Dominic Tierney’s How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Ways of War is an unusual achievement. It is a provocative scholarly book about the U.S. approach to war that was written for a broad non-academic audience. For the academic and layperson alike, it succeeds in establishing that the heated controversies of the moment follow a familiar pattern. Indeed, it is impossible to read Tierney’s book without reflecting upon recent events. The Obama administration has struggled mightily to define (and redefine) the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; it has announced deep defense cuts though the United States remains at war; and with the shift in defense budgetary priorities, it will trim the very capabilities (for counterinsurgency) that U.S. leaders had once viewed as keys to success in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what led the administration finally to act? Was the administration recognizing belatedly that the public would not tolerate nation-building efforts? Or had the clock simply run out on the U.S. effort?
By any qualitative and quantitative measure, Michael Latham ranks as a pioneer in the now-burgeoning historical scholarship on America’s efforts to “modernize” or “develop” the rest of the world in the latter half of the twentieth century. Appearing at the turn of the present century, Latham’s Modernization as Ideology was the first full-fledged historical monograph on modernization theory and its application by American government agencies. Based on Latham’s UCLA dissertation, Modernization as Ideology elaborated upon the argument of its title – that modernization was an ideology, a special case of American liberalism that shaped how American officials understood and acted towards those countries they perceived as economically backward. It contains three case studies that show, on the one hand, how modernization functioned as an ideology in the Kennedy administration, and on the other how that ideology appeared across very different U.S. government agencies dealing with the different parts of the world; the cases included an individual organization (Peace Corps), a broad development campaign (Alliance for Progress, a western-hemisphere program), and a military/economic tactic (so-called strategic hamlets in the escalating Vietnam conflict). Widely praised for its originality and insights, Modernization as Ideology continues to receive attention. According to the “Web of Knowledge” (known, in less marketing-oriented days, as the Social Science Citation Index), Latham’s book has been cited well over 100 times in scholarly articles. Indeed, the book is bucking the typical trend of declining interest over time; 80% of the citations to Modernization as Ideology appeared six years after the book first appeared.