“The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute (Police State) Security at all Costs”
By Karen J. Greenberg
Last year a Newsweek article made public President Obama’s reading list. Its message was promising: A third of the books focused on former presidencies. Yet according to “The Emergency State,” David C. Unger’s ambitious and valuable overview of 20th-century presidents and national security, Obama has unfortunately picked up the bad habits of his predecessors. They have created what Unger calls emergency state government — policies by which America’s security interests are defined with an ever-increasing expansiveness. Over the past century, Unger argues, America’s presidents have incrementally institutionalized the emergency state and in so doing have weakened the country morally, constitutionally, financially and most of all in terms of security itself.
According to Unger, a longtime foreign affairs editorial writer for the New York Times, the rationale for the emergency state emerged in the early 1900s with Woodrow Wilson’s evangelical promise to make the world safe for democracy. But it took the personality and genius of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the godfather of the emergency state, to put into place its more unsavory elements. In the name of national security, FDR enhanced executive power, crafted foreign policy in secret and devious ways, authorized far-reaching and possibly illegal policies against Japanese Americans, and misled the public about his intentions and behind-the-scenes directives.