Samuel Moyn, "Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War" (FSG, 2021)


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Is it possible that efforts to make war more humane can actually make it more common and thus more destructive?

This tension at the heart of this query lies at the heart of Samuel Moyn's new book

Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2021). He draws fascinating connections between literary figures such as Tolstoy and Bertha von Suttner, civil society organizations such as the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch, and politicans and military figures to try to understand a central question: why, when we have done so much to limit the violence inherent in war, has war remained so common. His answer is counterintuitive and challenging--it is precisely the limitations on violence that have taken some of the urgency out of the effort to eliminate war itself. The result, he suggests, is as series of forever wars.

Moyn's anaylsis is fascinating. But Moyn also reminds the reader about historical figures and movements widely known at the time but largely ignored in recent times. The result is a fascinating survey of the history of anti-war movements and the debates within them as they tried to imagine and create a world in soldiers, or some of them, put down their weapons, or some of them, to end the violence, or as much of it as they could.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University.

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