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Retreat From Doomsday Hardcover – April 17, 1989
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From Library Journal
Mueller (political science, Univ. of Rochester) examines why there has been no major war since 1945. He says it is not due to blind luck or the paradox of nuclear deterrence, but to nearing the end of a long historical process during which war has been increasingly regarded as repulsive and futile. He uses Denmark and Holland as examples of dropouts from the game of war, but in 1943 they may have questioned the price of that development. Still, this is a well-written and -documented book, and the bibliography is extensive. Mueller's thesis deserves to be read and considered. Highly recommended.
- Gerald N. Sandvick, North Hennepin Community Coll., Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Start with the second one. Mueller's argument is that while nuclear war is scarier than a non nuclear major war, a non nuclear major war is still pretty scary. "A jump from a fiftieth-floor window is probably quite a bit more horrible to think about than a jump from a fifth-floor one, but anyone who finds life even minimally satisfying is extremely unlikely to do either" (p. 116).
Mueller's attempt to demonstrate his argument is via a history of the Cold War, focusing on the crisis points. As history, it's quite good (although I recommend John Lewis Gaddis's We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History). Mueller's point is that decision making in it were smarter and more rational then we give them credit for. I particularly appreciate his argument that US's decision to begin the Vietnam War was well considered. Mueller argues that the error in Vietnam was not the decision to begin it, but sticking to it after circumstances change (pp. 168-181). I don't know enough about the Vietnam War to properly evaluate the claim, but Mueller sounds convincing.
Alas, his broader theme does not. Although none of the crises in the Cold War were worth going to a major conventional war about, let alone a nuclear one, and although most Cold War leaders were rational, that does not prove that nukes had nothing to do with keeping the parties out of war. More significant, perhaps, is that even with nuclear weapons, some important people (such as Mau Tse Tung and General McArthur) were not afraid of major war. To use Mueller's vernacular, if even a jump from the fiftieth floor is seriously considered, clearly a jump from the fifth floor would not be beyond the realms of possibility.
As for the first major point, Mueller compares war with social institutions that are no longer with us. He argues that we should de mystify peace and war - war is not something essential to human nature, and peace should not be associated with "misty commodities" like "harmony, good will, cooperation, love, brotherhood and justice" (pp. 264-265). Abolishing war, like abolishing slavery, requires no major reconstruction of the human nature or the international system. Rather, war is becoming obsolete, because people no longer find it glorious. The very rhetoric of warfare has changes. Warmongers can no longer honestly proclaim, as Caesar, "I came, I saw, I conquered". Now it's "I came, I saw, he attacked me while I was just standing there, I won". (p. 18)
Mueller sees the change of attitude towards war as a major turning point. I'm not so sure. It seems to me that the rhetoric of warfare is always changing - the Pope no longer advocates wars on the infidels nowadays, and if he had, very few people would have listened. But the crusades ended a long time ago, and wars haven't stopped - they just changed goals and reasons.
A major difference abolition of slavery and the supposed abolition of war is that when slavery was abolished, all of it was. We did not abolish chattel slavery but maintain serfdom. But while major wars and wars in the developed world have mostly ceased, wars in the developing world and wars between the developed world and the developing world are still very much with us.
Strangely, Mueller hardly refers to the best explanation to the disappearance of war in the first world - the rise of democracy. Democratic Peace Theory is now widely acknowledged among political sciences (although there are dissenters, see [...] According to the "weak" version of Democratic Peace Theory, although democracies are as likely to fight as non democratic countries do, they do not fight other democracies. Since most of the world's developed countries are democracies, you would not expect them to fight each other even if war was not obsolete.
To fight a major war in the age of massive industrial capacity and of nuclear weapons is patently mad. Warfare will thus change, both in style and in rhetoric. But are we rid of that "non-peculiar" institution? Unfortunately, I think not.
Although he uses a quite rethorical writing, Mueller actually takes a cold, impartial look at the quintaessential form of violence: war. Although he does mention in passing that violence in general has been declining throughout human history, this book is specifically about war and attittudes towards war. Once upon a time war was the most noble practice, he tells us: kings and lords proudly rushed to war, clerics called for crusades and jihads (today's scattered bombings, apart from serious conflict in a handful of muslim countries, are a pathetic remnant of what holy war used to be), and the ordinary people got massacred and also, quite often, joined armies to commit atrocities. There was a time when war advocates did not even need to search for a good excuse or proclaim its usefulness: it was simply right to go to war, just like it is right now to take part in charitable and environmental activities (as useless as ti may be, according to some).
Mueller traces the rise of war aversion and the anti-war movement, beginning the Quakers, then with the Netherlands in early 18th century who, all of a sudden, find that war is a repulsive practice that doesn't serve them any more. More and more countries progressively become "Hollandized", yet still, war as an institution is still formidable and a daily thought among policy-makers on the eve of the First World War. In the previous several years, though, the anti-war crowd had grown into a dedicated, passionate movement that was lobbying and selling its ideas at the high spheres.
What changed everything forever was not the atomic bomb. It was the Great War.
Since then, war has had its ups and downs and i'm not going to spoil you the book, but eventually all rivers end in the sea. According to Mueller, the trend is unmistakable and major war, that is, war among developed states, is in its last throes. Time and history have vindicated him and, now, ALL forms of war (and violence in general) are at or near a historical low.
The 4th Generation crowd, global guerrillas, etc. simply got it wrong. Many analysts and experts still refuse to see the truth and thus we have them characterising as "war" or "conflict" whatever attack by a lone hacker may happen. But war, unmistakably, is dying.
Also recommend QUIET CATACLYSM, his other major work.