Reviewed by Keith Dickson (National Defense University)
Published on H-USA (July, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
The Legal and Political Consequences When War Is Not Divided from Peace
Normally, "wartime" and "peacetime" are presented as single words. Mary L. Dudziak, in contrast, intentionally uses "war time" in her title. She addresses the conundrum of war and time that has plagued US policymakers and military professionals since the end of the Second World War: how is war understood and imagined in the context of time? Over the past seventy years, the dividing line between war (considered a temporary and unnatural condition) and peace (understood as the dominant and normal condition) has disappeared. This phenomenon has important political and legal ramifications that are often overlooked or disregarded. Dudziak illustrates the power of the word "war" and its influence in shaping the mind-set of Americans, committing them to a preconceived set of actions and activities that often do not fit the situation. American thinking about war and time is crucial to understanding how the United States has become engaged in a near-permanent worldwide conflict that "enables a culture of irresponsibility, as 'wartime' serves as an argument and an excuse for national security-related ruptures of the usual legal order" (p. 9).
Dudziak traces how law and politics in America serve wartime, and with it, the expansion of the federal government's war powers. Wartime defines activity, marks a specific break in historical time, and establishes specific legal parameters. "The wartime frame offers not only a description of the past, but also an implicit theory about what happens to rights in American history" (p. 25). She explores how modern American wars really end, usually defined by legal thresholds. Without a declaration of war, the courts have often defined when a state of war exists. Even when a declaration of war existed, the courts have strained to define when a war legally ends and peace begins. One of her dominant themes in the book is the ramifications of the conceptualization of wartime. "Just as 'wartime' could not contain war powers," Dudziak observes, "neither could it contain incursions on civil liberties" (p. 53).
The word "war" was also used to describe the ideological conflict backed by the nuclear standoff that characterized the post-World War II world, the Cold War. The growth of the national security state during the Cold War blurred the traditional understanding of the separation between war and peace through the fusion of the domestic and international. The cause of world freedom and security became America's cause. Wars in faraway places became the front lines of American defense, justifying the need for wartime conditions at home. This was the case in Korea, when President Harry Truman avoided a congressional declaration of war to rely on the newly created and yet untested United Nations to legitimize military action. Real wars like Vietnam, though undeclared by necessity, and thus requiring congressional authorization, which in turn set a model for all future presidents, were fought under the umbrella of the Cold War. Even though the distinctions between wartime and peacetime no longer existed, the American mind-set continued to believe such a distinction remained.
Dudziak compiles this history of ambiguity about what constitutes war and peace by focusing on the most ambiguous and unreal application of war yet seen: the war on terror. The use of the word "war" to define the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks served several purposes for the national security state and for President George W. Bush, who, like previous presidents, "imposed traditional categories on an unruly present" (p. 101). Bush framed the situation as war, drawing parallels to Pearl Harbor, and as President Franklin Roosevelt did in 1941, Bush declared that the onset of war now brought about a new condition and a new American resolve to reshape the world. But the approach was hampered by confusion over what exactly a war on terror was or entailed. But because it was a war, it demanded a traditional conventional wartime approach, with big units employed seeking overwhelming decisive victory. It also required extraordinary powers for the government to prosecute the war. Because of its ambiguous nature, the war on terror lent itself to many justifications for redefining combatants, holding detainees, using enhanced interrogation techniques, and granting the president wide authority to employ military forces. The war on terror brought a new dimension to the concept of wartime. There was no defined end. Wartime was permanent, "a wartime without boundaries," considered a condition rather than a defined period understood as temporary and extraordinary (p. 135).
The passions aroused by 9/11 that helped President Bush fuel the idea that America was at war and justified a coalition invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have long since faded. Now continuing with President Barack Obama, America has slipped into what Dudziak describes as a new kind of peacetime. The real war, just as bloody and brutal and dirty as the Good War of 1941-45, goes on. But it is so distant from the lives of most Americans that few, if any, pay any attention to all the extraordinary efforts of government to exert its power and influence over the population. This new condition of detached wartime, she argues, denigrates democratic vigilance and impedes public engagement and civic responsibility.
Dudziak makes a strong case for the importance of defining war in politics and law. America has detached itself from peace because "war" is no longer a useful word. Because there is no term to serve as a proper narrative frame to describe what America is facing, wartime has become permanent, to the denigration of strategy, political leadership, and civic nationalism. This is a book that will engage military professionals, political scientists, and curious students who seek answers to understand where America stands in the twenty-first century.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-usa.
Keith Dickson. Review of Dudziak, Mary L., War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences.
H-USA, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|