around Harvard University and the Kennedy School of Government, and a third group headed by George Kennan and Henry Kissinger that interacted with the first two and had the most influence on policymakers. Kuklick critically concluded that these Cold War intellectuals and scholars too often ended up groping in the dark and having little impact on policy besides providing a theory or rationalization that policymakers used to explain their policies to the public.
Several American supporters of the ‘New START’ arms control treaty the U.S. and Russia signed last December praised the deal for, among other things, giving the large nuclear powers some credibility in their ongoing efforts to stem nuclear proliferation to smaller states. See, said these advocates to putative audiences in Iran or Japan: we old superpowers can live up to our side of the bargain too!
James Lebovic’s book, The Limits of U.S. Military Capability: Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq, provides the basis for a rich and topical debate, not only about America’s capacity to intervene effectively in unconventional and asymmetric conflicts, but also about Afghanistan, the recent intervention in Libya, and more broadly about questions of power and primacy.
A little more than a decade ago, the world’s leading academic experts on terrorism could be gathered in a not very large conference room to discuss the state of the field. As a relatively junior researcher at the United States Institute of Peace at the time, I was in such a room several times. The gathered experts rued the lack of attention most academics paid to the phenomenon of terrorism. Mainstream political science of the time was wedded to understanding the actions of states. With the exception of a few pioneers such as Martha Crenshaw and David Rapoport, the view of many was that terrorism was properly seen as the province of diplomats, intelligence operatives and abnormal psychologists.
Mark Phillip Bradley’s central purpose in Vietnam at War is to offer his readers “a sharp departure from prevailing narratives in the West, which have until recently rendered the Vietnamese invisible in the making of their own history.” It is difficult to imagine a scholar better suited to this task than Bradley. A gifted writer, very comfortable working in American, European and Vietnamese archives, Bradley is the author of the highly acclaimed Imagining Vietnam & America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. In a field that constantly debates the proper balance to be struck between American, Vietnamese, and international actors—a divide that Christoph Giebel captures in the distinction between “Viet Nam Studies” and “Viet Nam War Studies”– Imagining Vietnam & America is a rare work of scholarship that seamlessly integrates cultural and diplomatic history from multiple perspectives.