Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wars in the Post-Cold War World

With the end of the Cold War, we no longer face the imminent prospect of a thermonuclear war between the superpowers, a war that would have certainly killed hundreds of millions of people, quite possibly have destroyed civilization as we know it, and conceivably extirpated human life on Earth. None the less, war remains a pressing issue facing the human race, and in some ways the floodgates of war have been opened wider than they were during the Cold War era.

In the few years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have witnessed, among others, a major U.S.-led war against Iraq in the Persian Gulf, a civil war of genocidal proportions in Rwanda, and another war, combining elements of civil war and war between national groups, and one with genocidal episodes, in the Balkans. These wars, and other less newsworthy conflicts, have taken place within an international context of exceptional uncertainty. During the Cold War, Americans at least had a sense that an overall framework defined the world's conflicts, or at least that we could define whether and why a particular conflict was alarming to us.

We now sense ourselves to be in a world without well-defined rules, where the news is filled with wars among unfamiliar peoples, fought for incomprehensible reasons. An evocative fact of history perhaps lends sharpness to the sense of anxious uncertainty about war. Few Americans have any coherent sense of why the present conflict in the Balkans is taking place, but educated Ame

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an, 32-40). In this case, he argues, a warrior class which had enjoyed long success was unable for cultural reasons to adapt to new methods of warfare, and was thus overthrown and destroyed. With these rather remote examples as groundwork, Keegan moves through history, covering much of the same territory as McNeill, though from a nearly opposite--or perhaps complementary --perspective. Thus, for example, in dealing with the horse-warriors of the steppe, his first concern is with their ethos, for which he chillingly cites Genghis Khan, who Questioning his Mongol comrades-in-arms about life's sweetest pleasures and being told it lay in falconry, replied, 'You are mistaken. Man's greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, sieze his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding [and] use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support.'" (Keegan, 189) The warfare of the steppe, though tactically brilliant, was almost apolitical, and steppe warriors' empires were emphemeral. They fought war for war's sake. Turning to modern times, Keegan considers not the economics of universal military service, but its culture. The mass army, he suggests, required a mass state and a m
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