America's Military History

Article excerpt

America's Military History For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States from 1607 to 2012. Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski and William B. Feis. The Free Press. 736 pages; photographs; maps; notes; index; $28. Publisher's website: imprints. simonandschuster.bizj ffreepress.

Originally published in 1984, For the Common Defense: Military History of the United States from 1 607 to 2012 remains the preeminent survey of American military history. Revised in 1994 and now in 2012, this current volume includes substantial modifications to address the significant national defense issues of the past two decades, with particular emphasis on the complex interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In For the Common Defense, Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski have produced a tour de force that should be mandatory reading for every military officer and senior defense official.

Millett and Maslowski need little introduction to military historians. Millett serves currently as the Stephen Ambrose Professor of History and the director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, and he is the recipient of the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Maslowski is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. William B. Feis, professor of history at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, compiled the bibliographies and read all new material that Millett and Maslowski wrote for the current edition.

Why revise For the Common Defense if the book has stood the test of time so well? The authors feel strongly that "ongoing important national defense issues of the last eighteen years and the superb scholarship in military history since 1994 warrant this third edition." Not surprisingly, the reader will not find "dramatic new interpretations or radical departures in intellectual approach," as Millett and Maslowski have strived to provide "the right balance of fact and interpretation to make any discussion of American military history meaningful, whether the debate involves contemporary defense policy or some aspect of American history, such as race relations, in which military history provides relevant testimony."

As in previous editions, six broad themes place U.S. military history within the context of American history. First, rational military considerations alone have rarely shaped military policies and programs. Millett and Maslowski view the political system and societal values as having imposed constraints on defense affairs. Second, American defense policy has traditionally been constructed upon a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers. Third, the authors opine that policymakers have done remarkably well in preserving the nation's security.

The authors also posit that the nation's firm commitment to civilian control of military policy requires careful attention to civil-military relations. Consequently, the nation's executive and legislative branches are supposed to work in concert for "the common defense." Fifth, the armed forces have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized, with particular emphasis on professional education. Finally, the last 150 years have witnessed the impact of industrialization on shaping the way the nation has waged war.

What makes this edition of For the Common Defense so intriguing are the revised chapters on Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War and Millett's new chapters that address the global war on terrorism. Millet revised his analysis of defense policy during the Truman administration to reflect 15 years of research in his quest to undertake a comprehensive history of the Korean War. The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning and The War for Korea, 1950-1951: They Came from the North compose the first two volumes of Millett's monumental trilogy of the war. …