Humane Wartime

Try a simple riddle, about the time and climate we Americans are living in, today: Do we call it (a) wartime or (b) peacetime? Tense time, for sure, and there’s war in the headlines. But we’re not at war, not declared war anyway. There’s no draft, and no body bags coming home that we notice. War spending is up steeply, but it’s on weaponry for faraway Ukraine, fending off Russia. The firm promise from the start of our lend-lease to Ukraine was no American boots on the ground, and the Biden team is sticking with that. Should we call it a nervous sort of peacetime, on edge about the challenge of China, our missiles and bombs at the ready if it ever comes to war over Taiwan? Or should we call it wartime in denial?

The dark cloud we can see and feel overhead and all around us is our target this hour. Is it one cloud or many, connected how? We’re aiming at the war question in the cloud. Americans pay more for our military than any nation in history, but we expect less: not victories nor an end of war. George W. Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq but we stayed in the war for another decade. President Obama said we live in “an age without surrender ceremonies.” Mary Dudziak at Emory University in Atlanta gets our conversation started. She is eminent among historians of war and death in American experience. Her particular study nowadays is the persistence of American wars and their disengagement from popular feeling. The Yale legal scholar Samuel Moyn will join us with a question both historical and practical: Have almost two centuries of rule-making and regulation of warfare had the perverse effect of keeping war alive? Has the modern world been trying to prettify war when we should have abolished it by now?

This is another installment of In Search of Monsters, our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Here’s a bonus conversation with Quincy Institute fellow Annelle Sheline:

Guest List
Mary Dudziak
Professor of law at Emory University and non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute.
Samuel Moyn
Professor of law and history at Yale and non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute.

Related Content