Rethinking American Grand Strategy in the Asia Pacific

By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783. By Michael J. Green. Illustrated. 725 pp. Columbia University Press. $45.

Reviewed by Jonathan R. Hunt (University of Southampton)
Follow on Twitter @JRHunTx

Otto von Bismarck once remarked that the United States was blessed: “The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbours and to the east and west by fish.” Thanks to this geographic grace, George Washington could call for freedom from “entangling alliances” in his farewell address. This distance has also bred a strong undercurrent of parochialism and chauvinism in American culture. From these two impulses has emerged the conceptual DNA of American foreign relations in the form of two dichotomies—exemplarism versus interventionism; cosmopolitanism versus exceptionalism—lending form and structure to debates about how a democratic people should manage their affairs in an often unkind, even hostile, world.

In his sweeping and authoritative account of United States grand strategy in the Asia Pacific, Michael J. Green reminds us that Americans have long regarded this maritime expanse – from the Aleutians to Cape Horn in the Western Hemisphere across to Australasia and Sakhalin in the Eastern — as integral to defending their ‘empire of liberty’. Nineteenth-century policymakers from Thomas Jefferson and Matthew C. Perry to Henry Seward and John Hay sought to pry open these watery frontiers to American influence (and conquest) so as to stave off any threats that might overleap the Pacific Ocean. Their twentieth-century successors, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall and Franklin Roosevelt, Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, George Shultz and Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, have fought to keep the Pacific an American lake – for now. Continue reading “Rethinking American Grand Strategy in the Asia Pacific”

Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa

Rhian Keyse
History Department, University of Exeter

Book Review: Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa by Annie Bunting, Benjamin N. Lawrance, and Richard L. Roberts (eds.)

Cross-posted from Africa at LSE

Rhian Keyse recommends this book as essential reading for scholars and practitioners engaging in work to analyse and intervene in gender-based violence on the African continent and elsewhere.

Forced marriage in sub-Saharan Africa is a source of much international debate, especially with recent legal and policy attention to the role of such practices in conflict situations. Well-reported instances such as the abduction of the ‘Chibok girls’ from their school in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014have prompted considerable attention from the popular media and policy advocates alike. Yet, as Annie Bunting, Benjamin Lawrance and Richard Roberts argue in the introduction to Marriage by Force?, ‘the spectacular hides the mundane’, and popular debates tend to oversimplify the complex range of practices referred to as ‘forced marriage’ (p.2). Based on a 2013 conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology, this book brings together anthropologists, legal scholars, historians, and practitioners, to begin to correct these reductive common narratives. Continue reading “Marriage by Force?: Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa”

What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?

Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin (eds.), Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. 324 pp. £75 (hardback), ISBN: 9783525101452

Reviewed by Ben Holmes (University of Exeter)

What does it mean to belong to the human race? Does this belonging bring with it particular rights as well as responsibilities? What does it mean to act with humanity? These are some of the big questions lying at the heart of a new edited collection from Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin, Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present (2016). Based on a 2015 conference at the Leibniz Institute in Mainz, the book, as the title suggests, is not a purely conceptual history of the term ‘humanity’.[1] Rather it looks to discover ‘the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity’ [page 18]. In other words, how did ideas of ‘humanity’ guide European practices in areas like humanism, imperialism, international law, humanitarianism, and human rights?[2] The editors argue that despite the implied timeless, universal nature of the term, humanity is both a changing, dynamic concept, and has been prone to create divisions as much as it promotes commonality. Although the volume is a study of European conceptions of humanity, the contributions are transnational, displaying how conceptions of humanity were practiced in Europe and in the continent’s interactions with the wider world over the course of five-hundred years. Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?”

Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism”

Nicole M. Phelps
University of Vermont

Review of Marc-William Palen. The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 331 pp. $99.99 (hardcover).

[For full review and citation, see: Nicole M. Phelps, “Re-thinking ‘Open-Door Imperialism,'” Diplomatic History 41 (Jan. 2017): 211-214.]

conspiracy of free trade coverStill basing your Gilded Age foreign policy lecture—perhaps reduced now to just a PowerPoint slide—on the quest for markets a la William Appleman Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and Walter LaFeber’s The New Empire?1 Marc-William Palen convincingly argues that it is time for a change. According to Palen, lumping all the Gilded Age administrations from Grant to McKinley into proponents of an undifferentiated “Open Door imperialism” misses essential differences between the Democratic Grover Cleveland administrations and those of the Republicans and, more importantly, falsely paints free traders as imperialists and obscures the protectionist, closed door bent of the actual imperialists. By focusing our attention on the debate over tariffs waged by Cobdenite free traders and Listian economic nationalists—protectionists—from the early days of the Republican Party through McKinley’s election in 1896, Palen offers important contributions to our understanding of imperialism, the development of American political parties, and Anglo-American relations. In so doing, he smooths out the story of nineteenth-century U.S. foreign policy, which often skips abruptly from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Spanish-American War. Continue reading “Re-thinking “Open-Door Imperialism””

Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World

Review of Taras Grescoe, Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World (St. Martin’s Press, June 2016; HarperCollins Canada, May 2016).

Nigel Collett
Cross-posted from Asian Review of Books

Shanghai GrandOf all human societies of which we have knowledge, Shanghai in the late 1930s perhaps comes closest to the sci-fi dystopias beloved of Hollywood, societies in which the gilded, sophisticated inhabitants of a fabulous city live surrounded but cut off from wasted badlands, served by an abject underclass living as far from the light of day as it does from the consciousness of its masters. For inside the self-policed boundaries of Shanghai’s International Settlement and its French Concession lay both one of the greatest concentrations of wealth on the face of the planet and some of the most sordid scenes of human misery.

The taipans of British, American, French, Japanese and other stock who controlled and owned the wealth of Shanghai lived hedonistic lives of truly decadent luxury. For the wealthy, life was sweet, as Noël Coward, who passed through in 1930 and wrote Private Lives while laid up with influenza in a suite in the Cathay Hotel, remembered. “I entered the social whirl of Shanghai with zest,” he wrote. Continue reading “Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World”

Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century

Review of Johannes Paulmann (ed.) Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 2016. 460 pp. £75 (hardback), ISBN: 9780198778974

Ben Holmes
History Department, University of Exeter

Dilemmas HumanitarianismDilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century (2016), edited by Johannes Paulmann (Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History and Professor of Modern History at the University of Mainz), exemplifies the burgeoning field of the history of humanitarianism. In providing historical context to a sector that is often stuck in the ‘perpetual present’, the volume shares a common purpose with a fast-growing body of literature.[1] Specifically, the volume examines 150 years of history to demonstrate that the technical and ethical crises central to modern humanitarianism – such as competition between aid organisations, the tendency of aid to ‘do more harm than good’, and the manipulation of aid by political actors – are not unique to the twenty first century. They have, in fact, ‘been inherent in humanitarian practice for more than a century’ [3].[2] Continue reading “Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century”

Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America

 

Adam Nadeau
University of New Brunswick

Review of Jonathan Eacott, Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600–1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. $45.00 (Cloth).

JacketJonathan Eacott’s Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600– 1830 (2016) reinforces two important historiographical points. One is that, contrary to David Armitage’s insistence that ‘the emergence of the concept of the “British Empire” . . . was long drawn out, and only achieved by the late seventeenth century at the earliest’,[1] the English polity that later incorporated the kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland was consciously imperial as early as the late sixteenth century. The second is that Britain’s imperial efforts were, from the start, transoceanic in nature. On the latter point, Selling Empire breaks with the older historiographical trend of distinguishing between a ‘first’ and ‘second’ British Empire delineated by a late eighteenth-century ‘swing to the east’.[2] Instead, Eacott asks readers to consider ‘America the India’ as well as ‘India the place’, for it was the idea of India that ‘fostered, propelled, and supported English and British imperial expansion and power in America’ (1–3). Rather than ‘separate “worlds” of empire’, Eacott sees ‘the British empire in the world’ (7), an important shift in perspective that, along with other recent studies of the peripheries of Britain’s American empire,[3] will continue to push scholars of early modern British imperialism nearer towards contemporary interdisciplinary debates surrounding notions of indigeneity and the legacies of settler colonialism.[4] Continue reading “Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America”