Book Review

The Savage Wars of Peace:
Small Wars and the Rise of American Power

Max Boot
Basic Books, 2002, 428 pages


T he ``American way of war'' has tradionally meant the mobilization of millions of troops conscripted from the civilian population and the use of overwhelming force. But more often, America has sent small contingents of professional soldiers on protective or punitive expeditions. This book describes these low-level wars, including the wars against the Barbary pirates and the Boxers, the Philippine War, the invasion of Russia, and the numerous small and little-known wars in Central and South America. The author's thesis is that these, rather than titanic struggles for survival like the Civil War and World War II, are closer to the norm for American military engagement. Boot calls the 1918 invasion of northern Russia one of the ``great lost opportunities of history.'' Had the Western allies put forth a serious attack on the Bolsheviks, Boot argues, it could have averted 74 years of Soviet Communist rule, the Great Famine, the Communist takeover of China, the Cold War, and quite possibly World War II. Casually exploding the myths carefully nurtured by some academics whose main goal is to find as much dirt on American politicians and cast as much suspicion on American motives as possible, the author has no axe to grind other than an evident (and infectious) fascination with the subject matter. The narrative style makes it highly readable.
July 4, 2002 Back