Monday, September 23, 2013

Small Wars, Far Away Places

From the Review of Small Wars, Far Away Places

Blending engaging character sketches and telling vignettes with geopolitical analysis, it presents the two decades after 1945 from a vantage point that provides illuminating perspective. Actions in those years set the path for later policies and established perceptions that are still hard to escape. The United States took on a new global role amidst the wreckage of World War II, but Americans failed at first to appreciate how fully total war had disordered the world. Leaders elsewhere had their own illusions about recovering positions their states’ resources no longer could sustain. Burleigh’s wide-ranging account brings out the relationship between political challenge and response, along with the difficulties in understanding very different societies from the outside.

Small wars that roiled distant places over the 20 years after 1945 highlight the difficulty of maintaining political order amid deeper cultural and social upheavals. Understanding complex situations, particularly when they involved different cultures, presented difficulties Western leaders rarely overcame. Intervention all too often entailed a costly struggle or made outside powers the means to self-interested ends sought by local groups. Burleigh’s analysis underlines the limits of what outsiders can accomplish: seizing the golden hour of opportunity sometimes works to push events along a desired path, but all too often the chance never really existed.
Pic - "A series of vivid, vigorous narratives, illuminated by telling snippets of information, compelling but rarely flattering portraits of the key characters and some trenchant judgments."