Sheehan, a historian at Stanford, describes how, in the past half century, Europeans have lost their taste and talent for war. In his telling, the First and Second World Wars formed a sort of one-two punch that knocked the love of a good fight out of the continent; war, for centuries seen as an incubator of heroes and leaders, became "something to be combated and overcome, like crime." In the process, the character of the European state changed, from one legitimatized by glorious victories and military power to one fixated on social welfare and trade agreements. Sheehan argues that this transformation entailed "a shift in Europeans moral calculus." This new Europe, he writes, will never be a superpower unless its people give up their "civilian identities"but, he asks, sensibly, "why should they?"
Copyright © 2008
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Prologue War and Peace in the Twentieth Century
On Saturday, February 15, 2003, the largest demonstration in European history was held to protest the impending war against Iraq. In London, an estimated million people overflowed Trafalgar Square, filling the city’s streets from the Thames embankment to Euston Station; a million marched in Barcelona and in Rome, 600,000 in Madrid. A half million braved the freezing cold in Berlin’s Tiergarten, almost as many as usually attended the Love Parade held there in the summertime. Everywhere the crowds were peaceful. There were few arrests, no violence. The demonstrations attracted a rich variety of participants: there were some toughlooking adolescents in leather and young people wearing Palestinian head scarves or anarchist black, but the overwhelming majority were respectable citizens in warm winter coats and sensible shoes pensioners, middle-aged academics, union members, high school and college students. There were lots of families, parents and grandparents who had not marched since the sixties, children experiencing for the first time a political demonstration’s distinctive blend of exhilaration and discomfort. One German newspaper called it an uprising of ordinary people.” Many of the demonstrators carried banners and placards, some prepared by the organizers, others homemade, which proclaimed the various motives that had brought them into the streets: Freedom for Palestine,” No Blood for Oil,” Stop Mad Cowboy Disease,” America, the Real Rogue State,” Make Tea, Not War,” and (my personal favorite) Down with This Sort of Thing.” Unlike the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, no one showed any sympathy for the other side; there were no Iraqi flags or pictures of Saddam Hussein. For most people, the real issue was not who was right or wrong, but whether war was the answer. Seventy-three year-old Thomas Elliot, a retired solicitor from Basildon, Essex, explained why he was attending his first political demonstration: I remember the war,” he told a reporter, and the effect the bombing had on London. War should only be used when absolutely necessary.” In Berlin, Judith Rohde and Ricarda Lindner, fourteen-year-old classmates from a local high school, were surprised that anyone needed to ask why they were marching. War,” they said, is not a solution.” Hilde Witaschek, at seventy-seven a veteran peace marcher, added, We experienced war when Berlin was liberated no more war, nie wieder Krieg.” In city after city, when one looked out across the ocean of people, the sign that appeared most often contained a single word: No.” Some observers regarded February 15 as a turning point in European history. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former French cabinet minister, declared that a new European nation” had been born that day. A few months later, in an article originally entitled February 15: What Unites Europeans,” Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, two of Europe’s best- known intellectuals, called on Europeans to counterbalance the hegemonic unilateralism of the United States in the international arena and within the United Nations.” Like Strauss-Kahn, Habermas and Derrida argued that Europe’s opposition to American militarism could create a new European identity, an identity based, above all else, on a rejection of war as an instrument of national policy.
On February 5, just ten days before the great demonstrations, a book by Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, was published. Kagan, who served briefly in the Reagan administration and was an early advocate of the use of American power to spread democracy in the world, had been among the first to push for war against Iraq. His book, which quickly found a place on the bestseller list, was based on an essay called Power and Weakness,” which had appeared the previous spring in a rather obscure journal, Policy Review. Kagan tried to summarize the differences between Europe and America by borrowing the title of a recent book about gender difference: on major strategic and international questions,” he declared, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” Transatlantic discord is not merely the result of Europeans’ opposition to a single event or the policies of one particular administration. It is time to stop pretending,” Kagan wrote, that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world.” Europeans have turned away from power, preferring to live in a posthistorical paradise; Americans recognize that in the real world power and military might are still essential. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in developmment, and likely to endure.” Kagan’s analysis, like Habermas and Derrida’s call for a new European identity, reflected the passionate dddddebates ignited on both sides of the Atlantic by the Iraq War. We shall return to these debates in this book’s final chapter. But for the moment, it is sufficient to acknowledge the truth at the core of the comparisons all three made between Europeans and Americans: at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many more Americans than Europeans were prepared to accept the necessity of using violence to resolve international disputes. In 2003, when a poll by the German Marshall Fund asked Americans whether they believed that, under certain circumstances, war was necessary to obtain justice, 55 percent strongly agreed. In France and Germany, only 12 percent held that opinion.
Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century is economically strong but uninterested in transforming this strength into military power. The power that European states do project internationally is economic, cultural, and legal, the outward expression of the values and institutions that matter most in their relations with one another and with their own citizens. By contrast, the United States operates on a global stage, with an enormous network of military bases, a thick web of alliances and agreements, a truly global sphere of influence and power. America has become what Timothy Garton Ash called the last truly sovereign European nation-state.” The ability and willingness to make war has traditionally been the essence of sovereign statehood. How this has changed, at least in Europe, is the subject of this book.
Well before the conflict in Iraq revealed the fissure in European and American relations, some scholars pointed to a declining belief in the efficacy of war, not simply in Europe but worldwide. In a book entitled Retreat from Doomsday, the American political scientist John Mueller maintained that major war as opposed to civil strife and organized criminality was becoming obsolete. According to Mueller, the values and assumptions that had once made war an inevitable part of human affairs were now dissolving; people no longer believed that war was an effective instrument of policy, that victory” would ever be worth the price. War, therefore, was not an intrinsic part of human experience but would, like other apparently incurable social evils such as dueling and slavery, eventually fade away. When Mueller first presented his ideas in 1989, several commentators, especially students of war like Michael Howard and John Keegan, expressed skepticism that the subject, to which they had devoted a lifetime of distinguished scholarship, was on its way to historical oblivion. But in the course of the nineties, Keegan and Howard, together with many other well-informed observers, began to wonder whether the age-old connection between war and states might indeed be coming to an end.
This book will make two central arguments: first, the obsolescence of war is not a global phenomenon but a European one, the product of Europe’s distinctive history in the twentieth century; second, the disappearance of war after 1945 created both a dramatically new international system within Europe and a new kind of European state.
We will see how the historical developments that made modern European wars so extraordinarily destructive were the very ones that ultimately banished, for the first time in Europe’s long and bloody history, international violence from the European society of states. The democratization of politics and society, for example, gave European governments the capacity to mobilize human resources and to raise armies of unprecedented size and thus dramatically increased both the scale and the intensity of combat. But democratization also encouraged the conviction that ordinary people, those who as always bore the burdens of war, should have a say in when or if states should fight and that, given the choice between war and peace, they would chose the latter. Similarly, the growth of industrial production made it possible to make and deploy weapons of unparalleled destructive power. But industrialization also expanded the connections among peoples and nations, weaving a web of interdependent relationships that required and sustained peaceful exchange. A major war, many people realized, would damage, perhaps destroy, these relationships and thus inflict incalculable harm on European economic and social life.
In 1900, the European society of states was governed by men who recognized the potential risks of a European war. In order to manage these risks, statesmen maintained an elaborate set of institutions designed to preserve the peace or, should that fail, to contain international violence. We need not overestimate the effectiveness or the benevolence of this concert of Europe.” It left plenty of room for violence outside Europe and threats of violence within; it was always driven by self-interest and, like every international system, usually worked to the benefit of the strong and at the expense of the weak. Nevertheless, the international order that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century seemed to work remarkably well.
Significantly fewer Europeans died in combat during the nineteenth century than in the eighteenth, not to mention in the monumentally bloody twentieth. Between 1648 and 1789, the European powers had fought forty-eight wars, some of them, like the Seven Years’ War in the mid-eighteenth century, lasting several years and stretching around the world. Between 1815 and 1914, there were only five wars in Europe involving two great powers; all of them were limited in time and space, and only one of them involved more than two major states. From the end of the Franco- Prussian War in 1871 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the European states were at peace with one another. This was the longest period without war in European history until it was surpassed toward the end of the twentieth century.
During the long peace of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century we can find the historical roots of the civilian policies and institutions that would eventually dominate European public life. These policies and institutions were directed inward, toward domestic goals; they sought to encourage economic growth, promote commerce, and provide new kinds of services for their citizens. As in the period after 1945, these developments were inseparable from unprecedented economic expansion. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, European manufacturing and agricultural production increased dramatically. Despite a growing population, per capita income rose, as did gross domestic product. Growth was geographically uneven and its benefits unequally distributed, but by 1900 European society was becoming increasingly orderly, peaceful, and prosperous.
Although they lived in peace, Europeans at the beginning of the twentieth century constantly confronted the possibility of war. The great powers of our time,” the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck told a Russian diplomat in 1879, are like travelers, unknown to one another, whom chance has brought together in a carriage. They watch each other, and when one of them puts his hand into his pocket, his neighbor gets ready his own revolver in order to be able to fire the first shot.” No responsible statesman was prepared to let down his guard by looking away from his companions; the chance that one of them, accidentally or intentionally, might draw his weapon could never be dismissed. Preparing for war was the statesman’s most important duty not his only duty, to be sure, but the one that took precedence over all others. Economic prosperity, commercial vitality, and social welfare were worthwhile goals; all of them contributed to the state’s power and stability; but they counted for nothing if the existence of the state was not secure. Security meant creating and sustaining the kind of army necessary to fight and win a modern war. As one German politician put it toward the end of the nineteenth century: What good are the best social reforms if the Cossacks come?” In the summer of 1914, the leaders of the great powers decided that they had no choice but to fight. Some of them may have actively sought a European war, but no one wanted the war they got, a war in which Europeans employed their extraordinary ability to mobilize human and material resources to destroy one another. This was a democratic war that reached into the lives of virtually every European; it was also an industrial war, in which death and devastation became the principal purpose of economic production. The war consumed millions of lives, most of them young, and vast resources, all of them wasted. It uprooted ancient institutions, disrupted newly created economic bonds, and shattered the delicate arrangements that had helped to restrain the great powers since 1815.
Surveying the wreckage left in the war’s wake, many were convinced that major wars had indeed become obsolete; surely Europe could not survive another. But others drew a different lesson from the war. For them, peace had come too soon, before victory had been obtained, the enemy destroyed, society purged of its toxins. To these people, war was the source of the heroism, discipline, and comradeship from which a new political order could be built. Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was divided along many fault lines between democracy and dictatorship, communism and capitalism, right and left but the most important was between those who rejected and those who embraced political violence at home and abroad. In the end, the proponents of violence carried the day, plunging Europe into a second, yet more terrible war, in which, once again, the forces of democracy and industry were forged into weapons of mass destruction.
If a broad popular consensus about the futility of war were enough to guarantee peace, then one world war should have been sufficient. But unlike slavery or dueling, which could gradually fade away as its cultural support eroded, war would remain a danger as long as one state stood ready and willing to fight. All the strangers in Bismarck’s metaphorical carriage had to be sure that none of their fellow travelers would reach for a weapon. Security was indivisible.
This indivisible sense of security arose in Europe after 1945, when the United States and the Soviet Union imposed a new order on the continent, dividing and organizing the European states in what became a remarkably stable and peaceful system. This system provided the incubator within which the states of western Europe were gradually transformed. They became civilian states, states that retained the capacity to make war with one another but lost all interest in doing so. The result was an eclipse of violence in both meanings of the word: violence declined in importance and it was concealed from view by something else that is, by the state’s need to encourage economic growth, provide social welfare, and guarantee personal security for its citizens. The eclipse of violence happened gradually. It was a slow, silent revolution, hidden in plain sight, but it was nonetheless a revolution as dramatic as any other in European history. In order to understand the character and significance of this revolution, we must turn to a time when war was still the most important element in the life of European states.
Copyright © 2008 by James Sheehan. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.