Bill Bennett’s America: The Last Best Hope (Volume II) picks up where he left off with the first volume of his series on American history. Bennett begins with the events leading up to World War I and takes the reader through many of the seminal periods of the 20th Century, including the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Watergate and finally the collapse of communism. Bennett’s great strength is that he writes for the average reader, crisply depicting some of America’s greatest accomplishments in difficult times.
The author of the bestseller The Book of Virtues and Education secretary under Ronald Reagan and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under George H.W. Bush, Bennett wants to recapture the beauty, goodness and hope that embody America. He believes Abraham Lincoln was right when he described our country “as the last best hope of Earth.” Despite the recent wave of anti-Americanism both domestically and abroad, Bennett wants Americans, as he said in his first volume, “to fall in love with their country, again or for the first time.”
Heritage at Risk
Bennett reminds us that there is a great deal of our history that Americans should be proud of and that our liberty and freedom were bought at a great price. Unfortunately, much of the way history is taught today neglects to address moral lessons, impart civic virtue or imbue patriotism. Our heritage is at risk.
Although Bennett wants the reader to see the nobility in America, he is not afraid to reveal the flaws of its leaders and some of their mistakes. Bennett delves into the complex characters of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He candidly discusses how Wilson’s inflexibility and disdain for others’ judgments incurred the hostility of our British and French allies during World War I. He criticizes Herbert Hoover’s ineffective and inept policies during the early years of the Great Depression. Bennett is especially harsh on Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Bennett rightly argues that U.S. history throughout the 20th Century has been characterized by an expansion of democracy and prosperity, both at home and abroad. After World War I, America emerged as the world’s pre-eminent economic and political power — a position it has not lost to this day. Yet, it was only World War
II that permanently forced the U.S. out of its long-standing policy of continental isolationism. America had emerged as a global colossus. Bennett recounts many of America’s great achievements during the Cold War: the rebuilding of Western Europe and Japan, the formation of NATO, and the difficult but necessary decision to militarily stand up to the Soviet and Chinese Communists in Korea. He also recounts the Cold War’s low points — Vietnam, the malaise of the 1970s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Bennett ends his volume with a fine discussion of the Reagan years. He incisively argues that it was Reagan’s policies — the massive U.S. military build-up, inserting intermediate-range missiles in Western Europe despite fierce pacifist opposition, supporting anti-Communist forces in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and the invasion of Grenada that eventually brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bennett accurately recounts both the triumphs and failures in our history. He believes it is the “story of a great people who wisely choose how to save themselves and others, how to correct wrongs, and how to preserve what is still the greatest nation in the history of the world.” It is rare to read such unabashed patriotism and pride in American history books today. Instead, contemporary historians prefer to focus on the alleged ills of America, such as imperialism, racism, sexism and the “exploitation” of the working class. Bennett’s work serves as a necessary corrective to the anti-Americanism and radical leftism that passes for historical scholarship.