Book Review: The New American Militarism

The New American Militarism

(Andrew Bacevich, Oxford University Press, 2005)

Andrew Bacevich served during the Vietnam war and went on to become a career officer in the United States Army. He prefaces his work underlining the biases he has based on his career and how they influence his perspective and ultimately led him to write this book. Beginning with the American defeat in Vietnam, Bacevich provides a detailed account of the relationship the American people had to the United States military, and the fundamental changes made by various leaders and institutions. Although the text is almost 15 years old, the arguments made still ring true. The book provides a unique lens to view American foreign policy and the evolution of American society.

The New American Militarism is certain to offend some readers, especially those from the United States as it does not pull punches in calling out the political elite of the United States for their role in cultivating the militarism present in modern America. Bacevich is wary of how how easy it can be to pin the blame for failure on a singular source or person. He expertly details all the men and women and institutions responsible for leading the United States from a cautious, humbled military power at the end of the Vietnam conflict to the self-righteous expeditionary superpower that invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s. One of the most pressing issues as a result of this is the growing disconnect between the American people and the institutions of the American military. The second updated version of the text which was republished in 2013 came with an updated afterword that scrutinizes the end of the Bush administration and much of President Obama’s decision making in how they both furthered the rampant militarism in American politics and society.

I was given this book by one of my fellow students at university as it was core reading for one of his modules on strategy. At the time I recall him having a hard time getting through the book. My colleague was never too keen on reading. Unfortunately I too had a hard time getting through Bacevich’s work. This is not to say that is uninteresting, on the contrary it is gripping and very timely. It is however a tough read that covers a number of topics from politics to journalism, sociology and the institutional cultures in the American military and government. I recommend this book to anyone interested in American politics, society and the American involvement in the Middle East. Despite my difficulties getting through it I feel that The New American Militarism is an important piece that shines a spotlight on the issues facing American foreign policy, interventionism and modern American society.

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