Included below is a summary of Caleb Carr’s first non-fiction work, America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security from 1812 to Star Wars, which was co-written with James Chace and published by Summit Books in 1989. Selected critical reception has also been included. For summaries and selected critical reception of Caleb Carr’s other fiction and non-fiction works, please use the side menu.
America Invulnerable Summary
From the early days of the Republic, America’s intense drive for absolute security has shaped our history and national character. In this lively, important book James Chace and Caleb Carr focus on some of the most dramatic events and singular personalities in American history to show our consistent national response to real and imagined threats. It’s a tale of the great (and the not-so-great) taking bold and sometimes foolhardy action in the name of America invulnerable. And this unprecedented examination shows how the current enthusiasm for the Strategic Defense Initiative is but the latest adventure in a quest for what the authors argue is a fundamentally futile goal: absolute security.
America Invulnerable Critical Reception
A lively, anecdotal attempt to identify the unilateralism of current U.S. policy toward Central America and the quest for absolute security exemplified in the Strategic Defense Initiative with fundamental national characteristics evident as early as 1812. The chapters on recent events are perceptive.
In “America Invulnerable,” James Chace and Caleb Carr develop another variation of the end-of-empire theme. They argue that the United States from its earliest days has sought absolute security from other nations and trusted no ally in the pursuit of that goal. But, they say, absolute security is a dangerous delusion in a well-armed and multipolar world … Chace and Carr succeed in their primary aim: to provide an enlightening history of U.S. imperial ambitions. They are less likely to succeed in their secondary goal of prodding a current generation of U.S. policy-makers to rethink the American empire before it is too late. During the last 15 years, the doctrine of national security has steadily reduced the power of elite officials in Washington to respond to such entreaties. That’s why the end of empire is at hand.
It is the sweeping thesis of the authors that America’s current foreign and defense policies are an inherited national characteristic dating to the War of 1812, specifically the burning of Washington by the invading British … The discussion of Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, is particularly good … The authors conclude “America Invulnerable” by arguing that national security is relative and must depend on negotiations that take into account the legitimate security needs of other nations. They prefer prudence to zealotry, realism to illusion, knowledge to ignorance. Who can disagree with such values – in the abstract? They write history as therapy. They state that one cannot hope to alter the future without understanding that the deplorable characteristics of today’s foreign policy are an expression of almost 200 years of national character.
Walter LaFeber, Marie Underhill Noll Professor of History, Cornell University:
Chace and Carr have traced a most important, but too often overlooked, theme in American history: the search for perfect security. And they tell their story with revealing anecdotes, good research, a highly readable writing style, and insight.
Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, Yale University:
Impressive in showing how enduring has been the American search for absolute security … I am sure it will provoke a useful debate.
Robert Dallek, Professor of History, University of California:
At a time when Americans view overseas affairs as a source of constant frustration and a burden on our democratic institutions, James Chace and Caleb Carr remind us that we have a rich tradition of realism in foreign affairs that has served both the national security and international well-being … Their splendidly written book deserves the widest possible audience.
Ronald Steel, Professor of International Relations and Journalism, University of Southern California:
Chace and Carr have given us a provocative thesis and a rousing historical narrative.