America’s Splendid Little Wars


Title:                      America’s Splendid Little Wars

Author:                 Peter Huchthausen

Huchthausen, Peter A.(2003). America’s Splendid Little Wars: A Short History of U.S. Military Engagements 1975-2000, New York: Viking

LOC:       2002038025

E840.4 .H83 2003

Date Posted:      March 9, 2013

Stephen A. Bourque, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, California wrote the following review.

Arguing that there are no studies that encompass the full spectrum of American military experience since the end of the Vietnam War, Peter Huchthausen, a retired naval officer with extensive foreign service experience, attempts to rectify this omission in America’s Splendid Little Wars. Author of several books on military affairs, he is best known for K19: The Widowmaker about a Soviet submarine. In Splendid Little Wars, Huchthausen describes fifteen separate examples of America’s employment of military force; from the recovering the SS Mayaguez in 1975 through the Kosovo crisis of 1999. This book was fun to read and provides members of the general public with a brief summary of these military events in the last quarter of the last century.

However, the book has several characteristics that preclude recommending it to this journal’s[1] readers. First is an unabashed bias towards the righteousness of American purpose in these conflicts. Our author certainly does not challenge the standard administration justification for each intervention, or address the valid arguments of those who believed these deployments were incorrect. For example, in the case of Grenada, Huchthausen applauds the decision to invade when America did, since doing it later “would have been much more difficult and costly” (p. 85), as if there was no chance for a diplomatic process to succeed. A second problem concerns the unevenness in quantity and quality of his sources. Some chapters, such as his analysis of the interventions in Lebanon and Bosnia, use an array of secondary sources to support his narrative. In most cases, however, he poorly documents his vignettes: Panama has two citations and Desert Shield two more. Desert Storm, arguably the most significant use of American military force until the 2003 Iraq conflict, merits only seven citations. The quality of his information is also suspect; in the case of the two chapters on Desert Shield and Desert Storm he cites no source written later than 1993. Certainly, consulting a wider variety of articles and books would have improved his presentation. A final problem, related to the two previous issues, is the quality of analysis: it is frankly absent. For example, in the case of Desert Storm, Huchthausen ignores discussing any details of how the coalition defeated the Iraqi armed forces or the entire issue of how the government began and terminated that conflict. In each example, we learn little about the political debates that took place prior to the commitment of forces, or an evaluation of how the results fit the national interest. His concluding comments, on the futility of using force to solve America’s problems, appear as an afterthought, rather than part of a comprehensive thesis, which is not obvious in the individual case studies.

Therefore, this chronicle of America’s post-Vietnam conflicts may interest general readers who want a quick summary of what America’s military has been up to in the last quarter-century. However, subscribers to this journal have little need to add this book to their professional libraries.

Here is a Publisher description

Since the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, America has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In America’s Splendid Little Wars, distinguished U.S. Naval Captain Peter Huchthausen explores the modern development of America’s tradition of small wars. From the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam to the 1999 “relief intervention” in Kosovo, Huchthausen presents an intimate history of each military engagement. Through eyewitness accounts, thorough research, and his unique insider perspective as an intelligence expert, he offers a fresh analysis of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, and the missions in Somalia and Bosnia.

This timely and riveting military history shows how America-now the world’s sole remaining superpower-has enforced the global “Pax Americana” by developing and honing its military capability and making sophisticated use of the media and public sentiment.

This book is listed and briefly reviewed on the AFIS Web Site.

The story starts with Vietnam and ends before this year’s invasion of Iraq. In a dozen episodes the author provides a thorough picture of what America’s warriors have been up to since the 1975 evacuation of Saigon, without even considering covert operations and peacekeeping missions. Most of the activity took place in what used to be called the Near East, from Lebanon to Somalia to the Balkans, in addition to that traditional hunting ground for the US, the Caribbean. The author, a retired naval officer, shines when writing of operations and naval armaments, but the reviewer judged him a bit short on providing political context. The title, incidentally, derives from Secretary of War John Hay’s ironic description of the 1898 war against Spain as a “splendid little war,” one that fits well with both the recent (and ongoing) Afghanistan and Iraq wars. [WIN 18 July 2003]

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