Warren I. Cohen


On his book A Nation Like All Others: A Brief History of American Foreign Relations

Cover Interview of April 01, 2018

In a nutshell

A Nation Like All Others is a history of American foreign relations from 1776 to the present; it also a critique of the idea of American exceptionalism; and it laments the absence of moral imagination in most of the nation’s leaders. It begins with a description of the origins of empire in the 18th and 19th century, as Americans drove Native Americans out of their lands, just as ancient Chinese had overwhelmed their weaker neighbors in the creation of the Chinese Empire thousands of years before. In the course of reviewing the subsequent history of American relations with the rest of the world, I describe the United States as a frequent force for good—more so than any other nation—but demonstrate with regret the evil committed—against Native Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and others—as our leaders gave priority to their concerns for the national interest over American ideals. Therein lies my conception of “a nation like all others.” I did not think that way when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy 62 years ago.

Readers, much like reviewers for the Press, will find many of my interpretations “argumentative.” I trust that will stimulate some fresh thinking about some of the actions (or inactions) I analyze. My rejection of the idea of American isolationism in the 1920s, my description of the enormously important role the United States played in world affairs from the end of World War I to the onset of the Great Depression, will probably surprise some, but my work on that subject has gained acceptance over the years among most professional diplomatic historians. My discussion of the Cold War is unavoidably long, but a bit more sympathetic to Ronald Reagan than some of my earlier books. I continue to see Mikhail Gorbachev as the key figure in ending the Soviet-American confrontation. My analysis of current Chinese-American relations, critical of those who imagined the emergence of a friendly democratic China, reflects the principal focus of my life’s research, writing, and activities.