ENDANGERED SPECIES by Stephen M. Younger


Mass Violence and the Future of Humanity
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Ah, for the good old days of the Cold War, when there were two superpowers and the state reserved the right to kill unto itself.

Formerly a nuclear-weapons research and development specialist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Defense, Younger, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, is not entirely free of Strangelovian visions of world order. His intentions, however, seem to be good: In an era when, as he writes, “the ability to cause mass destruction is spreading from the domain of the major nation to the domain of a small country, group, or even an individual,” it is important for the remaining superpower—that is, the U.S.—to seek to ameliorate worldly woes so that the rest of humankind isn’t inspired to take up arms against it. The framing for this argument is ungainly, however. Younger muses about whether we’re programmed to kill one another, then dismisses the question with a truism—“while we may not be inherently violent as individuals, we have the potential for violence if we are placed in the right circumstances”—before settling into the heart of the matter, namely, what will happen once the people who hate us really do get hold of weapons of mass destruction. Here the discussion gets even more qualified. It’s clear, for instance, that Younger isn’t happy at the thought of nuclear explosions, but he argues for the continued development of nuclear weapons (“. . . the alternative is to keep an aging stockpile of cold war dinosaurs that are much more destructive than required”). He urges, “We need to be very smart in deciding whom we attack and how”; still, he reckons that at least George W. Bush did something by invading Iraq, and he seems to endorse the premise that spreading democracy, by gunpoint if necessary, will lessen the terrorist threat in the end.

Of some interest, but less so than Louise Richardson’s recent What Terrorists Want (2006), which makes some of the same points.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-113951-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2007