The Journal of Military History 68.1 (2004) 308-309
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America's Splendid Little Wars: A Short History of U.S. Military Engagements, 1975-2000. By Peter Huchthausen. New York: Viking, 2003. ISBN 0-670-03232-8. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 254. $25.95.
Arguing that there are no studies that encompass the full spectrum of American military experience since the end of the Vietnam War, Peter Huchthausen, a retired naval officer with extensive foreign service experience, attempts to rectify this omission in America's Splendid Little Wars. Author of several books on military affairs, he is best known for K19: The Widowmaker about a Soviet submarine. In Splendid Little Wars, Huchthausen describes fifteen separate examples of America's employment of military force; from the recovering the SS Mayaguez in 1975 through the Kosovo crisis of 1999. This book was fun to read and provides members of the general public with a brief summary of these military events in the last quarter of the last century.
However, the book has several characteristics that preclude recommending it to this journal's readers. First is an unabashed bias towards the righteousness of American purpose in these conflicts. Our author certainly does not challenge the standard administration justification for each intervention, or address the valid arguments of those who believed these deployments were incorrect. For example, in the case of Grenada, Huchthausen applauds the decision to invade when America did, since doing it later "would have been much more difficult and costly" (p. 85), as if there was no chance for a diplomatic process to succeed. A second problem concerns the unevenness in quantity and quality of his sources. Some chapters, such as his analysis of the interventions in Lebanon and Bosnia, use an array of secondary sources to support his narrative. In most cases, however, he poorly documents his vignettes: Panama has two citations and Desert Shield two more. Desert Storm, arguably the most significant use of American military force until the 2003 Iraq conflict, merits only seven citations. The quality of his information is also suspect; in the case of the two chapters on Desert Shield and Desert Storm he cites no source written later than 1993. Certainly, consulting a wider variety of articles and books would have improved his presentation. A final problem, related to the two previous issues, is the quality of analysis: it is frankly absent. For example, in the case of Desert Storm, Huchthausen ignores discussing any details of how the coalition defeated the Iraqi armed forces or the entire issue of how the government began and terminated that conflict. In each example, we learn little about the political debates that took place prior to the commitment of forces, or an evaluation of how the results fit the national interest. His concluding comments, on the futility of using force to solve America's problems, appear as an afterthought, rather than part of a comprehensive thesis, which is not obvious in the individual case studies.
Therefore, this chronicle of America's post-Vietnam conflicts may interest general readers who want a quick summary of what America's military [End Page 308] has been up to in the last quarter-century. However, subscribers to this journal have little need to add this book to their professional libraries.
California State University, Northridge