Lisa Bhungalia of Kent State University reviews Benevolent Empire: US Power, Humanitarianism, and the World’s Dispossessed, by Stephen R. Porter. Professor R. Porter examines political-refugee aid initiatives and related humanitarian endeavors led by American people and institutions from World War I through the Cold War, opening an important window onto the “short American century.” Chronicling both international relief efforts and domestic resettlement programs aimed at dispossessed people from Europe, Latin America, and East Asia, Porter asks how, why, and with what effects American actors took responsibility for millions of victims of war, persecution, and political upheaval during these decades. Diverse forces within the American state and civil society directed these endeavors through public-private governing arrangements, a dynamic yielding both benefits and liabilities. Motivated by a variety of geopolitical, ethical, and cultural reasons, these advocates for humanitarian action typically shared a desire to portray the United States, to the American people and international audiences, as an exceptional, benevolent world power whose objects of concern might potentially include any vulnerable people across the globe. And though reality almost always fell short of that idealized vision, Porter argues that this omnivorous philanthropic energy helped propel and steer the ascendance of the United States to its position of elite global power.
Read the book review at https://doi.org/10.1111/imre.12372