The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs

The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs

by David C. Unger
     
 

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From the New York Times’s veteran foreign policy editorialist, a lucid analysis of the harm caused by America’s increasingly misdirected national security state

America is trapped in a state of war that has consumed our national life since before Pearl Harbor. Over seven decades and several bloody wars, Democratic and Republican

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Overview

From the New York Times’s veteran foreign policy editorialist, a lucid analysis of the harm caused by America’s increasingly misdirected national security state

America is trapped in a state of war that has consumed our national life since before Pearl Harbor. Over seven decades and several bloody wars, Democratic and Republican politicians alike have assembled an increasingly complicated, ineffective, and outdated network of security services. Yet this pursuit has not only damaged our democratic institutions and undermined our economic strengths; it has fundamentally failed to make us safer.

In The Emergency State, senior New York Times writer David C. Unger reveals the hidden costs of America’s bipartisan obsession with achieving absolute national security and traces a series of missed opportunities—from the end of World War II through the presidency of Barack Obama—when we could have rethought our defense strategy but did not. Provocative, insightful, and refreshingly nonpartisan, this is the definitive untold story of how America became so vulnerable—and how it can build real security again.

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Editorial Reviews

Karen J. Greenberg
…[an] ambitious and valuable overview of 20th-century presidents and national security…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Unger, a longtime member of the editorial board of the New York Times, surveys 70 years of American security policy in this provocative jeremiad. The author contends that modern defense policy, characterized by a “secretive, unaccountable emergency state” and defined by an “overreaching doctrine of global containment” in a permanent global war on terror, is not only unconstitutional but also obsolete and counterproductive. “Originally designed to wage hot war against Nazi Germany and cold war against Soviet-led international Communism” and developed by 13 presidential administrations—from FDR to Barack Obama—the emergency state has in fact made us more vulnerable. Unger further argues that the emergency state has trampled civil liberties, contributed to the deindustrialization of America, alienated the rest of the world, and prevented action on problems like global warming. The author concludes that only “a grass roots democratic revival” can sweep away the bipartisan emergency state, but he is light on the details. He does offer 10 proposals, including restricting the executive’s war-making powers and implementing universal military training, as baseline reforms. Unger’s broad indictment of defense policy—bipartisan if not nonpartisan—is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Unger's broad indictment of defense policy bipartisan if not nonpartisan is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate." —Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
As reported last year in the Washington Post, national security has become so unwieldy that even those in charge don't know how or whether it works. Unger, long on the New York Times editorial board, argues that our enduring obsession with security issues, fostered by Presidents of both parties, has damaged the country. For your smart political readers.
Kirkus Reviews
A compelling polemic wrapped in a shallow history. Though it certainly has its virtues, the book is a temporal work that may become stale in the near future. New York Times editorial board director Unger bases his arguments on sound principles--the United States has gone awry in its futile attempts to establish an impenetrable society safe from both interior and exterior threats. The author acknowledges the presence of a wide variety of global dangers, but he also recognizes that attempts on the part of the American government--especially the executive branch--to make the American state impermeable has led to substantial overreach. Unger shows how presidents starting with Franklin Roosevelt grasped what power they could under the auspices of keeping America safe, while at the same time holding on tight to what they inherited irrespective of whether or not previous dangers had receded. This process actually accelerated in the post–Vietnam War period when, perhaps paradoxically, the United States was at its most relatively powerful. Though mostly inarguable, the author's case is not wholly original. Unger's problem is not with his argument, but rather with his attempt to impose a historical apparatus upon it. The book is thinly sourced, allowing the author to dig only deep enough to confirm his viewpoint. However, readers who can look past these shortcomings will encounter an important perspective about opportunities missed and roads not taken. Unger writes clearly about the legitimate failings of American security policy, and his prescriptive final chapter in particular lays out possibilities for American practices going forward. Though historians may not particularly value the book, Unger presents clear arguments about the futility of trying to make America invulnerable.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143122975
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/27/2013
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
882,544
Product dimensions:
8.20(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Editor’s Choice, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Ambitious and valuable”
—WASHINGTON POST

"Unger should be commended for contributing to the debate... persuasive."
— SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“Unger’s broad indictment of defense policy—bipartisan if not nonpartisan—is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate.”
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"An important perspective about opportunities missed and roads not taken"
— KIRKUS REVIEWS

Thoughtful work for your smart political readers.
— LIBRARY JOURNAL

“David Unger's informative, historical and incisive narrative clearly illustrates that that the challenge of upholding democratic principles is a constantly evolving challenge for even the most mature of democracies and makes clear that there is no trade-off between security and the respect for human rights and civil liberties.”
— Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006)

"Like a skilled surgeon, David Unger lays bare the pathologies that have disfigured U. S. national security policy over the course of many decades. The result is a thoughtful, judicious, immensely readable, and vitally important book."
— Andrew J. Bacevich, author of WASHINGTON RULES and THE LIMITS OF POWER

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