An elegant consideration of peace as an artificial social construct, albeit a necessary one following a century of “total war.”
Military historian Howard (The Lessons of History, not reviewed) might seem an unlikely candidate to explore this topic, but his sure command of warfare’s entire historical narrative lends his project an air of authority. In a series of compact essays (which comprise “an extended version of the plenary lecture which inaugurate[d] the Anglo-American Conference on War and Peace”), he considers the social changes that arose between a.d. 800 and the present day, and their influence upon military alliances and the conduct of warfare. The author’s basic contention is that peace is, if not an “unnatural” state of affairs, “certainly a far more complex affair than war.” In “Priests and Princes: 800–1789,” he examines how war evolved from a specialized activity waged by professionals to a rationalized tool of state (to be used by such “enlightened despots” as Fredrick II of Prussia). “Peoples and Nations: 1789–1918” traces the development of popular revolutions (particularly in France) and the rise of popular nationalism that gave birth to such “low-level warfare” as American westward expansion. In “Idealists and Ideologues: 1918–89,” Howard balances a discussion of the frightful results of Fascist and Communist systems with the surreal, oft-threatened “peace” of the Cold War era. The author turns a cold eye upon present-day prospects, noting that those who predicted “the end of history” with the Cold War’s cessation have been poleaxed by the reality that warfare will likely continue outside the realm of national entities.
Overall, a concise, thoughtfully rendered work fed by courteous intellectual passion.