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The Making of Peace: Rulers, States, and the Aftermath of War.

Edited by Williamson Murray and Jim Lacey

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009

368 pp. $90

ISBN: 978-0-5215-1719-5

Shortly after the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom to change the Taliban regime in Kabul in response to 9/11, Sir Michael Howard wrote a rather dark and pessimistic editorial on the outlook for the intervention in Afghanistan. History appears to have finally caught up with his assessment and the implications of how difficult making peace really is. With The Making of Peace, Williamson Murray and Jim Lacey have made an extremely welcome contribution to the plethora of good scholarship being published that attempts to better understand the continuum between war and peace.

Murray and Lacey turned to Sir Michael and his ubiquitous scholarship to put this collection of essays (including several by the editors) into context with a preface. In 2006, Murray and Howard had teamed in much the same way to look at the importance of history to military professionals in The Past as Prologue. A year later, Howard did a similar favor for the editors of Clausewitz in the Twenty-first Century. The point has almost been reached where if an anthology has a preface or foreword by Howard, the book is definitely worth purchasing.


As with all good books, the title implies the major thesis: that the making of peace is a process dependent on ruling elites, the nature of the state, and the political and cultural context of the immediate postwar period. One theme common to all the essays is how difficult and undervalued the process of forging a lasting and stable peace is. Another is that much of what Carl von Clausewitz had to say about the dynamics that influence war can be applied to the processes of establishing and maintaining peace. Howard's preface makes clear that all such attempts to forge something that lasts face considerable philosophical challenges. Citing Western philosophers Saint Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, and Immanuel Kant, Howard implies that the task is perhaps impossible. But he also gives us the sense--as do these essays--that to undervalue (or, in today's usage, underresource) the effort intellectually and politically is to guarantee that bugaboo of modern times: the flawed peace that leads to even more destructive and sustained conflict. Therefore, like war, one must closely study peace and its maintenance in order to better ameliorate the effects of war, which the philosophers seem to have concluded is endemic to the human condition (and rightly so, in this reviewer's opinion).

Murray's introductory essay revisits Howard's themes and informs them with relevance for today. He is particularly critical of the West's ahistoricism and how it leads to the adoption of convenient myths about why wars start and end, myths that in turn contribute greatly to the problem of making peace (p. 23). Next come 12 essays in generally chronological order whose common theme is the difficulty of making a lasting peace. The authors are much the same group deployed to such good effect in The Past as Prologue. The phrase may seem cliched, but they are all acknowledged experts in their chosen fields of study: from Paul Rahe on the ancients to Frederick Kagan and Colin Gray on recent times. Of particular interest, and comprising a recurring major theme, is the tenuous larger lesson that Richard Hart Sinnreich teases from his discussion of the justly famous Congress of Vienna in 1815. He attributes the breakdown of general peace to some common factors that transcend the specifics of the historical moment: "When in the fullness of time that self-discipline finally vanished under the pressures of militant nationalism, societal boredom, the disappearance of historical memory, and political and military arrogance, so also did the peace of Europe and the world" (p. 159). Replace nationalism with any number of currentisms (for example, jihadism) and drop Europe from the sentence, and it describes accurately a view of the world today. In other words, loss of the historical memory of the brutality and catastrophe of general war is the biggest threat to the maintenance of a general peace.

Sinnreich's concluding essay synthesizes many of these themes and extrapolates from Howard's opening discussion. Like Howard, he finds three general "approaches" in the historical record examined for making the peace: "universal governance" through collective security (for example, the United Nations), "strategic equilibrium" through balance of power, and, lastly, "progressive democratization" based on the flawed notion that democratic governments are not bellicose (p. 360). All these approaches have one thing in common: none of them ultimately work. These essays give the impression that prospects for any of them gaining the upper hand as the approach of choice are pretty dim. As usual, and as expected, these historians give us no intellectual shortcuts to the hard job of making peace, and the work of diplomats and peacemakers will remain a seemingly Sisyphean task.

To the reader looking for something substantive on the period between the Peloponnesian War and the Peace of Westphalia following the Thirty Years War, this book will be a disappointment. This gap, and the Western focus, is perhaps the book's most obvious shortcoming. It fails to address just what went into the making of the Pax Romana and the long, brutish, but relatively peaceful Pax Pontifex of the Catholic Church. Also missing are essays on the sustained periods of peace during the various Chinese dynasties (from which we might learn much) and the complete absence of war for nearly 250 years in the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. But these are mere quibbles, given the high quality of the essays. In his introductory essay, Murray argues (somewhat casually) that the Chinese and Roman experiences are anomalies and that the Western focus of the book is intentional because we must first understand ourselves. However, at some point we must understand others, so one would thus hope for a second volume that taps scholars for these other civilizations and periods.

Military and diplomatic historians, and perhaps students at senior war colleges, will need no prodding to examine this important work, but it would be a shame if they were the only audience. This book needs as broad a readership as possible; otherwise, the ahistoricism that currently informs Western and even global polities (particularly the United States) will continue to contribute to the undervaluation of the challenges in making peace and the overvaluation of the efficacy of war as a means to policy ends.

Reviewed by JOHN T. KUEHN

Dr. John T. Kuehn is Associate Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
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Author:Kuehn, John T.
Publication:Joint Force Quarterly
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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