Book Review: An Army For Empire

An Army For Empire:  The United States Army In The Spanish-American War, by Graham A. Cosmas

This particular book is the sort of contemporary military history book that is the most popular these days, in that it looks at the relationship between war and society and deals with a lot of political matters and is not written in a narrative manner, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  This book does offer a compelling look at the US Army in the preparations as well as performance of the Spanish-American War, and it manages to cover quite a few areas of interest to military historians with an interest in this matter.  This book can certainly be considered a revisionist history, and it is certainly a narrowly targeted history.  All of this presents the reader with some interesting choices when it comes to how to appreciate this book and how to use it as part of one’s study of the Spanish-American War.  This book by no means tells or attempts to tell a complete story, but it certainly has an interesting story that it explores well and thoughtfully, and that presents some contrasts to much of what is commonly accepted about the performance of the Army in the Spanish-American War.

This book is a bit more than 300 pages and is divided into 9 chapters.  The book begins with acknowledgments, a list of illustrations and maps, a guide to footnote abbreviations, a preface as well as an introduction, and then begins properly with a discussion of the complex relationship between the War Department and the Army in 1898 (1).  The author then talks about the ideas for a general staff and various ideas for military reform that were in the air as war approached (2), as well as the way that military policy was shaped in Washington DC (3).  After that the author talks about the beginning of mobilization and the changes of strategy that occurred as a result of the beginning moves of the war (4) and the issues of command, administration, and supply that proved particularly challenging (5).  The author then discusses the way that invasion forces were organized (6) in various camps as well as the army in combat in the fronts in Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico (7).  After this the author discusses the sickness and scandal that resulted from logistical and medical difficulties (8) before concluding with a look at America’s army for empire (9) and a bibliography and index.

Was the American army an army for empire?  The book’s title is not so much a statement as it is an open question.  Ultimately the army that the United States brought to Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico was sufficient to take an empire from Spain for America to hold.  Yet while the American army clearly had some shortcomings in the beginning stages of the war, these shortcomings appear to be inherent in America’s way of war, which has always had a mistrust of a large standing army on America’s soil and has involved a high degree of honor and respect for the National Guard and the role of the states.  The problems of the Spanish-American War did lead to a more effective training of this local militia through federal power of the purse, and the author is wise to explore this in detail, but America’s way of war and the struggles that America’s war efforts have always faced at the beginning have been consistent throughout America’s history and they aren’t likely to change as long as we remain a nation that mistrusts central armies and has a high degree of local attachment.  And that appears to be a permanent quality within the American culture, try as reformers might to encourage a more national identity.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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