How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything
The premise of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon is "what happens when the distinctions between war and peace no longer exist?" In her introduction, she writes on page 9:
We modern Americans.... think of "war" as a distinct and separate sphere, one that shouldn't intrude into the everyday world of offices shopping malls, schools, and soccer games, and we relegate war to the military, a distinct social institution that we simultaneously lionize and ignore. For the most part, we prefer to believe that both war and the military can be kept in tidy little boxes: war, we like to think, is an easily recognizable exception to the normal state of affairs, and the military an institution that can be easily, if tautologically, defined by its specialized, war-related functions.
We're wrong on both counts.
She spends the rest of the book delving into how the military has expanded, and the legal challenges presented by the "war on terror" from Guantanamo Bay prison to targeted killings via drone strokes. (For example, writing about Osama bin Laden's driver: was he "an enemy combatant or a civilian? If he was a civilian, did he take a 'direct part' in 'hostilities'? All the time? Only while driving? Only while driving with explosives in the trunk... " etc. (197)) Brooks is a law professor for Georgetown University and worked at the Pentagon as an advisor to the undersecretary of defense for policy. It's partly a memoir, and super readable -- Brooks breaks everything down, including mysteries of the Pentagon, into a highly readable and fast-paced book. She dives into a bit of how she believes the military should restructure, and what roles civilians should play; her ideas seem a bit far-fetched, but maybe plausible? Who knows. The book is divided into five parts: Tremors, The New American Way of War, How We Got Here, Counting the Costs, and Managing War's Paradoxes. One more quote (sorry, I can't resist) from the end (page 345)
Regardless, trying to jam war back into its old box rests on a faulty assumption about the world we live in. Messy forms of conflict have always been a part of human reality, and most likely always will be. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the best route to upholding human rights and the rule of law lies in accepting that some degree of global violence, conflict, and coercion is likely to remain the norm, not the exception. The best route to upholding human rights and the rule of law lies in recognizing that war and peace are not binary opposites, but lie along a continuum.
As a student who studies history, I enjoyed when she went into the history of the state, or of modern warfare; but I can understand someone reading this as a more present (and future-looking) policy read would find these bits to drag. However, it was filled with stories of her own experiences and I think it was an enlightening read on the current state of the military, the reason why it has grown so much following September 11, 2001, and an insightful argument into how America should move forward. But truly, I can't recommend this book enough. Rating: ★★★★★