The Short American Century: A Postmortem by Andrew C. Bacevich, ed., Harvard University Press, 2012, 287 pages. Hardcover, $25.95.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Henry Luce published his iconic essay, "The American Century," on Feb. 17, 1941 in Life, a magazine he founded in 1936.
Luce predicted the dawn of a new age at the end of World War II, an age when America would lead and dominate the world.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, Luce wrote, attempted "to make American democracy work successfully on a narrow, materialistic and nationalistic basis," but failed. Luce believed FDR's focus was too narrow.
"Our only chance now to make it work is in terms of a vital international economy and in terms of an international moral order."
Luce's essay motivated and inspired many people for decades.
But the vision of an "American Century" was deeply flawed from the very beginning and is probably flawed even more profoundly today.
Andrew C. Bacevich, a leading foreign policy scholar, dispels the confidence and arrogance of Luce and his protégés in his new book, The Short American Century: A Postmortem.
Published by Harvard University Press, the book includes essays by eight other foreign policy scholars about Luce's "American Century" proclamation.
Arrogance has always helped mold our foreign policy, a part of our history most Americans fail to understand.
Over the years, many of our leaders routinely chose to ignore the military, economic and political crises created by that arrogance.
But a day of reckoning is approaching, as Bacevich also warned in his previous books, such as "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," published in 2008.
"Exercising power abroad," Bacevich writes, has long "appeared perfectly compatible with pursuing the good life at home. ...
"The very unpopular Korean War first hinted at the tensions between these two visions of an American Century," Bacevich argues. "A decade later, the Vietnam War brought that tension fully into the open."
Bacevich graduated from West Point in 1969, served in the Army in Vietnam, and retired as colonel after more than 20 years of service. Since then, he has taught at West Point, Johns Hopkins and Boston University.
His son, Army Lt. Andrew John Bacevich, died in Iraq on May 13, 2007.
In his essay, "Illusions of an American Century," Cornell University Prof. Walter LaFeber, argues the long life and influence of Luce's essay "is evidence of how Americans myopically view their history and place in the world. His essay drew from, and embroidered, a fictionalized account of the nation's past."