What constitutes justifiable warfare—and how should the overall impact of conflicts be evaluated? With the United States being so closely associated with Israel’s war, is it possible to still envision America as a “force for good” in the world? One of America’s leading leftist intellectuals, Samuel Moyn, joins us to debate these questions and much more. Sam is the Chancellor Kent Professor of History at Yale University and the author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War and most recently Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.
Amid the ongoing war in Gaza, the conversation dives into the potential for humane wars and whether progress, even in war, is possible. While Sam acknowledges that the conduct of war has become more “targeted” and “proportional,” he argues that relatively more humane wars can distract us from more ultimate questions of whether wars are just or moral in the first place. The questions at hand sharply divide Sam,and in this charged conversation. In the post-9/11 era, the U.S. has pioneered a new way of waging war, with lawyers present at various levels of military decisions. But what has resulted is a world where wars are endless in part because they are less lethal. Is this “progress” or is it something more sinister?
In the full episode (for paying subscribers only), the three clash over moral warfare in the real world, including whether American hegemony has prevented large-scale conflicts and can continue to do so, including between China and Taiwan. Has American dominance been good for the world, on balance? Yes, less people die and there may be less major wars, but Sam argues that this is an unacceptably minimalist standard for judging progress. What, then, is the alternative? The conversation ends with Sam’s optimistic vision for a narrative of progress that focuses on pivoting the U.S. in a leftward direction that avoids repeating the mistakes of an overly interventionist era.
Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, by Samuel Moyn (Amazon).
Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times, by Samuel Moyn (Amazon).
Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb, by James M. Scott (Amazon).
The Hamid-Moyn cage match on whether America is a force for good in the world, hosted by Intelligence Squared (YouTube).
“The Moral Dilemmas of Total War,” by Tom Barson (Wisdom of Crowds).
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