by Christopher Kelly & Stuart Laycock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 2012, Stuart Laycock published All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded, a look at Great Britain’s military involvement in nearly every country in the world at some point or another. Only twenty-two countries escaped Britain’s attention. The book also led to a sequel of sorts written in conjunction with American Christopher Kelly. America Invades explores the world through the eyes of not just military invasions, as the title implies, but any sort of military activity.
As with the earlier book, America Invades is an alphabetical look at the countries of the world and reveals that the US has missed military involvement in only three countries: Andorra, Bhutan, and Liechtenstein (coincidentally, Andorra and Liechtenstein have also avoided British interest). The chapter on Andorra, however, hints at the potential for something much more interesting than a mere military interest. In some ways this feels misleading. The military involvement in Turkmenistan, for instance, is limited to an emergency landing during World War II, high-altitude reconnaisance flights during the Cold War, and providing the Turkmenistani with a couple of patrol boats. Hardly an invasion and barely military involvement.
The chapters are generally short and welcome dipping in at random rather than reading straight through. The alphabetical arrangement allows the reader to easily find countries which have a geographical proximity to each other, should that be the way the reader wishes to read the book. One benefit of reading in that manner is that in some cases, the authors cross reference activity (for instance, the entry on South Korea directs the reader to the entry on North Korea).
As with Laycock’s book, America Invades is written with a light-hearted tone, although sometimes it seems repetitive. There is at least one instance of a reference to Commodore Matthew Perry that doesn’t clarify that the nineteenth century naval officer did not star on Friends, but most of the reference do make that statement. Kelly’s family also has long roots in the American military, for which he is justly proud, and he links several of the military actions in the book to his own ancestors.
The authors attempt to present the various actions without judgment, and generally succeed. They do note that whatever the reason the American military gets involved in an area, the natives of the country have longer memories than the Americans, for good or ill, and remember American adventures on their soil, whether it was conquest or salvation, and that memory impacts various countries’ views of Americans.
For many of the countries, Kelly notes that the a country is partnered with a specific state’s national guard unit (for instance, Kosovo is partnered with the Iowa National Guard). Unfortunately, the authors never explain what the nature of such pairings are, whether they are used for training purposes or if it is more like an honorary sister city sort of thing. While it is easy enough to look up on-line, if it is going to be mentioned in multiple entries, it seems like the sort of information the book should include.
Just as All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded allowed the reader to look at the British Empire from a different point of view, so, too, does America Invades invite the reader to consider America's involvement in other countries. In his farewell address, America's founder, George Washington warned, at length, against foreign entanglements and the difficulties they would cause for the fledgling nation. While the United States may no longer be considered a new country, America Invades proves Washington prescient for his warning. For good and ill, America is involved in some way with every other nation on the planet and this book gives an outline of what our influence has been.
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