5 books on War

A Tweep recently asked recently about the 5 books on War that influenced me (and thank you for doing so T!) so…

And this is in order of importance by the way….and it is also really hard to only pick 5.  And being a philosopher, I have to tell you why….

#1 Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars. 

This is one of the seminal books in the Just War Tradition (if not THE), in the 20th century and generated pretty much all the current scholarship on all kinds of issues in ethics and war.  All roads go through Walzer, whether you like him or not.  I do not agree with him on everything, but basically I am a Walzerian.

#2 Bilton and Sim’s Four Hours in My Lai.

My dissertation (many decades ago) was on David Hume, moral character and the My Lai massacre, but oddly I never came across this book. I happened upon it in the bargain bin at a bookstore and was struck by the photographs (see #3) and read it on the way back from a military ethics conference as a young scholar.  It completely blew me away and made me sick to my stomach.  I had researched My Lai in depth, but some how never engaged the emotive force of the topic on a real level.  I never forgot this lesson and it informs my teaching to this day.  And my students read this book. War is not simply an intellectual problem; it is an existential question.

#3 Susan Moeller’s Shooting War

This book on American combat photography in the 20th century (sadly now out of print) is a book that I used for a long time in classes and enjoyed personally because I am interested in alternative texts of war (film, art, photography) and how they convey the experience of war.  It seems to me that much of the experience is hard to capture in words; that even in a video age, photographs capture something of a moment that cannot be got any other way.  Photographs make an argument, create a narrative and encourage the viewer to stop for a moment and contemplate.  

#4 Paul Fussell’s Great War and the Modern Memory

While this is another book that I use for class (suggested by a political science colleague and a Brit who taught the Experience of War class before I did), it is also personally meaningful because it combines rigorous academic examination of World War I poetry with a philosophical exploration of the themes the poetry raised and the impact on British thought and experience.  When I use it in class, we also watch Behind the Lines with Jonathan Pryce which explores Shell Shock and the moral impact of war on the soldiers and those who treated them. Failing to understand the intellectual, philosophical and artistic impact of World War I on the rest of the 20th century is a serious deficit in many circles.

#5 Victor Davis Hansen’s The Western Way of War tied with Christopher Coker’s War without Warriors.

I know this is cheating (bad ethicist!) but both of these books are really important to thinking about the intersection between culture and war (also John Lynn’s Battle), in particular how we understand the role of the Warrior in war. Hansen’s book deals with antiquity and the Greeks (he is a classicist by training) and Coker deals with the future of warfare, so they book end the question quite nicely as a pair.

What are yours?

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