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Posted on Aug 1, 2012 in Books and Movies

For the Common Defense – Book Review

By Neal West

For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States from 1607–2012. Third Edition edited by Allan R. Millet, Peter Maslowski & William B. Feis. Free Press. 736 pages; index, bibliography. Paperback. $28.00. This book is scheduled for publication on September 25, 2012.

Russell F. Weigley (The American Way of War) has declared previous editions of For the Common Defense (FTCD), "the preeminent survey of American military history" with good reason. This single, peer-reviewed volume encompasses the entirety of not only America’s military forces and wars but the evolution of our military policies and those policies’ impact on international and domestic relations.


The second edition, published in 1994, concluded with the end of the Cold War through 1993 and formed the cornerstone of this reviewer’s Studies in U.S. Military History graduate course in 2010. In a new third edition, to be published in September, editors Allan Millet (Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans), Peter Maslowski (Professor of History, University of Nebraska), and William B. Feis (Professor of History, Buena Vista University) fill the 18-year gap and address developments between 1993–2012.

However, this third edition is not simply the second edition with new material attached to the end. Millet and Maslowski rewrote and expanded their chapters on the Korean and Vietnam wars to reflect new research, and the entire manuscript was peer-reviewed again.

For the new reader, FTCD presents a straightforward history. Millet stresses that you will not find new interpretations or radical twists—that he and his fellow authors attempt to separate the "what if" from the "what was" and provide the reader a reasonable balance between fact and interpretation. In providing that balance, Millet, et al, place their work firmly in the "new" history school; battles and campaigns receive their due, but so do political, economic, social, and institutional factors as they have influenced the progression of American military policy.

This progression in policy follows six major themes in U.S. military history. First, political and social values shape our military policies. Second, defense policy is built upon a tradition of a mixture of professional and citizen soldiers. Third, U.S. military preparedness has been successful—despite the popular conception otherwise. Fourth, civil-military relations are paramount due to our subordination of military policy to civilian control. Fifth, U.S. armed forces have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized since the American Revolution, resulting in a monopolization of command and advisory positions among career soldiers. Sixth, the United States is an industrialized war fighter; we rely upon costly industrial and technological advantages to both offset enemy numbers and reduce our own casualties.

Previous editions of For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States from 1607–2012 were standard textbooks issued to beginning military historians and the third edition continues to be a prime starting point for historians at all levels. Whether you are just starting your collegiate career or just relaxing in your armchair, For the Common Defense will serve anyone who has an interest in military history and policy as practiced in the United States.

Neal West is a retired USAF veteran living in Southern Maryland with his wife of 32 years, way too many cats, and a miniature pincher named "Blitz," who lives up to his name. Mr. West volunteers at Manassas National Battlefield conducting tours and historic weapons demonstrations. He has a BA in American Military History and expects conferment of a Master’s Degree in Military History, Civil War Concentration, in November 2012. Neal is a frequent contributor to