Book Review

Andrew J. Bacevich, Twilight of the American Century. (Indiana University Press, 2018).

This review of Twilight of the American Century introduces Bacevich to readers of Tidings for the third time. The book contains 51 short essays written from 9/11/2001 to 2017 after Trump was elected president. Bacevich is a devout Roman Catholic with both parents as veterans of WWII, a graduate of West Point, a former colonel in the U.S. Army who fought in and survived the Vietnam War, and later earned a PhD in diplomatic history from Princeton. Bacevich is also a regular contributor to The American Project with perceptive members who “question U.S. imperial aspirations, analyze their ramifications at home and aboard, and discuss alternatives to this dangerous trend.” Other members of the project includes such outspoken people such as the late Chalmers Johnson, 1931-2010, whose trilogy is Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of the American Empire, 2004; The Sorrow of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, 2005; and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, 2007). All this is only to repeat what was said in the September 2013 and February 2014 issues of Tidings.

The essays are variations of Bacevich’s central theme of what’s wrong with America. It is quite apparent that Christopher Lasch, Reinhhold Niebuhr, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others were role models for Bacevich, who today is regarded as a public intellectual. But he was not always as such. In the Introduction to Twilight Bacevich writes about his “young and foolish” youth at age 17 when he decided to enroll in West Point where its motto was “Duty, Honor, Country.” Though he was never comfortable in the military, he stayed because by then he was married and his wife was expecting. Later he opted for Foreign Service with the State Department but also by then he had three children and “expedience” won out because service with the army offered more benefits, especially in pay. When he was in graduate studies at Princeton, he spent “two years trying to conceal (his) ignorance;” for he did not understand what his professors were talking about. For him as an army officer he was essentially “apolitical,” admitting to himself that “self-knowledge comes slowly.”

In 2007 the Bacevich family mourned the death of Andrew Jr., killed in the Iraq War. This tragedy largely contributed to Bacevich’s critique of Bush II’s “preventive war as immoral, illicit, and imprudent.” In 2014 Bacevich retired from teaching. He felt that “whether my students knew it or not, I was going stale . . .I wanted to spend time with my wife . . . On matters of particular interest to me, there is much that I still want to say and that needs to be said, even if the likelihood of making a dent in prevailing opinion appears negligible.” Twilight offers Americans more self-understanding that may eventually lead to their becoming more self-critical with the promise of self-transformation.

– Review by Franklin J. Woo