A True History of the United States
Jun 07, 2022

A True History of the United States
Indigenous Genocide, Radicalized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism, and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism

Author: Daniel A. Sjursen (Steerforth Press 2021), 688 pages, $25.95
ISBN: 9781586422530

Reviewed by: Captain Alexander Landry, MBA, Engineering Staff Officer at NATO Allied Land Command.

In the twilight of various missions to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq in particular, western nations now turn to other issues concerning domestic responses and future potential conflicts. These nations contemplate such future events while also mired in an introspection of professional and ethical culture arising from various events over the past decade – concerning not only their armed forces, but their collective societies. It is during this period that author Daniel A. Sjursen has published A True History of the United States, a strong-worded narrative of American history that specifically seeks to remain outside the diluted storyline otherwise taught in classrooms. Ultimately, the author thus looks to close “the gap between what scholars know and what students learn” regarding American history, presented in a compelling form for non-historians.

Sjrusen, a retired U.S. Army officer having served several tours in the Middle East, was motivated to produce such a narrative while instructing history to cadets at Westpoint. He notes that during his tenure as a professor, he was confronted with the fact that many future leaders of the nation were under-educated on the basic history of the country they had enlisted to defend. The author’s views are of particular interest to soldiers and officers of any Western military, as Sjursen outlines the foundation for many of the decisions that have led their actual deployments and respective service across recent generations. Accordingly, he writes that “the stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are, the public policy we craft, and even what we imagine possible”.

Within A True History of the United States, Sjursen divides the narrative into 37 chapters that chronologically follow the events of American history leading up to the 2016 presidential election. In a sense, the reader picks up along the way that segments of the book attempt to explain what actually led to this election’s results, but it is by no means the overall focus of the book. In fact, throughout this unabashed depiction of events, the author makes the effort to illustrate previous events in American history as comparable to those of today. One pithy example compares the modern-day practice of stoning in countries such as Saudia Arabia with the execution of accused witches in Massachusetts many generations ago. Another, one that particularly hits closer to home for Canadians and remains relevant to last year’s takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, is his comparison of the Patriots’ “night letters” during the initial pre-Revolutionary War period to apathetic or unsympathetic locals, similar to the tactics used by the Taliban towards locals cooperating with the occupying forces of ISAF and its allied nations. Through such use of comparisons, the author is thus able to set framework for readers to truly understand what factors surrounded the events of the past, underlining considerations that would otherwise be missed through the lecture of regular historical narrative.  

From the first few pages of the book, it is clear that the author’s approach aims to shake the written narrative of American exceptionalism by seeking the reader’s understanding of adversarial points of view for specific key points of historical events. For example, Sjursen has readers consider Stalin’s position following the Second World War, and how his intent may not have been hegemony as was proposed at the time but was rather likely national security following various campaigns against the territory over the past hundred years. Understanding that the USSR had been invaded by a European power three times along the same axis of advance in such a time period, Stalin sought to create a buffer region between itself in Europe. This is something the international community has seen repeated many times since, including what led to the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, and what is now being seen today with the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the current invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

To this effect, although the author is lavish in his commendation of specific acts in American history that have overall been beneficial to society, Sjursen is also critical of the current state of foreign affairs, specifically the events leading to today. The author proposes that the post World War II nations of the United States and Russia viewed the world at the time through different lenses – the Soviet Union through the lens of a ravaged and invaded nation having been brought the brink to stave off the German war machine, whereas the United States found themselves in a position mostly of an untouched state primarily involved in expeditionary intervention save a massive scale attack that saw their initial entry into the conflict. He then subsequently alludes to its similarity in comparison to 9/11, the American re-entry into the Middle East in the early twenty first century, and the current state of the region following two decades of conflict. Consequently, Sjursen points out the irony in the fact that the formation of NATO likely only diluted the hope for a world peace and equilibrium, understanding that the commitment to the protection of any of the allies essentially guaranteed large scale conflict on a global scale moving forward – necessarily dividing the world into two or more respective parties.

These notions and more are underlined when the author presents the reality that the history of any single nation cannot be wholly discussed without an understanding of how other nations have been affected, particularly when speaking to foreign policy and the nature of conflict on a global scale. Overall, Sjursen provides an incredibly detailed account of America’s history from its roots onward, while ensuring that readers remain captivated by relating the historical notes of past events to the issues that we face today. Although it remains to be seen where future conflicts may lie and how the Western world will seek to deal with them, A True History of the United States unapologetically provides foundational knowledge on how America arrived at these current moments, which may likewise provide guidance on how issues should potentially be approached moving forward.

Captain Alexander Landry, MBA, Engineering Staff Officer at NATO Allied Land Command