Home / Articles / Preemption, Unilateralism, and Hegemony: The American Tradition?
Historian John Lewis Gaddis has found precedent for the current war on terror in early American history, arguing that the British burning of the capitol in 1814 had an impact on defense policy similar to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, leading to an emphasis on preemption. In basic respects, Gaddis restates the consensus among diplomatic historians that the early republic’s foreign policy focused on preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. But these depictions of early American diplomacy conflate separate eras and ignore an opposing tradition that was more moderate and principled. They are not without some truth, but their imperious sway in histories of our country needs to be checked and balanced.