- The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II
The title of this collection of twelve essays conveys its main theme concisely. The authors try, with varying degrees of success, to avoid viewing American national security policy since World War II in traditional terms organized by different administrations or wars. Instead, they focus on the continuities of national security policy from one administration to the next and from one war to the next. An alternative title could well be something like "World War II and Its Aftermath." Indeed, for Bacevich, it makes no sense to view the period any other way. Even skeptics of the latter point would have to admit that the authors of these essays demonstrate the value of their approach. Insights abound, assumptions are challenged, and perspectives are rearranged. Readers may not agree with everything in this book, but they will never think quite the same way about American national security policy again.
Although books with twelve authors often lack a central focus, this one maintains remarkable coherence despite the wide range of topics addressed. The topics include the ideological framework within which Americans have come to think about national security, the evolution of U.S. military strategy, civil-military relations, the growth of the intelligence community, the emergence of the "national security state," the moral basis of military service, and the treatment of war in Hollywood films. In each case, the basic question remains the same: How did the period after World War II differ from the previous one? [End Page 149]
The essays by Arnold A. Offner, John Prados, and Bacevich himself are especially noteworthy. Offner's contribution explores the historical and ideological underpinnings of "The National Security Strategy of the United States," published in 2002 by the administration of George W. Bush. Offner concludes that the document represents not so much a new "American internationalism" as the policy of a "rogue" state (p. 42).
Prados gives an overview of intelligence activities and debunks the frequently heard argument that a recent series of intelligence "failures," including 9/11, can be attributed to inadequate funding. He also argues that "throughout the Cold War period, spies revealed far more about the spy services on the other side than they did about the adversaries' intentions or capabilities" (p. 330). Those who think the primary lesson of 9/11 is to demonstrate the need for more "human intelligence" should be required to read this essay.
The crown jewel of this collection, however, is Bacevich's essay on U.S. civil-military relations since World War II. He challenges the conventional wisdom that the main criterion for judging the health of relations between civilians and the professional military is the likelihood that soldiers will overthrow the government. His compelling argument maintains that "in the years following 1945 'civilian control' not infrequently became little more than a slogan, a useful fiction concealing a reality that was far more fractious, combative, and problematic" (p. 210). This essay alone is worth the price of the book.
Although the 60-year perspective on U.S. national security policy has much to recommend it, it also has at least one drawback. Thirteen days in October 1962 were arguably more crucial, and deserving of more attention, than all the rest of the period put together. This is especially true with respect to civil-military relations. Whatever the deficiencies of Robert McNamara's management style as U.S. defense secretary, they were vastly outweighed by the valuable role he played in helping President John F. Kennedy maintain control of the military during the Cuban missile crisis. Conversely, whatever the military accomplishments of General Curtis LeMay during World War II and thereafter, they were overshadowed—and cancelled out—by his performance during this crisis. Neither LeMay nor many of his fellow generals grasped the way the nuclear age had changed the nature and significance of war. Most of them should never have been allowed within a...