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Unintended Consequences: The United States at War
by Kenneth J. Hagan and Ian J. Bickerton
Reaktion Books, 2008
Paper: 978-1-86189-409-0 | Cloth: 978-1-86189-310-9 | eISBN: 978-1-86189-512-7
Library of Congress Classification JZ6300.H34 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 327.110973


“The United States does not do nation building,” claimed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld three years ago. Yet what are we to make of the American military bases in Korea? Why do American warships patrol the Somali coastline? And perhaps most significantly, why are fourteen “enduring bases” being built in Iraq? In every major foreign war fought by United States in the last century, the repercussions of the American presence have been felt long after the last Marine has left. Kenneth J. Hagan and Ian J. Bickerton argue here that, despite adamant protests from the military and government alike, nation building and occupation are indeed hallmarks—and unintended consequences—of American warmaking.

In this timely, groundbreaking study, the authors examine ten major wars fought by the United States, from the Revolutionary War to the ongoing Iraq War, and analyze the conflicts’ unintended consequences. These unexpected outcomes, Unintended Consequences persuasively demonstrates, stemmed from ill-informed decisions made at critical junctures and the surprisingly similar crises that emerged at the end of formal fighting. As a result, war did not end with treaties or withdrawn troops. Instead, time after time, the United States became inextricably involved in the issues of the defeated country, committing itself to the chaotic aftermath that often completely subverted the intended purposes of war.

Stunningly, Unintended Consequences contends that the vast majority of wars launched by the United States were unnecessary, avoidable, and catastrophically unpredictable. In a stark challenge to accepted scholarship, the authors show that the wars’ unintended consequences far outweighed the initial calculated goals, and thus forced cataclysmic shifts in American domestic and foreign policy.

A must-read for anyone concerned with the past, present, or future of American defense, Unintended Consequences offers a provocative perspective on the current predicament in Iraq and the conflicts sure to loom ahead of us.

See other books on: Aviation | Military policy | Nation-building | Postwar reconstruction | Unintended Consequences
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