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September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities. The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities. The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defeat authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-century tradition of unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony, projected this time on a global scale. How successful it will be in the face of twenty-first-century challenges is the question that confronts us. This provocative book, informed by the experiences of the past but focused on the present and the future, is one of the first attempts by a major scholar of grand strategy and international relations to provide an answer.


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September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities. The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities. The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defeat authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-century tradition of unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony, projected this time on a global scale. How successful it will be in the face of twenty-first-century challenges is the question that confronts us. This provocative book, informed by the experiences of the past but focused on the present and the future, is one of the first attempts by a major scholar of grand strategy and international relations to provide an answer.

30 review for Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erica Clou

    Gaddis explains the national security philosophies of either isolation or engagement. He uses as the main examples and basis for his arguments the time periods around the British burning of the Capitol in 1814, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, post-WWII security concerns that led to the Cold War, and terrorist 9/11. The good thing is that the book is very short. The downside is that it's not very developed, interesting, or compelling. Seems like 118 pages is at least long enough to pack a pu Gaddis explains the national security philosophies of either isolation or engagement. He uses as the main examples and basis for his arguments the time periods around the British burning of the Capitol in 1814, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, post-WWII security concerns that led to the Cold War, and terrorist 9/11. The good thing is that the book is very short. The downside is that it's not very developed, interesting, or compelling. Seems like 118 pages is at least long enough to pack a punch... but no.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    This discussion about the history of American preemption and unilateralism is short and to the point. I respect Gaddis's ability to discuss these huge topics from their historical roots down to their application by the Bush Administration before the Iraq War. While the book was written very soon after the War started, it still provides a good perspective, distant enough to look at things somewhat objectively but close enough to see how it continues to play out. I recommend this book for the histor This discussion about the history of American preemption and unilateralism is short and to the point. I respect Gaddis's ability to discuss these huge topics from their historical roots down to their application by the Bush Administration before the Iraq War. While the book was written very soon after the War started, it still provides a good perspective, distant enough to look at things somewhat objectively but close enough to see how it continues to play out. I recommend this book for the historical perspective alone. The United States was built on preemption and unilateralism, a fact we don't like to admit post WWII. However, while Gaddis makes this point, he does not use that as an excuse to continue in that heritage. There are good reasons we haven't lived that way since WWII. And he does not excuse the Bush Administration, even though he does explain some of the reasons why they felt they could do what they did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    For a novice in the field of diplomacy, international relations, and grand strategy, this is a fascinating book. It reads like a lecture (a mercifully short 118 pages) but has a great premise. Organized around 3 surprise attacks on the US: the burning of the Capitol in 1814 by the British, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11, the author constructs a history of US diplomatic and military doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine to Wilson, FDR, Truman and the Bush Doctrine, and explains how the Bush Doctrine is quint For a novice in the field of diplomacy, international relations, and grand strategy, this is a fascinating book. It reads like a lecture (a mercifully short 118 pages) but has a great premise. Organized around 3 surprise attacks on the US: the burning of the Capitol in 1814 by the British, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11, the author constructs a history of US diplomatic and military doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine to Wilson, FDR, Truman and the Bush Doctrine, and explains how the Bush Doctrine is quintessentially American harkening back to the Monroe Doctrine. However, the author also points out the weaknesses of the Bush Doctrine and the colossal diplomatic error of the 2nd Iraq War.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Baber

    The accuracy of history decreases the closer it is to the present, but the relevance increases. This book is intriguing simply for the historical context it supplies for current foreign policy making, neither justifying nor condemning.

  5. 5 out of 5

    W Lewis

    This very brief book (118 pages of text with another 20 pages of notes) attempts to analyze the impact of three surprise attacks on broader U.S. foreign policy: (1) the burning of Washington, D.C. in August 1814 during the War of 1812, (2) the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and (3) the 9/11 attacks. Gaddis repeatedly returns to three methods U.S. leaders have used (to varying degrees) to achieve security: preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. He also focuses primarily on th This very brief book (118 pages of text with another 20 pages of notes) attempts to analyze the impact of three surprise attacks on broader U.S. foreign policy: (1) the burning of Washington, D.C. in August 1814 during the War of 1812, (2) the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and (3) the 9/11 attacks. Gaddis repeatedly returns to three methods U.S. leaders have used (to varying degrees) to achieve security: preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. He also focuses primarily on the policies of three key leaders in shaping U.S. foreign policy since 1814: John Quincy Adams (for the Nineteenth Century), Franklin D. Roosevelt (for the Twentieth Century), and George W. Bush (for the Twenty-First Century). For me, the most interesting premise deals with FDR. Rather than focusing on the seemingly-improvisational nature of FDR's policies, Gaddis appears to be arguing that when it came to U.S. foreign policy, FDR's approach had an almost laser-like focus. FDR had a clear understanding of the limits of U.S. power, capabilities, and political will, and shaped U.S. foreign policy accordingly. According to Gaddis, FDR knew when and how to use preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony (and to what degree). I would like to see these theories developed in greater detail. It may seem uncomfortable to declare that George W. Bush is the key figure in developing U.S. foreign policy in the 21st Century. But a friend pointed out to me that, like it or not, the Bush administration created the basic response to the 9/11 attacks and that basic response was followed by the Obama and Trump administrations. Gaddis wrote this book in 2004, when there was more optimism about successfully fighting the global war on terror. It would be interesting to read Gaddis' opinions about how that conflict has played out. Gaddis has a long history of providing thought-provoking ideas regarding the evaluation of U.S. foreign policy, and this book is no exception. Unfortunately, however, the short length of the book prevents Gaddis from fully developing his ideas. I would love to see a revised edition of this book, with a more detailed analysis of the impact of 9/11. I think that separate books dealing with John Quincy Adams and FDR using the analytical premises Gaddis sets forth here would be interesting. Surprise, Security, and the American Experience is a bit like an appetizer. I'm now waiting for the main course.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Darin

    I keep trying to put {now} into a historical context. My idea is that things aren't any different {now} than they were in 1950, 1850 or 1750 because humans are humans and their behavior (which derives from their motivations) doesn't change much. I keep trying to put {now} into a historical context. My idea is that things aren't any different {now} than they were in 1950, 1850 or 1750 because humans are humans and their behavior (which derives from their motivations) doesn't change much.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rob Williams

    Concise and easy to read. Gaddis does well to compare three surprise attacks on American soil in three different centuries and the foreign policy decisions that emerged. This book really makes me want to learn more about John Quincy Adams as I continue my dive into American history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    This is the kind of book that every scholar should hope to write towards the end of their career. Gaddis puts the Bush Doctrine in the very, very big picture of US history in a provocative, fascinating, and concise set of essays. He starts with simple questions: How are we to understand 9/11 and the Bush Doctrine in a wider historical lens? Is it really that new? Gaddis argues that the Bush Doctrine harkens back to many aspects of US foreign policy from the early republic, including hegemony (bac This is the kind of book that every scholar should hope to write towards the end of their career. Gaddis puts the Bush Doctrine in the very, very big picture of US history in a provocative, fascinating, and concise set of essays. He starts with simple questions: How are we to understand 9/11 and the Bush Doctrine in a wider historical lens? Is it really that new? Gaddis argues that the Bush Doctrine harkens back to many aspects of US foreign policy from the early republic, including hegemony (back then on the continent), unilateralism (think avoiding foreign alliances-Washington's farewell address), and pre-emption (treating potential threats as definite threats, striking first to avoid being struck). All of these were essential parts of American national security in the 19th century. We had the challenge of massive, fairly open borders and hostile European powers all around. Our solution was to defend by expanding, which Gaddis says is sort of an instinct of USFP (Wilsonianism is another version of this impulse). We pushed borders outwards, bought new territories, took others, and declared the hemisphere off limits. Gaddis notes that the Monroe Doctrine was originally proposed by the British, who were willing to police the hemisphere jointly. The U.S., fearing entanglements with European powers, said "What a great idea!" and declared the Monroe Doctrine unilaterally, knowing that the coincidence of British interest in policing the hemisphere anyway would serve American interests. This brief history of USFP in the 19th century shows that whatever we say about the Bush Doctrine, we shouldn't necessarily treat it as a radical break with American traditions, for better or worse. I 80 percent agree with this. The U.S. essentially pursued this approach to national security, with a brief Wilsonian hiatus, until FDR and WWII. During and after WWII, however, FDR transformed US national security by tying it to formal international institutions that would align and shape the interests and norms of as many states as possible. He and subsequent presidents achieved security through expansion and, on the flip side, containing the USSR. The US remained enmeshed in this system of global responsibilities well into the present day. The Bush Doctrine is, in Gaddis' telling, more of a return to those 19th century principles applied globally. It looks radical because it is a departure from the FDR tradition, but this tradition may be better understood as the long exception in American history than the norm. This argument made a lot of sense in 2004, but I think the full on rejection of the Bush Doctrine since the catastrophe of Iraq has made the US under Obama turn back to the FDR tradition. One thing I like about this book is that it gives the Bush Doctrine a fair evaluation and a fair critique rather than treating it as pure hubris (plenty of hubris was involved nonetheless) or a form of mad imperialism. The excellent critique is that American global power in the Cold War rested largely on consent and the fact that there was always something worse than the US. The something worse is largely gone, and the US under the Bush Doctrine has pursued national security in a way that disconcerts other nations. There appears to be no clear logical limit to US claims to interfere in other states' affairs, or overthrow their governments, in order to maintain their security. Their unilateralism has also been blundering, creating worse problems for opponents and proponents of the war. There has been a drastic failure to align ends and means. Gaddis brings this criticism across very well at the end of the book. I recommend this book for anyone studying foreign affairs period. Really, given how short it its, it should be read by anyone studying US history at a high level. I'd even consider putting parts of it on a US history intro syllabus.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    This is the text of lectures given at the NY Public Library by Gaddis, beginning with his conversations with C. Vann Woodward on Security and the American Character, and moving into the ways in which Americans have reacted to surprise attacks, from the burning of the White House in the War of 1812 to Pearl Harbor to 9/11, illustrating the 19th century roots of preemption, unilateralism and hegemony and the cultural component of American response to these events. I have enjoyed Gaddis' magisteria This is the text of lectures given at the NY Public Library by Gaddis, beginning with his conversations with C. Vann Woodward on Security and the American Character, and moving into the ways in which Americans have reacted to surprise attacks, from the burning of the White House in the War of 1812 to Pearl Harbor to 9/11, illustrating the 19th century roots of preemption, unilateralism and hegemony and the cultural component of American response to these events. I have enjoyed Gaddis' magisterial work on the Cold War and Kennan, but this is beautifully written distillation of ideas that have clearly been tumbling around for a long time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    An interesting read and an argument I have not heard before. Essentially, Bush's National Security Strategy advancing the ideas of unilateralism and preemption have always been a part of U.S. strategic thought going back to the founding of our nation. Further, since the revolution, U.S. security interests are predicated on space and pushing our boundaries forward. It was not until WWII when the U.S. embraced a broad based coalition. The downside of the book is it was written in 2004, before the An interesting read and an argument I have not heard before. Essentially, Bush's National Security Strategy advancing the ideas of unilateralism and preemption have always been a part of U.S. strategic thought going back to the founding of our nation. Further, since the revolution, U.S. security interests are predicated on space and pushing our boundaries forward. It was not until WWII when the U.S. embraced a broad based coalition. The downside of the book is it was written in 2004, before the longer term consequences of policies in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to the fore.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This is a short but fascinating book on the history of US foreign policy. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the American psyche, FDR's response to WWII, or George W. Bush's response to 9-11. Gaddis is an excellent writer. My only criticism is that he is a historian, so he doesn't carry through all of his thoughts into policy implications. Also, a couple of his arguments are pretty weak. This is a short but fascinating book on the history of US foreign policy. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the American psyche, FDR's response to WWII, or George W. Bush's response to 9-11. Gaddis is an excellent writer. My only criticism is that he is a historian, so he doesn't carry through all of his thoughts into policy implications. Also, a couple of his arguments are pretty weak.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nur Banu Simsek

    It's not badly written but the content is painful. Extremely nationalistic and prejudiced. The author tries to portray the white savior complex and the white superiority seen on Americans without becoming a part of it, but it doesn't work. There are lots of logical plot holes but that's history and we can't change it, nonetheless it is enraging. It's not badly written but the content is painful. Extremely nationalistic and prejudiced. The author tries to portray the white savior complex and the white superiority seen on Americans without becoming a part of it, but it doesn't work. There are lots of logical plot holes but that's history and we can't change it, nonetheless it is enraging.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    start 27 Nov 09; from NSYSU library complete: 5 Jan 10

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    I wrote a pretty bomb response paper on this baby. Also, an interesting read on attacks on American soil through the years.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chad Lamb

    Fascinating look at how American has increased her protections against foreign attacks not just after Sept. 11, 2001 but throughout her history. Quick read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    This is an awesome, very easy to read, very well documented analysis of the current state of US foreign policy - and how we got where we are. Must read for anyone interested in politics.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Abi

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Noah

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jacob M. Palmer

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rhodes

  22. 4 out of 5

    Megan (ChroniclesOfABookworm)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Tyrrell

  27. 5 out of 5

    The Mistah

  28. 4 out of 5

    D.marvelli

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Rue

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

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