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Daniel Saarinen

Book Review

Max Boot

“The Savage Wars of Peace”


Max Boot describes to the reader a long list of small wars that America has fought

over the years. Boot talks about too many wars for one book, giving only superficial

analysis and stories. Max Boot’s real goal is the rejection of Clausewitz when he argues

for the rejection of the Powell Doctrine. Boot attacks the Powell Doctrine by claiming

that the United States fights wars for idealistic reasons most of the time. Boot employs

stories about Major General Smedley Butler in his quest to convince the reader to go

along with this, even though General Butler did not believe he fought for idealistic

reasons. The result is a false conclusion that America has some sort of historical

obligation to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, even in civil wars, for the

purpose of promoting liberal democracy.

Max Boot abuses the memory of an American hero to promote his imperial thesis.

General Butler was awarded the Medal of Honor on two occasions, and he did not believe

that he was fighting for idealistic reasons despite Boot’s romantic treatment. General

Butler even wrote a book called, War is a Racket. Boot has to know that General Butler

considered himself a tool of big business while in the Marine Corps. General Butler

condemned “gangster capitalism” until his dying day. When Boot uses this man as an

example, it destroys his assertion that America fights small wars for idealistic reasons.

The pseudo-history Boot creates of America fighting wars for idealistic reasons serves as

a major part of his attack on Powell, and Clausewitz by extension.

Boot wants constant small wars of imperial aggression, and Clausewitz is a major

obstacle to this use of military force in dribs and drabs. Clausewitz is a difficult

opponent to attack directly because of his towering stature, so Boot attacks General

Powell instead. The Powell Doctrine is essentially Clausewitz condensed to memo


format, and it proved to be dominant and successful in the Gulf War. The key to Boot’s

attack on Clausewitz is to present the Powell Doctrine as an isolated aberration, and the

whimsical policy of one modern politician. The goal of the attack is to convince the

reader that constant idealistic imperial warfare is actually in line with American history

and tradition when it is not.

Boot’s thesis that America has a historical obligation to wage wars of imperial

aggression falls to the ground when the narrative of idealistic imperial warfare as an

American tradition is discredited. This leaves aside the fact that the actions of a state in

the past do not obligate it in any way to continue the same actions in the future. The wars

that he brings up in support of his imperial thesis are actually a mishmash of self-defense,

adventurism, profiteering, or nightmarish bungling without any common thread running

through them. His misanalysis of all these disparate wars is a tool of deception that leads

the reader to agree with his assault on the Powell Doctrine and ultimately Clausewitz.