Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Griffin, Wartime, and the Wars that Matter

Mary L. Dudziak

Thank you to Stephen Griffin for his interesting post about my book War Time. One thing Stephen and I agree on, and that informs his current work, is that seriously taking up diplomatic history is essential to understanding the way war powers and the national security state develop in the 20th Century.

As it happens, I am rushing off to the diplomatic historians' annual meeting, so I have time only for a short note. At the opening state-of-the-field plenary panel on Thursday evening, I plan to discuss the ways that foreign affairs history and legal studies need each other. In developing my remarks, I have had the contributions in Griffin's work in mind.

While there is much we agree on, let me highlight an important point of disagreement. Griffin argues that:
Dudziak determinedly ignores the issue of the relative significance of America’s various and very different twentieth century military conflicts to our post-9/11 reality. One plausible way to distinguish among America’s wars, for example, is to take into consideration the importance of the foreign policy objectives pursued, the costs incurred, both quantitative and qualitative, and, of course, casualties.
This point matters to Griffin because distinguishing between big military conflicts and smaller ones is an essential element of his work. It is these larger wars, he argues, that are the ones constitutional scholars should be concerned about, and where democratic constraint is most important.  I don't dispute the importance of democratic constraint in the decision to engage in a large-scale war.  In my Balkinization post Another way to think about War Powers: Why the Small Wars Matter I responded to Griffin this way:
historian Marilyn Young argues that the small wars have played an important role in this normalization of the use of force, and especially the insulation of the American people from American war politics.  In the many American military interventions of the Cold War, she argues, post–World War II administrations “had to create a public tolerance for war as normal rather than aberrational, so normal that after a while only those who were actively engaged in fighting it—and their families—noticed it was being fought at all.” 

This consciously facilitated insulation of the American people from American wars, I argue, has helped to atrophy political restraints on the war powers.  And so the "real" wars that have impacted the workings of our constitutional order include the small wars and the "forgotten wars" that lead us to Bacevich's critique, that "war has become a normal condition, something that the great majority of Americans accept without complaint."
For more on American power in the context of on-going warfare, this review by war correspondent Peter Maass is especially illuminating.

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