In This Review

Humane Warfare
Humane Warfare
By Christopher Coker
Routledge, 2001, 170 pp

This short book -- which takes as its starting point not Clausewitz but the philosophers Lin Yutang, Richard Rorty, Friedrich Hegel, and Judith Shklar -- will probably scare off most readers. That would be a pity, because Coker has an important argument. Stripped of its refinements, his case is that the West has attempted in recent years to wage war for humanitarian purposes, in a humanitarian way, and that effort has largely failed. As he puts it, "humane warfare heralds the military's increasingly ironic alienation from the battlefield and from battle itself." A grimy and cold U.S. special forces soldier or British Special Air Service trooper designating targets in the Tora Bora cave complex would probably find the remark either obscure or offensive, but it has a nub of truth. Coker scorns attempts to make war overly clean or precise, and with considerable erudition he lays out why it is both dangerous and implausible to do so. Yet would any reasonable person find the world a better place if Mullah Muhammad Omar were overthrown by hand-to-hand fighting rather than precision bombing, costing tens of thousands of lives and leaving cities devastated wastelands?