A Monumental Quest for America's Heroes
October-December 2017
By: John Delury

  By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783
By Michael J Green                         
(Columbia University Press, 2017, 760 pp)

Reviewed by
John Delury

Michael J Green, a prominent academic and think tank expert, spent the formative years of his career in government as senior director for Asian affairs on US President George W Bush’s National Security Council. It was there, intensely frustrated by the historical shallowness of government briefings, that he got the inspiration to write this book, which he hopes will provide foundational historical knowledge for future generations of American policy makers working on Asia.

Taken together with Victor Cha’s “Powerplay” (on the post-1945 formation of US alliances in Asia), one is tempted to say that these colleagues at Georgetown University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies are leading a renaissance in “historically informed grand strategy.” This is a welcome development for American debates about the country’s proper role in Asia.

There are, of course, many different ways to hold up what the Chinese like to call the “mirror of history.” Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, famously delineated three dominant styles – antiquarian, critical and monumental: 

  • Antiquarian history is what we now – often dismissively – call “academic history,” written by and for scholars interested purely in what happened, rather than in drawing larger lessons for the present.
  • Monumental history is closer to today’s “popular history”: it targets a wide circle of readers and seeks to inspire them to action by recounting heroic tales of the past.
  • Critical history – sometimes labeled “revisionist history” – is the antithesis of the monumental. It judges the deeds and values of bygone eras harshly, and asks the reader to do better than those who came before.

“By More Than Providence” fits neatly into the Nietzschean category of monumental history. The book is structured around the heroic thoughts and deeds of people who, collectively, designed a uniquely American approach to grand strategy in the Asia-Pacific that current policy makers would do well to carry forward into the future. Green distills this strategic design into a single, iron law: “The US will not tolerate any other power establishing exclusive hegemonic control over Asia or the Pacific.” From extending the Monroe Doctrine into the Pacific and asserting the “Open Door Policy” for China, to defeating Japanese militarism in World War II and containing Soviet communism in the Cold War, right down to Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia,” these diplomatic landmarks and military campaigns defend what Green sees as a core principle of preventing any rising power from achieving hegemony. By stopping rival hegemons in time, the United States ensures that the Pacific flows west, exporting American goods and values to Asia, rather than blowing east, preventing Asian powers from posing a threat to the American homeland.

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