Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War – Book Review

 In 1880, the Prussian General Staff chief stated, “Eternal peace is a pipe dream—and scarcely a lovely one… War is a necessary part of the world order that God established.” Many have taken issue with this remark and proposed a variety of solutions, ranging from entirely eliminating war to conducting it in a more compassionate manner. In his enlightening and provocative Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Yale law and history professor Samuel Moyn offers a “antiwar history of the laws of war” that charts America’s journey over the last century and a half toward the disturbing state in which we now find ourselves: an era of perpetual war.

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Moyn examines several significant persons, causes, and debates throughout this period, including the Red Cross’s establishment against Leo Tolstoy’s strident opposition. Bertha von Suttner’s peace efforts, particularly through her book Lay Down Your Arms in 1889, are also noteworthy. Moyn says, “Prior to World Conflict I, no document in Western culture did more to mainstream what had been a fringe and marginal plea for an end to perpetual war.” Von Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Moyn believes that the current era’s growing employment of “unmanned aerial vehicles” (armed drones) and US Special Forces makes belligerence more compassionate but portends a bleak future. In his 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Barack Obama stated, “We will not end violent conflict in our lifetimes.” Rather than that, Obama stressed his commitment to global justice and international law and emphasized the importance of humanitarian limitations — including the use of drones. In his first year in office, Obama authorized the deployment of armed drones more times than George W. Bush did in eight years. By the time Obama left office, drones had killed nearly ten times as many people as they had during his predecessor’s tenure. During the final year of Obama’s administration, Special Forces forces fought in at least 13 nations, and the same tactic was continued during the Trump years.

This expansive and timely book examines how foreign policy should be handled morally in the face of America’s never-ending conflicts.

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