Prompted by a couple of colleagues who suggested that I put the forum component of this listserv to work, I would like to offer a response to Robert Vitalis’ review of my piece, “Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression Era Origins of Security Studies.” First and foremost I would like to thank Vitalis for taking the time to write such a detailed critique.
Vitalis has labored on the turf of international relations (IR) scholarship for some time and has much to say. But, in a rush to get at Earle the scholar (an individual who did not always cut the most sympathetic figure), Vitalis misses texture and crucial substance in the article’s argument.
In this article, the Tufts University historian David Ekbladh recalls the intellectual and institution-building work of a pre-Cold War professor of international relations, Edward Mead Earle (1894-1954). Earle was one among many progressive (in his case a self-identified “new historian”) critics of American imperialism in the 1920s who revised their views and in some cases political allegiances in response to the challenge of “totalitarianism.” Ekbladh’s next book studies the interwar origins and dissemination of ideas in support of “a new American globalism” after World War II. The conceit of this essential, stand-alone piece on Earle is that he matters more than current practitioners know to the “birth” of the field of “security studies,” one strand of this new muscular globalism (or, better, interventionism). Security studies wasn’t a response to the Cold War, as virtually every insider account of its evolution insists, but rather to “the unraveling of international order” ten years earlier, and Earle was “[t]he central figure in its rise” (108, emphasis mine). Ekbladh identifies him as a “prophet” for having written a grant application in 1939 calling for “a historical and critical grand strategy for the United States” (119), although others were also busy at the time writing books of this type, and Earle never actually delivered on the promise.