The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power

The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power

  • Publish Date: 2002-04-17
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Max Boot
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Max Boot's new book is a history of those smaller, undeclared wars that, he argues, have always played a key role in American international affairs. This story, he shows, has special relevance to the current "war on terrorism" and the future of American conflicts around the world. Written with a rare eye for both political nuance and real humor, this book introduces us to heroes and exploits from the forgotten side of America's military history. We meet Stephen Decatur, who destroyed a captured American warship under the Pasha of Tripoli's nose, Army Lieutenant George S. Patton, who shot it out, ivory-handled pistol in hand, with Mexican banditos at an isolated hacienda in 1916, and many other fascinating characters.Boot locates America's failure to win the Vietnam War in the American military's failure to heed the lessons of "small wars" of the past, and warns against repeating this mistake in the future. Reminding us that the small wars of the Clinton presidency--Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo --fit squarely in an established military tradition, The Savage Wars of Peace is a compelling read that also delivers an important new argument about the future of American intervention abroad.Among the Marines, it was said that Smedley [Butler] was dispatched to the National Palace to obtain [Haitian President] Dartiguenave's signature. The president tried to hide in his bathroom. The Marine waited outside the door for an hour.Growing impatient, Butler walked outside, grabbed a ladder, propped it against the palace wall, and climbed up to the window of the bathroom to discover Dartiguenave sitting on a porcelain commode, fully dressed in pinstriped trousers, morning coat and top hat, smoking a cigar and reading a copy of Petit Parisien. Wasting no time, Butler supposedly leaped through the window to present the treaty and a fountain pen to the startled president. 'Sign here,' he commanded, and the president did. There is no sense inquiring whether this 'gorgeous legend' is literally true;it gives an accurate flavor of how the U.S.-Haiti Treaty of 1915 came into being.
Whether fought for commercial or strategic concessions or even moral reasons, whether little-known or well-publicized, America's "small wars"--against, say, the Barbary pirates and the rebellious Boxers--played a large part in the development of what historian Max Boot does not hesitate to call an American empire. All arguments to the contrary, Boot insists, America has never been an isolationist power; it has "been involved in other countries' internal affairs since at least 1805," when American marines landed on the shores of Tripoli, and it has "never confined the use of force to those situations that meet the narrow definition of American interests preferred by realpolitikers and isolationists." Closely examining the record of those small wars, which far outnumber major conflicts, Boot argues that Americans have a historic duty to deliver foreign nations from aggression, even to intervene in civil wars abroad, especially if the product is greater freedom--for, he writes, "a world of liberal democracies would be a world much more amenable to American interests than any conceivable alternative." Readers may take issue with some of Boot's conclusions, but they merit wide discussion, especially in a time when small--and perhaps large--wars are looming. Boot's book is thus timely, and most instructive. --Gregory McNamee

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