Title Reviewed:
American Diplomacy: A History

Author Reviewed:
Robert H. Ferrell

John D. Hicks


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 412-413

Article Type:
Book Review

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American Diplomacy: A History. By Robert H. Ferrell. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1959. Pp. xii, 576. Maps, illustrations, references, appendix, index. $6.00.)

This book is a welcome addition to the group of excellent textbooks now available on American diplomatic history. It is somewhat shorter than the others; it supplies for each chapter a well-selected and critically evaluated list of references; it reads easily enough to hold the attention of the average undergraduate; and it reveals clearly the author's opinion on practically every important subject of controversy. Its proportions are weighted heavily in favor of the twentieth century; the author gives more than twice as much space to the years following as to the years preceding 1900. But this does not mean that the earlier period is less carefully studied than the later. Throughout the volume the author shows that he has read the books and articles to which he refers, and he does not hesitate from time to time to name in the text the historians whose findings he accepts or rejects. He quotes also, with considerable freedom and good effect, both from source and secondary material. In short, this study adds up to an excellent analysis of the position the United States occupies in the contemporary diplomatic world, together with an admirable exposition of the historical stages by which the nation arrived where it is.

Congratulations are especially due the author on his willingness to state definite conclusions on matters where historical judgment is divided. In general, he goes along with the latest theories advanced, and they may not always be right. But undoubtedly the author reflects in most cases the best current opinion among historians. A few instances will suffice to make this point clear. The principal cause of the War of 1812, Ferrell asserts, was "freedom of the seas," despite the theories of Pratt, Hacker, and others; and he cites cogent evidence in favor of an interpretation that takes us "right back where we started from." He brands the attack on Mexico in 1846 as "a war of aggression," while at the same time regretting the absence of a Mexican statesman able enough and smart enough to sell what he could not defend, as Napoleon sold Louisiana in 1803. Ferrell questions whether McKinley "could have defied the war hawks of 1898 in Congress" and so prevented the war with Spain. "If the Spanish government had granted Cuba immediate independence, this alone might have prevented hostilities." He is convinced that "there is no doubt that Germany's submarine measures, above everything else, brought the United States into the first World War." He blames "the traditionally isolationist outlook of the American people toward foreign affairs" rather than the wilfulness of Senator Lodge and his associates for American failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. He concludes that "it defies common sense to believe that President F#2 D. Roosevelt would have constructed in diabolical cleverness a Pacific back door to war" in Pearl Harbor. He holds "American military unpreparedness, rather than any such factor as public statements by the secretary of state or General MacArthur" (who said that "only a lunatic would fight on the mainland of Asia"), responsible for the Communist attack on South Korea. These are courageous statements, for they will cost him adoptions that he might not have lost by the safer noncommittal on-the-one-hand-on-the-other dodges.

The one conspicuous flaw in the book is that the index is not adequately analytical. Long lists of figures following an item are an irritation rather than a help.

University of California, Berkeley John D. Hicks

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.