Review: Stoessinger’s Why Nations Go To War

This, and many other reviews posted recently originally appeared on a now long defunct livejournal account. I am posting it here as part of a project to bring all my related writing (whether worthwhile or not) under one roof.

Why Nations Go to War
Richard Stoessinger

This classic of the undergraduate international relations course (where I read it) is actually a pretty neat little book. Of course the underlying theory (that war reason for war is largely related to the personality and personal issues of the country’s leaders at the time of the war) is deeply, deeply flawed* but its brief historical breakdowns make a for a good introduction or refresher on the major conflicts of the 20th century.

Stoessinger takes most of the major conflicts of the 20th century and dispatches them in thirty pages or so of tightly written history (for which this book is good) and oversimplified political analysis (for which this book isn’t as good). Reading about the start of WWI in a book written by someone who thinks it is all a misunderstanding is interesting, and in some way illuminating, but it is still a poor substitute for a more nuanced analysis.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
*Hitler was a sociopath, yes, but that isn’t the prevailing reason we got WWII. And Nasser may have been an egomaniac, but that isn’t the primary explanation for the Suez Canal business.

Review: Barnett’s Pentagon’s New Map

The Pentagon’s New Map
Thomas P.M. Barnett

I was dialing around cable at my parent’s house years ago and ran across the most incredible power point presentation being given by a dude from the Naval War College on CSPAN about how the U.S. should think about security threats in the future. Basically his point was that those alienated from global capitalism are those we need to be most worried about and that places like Central Africa will soon join Afghanistan as geographical locations from which threats will arise. That presentation became this book and it is seriously worth reading. Barnett makes his living predicting bad shit for the U.S. government (and now, I believe, also for big corporations) and he is very good at what he does. Obviously sites of threats to the U.S. are also sites for new modes of positive resistance (those these things are not interchangeable) and also sights for economic development, so this book struck really close to a lot of my interests.

Barnett also has a number of other predictions which may be hogwash, but may also lead to something really interesting. For instance, he toys with the idea that NAFTA will lead to a more EU style unification and the that the EU will soon be much more of a cohesive state. Interesting ideas and an interesting book. It’s a couple of years old now, but still worth picking up.

Recommended for the enthusiast.