WILSON'S GHOST: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century

Robert S. McNamara, Author, James G. Blight, Joint Author
Robert S. McNamara, Author, James G. Blight, Joint Author . Public Affairs $24 (240p) ISBN 978-1-891620-89-8
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Paperback - 317 pages - 978-1-58648-143-8
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In the 20th century, 160 million people died in war and political violence, the bloodiest century on record. But, warn the authors, unless there is a radical change in the conduct of international affairs, the 21st century could see far more carnage. Drawing on the Wilsonian tradition in American foreign policy, former Secretary of Defense McNamara and Brown University international relations professor Blight (the two also coauthored Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy) offer two imperatives the U.S. should follow: a "Moral Imperative," to make it a major goal of U.S. foreign policy to avoid the violence of the previous century, and a "Multilateral Imperative," to disavow the unilateral use of U.S. economic, political and military power when confronting foreign crises or challenges. A moral imperative does not mean violence will never occur, but with such an imperative in place leaders will be far more cautious than in the past in resorting to violence. For the U.S., the moral imperative must be tied to a multilateral imperative. The U.S. is indeed powerful and must lead, but it is not omnipotent, say the authors. Multilateral action can help ensure that the U.S. does not act precipitously, in an ignorant and arrogant fashion. The authors amplify on these imperatives in separate vignettes on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, where they were applied, and on the Vietnam War, where they were not (McNamara was a participant in both). Finally, the authors address in detail three major problems confronting U.S. foreign policy—bringing Russia and China fully into the world community, reducing communal or ethnic violence, eliminating nuclear weapons. Deftly written and cogently argued, this is one of the best recent books on foreign policy. (On-sale: June 5)

Forecast:The day before this book hits the stores, McNamara will appear on the Today Show, kicking off a tour to New York, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given McNamara's position and background, this will generate media attention, but is unlikely to bolster sales much beyond foreign policy–wonk circles.

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