Books on War
by David Gordon
by David Gordon
President Obama's decision to intensify the war in Afghanistan has ended hopes that his administration would reverse the bellicose foreign policy of Bush and Cheney. His conduct should not have been surprising, as it continues a longstanding trend in American foreign policy, one based on frequent wars and threats of wars. As Murray Rothbard again and again emphasized, wars almost never serve the interests of the people. To the contrary, war is a chief means to advance the power of the state and its allied groups. Court intellectuals do their best to disguise these facts by enveloping wars with specious justifications. Fortunately, a number of books are available that enable the interested reader to understand what is at stake. What follows is a selection of these books. The list is not confined to books that adopt a libertarian viewpoint. I have included historical works that question particular wars and various works of theology, philosophy, and political science as well. I welcome suggestions for additions.
Anscombe, G.E.M. Ethics, Religion and Politics. Includes two classic essays, "War and Murder" and "Mr. Truman's Degree," protesting violations of traditional just-war doctrine in modern warfare. She contends in another essay that British aims in World War II went beyond the justifiable.
Bacevich, Andrew. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Criticizes the national-security ideology that has long dominated American foreign policy. We wrongly believe that any crisis in the world threatens American interests.
Bacevich, Andrew J. The New American Militarism. Technological advances in weaponry have encouraged a dangerous utopianism in American foreign policy. Military ideologues think they can spread American values through force.
Baker, Nicholson. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. Baker points out the massive violations of civilized warfare by Churchill and Roosevelt. Churchill's hunger blockade of Germany is a principal theme.
Barnes, Harry Elmer, ed. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. A collection of essays by leading scholars critical of American intervention in WWII. George Lundberg's essay puts the issue of aggression and peace in a more general context.
Beard, Charles A. Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels. A 1930s plea for American neutrality. Emphasizes the lessons of WW I and warns against repetition of America's mistaken policy.
______. The Devil Theory of War. Good short statement of Beard's noninterventionist views.
______. President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941. One of the foremost American historians of the twentieth century indicts secret efforts to maneuver the United States into war.
Borchard, Edwin, and W.P. Lage. Neutrality for the United States. Borchard, a leading international lawyer, argues for an American policy of nonintervention. The policies of Woodrow Wilson violated international law.
Bourne, Randolph. War and the Intellectuals: Essays, 1915—1919. Bourne broke with John Dewey and other Progressives over American entry into WWI. He indicts American intellectuals for viewing the war as means to enhance their own power and influence. "War is the health of the state."
Buchanan, Patrick J. Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World. Buchanan argues that the British guarantee to Poland in March 1939 was unnecessarily provocative and did Poland no good, since neither Britain nor France was in a position to enforce it. Churchill, an ardent warmonger since pre-World war I days, followed a policy that led to the collapse of his beloved British Empire.
Butler, Smedley D. War Is a Racket. A retired Marine Corps general contends that profits for certain business groups allied with government are the key motive for war.
Butterfield, Herbert. History and Human Relations. Challenges the tendency to demonize particular nations as a unique source of evil.
Cadoux, Cecil John. The Early Christian Attitude to War. During the first three centuries of Christianity, the predominant Christian view rejected military violence.
Cavanaugh, William T. Theopolitical Imagination. Rejects the modern state. The "Wars of Religion" are a product of the state, not the Church.
Chamberlin, William Henry. America's Second Crusade. A highly critical account of American policy leading up to WWII and during the war. America under Roosevelt failed to learn the lessons of WWI.
Chomsky, Noam. American Power and the New Mandarins. Controversial indictment of American foreign policy. Attacks intellectuals who offer a rationale for the promotion of state power.
Coady, C.J.A. Morality and Politics. An Australian philosopher opposes the extension of just war theory to allow wars that are not defensive. Good treatments of nuclear deterrence and the misguided policy of unconditional surrender. Coady is strongly critical of the Iraq War.
Cobden, Richard. Political Writings (2 volumes). A great nineteenth-century classical liberal gives a detailed analysis of a number of British wars. A major case for a peaceful foreign policy.
Creveld, Martin. The Rise and Decline of the State. Unprecedented destructive warfare and imperialism are the products of the modern state, particularly aided by the state's seizure of control over the financial system. Van Creveld suggests that the state is on the way out.
Cull, Nicholas. Selling War: The British Campaign Against American "Neutrality" in World War II. Detailed survey of the massive British propaganda effort to secure America entry into WWII, from a point of view sympathetic to the British effort.
Dallmayr, Fred. Peace Talks — Who Will Listen? Stresses the contemporary relevance of Erasmus on the need for peace. See especially the chapter "A War Against the Turks?" for Erasmus's criticism of religious crusades.
Denson, John V. A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. Denson, a distinguished jurist, argues that political leaders create popular support for war by contriving to appear as the victim of an attack. In fact, the attacks are provoked, as Denson illustrates from the policies of the three presidents named in the book's title.
Denson, John V., ed. The Costs of War. Comprehensive anthology on America's wars, from an anti-war perspective. Ralph Raico's essays on Churchill and World War I are especially notable. Rothbard's classic "World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals" is a must.
Doenecke, Justus. Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939—1941. Detailed survey of the arguments deployed by American isolationists in their futile effort to block Roosevelt's pro-war policy. Doenecke, a leading authority, stresses the diversity of the anti-interventionists' arguments.
Ekirch, Arthur. The Civilian and the Military. Discusses efforts to retain civilian control of the military in American history; by a leading classical liberal historian and conscientious objector during WWII. Criticizes American policy in both world wars and the Korean War.
______. The Decline of American Liberalism. America's wars have, throughout our history, led to increased power for the state and less liberty.
Ely, John Hart. War and Responsibility. By a leading constitutional theorist; argues that the Constitution intended to grant Congress exclusive power to start wars. The president could act without Congress only to repel an immediate invasion.
Engelbrecht, H. C. and F. C. Hanighen. Merchants of Death. A bestseller during the thirties; argues that arms dealers help promote war.
Fay, Sidney B. The Origins of the World War (2 volumes). A balanced and comprehensive account of war origins. Guilt for the war does not rest primarily on any one country.
Finnis, John M., et al. Nuclear Deterrence, Morality, and Realism. The best analysis of the immorality of nuclear deterrence policy. The authors are leading Thomists.
Fisher, Louis. Presidential War Power. Very similar argument to Ely's book, by another eminent authority. Written in a much simpler style than Ely.
Flynn, John T. As We Go Marching. Indicts Roosevelt's New Deal and WWII measures as leading to an American fascism.
_____. Forgotten Lessons. Shows how statist regimes, in particular Roosevelt's New Deal, used militarism and war to distract attention from domestic failure.
Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. Detailed study of the impact of WWI. The analysis of the "war poets" is especially notable.
_____. Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. Extends the analysis to WWII. Thoroughly debunks the romanticized view of this conflict.
Gamble, Richard M. The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Shows how liberal ministers embraced WWI as a means to promote social reform. Good on the religious impulses behind Wilsonian policy.
Garrett, Garet. Defend America First: The Antiwar Editorials of the Saturday Evening Post, 1939—1942. A leading member of the Old Right argues against American entry into WWII. Nazi Germany may have hostile intentions against the U.S., but an America First defense is the best way to cope with this.
______. The People's Pottage. America has become an empire; only the empty form of a republic remains. Garrett draws parallels between America's policy and the fall of the Roman republic.
Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred. Claims that societies rest fundamentally on violence: people unite against a ritualized scapegoat.
Goddard, Arthur, ed. Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader. Collection of essays in honor of a leading revisionist historian. Contains an important essay by Rothbard, "Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War."
Greenwald, Glenn. A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. Greenwald ascribes the disasters of the Iraq War to Bush's Manichean worldview. America is seen as representing the forces of good in a battle against evil. This unrealistic perspective led to ignoring clear evidence that Iraq posed no danger to the United States.
Hamlin, C. H. The War Myth in United States History. Shows how a benign view of America's wars works as an instrument of propaganda.
Harnack, Adolf von. Militia Christi: The Christian Militia and the Military in the First Three Centuries. A great historian argues that early Christians rejected military service because they saw themselves as soldiers of Christ.
Harper, F. A. In Search of Peace. Highlights the absurdity of adopting socialistic measures in order to combat the Russian communist system.
Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom. A leading theologian contends that Christians should regard the Church as establishing an alternative society to the war system of the state.
Hedges, Chris. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Given the brutality and loss of life inherent in war, why is it popular? Hedges argues that people seek meaning through involvement in extreme situations.
_______. What Every Person Should Know About War. A detailed account of what war is like. What happens, e.g., if a soldier is wounded? Will give pause to all but the most adamant warhawks.
Higgs, Robert. Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society. Shows how the courts defer to government during wartime. Liberty and war are antithetical.
______. Crisis and Leviathan. A classic: wars permanently increase the power of the state. Even when a war ends, the state does not shrink to its former size.
______. Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11. Higgs applies his views on war and the state to the Iraq War. Higgs's most personal book.
Hoppe, Hans-Hermann, ed. The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production. Strongly critical of the public goods argument for national defense. Private provision of defense would avoid the evils of militarism and aggression.
Huddleston, Sisley. Popular Diplomacy and War. Challenges "goldfish bowl diplomacy" that stresses heavily publicized conferences by world leaders. Unrealistic expectations impede peaceful settlement of disputes.
Joas, Hans. War and Modernity. Valuable study of philosophical views on war. The discussion of Georg Simmel is especially insightful.
Journet, Charles. The Church of the Word Incarnate, Volume 1. The French Cardinal ably shows the drastic limits on initiating war imposed by the traditional just-war criteria. At best a handful of wars in history count as fully just.
Jouvenel, Bertrand de. On Power. Traces the rise of the modern state, from its medieval origins. War has been a principal cause of the growth of state power.
Karp, Walter. The Politics of War. The Spanish-American War and American entry into WWI resulted from resistance to domestic reform measures.
Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty. Journalists tend to lie during wartime. "The war correspondent as hero and mythmaker."
Kubek, Anthony. How the Far East Was Lost. The first chapter contains a classic account of how Communist sympathizers high in the counsels of the U.S. government encouraged a provocative anti-Japanese policy that led to war in 1941.
Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power. The best treatment of the early years of the Cold War. Shows that the United States was always militarily superior to the Russians.
Mahl, Thomas E. Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939—44. British intelligence operations rigged poll data prior to WWII to show public support for U.S. intervention.
McMahan, Jeff. Killing in War. Strong arguments for the view that soldiers engaged in an unjust war should be held morally responsible for their violations of rights, even if they follow the rules of ius in bello. The armies enlisted in an unjust cause are not morally on a par with those whose cause is just. It does not follow from this, though, that morally guilty soldiers should be subject to legal punishment.
McMahan, Jeff. Reagan and the World: Imperial Policy in the New Cold War. A careful analysis of Reagan's foreign policy, by a leading moral philosopher.
Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory. Contends that the principal aim of modern social science is the justification of violence.
Mills, C. Wright. The Causes of World War III. Protests America's militaristic Cold War policy.
_____. The Power Elite. Influential account of the dominance of American society by a coalition of business and military interests. Mordant portrayal of the "crackpot realism" of American strategy.
Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. Contrasts wars with peaceful social cooperation based on the free market.
______. Nation, State, and Economy. Important discussion of nationalism and the economy during wartime. Shows the relation between socialism and imperialism.
______. Omnipotent Government. The expansionist policy of both Imperial Germany and the Nazis stemmed from economic interventionism. Only the worldwide adoption of laissez-faire can ensure peace.
Moseley, Alexander. A Philosophy of War. Considers biological, sociological, and philosophical explanations for war, from a point of view sympathetic to libertarianism.
Nordlinger, Eric. Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century. A policy of isolation from foreign entanglements will best promote both America's security interests and the values of the American people. American intervention in both World Wars was unnecessary.
O'Donovan, Oliver. Peace and Certainty. Assails the policy of nuclear deterrence through threatened mass destruction.
O'Huallachain, D. L. and J. Forrest Sharpe, eds. Neo-CONNED! (2 volumes). A collection of articles critical of the Iraq War. The first volume reprints Cardinal Ottaviani's influential statement that altogether rejects war under modern conditions.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Shows how a totalitarian society uses emotional propaganda campaigns against other nations to whip up support. One of the most famous novels of the twentieth century.
Quigley, John B. The Ruses for War: American Interventionism Since World War II. Contends that American foreign policy in the past fifty years has been characterized by mendacity. Our foreign policy is much more aggressive than the public is encouraged to believe. Quigley illustrates his thesis with numerous examples from around the world, e.g., Korea, Afghanistan, and Grenada.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. The most famous of all novels about WWI. Shows the realities of life on the front.
Robbins, Lionel. The Economic Causes of War. Interference with the free market leads to antagonisms between nations.
Rockwell, Llewellyn H., Jr. The Left, the Right, and the State. Shows that wars arise through the endeavor of the state to increase its power. In these efforts it unfortunately has the cooperation of many businessmen, who benefit financially from the state's pursuit of war. Only the free market and complete free trade can ensure peace.
______. Speaking of Liberty. Forceful argument that one cannot consistently support both the free market and a bellicose foreign policy.
Rothbard, Murray N. "War and Foreign Policy" in For a New Liberty. Defends a noninterventionist foreign policy on the basis of libertarian theory.
______. The Irrepressible Rothbard: The Rothbard-Rockwell Essays of Murray N. Rothbard. Rothbard skewers the fallacious argument that an aggressive foreign policy will make dictators back down. Faced with an ultimatum, a hostile power is likely to fight. In the twentieth century, social democrats have been a major force for war.
_____. "War, Peace, and the State" in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. Rothbard brilliantly shows how war advances the power of the state. Distinguishes between "inter-State warfare" and revolutions.
Rummel, Erika, ed. The Erasmus Reader. An anthology of works by the great sixteenth-century humanist and opponent of war.
Russett, Bruce M. No Clear and Present Danger. Contends that although America had reason to oppose German domination of Europe, this did not suffice for a clear case in favor of intervention in WWII.
Ryn, Claes G. America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire. Discerns a Jacobin influence at the heart of American foreign policy. Neoconservatives, consumed by revolutionary ideology, wish to impose "democracy" by force.
Schmitt, Carl. The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. Defends the classical system of European diplomacy, in which wars between the European powers took place under limits, against the abstract universalism introduced by Woodrow Wilson.
Scarry, Elaine. Who Defended the Country? Argues that people, acting spontaneously against danger, can be much more effective than governments in responding to threats.
Schumpeter, Joseph. Imperialism and Social Classes. Imperialism and war are social atavisms, not the products of capitalism, as Marxists claim.
Sherry, Michael S. In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s. The militarization of American society is a key factor in recent history.
Sledge, Eugene B. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Searing memoir of the battle against the Japanese during WWII. Stresses the horrors of the conflict.
Stinnett, Robert B. Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt deliberately sought war with Japan and denied information to the army and navy commanders at Pearl Harbor as part of a plan to provoke a Japanese attack.
Sumner, William Graham. The Conquest of the United States by Spain. A famous essay by great classical liberal and sociologist. Contends that the United States abandoned its own traditions of freedom during the Spanish-American War, adopting instead the discredited power politics of Europe.
Tansill. Charles C. America Goes to War. Remains the best scholarly study of America's entry into WWI; stresses Wilson's unneutral diplomacy.
_____. Back Door to War. Tansill, one of the foremost American diplomatic historians, argues that Roosevelt sought a "back door" to American entry into war in Europe through provoking a Japanese attack.
Trachtenberg, Marc. The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method. Sharply critical of Fritz Fischer's thesis that Germany bears primary responsibility for the origin of World War I. Trachtenberg also contends that Franklin Roosevelt followed an aggressive policy toward Japan, probably aimed at provoking conflict in order to enter the European War, in the face of popular and Congressional resistance.
Twain, Mark. "The War Prayer." Mocks prayers for the troops during war by claiming that they imply the wish that the enemy population suffer and die.
Vance, Laurence M. Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Argues that current American foreign policy is at odds with Christianity.
Veale, F.J.P. Advance to Barbarism. Contemporary war has abandoned the limited wars characteristic of European tradition for policies of total destruction. The Nuremberg Trials and other war crimes tribunals have contributed to this process.
Weaver, Richard M. Visions of Order. Contains a brilliant essay, "A Dialectic on Total War," that contrasts modern total war with past emphasis on chivalry and limited war.
Williams, William Appleman. The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Influential critique of American foreign policy. Argues that during the twentieth century, American policymakers sought empire as a substitute for the end of the American frontier.
Wilson, Edmund. The Cold War and the Income Tax, A Protest. A famed man of letters rejects the Cold War and protests the bloated U.S. defense budget.
_____. Patriotic Gore. A comprehensive set of essays on the literature of the Civil War, notable for its skeptical view of Lincoln's war rhetoric.
Yoder, John Howard. Nevertheless: Varieties of Religious Pacifism. An influential Mennonite theologian shows the diversity of arguments against war.
January 21, 2010
Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.