While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today


In While England Slept Winston Churchill revealed in 1938 how the inadequacy of Britain's military forces to cope with worldwide responsibilities in a peaceful but tense era crippled its ability to deter or even adequately prepare for World War II.

In While America Sleeps, historians Donald and Frederick W. Kagan retrace Britain's international and defense policies during the years after World War I leading up to World War II, showing how self-delusion and an unwillingness to ...

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In While England Slept Winston Churchill revealed in 1938 how the inadequacy of Britain's military forces to cope with worldwide responsibilities in a peaceful but tense era crippled its ability to deter or even adequately prepare for World War II.

In While America Sleeps, historians Donald and Frederick W. Kagan retrace Britain's international and defense policies during the years after World War I leading up to World War II, showing how self-delusion and an unwillingness to face the inescapable responsibilities on which their security and the peace of the world depended cost the British dearly. The Kagans then turn their attention to America and argue that our nation finds itself in a position similar to that of Britain in the 1920s. For all its emergency interventions the U.S. has not yet accepted its unique responsibility to take the lead in preserving the peace. Years of military cutbacks—the "peace dividend" following the buildup and triumph over Communism of the Reagan years—have weakened our armed forces and left us with too few armed forces to cover too many possible threats. This has caused us to bank everything on high tech "smart" weapons—some of which have not yet been invented and others that we are not acquiring or deploying—as opposed to the long-term commitment of money, fighting men and women, and planning that the deterrence of a major war would require. This failure to shape a policy and to commit the resources needed to maintain peace has cost valuable time in shaping a peaceful world and has placed America's long-term security in danger.

The policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations have left us in a position where we cannot avoid war and keep the peace in areas vital to our security. Neither have the post-Cold War policies sent clear signals to would-be aggressors that the U.S. can and will resist them. Tensions in the Middle East, instability in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, the development of nuclear weapons and missile by North Korea, and the menacing threats and actions of China, with its immense population, resentful sense of grievance and years of military buildup, all hint that the current peaceful era will not last forever. Can we make it last as long as possible? Are we prepared to face its collapse? While America Sleeps is a sobering work of history that poses a thoughtful challenge to policy-makers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A riveting piece of diplomatic history with lessons for the present."—Jacob Heilbrunn, The Wall Street Journal

"In Donald Kagan's superb works on ancient and later history we find that rare combination—brilliant scholarship and sturdy common sense—qualities that, with Frederick Kagan, he here deploys in a thorough analysis of the failures and misunderstandings that nearly ruined Britain before World War II and, even more strikingly, of the ay in which they are being dangerously replicated in American policy today."—Robert Conquest, author of Reflections on a Ravaged Century

"This book should be read carefully by policy makers in the new administration and Congress."—Gary Anderson, The Washington Times

"Theirs is a polemic that manages, through meticulous detail, careful qualification, and absence of exaggeration, to avoid twisting the historical record."—Lawrence F. Kaplan, The Weekly Standard

"A frightening story . . . Readers will be impressed by the force of their argument and the power of their reasoning."—Publishers Weekly

"The challenge to some of the basic assumptions about our role in the post-cold-war world deserves serious consideration."—Booklist

"A convincing case for the concerns over the real costs of a downsizing military."—Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Father Donald (The Western Heritage) and son Frederick, professors of history at Yale and West Point respectively, have combined their talents to produce a frightening story of close parallels between Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s and America in the 1990s. After 1918, Britain slashed its armed forces and defined its interests in the context of international organizations and agreements. The result, contend the Kagans, was a foreign policy of "pseudo-engagement"--rhetoric unaccompanied by the effective use of force--that steadily undermined Britain's credibility. In a series of chapters written in acid, the Kagans argue that the U.S. has set itself up for a similar fall by diminishing its military capacities in pursuit of an ephemeral "peace dividend" and by overextending its armed forces in pursuit of poorly defined responsibilities--Iraq, the Balkans, North Korea. The Kagans suggest that the U.S. now stands about where Britain did at the end of the 1920s--somewhere on the bubble: in a position to restore the balance between military power and international responsibility, but facing strong temptations to procrastinate and deny. (It was 1938, the Kagans point out, before the British government faced squarely the consequences of its relative disarmament.) Readers may not agree with the Kagans' analysis of the synergy between military power and national policy, but they will be impressed by the force of their argument and the power of their reasoning. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Donald Kagan (history and classics, Yale Univ.; Western Heritage) and Frederick Kagan (history, U.S. Military Academy; The Military Reforms of Nicholas I) note several similarities between pre-World War II Britain and America in the wake of the Cold War. More or less victorious in a recent war, each appeared to have lost the commitment to continue as a world leader. Historians may remember Winston Churchill's 1938 While England Slept: A Survey of World Affairs or JFK's 1940 Why England Slept, both of which discussed British lack of preparation during the interwar years. Can a valid parallel be drawn between 1930s Britain and the contemporary United States? Readers and policymakers will have to decide. This thoroughly researched and extensively noted book will likely appeal to historians or period specialists; the casual reader will probably lose interest with the meticulous research. Recommended for academic libraries or public libraries with a good history and foreign policy section.--Mark Ellis, Albany State Univ., GA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Wall Street Journal
They have produced a riveting piece of diplomatic history with lessons for the present, but their method harks back to an earlier age, when historians wrote with an ideological purpose...At a time when neither political party seems quite certain about America's role in the world, [their book offers] a case worth taking seriously.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312283742
  • Publisher: St. Martins Press-3pl
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,437,987
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Kagan is one of America's most eminent historians. He is the Hillhouse Professor of History and Classics at Yale University and the author or coauthor of many books including The Western Heritage, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, and a four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War.

Frederick W. Kagan is an assistant professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the author of The Military Reforms of Nicholas I.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2007

    A well constructed history lesson

    I started to read this book from a love of history but was unprepared for how well the authors constructed the parallels between today's America and England back in the period from 1919 to 1938. The breath of their work and the detail of the arguments presented in this book make for a powerful statement that America is sleeping and has been for several decades already. If there would be one thing that I had to say was disappointing it would be that the authors wrote the book in the year 2000 but the predictions gleaned from the last chapter have eerily pointed towards the path that America has followed since the book's publication date. I would strongly recommend this book to any student of history but, if I could, I would also recommend it to anyone, patriot or politician, who truly has the best interests of these United States at heart. I applaud the authors!

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