Patrick Sprunger's Reviews > Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security--From World War II to the War on Terrorism

Arsenal of Democracy by Julian E. Zelizer
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's review
Mar 16, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-history, read-in-2010
Read in February, 2010

Julian Zelizer has compiled comprehensive scholarship of the politics of national security, since 1945. Arsenal of Democracy is not a debate over national security policy, but rather a description of how the hawks and doves reel in the air over Washington. This approach circumvents the pragmatic and ideological arguments behind various security strategies and focuses exclusively on the way those arguments are appropriated and marketed by politicians, specifically the interplay of power and rivalry between the White House and Congress.

The author chooses to present his findings in chronological, episodic order that plays to readers' existing knowledge of the national security narrative, from the long telegram through suspension of habeus corpus. Nothing in between is missed. Zelizer covers McCarthyism, Vietnam (and its attendants The Great Society and Watergate), detente, SDI ("Star Wars"), and 9-11 all in turn. In so doing, he demonstrates the unbroken partisan strife that connects the present through to the past, contending that the party who best owns the mantle of "tough on national security" will win power, despite the fact that such toughness tends to become a liability over time.

It is a story of cyclical metamorphosis, as parties co-opt the potency of security as a brand to win elections, but fail to prevent the brand from being recast by the opposition. Rather than attack hawkishness as the problem, opposition typically styles its target as a betrayer of the trust. In this way, the mantle of security remains supernaturally charged and is continually chased as a prize. The cycle repeats, ad infinitum.

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