Contemporary scholarly examinations of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress are surprisingly thin on the ground. This is a trend, moreover, that has been as true with respect to broad studies of the entire program as it has for more specific assessments of individual case studies. There is a difference between a field that is only partially developed, of course, and one that is barren: a number of important works relating to the Alliance are already in existence, while the article under review here suggests a number of ways that the extant literature can be further developed in accordance with emerging work on the history of development and on Latin America’s place in the Global Cold War. By providing a detailed examination of the Alliance’s implementation in Bolivia, Thomas Field significantly enriches our understanding of what remains a complex and thorny period in inter-American relations. Constructed upon rhetorical foundations characterised by noble ideals of development, democracy and social progress, the subsequent deterioration of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress into a morass of missed targets, worsening inter-American relations, and the support of a range of authoritarian regimes, has long puzzled scholars of U.S. policy in the region. Why did the Kennedy administration’s benevolent intentions, scholars have typically asked, go awry as the Alliance failed to meet its grand goals?
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.