Essay — From the May 2016 issue

American Imperium

Untangling truth and fiction in an age of perpetual war

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Consider an alternative take on the twentieth-century U.S. military experience, with a post-9/11 codicil included for good measure. Like the established narrative, this one also consists of four episodes: a Hundred Years’ War for the Hemisphere, launched in 1898; a War for Pacific Dominion, also initiated in 1898, petering out in the 1970s but today showing signs of reviving; a War for the West, already under way when the United States entered it in 1917 and destined to continue for seven more decades; and a War for the Greater Middle East, dating from 1980 and ongoing still with no end in sight.

HA035__03HA0-1In contrast to the more familiar four-part narrative, these several military endeavors bear no more than an incidental relationship to one another. Even so, they resemble one another in this important sense: each found expression as an expansive yet geographically specific military enterprise destined to extend across several decades. Each involved the use (or threatened use) of violence against an identifiable adversary or set of adversaries.

Yet for historians inclined to think otherwise, the analytically pertinent question is not against whom U.S. forces fought but why. It’s what the United States was seeking to accomplish that matters most. Here, briefly, is a revised account of the wars defining the (extended) American Century, placing purpose or motive at the forefront.

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is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,just out from Random House.

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