“Why War?” A Review of Reasons To Kill

by Rich Rubenstein on October 19, 2010 · 4 comments

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Review by Karen Lyon previously published in the Hill Rag, October 2010:

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.

Link to the original article (PDF)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

RICK Hales October 21, 2010 at 3:43 am

You are so right about being duped by our NOT studying the arguments for war. It’s usually an emotional, no matter how we say different, response. When we waged war against a people that had no regard for life….that would encourage their people to sacrifice their lives, as human bombs, I instinctively knew it was a war we would not win.
Before we even got into the war, I realized we could bankrupt ourselves before we could ever win.
It is my opinion, the US needs to spend more time and resources taking care of our own, than trying to save the world. No matter how unpopular that may sound.


Rich Rubenstein October 22, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Thanks, Rick. Converting our economy from military-industrial to peacetime production will take
some serious political mobilization — but it’s doable, if we’re willing to fight for it.


Jack Rasmussen December 6, 2010 at 2:19 am

Reasons to Kill is wonderful, but Chapter 3 Beat the Devil, you seem to misuse some time frames. You state that the U.S. Used nuclear weapons on Japan rather than Germany because the Japanese were seen as “racial Others”. It is my understnding the bomb was conceived as a weapon to be used against Germany but the European war was over before the bomb was ready.
Second, you imply the distraction of Dresden was influenced by the Battle of the Bulge, however that battle ended as late as January 25 and Dresden was bombed in February. This would seem rather unlikely.
I do not wish to seem presumptuous, but it does not seem to me this “mistake” is compatible with the wonderful analysis of your book.


Rich Rubenstein January 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Sorry that it has taken me a while to get back to you, Jack. I’m glad you liked the book, but I have to stand by at least one of the statements that you question. Yes, the U.S. developed the atomic bomb originally because of fears that the Germans would do so first. Even so, as early as the spring of 1944 (more than one year before V-E Day), it was assumed that the target would be Japan, not Germany. Perhaps, if German resistance had been as stubborn as that of Japan, the Americans might have considered using the bomb against white people — but recall that the U.S. carefully refrained from bombing many German university cities and other cultural landmarks — a courtesy returned when the Germans spared Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris. By contrast, the Japanese were not thought of as civilized at all. They had a far more heinous reputation for atrocities than the Germans did (the Holocaust was still being denied in the West) and were hated with a passion that never applied to the Germans.

As to Dresden, I agree that my remarks were speculative. I don’t know for sure that U.S. casualties in the Battle of the Bulge influenced the decision to bomb that defenseless city. But it is worth remembering that the Battle of the Bulge was uniquely bloody for the U.S., killing more than 19,000 of our troops, with total American casualties exceeding 100,000. My point was that bloodshed on this scale wipes out distinctions and inclines nations to use no-holds-barred violence.

In any case, thanks for writing.


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