The United States Of War by David Vine, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

The twentieth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq seemed a fitting time to review this impressive examination of how the U.S. military has impacted the entire world and the prominence of violence at home. 32,000 Americans were injured, and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians died at the cost of $806 billion. To grasp the scope of U.S. wars and other combat actions abroad, one should reference the list provided in the appendix—eight pages long with some 30 battles or actions listed on each page! One of its many maps is filled with symbols of U.S. Wars and other U.S. combat actions from 1776-2020, which didn’t include the conflicts between U.S. forces and Native American peoples due to “space limitations.”

Another graph sums up the scope of death and destruction in recent wars like Afghanistan, 150,000 deaths and 5.7 million displaced people; Syria, 179,000 deaths and 2.1 million displaced people and Yemen, 90,000 deaths and 2.4 million displaced. The author estimates the cost of post-2001 wars at a mind-boggling $6.4 trillion.

David Vine concludes that the United States has been fighting wars constantly since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and has been at war, or invaded other countries, every year since its independence. Instead of focusing on wars and battles, Vine looks at the infrastructure that makes this multiplicity of wars possible. He says that since independence, the U.S. government has built the most extensive collection of military bases occupying foreign lands in world history and goes on to say that the military control around 800 military bases in some eighty-five countries outside the U.S. This infrastructure results in a self-perpetuating system of permanent war – a global matrix, which has made offensive interventionist wars more likely.

Another impressive two-page map includes all the U.S. army forts, which enabled the expansion of the U.S. empire across North America. It depicts all the principal forts and lands controlled by indigenous nations and the peoples at the time of U.S. independence in 1776. Some of these land grabs were extensive, like the treaty Major General Jackson offered the Muskogee representatives in which half their land – twenty-two million acres – was ceded, basically today’s Alabama and Georgia.

The construction of bases outside the U.S. has been linked to promoting economic interests, and entrepreneurs, businesses, and industries have taken advantage of this to access markets, natural resources, land, and investment opportunities.

Another form of military bases included CIA “stations,” which expanded from seven to 42 from 1949-1952. The CIA’s budget increased from $4.7 million to $82 million, and personnel jumped from 302 to over 6,000. The CIA used a Honduran banana plantation belonging to United Fruit (Chiquita Brands) as a military base to help overthrow the democratically elected government in Guatemala in 1954.

Vine unpacks the impact of U.S.-based wars in Honduras, which saw a decade of death squads, extrajudicial killings, and torture. The toll of the killings in Nicaragua alone was 50,000, with 75,000 dead in El Salvador and 200,000 in Guatemala. All of which provide insights into some of the underlying causes of violence and poverty in the region today.

The phenomenal growth of this military complex wouldn’t have been possible without getting around the Pentagon’s “base” budgets, made possible by using contractors to do the work and millions in campaign contributions to members of Congress. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, individuals and Political Action Committees (PACS linked to military contractors gave over $30 million in elections in 2018 alone. And in 1993 alone, 45% of three-and four-star Army generals took jobs as consultants or executives, inspiring the author to refer to the “Military Industrial Military Congressional Complex.”

Although former President Eisenhower described war spending as a “theft,” Vine considers the $6.4 trillion spent to fund post-2001 wards a “horror” when one considers how many have died because the U.S. government did not spend even a tiny portion of this sum for universal health care.

He asks how many children and adults have gone hungry and how many millions of preventable deaths could have been avoided worldwide with “comparably small investments to stop epidemics of disease, malnutrition, and gender-based violence.” The author quotes Martin Luther King to summarize this horror, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Vine reflects that little had changed since 1967, when King declared his government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Here’s one of many notable reviews of this book: “Provides a comprehensive history of Washington’s quest for empire. . . . The United States of War is a unique history text. Convincing in its portrayal of U.S. military bases as both the outposts of empire and the remote supplier to the troops whose mission is to maintain and expand that empire, the timeline the author constructs argues the U.S. has always been an imperial nation—and not by some accident or circumstance of history.”
― CounterPunch

 Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ University of California Press; First edition (October 13, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0520300874
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0520300873
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 2 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #426,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • Customer Reviews: 

4.7 out of 5 stars    85 ratings

The Author

David Vine is a Professor of political anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. David’s newest book, “The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State,” launched with the University of California Press. “The United States of War” is the third in a trilogy of books about U.S. wars and struggles to make the United States and the world less violent and more peaceful. The other books in the trilogy are “Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia” and “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.”

David is proud to have received his Ph.D. and MA degrees from the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. There, David developed an approach to holistic anthropology that combines the best of anthropology, history, political science, economics, sociology, and psychology.



Posted in All, Book Reviews: Latin America, Book Reviews: Non-fiction and tagged , , , , .