War, Choice and the Shadow of World War Two

For those having a seriously slow afternoon, my latest academic rant is about to hit the press.

It argues that the ‘war of choice’ versus ‘war of necessity’ binary is a shallow and misleading form of rhetoric, that dodges the vital question of what the stakes are in any given conflict, and what is worth bleeding for.

It also argues that the terms of debate in the United States were shaped powerfully by the collective memory of World War Two, recalled as a war imposed upon America by Axis aggressors. But actually, even that war was a matter of discretion for Washington, generated partly because Franklin Roosevelt willingly stepped into conflicts abroad well before the shooting wars began. And then, there were many different ways America could choose to fight that war, according to theatre, liability and cost.

As it happens, I’m glad America did intervene – but a counterfactual analysis shows that the case for entry in terms of national security rigorously defined is a much closer call than often realised. And if its true, as I argue, that this was a marginal and highly discretionary decision, what does that say about conflicts against lesser adversaries ever since?


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