... smart and provocative ... The question of what constitutes 'necessary' cuts to the heart of whether war can ever be abolished — a question that reverberates through this book, even if Moyn is too searching a thinker to proclaim that he has it definitively figured out.
... a continuation of Moyn’s decade-long critique of human rights and the liberal ideology that undergirds them. But, unlike his earlier books, Humane expresses a more avowed anti-imperialism, looking specifically at the misplaced idealism used to justify American Empire to the nation’s elites ... Moyn’s wide reading in North Atlantic philosophy, legal theory, and criticism enables him to reconstruct a centuries-old debate that most scholars have downplayed or ignored ... Moyn’s narrow focus on the law sometimes leads him to mischaracterize parts of his story ... implies that the arguments of humane war’s advocates were the primary reason the United States adopted the tactics of humane war. But such arguments found purchase only when other, more causally important transformations took place—when the advent of new technologies, domestic coalitions, and state institutions encouraged and enabled the United States to dominate the world through light-footprint and 'precision' wars. Furthermore, several countries, including Azerbaijan, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, have used drones without making any pretense of practicing humane war, which suggests that other factors besides the intellectual are driving the use of this especially effective technology ... Intellectually, Moyn’s criticisms of humane war are spot-on. But I can’t help but conclude that his focus on humane war is somewhat behind the times. Arguments for humane war no longer occupy the center of political debate as they did in the Bush and Obama years; Trump’s vulgarities have given the lie to the idea that the United States is an exceptional nation able to ethically govern the world. The recently elected Joe Biden barely mentioned law, and said nothing about humane conflict, in his February speech addressing U.S. foreign policy. Critiques of humane war simply do not speak to the new era of great power competition, which pits the United States and its allies against China, Russia, and other authoritarian powers. Nor do they directly address the major, and consistent, reasons the United States acts in the world as it does: the desire and ability to dominate others ... affirms that observers must focus less on how war is fought and more on whether it is fought. The concern with humane war paved the way for the more ambitious demands anti-imperialists are making today. For the first time in almost a century, we can dare to imagine peace.
Moyn’s argument goes beyond the expected humanitarian critique—the Tolstoyan concern that mannerly military action could promote further suffering ... Moyn’s objective of challenging the legitimacy of American power leads to some unusual choices of villains: the modern-day targets of his book are not the warmongers but the lawyers and the humanitarians who have opposed the violation of civil and human rights ... Must one choose between being against torture and being against war? Moyn suggests that opposing war crimes blinds us to the crime of war. If this is an empirical claim, it’s contradicted by the facts ... The difficulty with his 'heighten the contradictions' approach is that contradictions can stay heightened indefinitely ... Moyn’s analysis is further hampered by a preoccupation with legalism; he largely neglects the fact that much military restraint is attributable less to law than to technology ... Moyn’s maximalism makes these distinctions irrelevant: if war can’t be abolished, he suggests, any attempt to make it more humane is meaningless or worse. In his desire for a better world, one liberated from American global power, he comes close to licensing carnage.
One development that was essential to this evolution of modern, interminable conflict was the creation of a legal framework that made the 'war on terror' defensible ... Moyn is at his best when describing how the Obama administration struggled to come up with a more robust framework ... Being a historian, Moyn spends a good deal of time describing the characters, conflicts and conventions that created the momentum for the peace movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. It is a complicated story that would benefit from fewer actors and tangents ... This is, nonetheless, an important book, as it points out that Americans have made a moral choice to prioritize humane war, not a peaceful globe.
Readers will learn much about the views of post–World War II legal influencers, such as Telford Taylor, Richard Falk, and John Yoo, and may be surprised by the continuity of evolving policies and arguments on hostilities during the administrations of George H. W. Bush through Donald Trump ... This complex, idea-filled tome may contradict some general readers’ assumptions; its subtle argumentation will appeal to contemporary political historians, students of international law, post–Cold War military analysts, and social justice advocates. These are all good reasons to study it.
[Moyn] he takes the reader on an excruciating journey, in incisive, meticulous and elegant prose, about the modern history of making war more legal, and in effect sanitizing it so that it can continue forever ... Moyn puts the whole issue in a tough, pragmatic perspective ... The yearning to avoid war and yet make it more humane will therefore continue, rendering Moyn’s book timeless.
The author locates some of origins of the comparatively sanitized wars of the present in abolitionist and pacifist movements of the 19th century, although more interesting are the seeming contradictions he identifies in writers such as Carl von Clausewitz ... Humane war may seem an oxymoron, but Moyn’s book will be of interest to war fighters and peacemakers alike.
... provocative ... Unfortunately, [Moyn] doesn’t fully wrestle with the differences between wars of aggression and those of self-defense, which somewhat undermines his case. The result is a stimulating yet inconclusive rethink of what it means to regulate war.