Play by the Rules by Michael Pembroke

‘The short story of America’s leadership from Hiroshima to Covid-19’

For all my life, the USA has been seen as a force for good: the pre-eminent nation of the free world.  A rich, influential, and powerful nation.  But in this book, Michael Pembroke (writer, historian and former judge) suggests that America’s leadership is waning.

‘We are entering what has been described as a ‘post-American world’.  Some have seen it coming.’

Mr Pembroke starts his examination of America’s authority in 1945 at the end of World War II when:

 ‘the United States, more than any other country, nurtured the idea of an international community of nations governed by the rule of law.’

Dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a clear statement of American might.  But since then, the world has changed.  Asia, and in particular China, is emerging as an economic powerhouse.

I found this book interesting from beginning to end. I was unaware, until I read this book that the US has not ratified either The Convention on the Rights of the Child (apparently the only country that has not done so) or the UN convention requiring countries to eliminate discrimination against women and girls in all areas of life (one of a small number of countries that has not done so).

‘The United States was once the world leader, the champion and the pioneer of human rights.’  ‘But modern America has developed an aversion to international human rights treaties and demonstrated a unique reluctance to ratify them.’

Mr Pembroke presents a strong and well-supported case for the decline of the US and the rise of Asia.

‘Militarism fuels confidence, encourages unilateralism and leads to hubris.  It explains, at least in part, why seventy-five years after the United Nations Charter, the United States has become increasingly disruptive, and dangerous to the economic and political stability of the modern world it helped to create.’

And no, this disruptive behaviour is not confined to the Trump era.

The rise of China should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied history.  While many are suspicious of programs such as China’s Belts and Road Initiative, the wider economic benefits are clear. 

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the past 75 years and looking at what the future might hold.  This is not a comfortable read, but it is an important one.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith