Book Review by Sondra Miller: In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

Sondra Miller is one of the pillars of the New Progressive Alliance. Here she reviews a book which we need to understand if we are to avoid a long term economic decline.

IN THE SHADOWS OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

By Alfred W. McCoy 

(Reviewed by Sondra Miller)

This book provides a sobering look at America’s global military century, starting with WWII and ending with predictions for the near future, and America’s continual involvement in war during that time. Alfred McCoy holds a doctorate in history from Yale and is the offspring of a well connected military family. He has made the study of American military globalization his life’s work.

America’s hegemony as the world’s premier military power began with WWII and the manufacture of military equipment including the B29 bomber with a range of 3,200 miles. After the war, it established 23 air, land and sea bases in the Philippines where Manila had given the United States a 99 year lease on 23 installations with unrestricted use for offensive operations.


Dozens more bases were established along the length of Japan and by 1952 the US had completed a massive air base at Ramstein, Germany.  US Navy fleets were also foundational to America’s hegemony, and its Navy came to surround the Eurasian continent, supplanting the British Navy. The Fifth Fleet was based at Bahrain, the Sixth Fleet at Naples, and the Seventh Fleet at Subic Bay in the Philippines.

By the 1990’s America alone had global satellites that could be used for over-the-horizon com-munication with drones and by 2011 there were 7,000 drones in America’s armada. Beneath the earth and seas, the US had penetrated the fiber-optic networks of global communication to monitor national leaders and millions of others. Above ground, the US had a Space Surveillance Network unparalleled in scope and sophistication, and a space warfare strategy that remains highly classified.


Against this backdrop of superior military equipment, human decisions were being made in Washington that weakened the economy at home and damaged our stature as a moral leader in the community of nations. The protracted war in Vietnam and expansion of CIA military involve-ment produced some disturbing revelations about the CIA’s use of torture and its facilitation of the opium trade in order to build alliances with tribal leaders to procure information. The United Nations adopted a Convention Against Torture and President Reagan sent it to Congress for ratification in 1988 but with some exceptions and reservations that stalled its ratification. President Clinton submitted it again to Congress but included some of Reagan’s reservations. Through all this legal legerdemain, Washington exempted the CIA from some of the UN’s prohibitions.


In the wake of the Muslim attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, the White House not only mobilized its traditional military to attack the Muslim Taliban in Afghanistan, but also engaged the CIA in the war on terror and allowed it to operate its own global network of prisons and torture chambers in order to gain intelligence. The International Criminal Court in the Hague found the approved interrogation techniques of the CIA to be torture. This demoralized America both at home and abroad. The invasion of Iraq following the war in Afghanistan took an economic toll on the American economy it could ill afford.


While Washington spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on military operations, it underinvested in public education, healthcare, infrastructure and clean energy technology at home. As a result, the National Intelligence Council, Washington’s top analytic unit, has said America’s power is on a downward trajectory while Chinese military technology is on a trajectory upward at a time when America’s current brilliant engineers and scientists are dying off or retiring, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation. The World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre 47th among 144 nations in quality of university math and science instruction, and the majority of graduates in these subjects were foreigners: 70 percent in electrical engineering, 63 percent in computer science, and 53 percent in materials engineering. Many of these students will leave the US and head back home after completing their education.


By 2007, China had launched its own global satellites and had developed a ground-to-air missile it used to shoot down one of its own. This caused the US Naval Academy to start requiring its cadets to learn to navigate by sextant again as well as GPS.  In 2010 China became the world’s leading manufacturing country, ousting the United States from a position it held for a century. All of this points to an American empire no longer able to rule by economic strength and left only with military domination, and running out of money for unlimited military spending. This plays out against a backdrop of climate change that will cause major east coast defense installations like Langley Air Base and the Norfolk shipyards to face 18 inches of sea-level rise along with storm surges over the next 20 years with massive costs for remediation. Other coastal cities will face a similar fate, with continued drought and wildfires inland.


As the American century draws to a close, McCoy feels America’s global hegemony as the premier power could be over by 2030, with the transition being traumatic and impacting the lives of almost every American. Whether the end comes peacefully or through violent conflict, McCoy feels a future generation of Americans could experience privations the current generation didn’t have to face.



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