In this magisterial book, a prize-winning historian shows how war has defined modern America. Michael Sherry argues that America's intense preoccupation with war emerged on the eve of World War II, marking a turning point as important as the Revolution, the end of the frontier, and other watersheds in American history. In the sixty years since the war, says Sherry, militarization has reshaped every facet of American life: its politics, economics, culture, social relations, and place in the world. According to Sherry, America's militarization began partly in response to threatening forces and changes abroad, but its internal sources and consequences in the long run proved more telling. War--as threat, necessity, or model of unified action--persistently justified the state's growing size, power, and activism. But as national government waged "war on poverty," war on AIDS," and "war on drugs," it fostered expectations of "victory" that it could not fulfill, aggravating the very distrust of federal authority that leaders sought to overcome and encouraging Americans to conceive of war as something they waged against each other rather than against enemies abroad.
The paradigm of war thereby corroded Americans' faith in national government and embittered their conflicts over class, race, gender, religion, and the nation's very meaning. Sherry concludes by speculating on the possibility of ending America's long attachment to war.
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(229mm x 152mm x 35mm)
Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A critical history of the US from the mid-1930s on, in which militarization serves as an organizing principle if not a determinant of geopolitical and socioeconomic events. From a viewpoint that's at least as antimilitary as antimilitarist, Sherry (History/Northwestern Univ.) offers a dour account of the many ways in which the exigencies of war and national security appear to have shaped not only the collective mindset of Americans but also their very culture. Nor were Americans merely reacting to history's bad guys; they themselves helped create their war-centered society. Sherry assigns more blame for the Cold War to Beltway hardliners than Kremlin commissars, surveying the recurrent crises - Afghanistan, Berlin, Cuba, Grenada, Korea, Vietnam - that marked this protracted confrontation. He points out that as American presidents and lesser lights became accustomed to a constant level of conflict and tension on the international front, they began declaring war on drugs, energy waste, poverty, racism, tobacco, and other perceived ills. While martial injunctions were in the tradition of FDR's call to economic arms in his inaugural address, the author observes, domestic problems proved appreciably more abstract and less susceptible to decisive solutions than foreign foes. Among other outcomes, Sherry concludes, the failure to achieve clear-cut victories in putatively collective campaigns on the home front has fostered internal conflict and undermined trust in the authority of a big central government that relied on belligerencies to provide a unifying force in the first place. At the close, he questions whether Americans can overcome their loss of faith in the institutions of a sometime warfare state whose record is not such as to inspire confidence. An exercise in academic revisionism evidently intended to challenge the conventional wisdom of the political right and (to a lesser extent) left on the lessons of the recent past. (Kirkus Reviews)
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