It is the dawn of the 21st century, and the United States has appropriated the entire Earth. So journalist Robert Kaplan writes in his paean to the American fighting man and woman, Imperial Grunts
. The U.S. has quietly--with little public debate--forged an empire that is "ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment's notice," writes Kaplan, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly
magazine who has written 10 earlier books on foreign affairs and travel, including the acclaimed Balkan Ghosts
. Imperial Grunts
is Kaplan's account of his travels to the frontiers of the U.S. imperium. From the dustbowl of northern Yemen to the coca fields of Colombia and the insurgent hotbed of Fallujah, Kaplan takes readers to the war-torn edges of the U.S. empire and visits with front-line grunts who guard it and try to expand its reach.
"Welcome to Injun Country," is the catchphrase Kaplan hears from all the U.S. soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors we meet. In the view of American troops, they are taming an "unruly" frontier in the tradition of General George Custer. We all know what happened to Custer and, later, to the Native Americans whom the 7th Cavalry was sent out to pacify. But far from criticizing that mission or finding in the analogy any cautionary lesson, Kaplan is an enthusiastic cheerleader for what he baldly calls "American imperialism." He sees it as "humanitarian" and "righteous" and seems to never meet a Green Beret or marine he does not idolize. To Kaplan, U.S. imperialism is unquestionably selfless and heroic, trying only to bring a little taste of freedom to the huddled masses of the world. Imperial Grunts works well as a travelogue but fails to provide deeper insights--or opposing views--about the complex and fascinating places he explores. --Alex Roslin
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