Since its founding, the United States has been at peace for only eleven years. Across nearly two-and-a-half centuries, that’s a lot of war. In his new book, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State (University of California Press, 2020), David Vine tries to figure out why this has been the case. His book is a powerful, broad-sweeping, and, at times, shattering account of the forever wars that the United States continues to fight to this day.
Vine, an anthropologist at American University in Washington, DC, argues that war infrastructure can be a dangerous thing, even if its designers cite defensive purposes. The United States’ 800 military bases abroad today, and its hundreds of military forts that dotted the western frontier in the nineteenth century, have made war more likely by making it easier to think about. But if we build bases, Vine writes, “wars will come.” As ending endless wars have become part of mainstream political discourse, Vine’s book should help jolt these conversations into action.
Dexter Fergie is a doctoral student in US and global history at Northwestern University. His research examines the history of ideas, infrastructure, and international organizations. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DexterFergie.