3 books on war

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

In his "Devil's Dictionary," Ambrose Bierce memorably defined "peace" as "in international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting." Those periods of fighting are the subject of these new books, which look at the subject both here and now, and from an ageless perspective.

1 Stephen L. Carter's The Violence of Peace (Beast Books, $24.99) sounds Bierce-like indeed. But the subtitle, America's Wars in the Age of Obama, explains the Yale law professor's concerns more fully. Although President Obama hasn't started any wars, he has vigorously waged the ones he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Carter's book weighs the ethics of the president's approach. Among Carter's conclusions is that Obama and his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, have not differed markedly as war presidents and, moreover, that Obama has argued in favor of "means that Bush did not - [such as] the right to assassinate American citizens" in certain circumstances.

2 In How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (Little, Brown, $27.99), Dominic Tierney, a political science professor at Swarthmore, ponders the discrepancy between the gung-ho crusading instincts with which Americans launch wars and the reluctance to follow through with nation-building that tends to characterize our behavior once we have toppled a threatening regime.

3 Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars , edited by Col. Matthew Moten (Free Press, $27.99), is an anthology of essays on the last acts of various conflicts in American history - from the Yorktown campaign of the Revolutionary War to the concluded (or so one hopes) Iraq war. The Civil War piece, by Joseph T. Glatthaar, offers the interesting suggestion that the "massive pension program" put in place to help ex-soldiers may have set the stage for the wider range of welfare programs that followed in the 20th century.

- Dennis Drabelle


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