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New book: Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars

Throughout its history, the United States of America has frequently been engaged in military warfare, against “foes, foreign and domestic.” Some of these conflicts have been uncontested victories, with the opponents signing formal peace treaties. Others have been mere cessations of hostilities or ceasefires, without any formal declaration of the end of the war itself. Some of the conflicts, like old soldiers, just faded away.

Colonel Matthew Moten, the deputy chairman of the history department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has assembled and edited fifteen essays by leading American historians regarding various periods in the country’s history as war turned to peace. This collection offers keen insight, drawn upon primary sources and interpreted through the lens of hindsight and the consequences of decisions made during and after each war’s conclusion.

Photo by Scott Mingus, Gettysburg National Military Park, Sept. 2011

Moten’s anthology, Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars (Free Press, 2012), examines the major conflicts that America has been involved in, beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing into the 21st century. Moten takes the readers back to why the wars started and what the original military and political objectives were, and then compares the goals to the final outcomes. He cautions that “in the time between war and peace it is easy to lose sight of the objectives for which one embarked upon war in the first place.”

The individual writers share a common theme of delineating these reasons for conflict, defining how the objectives shifted as the war progressed, and then examining the various methods to conclude the fighting and restore peace. They shine the light of consequences and eventual outcomes on the decisions made as the wars wound down to interpret the effectiveness of the peace process.

Included in the anthology is a solid essay entitled “The Civil War: A New Definition of Victory” by long-time historian and author Joseph T. Glatthaar. He begins with Abraham Lincoln’s communications with General U. S. Grant to end the war in the Eastern Theater and the president’s desire to “see the thing pressed” on to victory. Glatthaar then takes the reader back to the 1850s and the politics and social upheaval which culminated in the Civil War and examines Lincoln’s objectives and military approach when he took office and how they shifted as the war began and then dragged on for four years.

He then gives an overview of Reconstruction and how Congress and various presidents dealt with a conquered South, often in sharp contrast to the assassinated Lincoln’s stated aims. He examines the demilitarization of America following the war and the shift to a more professional army.

Glatthaar opines, “For the army postwar experiences were both burdensome and a disguised blessing. Had Lincoln lived, the transition from war to peace and Reconstruction policies would most surely have been smoother. Racial prejudiceamong Southern whites and many army personnel assured difficult times for African Americans in the postwar world and increasing danger and headaches for occupation forces, but Lincoln’s standing as a victorious commander in chief and his exceptionally sound judgement suggest that he would have managed matters better than the narrow, rigid [Andrew] Johnson.”

Similar essays by other noted historians cover all of America’s major wars, including the recently concluded affair in Iraq. In that final controversial chapter, Professor Andrew J. Bachevich, a graduate of West Point and Princeton, argues that “Operation Desert Storm advanced the Islamic cause. This became its principal legacy.” In his opinion, the recent refusal by various administrations to “allow the people of the Islamic world to determine their own fate in their own war” has undermined any transition between war and peace. “Flawed twenty years ago, that approach to military strategy remains no less flawed today.”

All told, the fifteen essays assembled by Colonel Moten are thought provoking and interesting. They provide a range of thinking and should stir up debate. This is a book which should be a must read for military buffs.

Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars

New York: Free Press (an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.), 2012

Hardback and trade paperback, 384 and 371 pages respectively, indexed, annotated, selected maps

ISBN # 978-1-4391-9462-1 (paperback version)

The new book is available from Simon & Schuster’s website as well as from amazon.com and other leading retailers, both on the Internet and in traditional “brick and mortar” establishments.

The McKinley Memorial at Antietam National Military Park