Contrary to its challenging title, Rethinking War and Peace has little that is new or radical to offer. It is a reasonable and readable statement of the case for war's abolition through active participation in peaceful alternatives, and anyone wholly new to the subject might find it a useful introduction. Readers of Peace News, on the other hand, will generally find themselves being told things they already know.
While there are many grounds for pessimism in the peace movement, this book makes a virtue of finding them even in places where they do not exist. A substantial chapter (amounting to a quarter of the book) is dedicated to “the myth of war's necessity, legitimacy and power for good” (p18). This myth is based on three assumptions; that leaders go to war for just causes; that they do so after exhausting all alternatives; and that wars achieve “the good goals claimed as their causes” (p19).
It is necessary to tackle this myth because “it is hardly ever questioned at a fundamental level” (p19). Really? The present war in Iraq was prefaced by mass demonstrations in Britain, there has been a constant stream of criticism emanating from various areas of the media, and the government has been forced to set up two enquiries to defend its position against widespread scepticism. While it is true that a lot of the opposition has been to this particular war rather than to war as such, subscription to the myth seems far less universal than the book suggests.
The book is more successful when it addresses the issue of what can be done, although I fear there is little to learn from a consideration of some of the “what ifs” of history because the answer is that we will never know. The list of tasks to be undertaken by those opposed to war extends to 38 items “and doubtless could have been longer” (p157). Many readers of Peace News will equally doubtless find that they are already tackling at least some of them.
I do not wish to decry the book, because it says some important and valuable things, but you should only buy it if you have a belligerent friend you can persuade to read it.