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Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War

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In the years since 9/11, we have entered an age of endless war. With little debate or discussion, the United States carries out military operations around the globe. It hardly matters who’s president or whether liberals or conservatives operate the levers of power. The United States exercises dominion everywhere. In Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvent In the years since 9/11, we have entered an age of endless war. With little debate or discussion, the United States carries out military operations around the globe. It hardly matters who’s president or whether liberals or conservatives operate the levers of power. The United States exercises dominion everywhere. In Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Samuel Moyn asks a troubling but urgent question: What if efforts to make war more ethical—to ban torture and limit civilian casualties—have only shored up the military enterprise and made it sturdier? To advance this case, Moyn looks back at a century and a half of passionate arguments about the ethics of using force. In the nineteenth century, the founders of the Red Cross struggled mightily to make war less lethal even as they acknowledged its inevitability. Leo Tolstoy prominently opposed their efforts, reasoning that war needed to be abolished, not reformed—and over the subsequent century, a popular movement to abolish war flourished on both sides of the Atlantic. Eventually, however, reformers shifted their attention from opposing the crime of war to opposing war crimes, with fateful consequences. The ramifications of this shift became apparent in the post-9/11 era. By that time, the US military had embraced the agenda of humane war, driven both by the availability of precision weaponry and the need to protect its image. The battle shifted from the streets to the courtroom, where the tactics of the war on terror were litigated but its foundational assumptions went without serious challenge. These trends only accelerated during the Obama and Trump presidencies. Even as the two administrations spoke of American power and morality in radically different tones, they ushered in the second decade of the “forever” war. Humane is the story of how America went off to fight and never came back, and how armed combat was transformed from an imperfect tool for resolving disputes into an integral component of the modern condition. As American wars have become more humane, they have also become endless. This provocative book argues that this development might not represent progress at all.


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In the years since 9/11, we have entered an age of endless war. With little debate or discussion, the United States carries out military operations around the globe. It hardly matters who’s president or whether liberals or conservatives operate the levers of power. The United States exercises dominion everywhere. In Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvent In the years since 9/11, we have entered an age of endless war. With little debate or discussion, the United States carries out military operations around the globe. It hardly matters who’s president or whether liberals or conservatives operate the levers of power. The United States exercises dominion everywhere. In Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Samuel Moyn asks a troubling but urgent question: What if efforts to make war more ethical—to ban torture and limit civilian casualties—have only shored up the military enterprise and made it sturdier? To advance this case, Moyn looks back at a century and a half of passionate arguments about the ethics of using force. In the nineteenth century, the founders of the Red Cross struggled mightily to make war less lethal even as they acknowledged its inevitability. Leo Tolstoy prominently opposed their efforts, reasoning that war needed to be abolished, not reformed—and over the subsequent century, a popular movement to abolish war flourished on both sides of the Atlantic. Eventually, however, reformers shifted their attention from opposing the crime of war to opposing war crimes, with fateful consequences. The ramifications of this shift became apparent in the post-9/11 era. By that time, the US military had embraced the agenda of humane war, driven both by the availability of precision weaponry and the need to protect its image. The battle shifted from the streets to the courtroom, where the tactics of the war on terror were litigated but its foundational assumptions went without serious challenge. These trends only accelerated during the Obama and Trump presidencies. Even as the two administrations spoke of American power and morality in radically different tones, they ushered in the second decade of the “forever” war. Humane is the story of how America went off to fight and never came back, and how armed combat was transformed from an imperfect tool for resolving disputes into an integral component of the modern condition. As American wars have become more humane, they have also become endless. This provocative book argues that this development might not represent progress at all.

57 review for Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War by Samuel Moyn This is a very thorough book and it is deep, dense, and well thought out. It takes the reader back in time to discuss the meaning of war, what is humane during war, humanity in general at that time according to the leading philosophers and leaders. It goes through various time periods leading slowly up to now. The very shocking depravity is on full display of war, slavery, and what some leaders felt humane treatment sh Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War by Samuel Moyn This is a very thorough book and it is deep, dense, and well thought out. It takes the reader back in time to discuss the meaning of war, what is humane during war, humanity in general at that time according to the leading philosophers and leaders. It goes through various time periods leading slowly up to now. The very shocking depravity is on full display of war, slavery, and what some leaders felt humane treatment should or shouldn't be. I had to read this in bits and pieces because it's rich in information and the lack of humanity. I just couldn't take the constant horror knowing the truth of it all. I did learn a lot. Despite the horrors, people need to read this. Where is America going? Do we want to continue this path? I want to thank the publisher and NetGalley for letting me read this heart wrenching book!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    Halfway through the opening chapters I was wondering if I missed something and the book is about Tolstoy. Those early chapters laid the groundwork for an outstanding book about the history of both the attempts to outlaw war and make it more humane taking us right into the present with our last several American presidents, their advisors, and their contradictions. Something this book brilliantly illustrates is the fact whatever moves towards humane war have been made in the West haven't been affo Halfway through the opening chapters I was wondering if I missed something and the book is about Tolstoy. Those early chapters laid the groundwork for an outstanding book about the history of both the attempts to outlaw war and make it more humane taking us right into the present with our last several American presidents, their advisors, and their contradictions. Something this book brilliantly illustrates is the fact whatever moves towards humane war have been made in the West haven't been afforded to non Westerners and non Christians in general who have often been targeted without discrimination between combatant and non-combatant. Near the end of the book the topic of automated warfare is discussed which makes the reader ponder a dystopian future of killer robots running wild.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Dense Yet Enlightening. This is a book about the history of the philosophical and legal thoughts and justifications for transitioning from the brutal and bloody wars of the 19th century (when the history it covers begins) through to the "more humane" but now seemingly endless wars as currently waged, particularly by the United States of America. As in, this treatise begins with examinations of Tolstoy and Von Clauswitz during the Napoleonic Wars and ends with the Biden Presidency's early days of Dense Yet Enlightening. This is a book about the history of the philosophical and legal thoughts and justifications for transitioning from the brutal and bloody wars of the 19th century (when the history it covers begins) through to the "more humane" but now seemingly endless wars as currently waged, particularly by the United States of America. As in, this treatise begins with examinations of Tolstoy and Von Clauswitz during the Napoleonic Wars and ends with the Biden Presidency's early days of the continuation of the drone wars of its two predecessors. Along the way, we find the imperfections and even outright hypocrisies of a world - and, in the 21st century in particular, in particular a singular nation on the ascendancy, the United States - as it struggles with how best to wage and, hopefully, end war. Moyn shows the transition from a mindset of peace to a mindset of more palatable (re: "less" horrific / "more" humane) perma-war. But as to the description's final point that this book argues that this might not be a good thing at all... yes, that point is raised, and even, at times, central. But the text here seems to get more in depth on the history of documenting the change rather than focusing in on the philosophical and even legal arguments as to why that particular change is an overall bad thing. Ultimately this is one of those esoteric tomes that those with a particular interest in wars and how and why they are waged might read, if they are "wonks" in this area, but probably won't have the mass appeal that it arguably warrants. The central premise is a conversation that *needs* to be had in America and the world, but this book is more designed for the think tank/ academic crowd than the mass appeal that could spark such conversations. Still, it is truly well documented and written with a high degree of detail, and for this it is very much recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alexey Goldin

    "Torture, even more than other atrocity crimes, rose to the top of the list of immoral and even illegal acts, which was an enormous advance. But war fell off the list, and no one complained." "The intense focus of advocacy groups and administration lawyers alike on the legal niceties of humane detention and treatment contributed significantly to a perverse outcome. The brutal treatment of captives had tainted the legitimacy of a heavy-footprint war under the prior administration. Now a concern to "Torture, even more than other atrocity crimes, rose to the top of the list of immoral and even illegal acts, which was an enormous advance. But war fell off the list, and no one complained." "The intense focus of advocacy groups and administration lawyers alike on the legal niceties of humane detention and treatment contributed significantly to a perverse outcome. The brutal treatment of captives had tainted the legitimacy of a heavy-footprint war under the prior administration. Now a concern to remove that taint led the United States to kill by preference in the new one—though the country took steps to make its regime of death more compassionate. While advertising its alleged care, the emerging form of Obama’s war negated the constraints on extending and expanding war itself that previous generations had prioritized. As the Obama administration continued, the abuses to the laws prohibiting force accumulated almost without counterexample." "Though the United States had once organized the Nuremberg trials to stigmatize aggression, Koh opposed criminalizing it now for fear it would keep a benevolent power like the United States from stopping atrocity." "Beyond the compromises made by advocates outside government and especially inside, the deepest blame for the perpetuation of endless war fell on Obama himself. He established a working relationship with a public that allowed itself to be convinced that his policies of endless and humane war, though not exactly what they had signed up for, were morally wholesome. This effect depended utterly on Obama’s rhetorical genius. It worked through the first-person plural but also required the audience to accept that they shared in the compromises of humane war that politicians chose and lawyers crafted." "In his concern that advocates for more humane war could help make it endless for a public that tolerates it, Leo Tolstoy fixated on corporal wrongs and physical violence. Advocacy aimed at humane war, he contended, was no more ethically plausible than agitation for humane slavery, with daily episodes of torture replaced by everlasting—but kind and gentle—direction of labor and service. Audiences who accept endless war out of the belief that its humanity excuses them, the truculent moralist inveighed, were fooling themselves." "Brought to its logical conclusion, humane war may become increasingly safe for all concerned—which is also what makes it objectionable. Humane war is another version of the slavery of our times, and our task is to aim for a law that not only tolerates less pain but also promotes more freedom."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    A legist history of what the author labels as ¨humane¨ war featuring a cast of lawyers, both within and without government service. ¨Humane¨ war is drone warfare, sanity, faraway, with few American casualties. This author does touch on what may be the greatest mitigating factor in the start of ¨humane¨ and endless was: the end of conscription. He also mentions the ironic death by suicide car bomber in Baghdad, Iraq of an antiwar activist, to what end I don´t know. Perhaps the author agrees with A legist history of what the author labels as ¨humane¨ war featuring a cast of lawyers, both within and without government service. ¨Humane¨ war is drone warfare, sanity, faraway, with few American casualties. This author does touch on what may be the greatest mitigating factor in the start of ¨humane¨ and endless was: the end of conscription. He also mentions the ironic death by suicide car bomber in Baghdad, Iraq of an antiwar activist, to what end I don´t know. Perhaps the author agrees with William Tecumseh Sherman´s observation: “War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” I just don´t know? I might add one of the primary drivers of endless warfare is, what in an earlier time was termed the munitions industry but has been euphemized, the defense industry. Whenever any political party or politician talks about cutting the ¨defense¨ budget, they mention that the individuals who bear the highest burdon are the line workers, most of whom are unionized, in defense contractor factories. Fire the generals but don´t layoff folks just trying to make a living.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Izzy

    This book damns not only Bush and Trump, but also Clinton and Truman, and Churchill (especially Churchill) and Roosevelt as well, for their approach to war and aerial killing of civilians. But the concept that more ‘humane’, or less civilian collateral damage has enabled ‘endless’ war is scary and well illustrated. The massive killings in fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo by our side in WW2, (not to mention the 2A bombs deployed after the war was won, and the linkage of how we fought ‘our’ war i This book damns not only Bush and Trump, but also Clinton and Truman, and Churchill (especially Churchill) and Roosevelt as well, for their approach to war and aerial killing of civilians. But the concept that more ‘humane’, or less civilian collateral damage has enabled ‘endless’ war is scary and well illustrated. The massive killings in fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo by our side in WW2, (not to mention the 2A bombs deployed after the war was won, and the linkage of how we fought ‘our’ war in Viet Nam to prior European colonial imperial wars is powerfully described. Who determines the targets, and what keeps the other side from doing the same thing to us in a few years, that we are currently doing in. Waziristan? His (Moyn’s) credentials are impeccable, and it is hard to put this book down. His background in both history ad law is evident!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Didn't really read all/finish, just too repetitive. In need of significant editing Didn't really read all/finish, just too repetitive. In need of significant editing

  8. 5 out of 5

    arkadi cloud

    https://blog.arkadi.one/humane-how-th... https://blog.arkadi.one/humane-how-th...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tommy

  10. 4 out of 5

    ixk

  11. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Barsky

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric Snow

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rokas Indriliūnas

  14. 5 out of 5

    John

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

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    Katelyn

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ferenc Laczo

  18. 4 out of 5

    Will

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kath

  20. 4 out of 5

    Henning

  21. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Pykkonen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jake

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    Jesse Spevack

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julia Indivero

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Book

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joris van de Riet

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rick

  29. 5 out of 5

    David Lee

  30. 4 out of 5

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  31. 4 out of 5

    Maniacpat

  32. 4 out of 5

    Goodreads user

  33. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Malone

  34. 4 out of 5

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  35. 4 out of 5

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  36. 4 out of 5

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  37. 4 out of 5

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  38. 5 out of 5

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  40. 4 out of 5

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  41. 5 out of 5

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  44. 5 out of 5

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  45. 5 out of 5

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  46. 4 out of 5

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  47. 4 out of 5

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  50. 4 out of 5

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  51. 4 out of 5

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  54. 4 out of 5

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  55. 4 out of 5

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  56. 4 out of 5

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  57. 5 out of 5

    Notforvanity

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