cover image This Is Not Who We Are: America’s Struggle Between Vengeance and Virtue

This Is Not Who We Are: America’s Struggle Between Vengeance and Virtue

Zachary Shore. Cambridge Univ, $27.95 (340p) ISBN 978-1-00-920344-9

In this incisive study of WWII-era foreign and domestic policy, Shore (Blunder), a history professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, explores “America’s struggle to be good at the moment it was becoming great.” From treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau’s “draconian” plan for the “total dismantling of German industry and returning the country to an agrarian state” to the “logistics masterpiece” that made it possible for supply planes to land every 90 seconds during the postwar Berlin Airlift, Shore vividly dissects the highs and lows of government policymaking. In particular, he reveals how the combination of a vocal minority, distracted leaders, and ambivalent lawmakers can lead to disproportionately punitive policies, such as the internment of Japanese Americans in “concentration camps [that] were often bleak, dirty, and cruel.” Throughout, Shore underscores the human element that drives decision-making, both good and bad, contending, for example, that war secretary Henry Stimson’s insistence that Kyoto be removed from the list of preferred targets for the atomic bombing of Japan was the culmination of his growing frustration at being “boxed in” and “ignored” by U.S. military leaders. Full of fascinating historical tidbits and sharp character sketches (“Harry Truman thought historically, but in a flawed way”), this is a potent survey of America’s ongoing battle to live up to its ideals. Photos. (Jan.)