War and Ideas
- The automobile was the "necessary cause" of over 3,000,000 deaths in the twentieth century.
- There is now a huge and well-funded "terrorism industry." "Its members would be out of business if terrorism were to be back-burnered," writes Mueller, and accordingly "They have every competitive incentive (and they are nothing if not competitive) to conclude it would be their civic duty to keep the pot boiling."
- In 1913, Woodrow Wilson declared the United States "to be the champion of democracy in the Americas." "To show he meant business, he sent US troops into Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic." All three of these countries subsequently "lapsed into extended dictatorships."
- If you are going to organize state-sponsored murders, you don't need much manpower. Benjamin Valentino found that "Numbers of people required to perpetuate a mass killing does not need to be large. Over and over again, Valentino finds that the killing machinery was manned by relatively small numbers of people.
- When asked about the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq --- a result of American sanctions in the early 1990s --- Madeleine Albright responded (without disputing the figure), "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price --- we think the price is worth it." This statement was ignored in the United States, but has became famous in the Arab world.
- As with domestic Communist violence during the Cold War, just about all terrorist violence within the United States since 2001 has taken place on television, in novels, and at the movies. Nevertheless, says Mueller, official and public opinion in the United States will probably continue to labor under that internalized "false sense of insecurity."
- Osama bin Laden wanted to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy. He was betting on our overreaction to the 9/11 attacks which "cost al Qaeda $500,000." The resultant counter-terrorism, he claimed, cost the US "more than $500 billion." It has ... and more.
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Mueller is a contrarian's dream. And his statements might peg him as a madman if it weren't for his singular weakness as a historian: he backs up his facts with exquisitely detailed citations. Think the world is getting more warlike? He defines wars as conflicts within or between nation states as (an arbitrary figure) causing more than 1,000 deaths. He has a chart that shows thirty "intra-state wars" in 1991, then less than ten in 2006. Extra-state wars reached a high of ten in 1971, have tapered off since. The same with inter-state wars.
"No matter how defined," he avers, "there has been a most notable decline in the frequency of wars over the last years." Maybe it's a matter of definition, such as, "ethnic conflict," "new war," or perhaps "drug violence."
Most ... have been nearly opportunistic predations waged by packs --- often remarkably small ones --- of criminals, bandits, and thugs engaging in armed conflict either as mercenaries under hire to desperate governments as independent or semi-independent warlord or brigand bands.
One of Mueller's most salient points is the necessary ability of nation-states to institute firm police and military forces to keep in hand the "thugs, brigands, bandits, highwaymen, goons, bullies, criminals, pirates, mercenaries, robbers, adventurers, hooligans, and children who seem to be the chief remaining perpetrators of a type of violence that can be said to resemble war."
As one can see here, Mueller is fond of lists. For instance, he suggests that one of the reasons for declining violence might be the abundant enemies of armies. No, not other armies. Rather ... boredom. Standing armies, he says, "must be able to endure long intervals --- months at least, often years --- of various kinds of deprivation. Among the problems,"
lice, maggots, leeches, and other vermin; debilitating and very often fatal battles with dysentery and other diseases; the absence of women; terrible, even inedible, food; germ-ridden water; stale cigarettes; bone-deep fatigue, syphilitic prostitutes; watered or even poisonous liquor; sleep deprivation; family separation and homesickness; absence of privacy; constant and often brutal and pointless harassment or physical abuse by superiors and by the incoherent system; exposure to extremes of weather; masturbatory fantasies that become decreasingly stimulating; and boredom that can become cosmic, overwhelming, stupefying --- an emotion, only rarely remarked upon that is far more common in war than the rush that comes with combat.
With this list of horrors, one wonders that wars were ever successfully embarked on, much less ever successfully executed.
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When I picked up unassuming Mueller's book, I wasn't especially expecting much ("war and ideas?") I have always been fond of the literature of violence as long as I don't have to go out and shoot someone. But Mueller's style --- as well as his cantankerousness --- sucked me right in. This guy has written thirteen books with such scandalous ideas as these, and I am astounded that Homeland Security has not yet descended on him and carted him off to exile in Guantánamo to be water-boarded for a while.
For his "simple" theses are definitely radical: that wars are generally on decline; that "containment" used against the Soviets for over thirty years was a massive failure (the threat would have disappeared long before 1989 if we had let it); that the terrorism industry is now well entrenched --- despite the fact that on the average terrorism takes no more than 100 lives a year; that since the end of WWII the single war that cost the most lives is one that most of us have forgotten ... the one waged between Iran and Iraq 1980 - 1988; that WWII was mostly the work of one idiot --- for most of the rest of Europe was bitterly (and reasonably) against further bloodshed after WWI (that one person being Hitler); that nuclear weapons have had no real impact on international relations between 1945 and now; that poison and "bioterrorism" are very unlikely to occur in our time because the machinery required to launch these is just too complicated; and --- in my favorite chapter of them all --- if you want to blame recent world violence on one cause, religion, belief system, realpolitik: it should be laid squarely on the shoulders of just one dunderhead.
--- Richard Saturday