Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Finally! A 2nd Ed. of "War"

If you are not familiar with this book, you should be. And now that it's in print again, it's required reading.

Terrorism, writes Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer, is a hangnail. A distraction. The thing to worry about is war. "All the major states are still organized for war," he writes. They have weapons we don't want to think about.

"War: The Lethal Custom" is a rewrite of a book Dyer wrote 20 years ago, when President Reagan faced Soviet Premier Gorbachev across the negotiating table in Iceland. Today's context is different: America is unchallenged — for the moment. But history and anthropology give us little comfort...

His political conclusion is well argued but more speculative than the other parts of this book. Here Dyer posits that what could bring on a major war is the itch by middling states for greatness, and their desire to even their odds with nuclear weapons.

Dyer's solution is to give enforcement authority, and an army, to the United Nations — not authority to govern but to guarantee international frontiers. For big countries to accept this will be a hard sell, he says; there is no demand for it from their people, and much suspicion. Further, he admits, the suspicion is justified. "Nationalists of all countries are quite right to worry about what a powerful United Nations might mean."

But in a world in which certain weapons simply cannot be used, he asks, what is the alternative? He doesn't really consider any, which is a weakness as a political book. But as an interpretive history of war, "War: The Lethal Custom" is brilliant.

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