A provocative essay on our war-loving, bullying nation.
“No other modern nation has a more bellicose record—and our pace is accelerating,” writes Rubenstein (Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs/George Mason Univ.), who reckons that the United States has been at war for more than 20 of the last 60 years, and nonstop since 2001. The reasons for going to war are myriad, but the author writes that they are usually explained in religious or moral terms. These terms, and the ensuing depiction of the enemy as evil, have been enough to chase off opposition to war. Furthermore, even if Americans profess to be peace-loving, opposition to war usually disappears in the run-up to and early stages of any given conflict. Things are getting worse rather than better, Rubenstein argues. What he calls “the current war system, with its pattern of continuous interventions in an ever-expanding zone of conflict,” asks that Americans accept it as axiomatic that our aims are good, our enemies bad and no consent need be sought or given on the part of a populace only a small number of whom actually participate in battle. The author examines the history of American war in light of the “warrior culture” of the Appalachian frontier and the Puritan view that any war fought had to be justified on moral grounds, and he takes a generally evenhanded view of things, even if his argument seems designed to give fits to the warhawks in Washington, D.C. For instance, he writes, it is entirely reasonable to depict the enemy as evil: “Why else would one feel justified in taking someone else’s life or risking one’s own in battle?” Why indeed? Just so, our enemies, being evil, are ipso facto legitimate targets.
A lively, contrarian view of history—fruitful reading for peaceniks and warfighters alike.