Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America's Civilizing Mission (review)
- East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal
- Duke University Press
- Volume 2, Number 1, 2008
- pp. 143-145
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEW Michael Adas, Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006 Suzanne Moon Received: 1 December 2007 / Published online: 6 May 2008 # National Science Council, Taiwan 2008 In Dominance by Design, Michael Adas investigates the place of technological ideals, assumptions, and practices in the USA’s projects of nation-building, both in North America and around the world. Tracing the long-term history of American engagement with non-Western peoples, from the earliest European settlement of North America to the first Gulf War and the events following the September 11th bombings, Adas makes a compelling case that we must understand the USA’s technological imperatives if we are to understand the particular character of its emergence and operation as a global power. Those who have given little thought to the role that technology has played in America’s interactions with the rest of the world will find this book eye-opening, essential reading. Those who already recognize the importance of the culture and politics of technology in the USA will appreciate Adas’ synthesis and the insights that his deep historical approach makes clear. Adas lays the foundation for what is to come by providing a thoughtful reading of Admiral Perry’s encounter with representatives of the Tokugawa Shogun, using this story to alert the readers to the key themes that will follow. The main narrative of the book, however, starts in the era of European settlement and transcontinental expansion in North America. In their conflicts with the indigenous peoples of North America, settlers consistently justified their own aggressive expansion by asserting the intertwined moral and technological superiority of their own culture compared to that of the indigenous peoples. The settlers’ attempts both to dispossess the indigenous people, and to convert or “civilize” them to European ways, foreshadows later American practices. Adas shows how the westward expansion across North America, and the technological imperatives that informed it, translated into international interventions as the USA emerged and asserted itself as a global East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal (2008) 2:143–145 DOI 10.1007/s12280-008-9035-8 S. Moon (*) Department of the History of Science, University of Oklahoma, 601 Elm St., Norman, OK 73019-3106, USA e-mail: email@example.com power. He offers chapters on colonial expansion in the Philippines, and quasicolonial interventions in the Caribbean, including the building of the Panama Canal, the influence of the Cold War and competition with the Soviet Union on relationships with the developing world, the American experience in the Vietnam conflict, the first Persian Gulf War, and an epilogue that considers the US response to the September 11 attacks in 2001. One of the book’s great strengths is the way that Adas demonstrates the repeated pairing of technological violence and technological development in America’s encounter with non-Western peoples. Americans persistently, and paradoxically, use warfare and a missionary vision of prosperity through technological development in tandem in their nation-building efforts. Striking too is the profound myopia that accompanies such projects. American policymakers of the twenty-first century—like the European settlers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—assume not only the superiority of their own technology, but they also assume that the peoples they encounter are equally impressed or intimidated. Time and again, this crucial misinterpretation colors and shapes American encounters, making it difficult or impossible for them to understand the true complexity of the situations they have created. Adas helps us to see the culturally deep-seated character of this myopia as it reappears, often in subtly modified form, throughout the narrative. Some will note that the balance tilts toward greater attention to technological violence at the end of the book, particularly in the chapters on the Gulf War and Vietnam. Adas certainly pulls no punches in either case. One can detect anger towards events in recent American history, and a clear critical thrust throughout, which takes issue with America’s technological “civilizing mission” and the ways that technological imperatives have been uncritically recirculated in American politics, to the detriment of the world and the USA itself. Some readers might disagree with...