Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

by John Lewis Gaddis


September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. The pattern began in 1814, when the British Army attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of American homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defect authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-
Defence strategy
Publication Date:
Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lecture on American Civilization and Government Ser.
Harvard University Press
Country of origin:
United States
Dimensions (mm):

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