Cascade Books, 2014. x + 286pp.
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A war is always a moral event. However, the most destructive war in human history has not received much moral scrutiny. The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters examines the moral legacy of this war, especially for the United States.
Drawing on the just war tradition and on moral values expressed in widely circulated statements of purpose for the war, the book asks: How did American participation in the war fit with just cause and just conduct criteria?
Subsequently the book considers the impact of the war on American foreign policy in the years that followed. How did American actions cohere (or not) with the stated purposes for the war, especially self-determination for the peoples of the world and disarmament?
Finally, the book looks at the witness of war opponents. Values expressed by war advocates were not actually furthered by the war. However, many war opponents did inspire efforts that effectively worked toward the goals of disarmament and self-determination.
The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters develops its arguments in pragmatic terms. It focuses on moral reasoning in a commonsense way in its challenges to widely held assumptions about World War II.
“Military spending, as Eisenhower warned, generates wars. Myths about World War II generate military spending. World War II has been propping up military spending through decades of wars openly acknowledged as disasters. This book exposes World War II as a crisis that need not have been created and could have been handled otherwise. That understanding should save the U.S. about $1 trillion a year and a great many people their lives.” ——David Swanson, peace activist and author of War Is a Lie
Ethicist Ted Grimsrud asks us to look past the romanticism, the myth-making, and the nostalgia that has grown up around the Second World War and make a clear-eyed appraisal of the conflict’s real costs. Employing classic just war theory, Grimsrud shows how the U.S. war effort fell far short of that theory’s minimal criteria. Then, drawing on the insights of Christian pacifists, he proposes alternatives—applicable then and now—for building communities of resistance that treat all life as precious. ——Steven M. Nolt, Professor of History, Goshen College and author of Seeking Places of Peace
A brief review:
It’s one thing to recognize that Dresden and Nagasaki were clear violations of just war principles, but another thing entirely to reckon with a comprehensive analysis of World War II in terms of just cause and just conduct. And that’s only the first part of this fine book, which goes on to consider the legacy of the “good war”: “a militarized state, a mobilized society, a permanent war economy.” Grimsrud offers a tutorial in not taking for granted the inevitability of the current American way of war. His analysis could foster some interesting conversations amid the growing consternation—even panic—about what ISIS makes “necessary.” —— D. Brent Laytham, Professor of Theology, St. Mary’s Seminary, in The Christian Century, April 17, 2015
This is a longer review, in the journal Future of Freedom. And this one from Mennonite Quarterly Review. A shorter review from Friends Journal.
Table of Contents:
1. Introduction: The United States and the Myth of Redemptive Violence
PART ONE: Total War
2. Why Did America Go to War?
3. Was America’s Conduct in World War II Just?
4. What Did the War Cost?
PART TWO: Aftermath
5. Pax Americana
6. The Cold War
7. Full Spectrum Dominance
PART THREE: Alternatives
8. No to the War
9. Social Transformation
11. Conclusion: World War II’s Moral Legacy
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