Appeasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War

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Appeasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War

By Jonathan Kirshner
Princeton University Press, 2007
248 pp. $24.95
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Scholars have long debated the role of bankers and businesspeople in matters of war and peace. Some claim that states frequently go to war in search of markets and profits, whereas others see economic interests as the great constituency for peace. In this richly historical and wonderfully written book, Kirshner provides the definitive account of the policy preferences of the financial community in countries on the brink of hostilities. He finds that the financial sector -- banks, insurance companies, investment groups, exchange traders -- has an almost universal aversion to war, consistently favoring cautious national security strategies. This opposition to armed conflict is not ideological or driven by attitudes toward particular international controversies. Rather, it is the economic consequences of war -- and the palpable costs of macroeconomic instability -- that generate this orientation. Kirshner uses case studies of the Spanish-American War, interwar Japan and France, and the United States during the Cold War and draws on copious primary sources. He finds that even during the Korean War, American financiers thought that "inflation posed a greater threat to America than did Stalin." Interestingly, the study does not see a similar aversion to war on the part of international business and trading interests.