Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Review of Stoessinger's Why Nations go to War

Review of George Stoessinger's Why Nations Go To War

George Stoessinger's Why Nations Go To War does not really answer the question of why exactly nations go to war, but that does not make it a really bad book. The book starts out slow. First he discussed World War I and the Austro-Hungarian empire to go to war. Then he talks about WWII and Hitler's decision to go to war. To me those to case studies are really selective about the facts and really ignore the big issues. Those two cases focus on the personalities Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler, and attempt to show how it is the personality of the leaders caused the wars. I could not disagree more. The facts can be arranged to show it is most anything. What it really is, is complicated. His account there is way too reductionistic.

In the case of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Israel-Arab conflict, the India-Pakistan conflicts, Saadam Hussain, and the case of Milosovec he does a somewhat better job, I think. There are occasional places where I would quibble with a statistic here or a fact there, but overall I think he does a decent job of outlining why the countries went to war. The case of Vietnam is really tricky, and again, it is unclear how politically clouded the whole thing is, but the effort to boil the conflict to the relevant facts is admirable. The best chapters are when he talks about Hussain and Milosovec. He believes that along with Hitler, those are the two most evil people of the last 100 years. He does a good job of making the case.

The final chapter is a good summary of the lessons learned from the eight case studies. Again, not all of the lessons should have been derived from the cases that he uses, but it is not a bad chapter. It might actually be worth it to read that chapter, and skip the way he gets to them. It is certainly a decent summary.

The book is an OK read, at least as an introduction to the issues here.