2017 Syllabus for HIST S3455D Empire of Liberty: A Global History of the U.S. Military

Click here for the class Google Calendar.

Robert Neer rmn30@columbia.edu 617.513.5235
Office hours: Daily after class, or by appointment.
Tuesdays and Thursdays 1.00-4.10 PM @ 302 Fayerweather Hall

America’s wars in context, from King Philip's War in 1675 to present conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East. This course charts the expansion of U.S. military power from a band of colonists to a globe-girdling colossus with over two million personnel, some 800 bases around the world, and an annual budget of approximately $598 billion — 54 percent of federal discretionary spending, and more than the next seven nations combined. It introduces students to the history of American military power; the economic, political, and technological rise of the military-industrial complex and national security state; the role of the armed services in international humanitarian work; and the changing role of the military in domestic and international politics. A three-point semester-long course compressed into six weeks.

U.S. Army Ordnance Department. 1917: Library of Congress.


  • Assigned readings (approximately 50 pages of reading per class hour: 150 pages per class meeting, usually in two books);

  • An afternoon field trip to the tomb of General Grant and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum; 

  • Class attendance and participation, including brief summaries of two assigned readings;

  • A 2,500-3,000 word research paper (approximately 10-12 pages);
  • A one-hour midterm and three-hour final examination, both open-book

  • Graduate students should read the entirety of all books assigned and write a paper of around 10,000 words (about 40 pages). They do not need to take the examinations.


Midterm examination: 15 percent. Final examination: 35 percent. Paper: 30 percent. Class attendance and participation: 20 percent. 


All books are on reserve in Butler Library and available through the BorrowDirect Ivy League inter-library loan service. Many are also available in other Columbia libraries. If you wish to purchase the books, many are available in the course listings section of the BookCulture bookstore on 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue: check for our class. For a list of titles on Amazon, click here. A list of recommended optional supplemental books that may be of interest to some students is here on Amazon.

Captain Elizabeth A. Okoreeh-Baah, the first female MV-22 Osprey pilot, stands on the flight line in Al Asad, Iraq after a combat operation on March 12, 2008. Wikipedia.


  1. Boots on the Ground

    Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. 1998 rpt. 1999: Vintage. 3-18 (Prologue: The Circle), 71-121 (Part Two: War, Chapter 3 "Habitations of Cruelty" & Chapter 4 "Where is Your O God?") (65 pages)

    Fred Anderson. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. 2000: Faber and Faber. 94-123 (Part II: Defeat, 1754-1755, Chapter 9 "Disaster on the Monongahela" & Chapter 10 "After Braddock: William Shirley and the Northern Campaigns"), 240-258 (Part IV: Turning Point, 1758, Chapter 24, "Montcalm Raises a Cross: The Battle of Ticonderoga," Chapter 25 "Amherst at Louisburg" & Chapter 26 "Supply Holds the Key") 400-414 (Part VI: Conquest Completed, 1760, Chapter 43 "Conquest Completed: Vaudreuil Surrenders at Montréal" & Chapter 44 "The Causes of Victory and the Experience of Empire"), 453-475 (Part VII: Vexed Victory, 1761-1763, Chapter 46 "The Fruits of Victory and the Seeds of Disintegration," Chapter 47 "The Cherokee War and Amherst's Reforms in Indian Policy" & Chapter 48 "Amherst's Dilemma"), 729-746 (Part X: Empire Preserved? 1766, Chapter 74 "The Future of Empire" & "Epilogue: Mount Vernon, June 24, 1767") (100 pages) (total 165 pages)

  2. Empire of Liberty

    Russell Weigley. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. 1973: Indiana University Press. 3-55 (52 pages)

    Frank Lambert. The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World. 2005: Hill and Wang. 3-48, 123-155, 179-202 (100 pages)

    Anthony F. C. Wallace. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. 1993: HarperCollins. 50-101 (51 pages) (total 203 pages)

  3. America Rising

    Anders Stephanson. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. 1995: Hill and Wang. 3-65 (Chapter I "Choice and Chosenness, 1600-1820" and Chapter II "Destinies and Destinations, 1820-1865") (62 pages)

    Amy S. Greenberg. A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico. 2012 rpt. 2013: Vintage. 76 ("Polk didn't really believe …")-85 (section from Part Two: Mr. and Mrs. Polk's War, 1845-46, Chapter 4 "Speaking Cannon Fire"), 95 ("Thus he had …)-110 (last part of Chapter 5 "Speaking Cannon Fire"), 119 ("Lincoln was sorry …")-161 (last part of Part Three: The Crucible of Conscience, 1846-47, Chapter 6 "A Tame, Spiritless Fellow" and all of Chapter 7 "Buena Vista"), 168 ("The Sage of Ashland")-175 (section from Chapter 8 "Inscrutable Providence"), 200-224 (Chapter 10 "War Measures," and first part of Chapter 11 "Duty and Justice"), 229-240 (last part of Chapter 11 "Duty and Justice") (108 pages) (total 170 pages)

  4. President Emperor

    James McPherson. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. 1988: Oxford. 369-453, 718-773 (141 pages) 

    Max Boot. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power. 2002: Basic Books. 56-128 (72 pages) (total 213 pages)

  5. Crusaders Keen

    Weigley. The American Way of War. 167-241 (55 pages) (74 pages)

    Boot. The Savage Wars of Peace. 205-230 (25 pages), 253-278 (25 pages) (50 pages) (total 124 pages)

  6. Discovery of the New World (DRAFT PAPER TOPICS DUE 9.00 PM BY EMAIL)

    Weigley. The American Way of War. 269-359 (165 pages)

    John Ellis. Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War. 1990: Viking. 343-388 (45 pages) 

  7. Stranger in a Strange Land  (MIDTERM)

    Richard Rhodes. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. 1995: Simon & Schuster. III. 27-48, 482-512 (50 pages)

    David Halberstam. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. 2007: Hyperion. 395-502 (107 pages) (total 157 pages)

  8. Notes from Underground  (FIELD TRIP)

    Visit to the General Grant National Memorial (meet at main entrance at 1.00 PM) and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

    Tim Weiner. 
    Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. 2008: Anchor. 83-194: Part II "A Strange Kind of Genius" The CIA Under Eisenhower, 1953 to 1961, Chapters 8 to 16  (111 pages)

    James Bamford. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century. 2002: Anchor. 1-91 (90 pages) (total 201 pages)

  9. Prometheus Bound

    Robert Neer. Napalm, An American Biography. 2013: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1-108 (108 pages). Available online through Butler Library

    Neil Sheehan. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. 1988: Random House. 127-265 (138 pages) (total 246 pages). Optional: 617-699 (82 pages)
  10. Taking Care of Business (PAPERS DUE 11 PM SUNDAY 6/18 BY EMAIL)

    Andrew Feinstein. The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. Revised and updated edition. 2012: Picador. 237-329 (92 pages)

    Dana Priest. The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military. 2004: W. W. Norton. 11-57 (46 pages)

    Michelle Sandhoff and Mady Wechsler Segal. "Women in the U.S. Military: The Evolution of Gender Norms and Military Requirements." In David M. Kennedy, Ed. The Modern American Military. 2013: Oxford University Press. 273-289 (16 pages) (total 154 pages)

  11. To the Ends of the Earth

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Green Zone: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. 2007: Vintage. Part II Shattered Dreams Chapter 9: Let This Be Over, The Green Zone, Scene VII-Chapter 14: Breaking the Rules, 184-257 in 2006 Knopf first edition, pages numbers may be different in different editions (73 pages)

    Andrew Bacevich. America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. 2016: Random House. 217-294, 342-370 (105 pages) (total 178 pages)

  12. Final Examination

    Three hours, open book.

Dead Confederate soldiers from Starke's Louisiana Brigade, on the Hagerstown Turnpike, north of the Dunker Church. Photograph by Alexander Gardner. Wikipedia.

Dead Confederate soldiers from Starke's Louisiana Brigade, on the Hagerstown Turnpike, north of the Dunker Church. Photograph by Alexander Gardner. Wikipedia.

Optional recommended books and movies:


Students must follow the Faculty Statement on Academic Integrity and Honor Code established by the students of Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Any student found to have violated these requirements will receive a grade of F for their work. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me. Click here for the Columbia University Undergraduate Guide to Academic Integrity, for reference.