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(Bloomsbury Press, September 2010)
This is a vital book with an urgent message deserving of a
wide readership and much discussion. Its historical depth gives the argument special authority. Better than anyone else, Rubenstein probes America’s past and present to question the rush to war post-9/11, and does so judiciously, in a highly readable style enriched by scholarly mastery.
— Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara
A powerful and frank discussion of the peculiar American rationales for war and the essential questions to ask about them. You may not agree with everything Rubenstein says, but he makes more sense of American justifications for war than anyone writing now. There is no cant in this book. Like a prophet, Rubenstein is urging Americans now, finally, to be honest and direct about war, as if it were their last chance. It may well be.
— John Womack Jr., Robert Woods Bliss Professor Emeritus of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University, author of Zapata and the Mexican Revolution
Many of us long for an intelligent and informed conversation about America’s role in the world. Are we going the way of all empires or is there another way? Richard Rubenstein has provided us with a sane and probing contribution to that conversation. In a time of faux-populism and jingoistic patriotism, it is encouraging to read a critical analysis of our attitude to war and violence from a writer who deeply loves his country. This is a subversive book but the kind of subversiveness we need right now. It would be in the national interest for all Americans to read it.
— Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus, Grace Cathedral and author of Soul Making: the Desert Way of Spirituality and Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect you Spirit without Disconnecting your Mind.
From 1776 to the end of World War II, the United States spent nineteen years at war with other nations. Since 1950, the total is twenty-two years and counting. On four occasions, U.S. Presidents elected as “peace candidates” have lead the nation into bloody overseas conflicts. Repeatedly, wars deemed necessary and prudent have been shown in retrospect to be avoidable—and ill-advised.
Americans profess to be a peace-loving people, and one wary of “foreign entanglements.” Yet we have been drawn into wars in distant lands, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. We cherish our middle-class comforts and our children. Yet we send those children as troops to Fallujah and Mogadishu. How is it that ordinary Americans, those with the most to lose, are so easily convinced to follow hawkish leaders—of both parties—into war?
In Reasons to Kill, noted scholar Richard E. Rubenstein explores both the rhetoric that sells war to the public and the underlying cultural and social factors that make that sales pitch so effective. With unmatched historical perspective and insightful commentary, Rubenstein offers us a new way to think for ourselves about the crucial issues of war and peace.
— Karen Lyon, Literature Editor, Hill Rag
Here’s a self-assessment quiz for you. When our leaders tell us we need to go to war, are you more like Billy Budd or Davy Crockett? According to author Richard E. Rubenstein, you’re probably neither a trusting dupe nor a frontier fighter, but rather a rational person who simply may not have not have studied the arguments put forth by those advocating war. His new book, “Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War,” will remedy that. Based on both historic and current events, Rubenstein puts forth the rationales often used to lead America into war: self-defense, humanitarian intervention against an evil enemy, patriotism, and war as last resort. He then deconstructs each of them, looking behind the bluster to find the facts. Was Andrew Jackson’s war against the Seminoles a case of self-defense or a land grab? Did Saddam Hussein’s absolute evil justify invading Iraq? Is today’s new brand of patriotism merely a way of justifying American moral superiority? And finally, have we really exhausted all other options?
Rubenstein reasonably demands that, given the high cost of war, those advocating it should bear a heavy burden of proof. He exhorts Americans to think carefully when confronted with the possibility of engaging in war, suggesting five parameters to apply: don’t accept that war is a normal state of affairs; in the case of self-defense, consider what we are defending and from whom; question the validity of “evil” enemies and moral crusades; analyze emotional appeals to patriotism; and demand that war advocates disclose their own interests.
Inspired by George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, “Reasons to Kill” makes a forceful case for questioning politicians and ensuring that we are not led blindly into war. “My fondest wish,” writes Rubenstein, “is that this book…will strengthen the healthy skepticism that has traditionally been such a strong component of the American character.” Richard Rubenstein is Professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at George Mason University and lives on Capitol Hill.