Why Americans Choose War

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From the American Revolution to the end of World War II, the United States spent 19 years at war against other nations. But since 1950, it has spent 22 years and counting. Noted scholar Richard E. Rubenstein explores the rhetoric that sells war to the American public and the underlying cultural and social factors that make it so effective. In Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War, he offers new ways to think about issues of war and peace.


Richard E. Rubenstein

Comments [54]

Don S

I can only wish that our chosen leaders thought more about the reasons that we engage in conflicts.....that being said, on a day where we honor our veterans, the views of this guest are most inappropriate.

Nov. 12 2010 12:48 PM
ebwally from Brooklyn

"Peace Economy" - I can't stop thinking about it. Thanks for today's provocative discussion. With thinkers like this maybe we can come up with a plan for a safe and viable suicide of the economy that we have been suffering from for so long.

Nov. 11 2010 06:22 PM
Robert from Manhattan

I thought that this was a sensible and interesting discussion which posed some relevant questions. It is a pity that some of the comments were not also more thoughtful.
It is certainly germane at any time to ask why a nation went to war and whether the reasons were justifiable. We are, don't forget, spending other peoples' blood on both sides.
A degree of national introspection, however unwelcome that may sound would also be healthy. In any dispute there is seldom any one side which has no share of the responsibility at all.
Whether a liberal or a conservative, a civil discussion of the issues can only embellish the human race.

Nov. 11 2010 04:45 PM
John from office

Not antio anything, I love Israel, they are strong Jews, who don't let thenselves be killed like sheep. American liberal Jews would.

Nov. 11 2010 01:20 PM
dboy from nyc


Thanks for the reading suggestion!

Nov. 11 2010 01:19 PM
@ Peter K

But let's not forget how quickly Obama backed down earlier this year when he first criticized Israel's violating the moratorium on new settlements on the West Bank. He was on TV apologizing the very next morning. He knows how much power resides in Jewish senators and representatives. It's not anti-Semitic to suggest that Israel has a powerful lobby in congress.

Nov. 11 2010 01:15 PM
dboy from nyc

This was a great episode - thanks very much!

Nov. 11 2010 01:11 PM
Peter K

John From Office: I am truly offended by your anti-Semitic remarks. To say there is no coverage of Israel’s actions on NPR or WNYC is a bald-faced lie. Just this morning, for example, we heard news stories about President Obama criticizing Israel’s decision to build new settlements. Come on.

What's more, I feel the tone of your comments is a mere inch away from “Jews control the media”, as if that had anything to do with the validity (or not) of today’s discussion. Please stop the ad hominem attacks -- they are always bad form online.

Nov. 11 2010 01:10 PM

Leonard - thank you for having this very important discussion. Please have more push button topics. Look at your listener input.

Nov. 11 2010 01:08 PM
dboy from nyc

John from office

"How do you conflict resolute with Hitler, or Osama?? This is a fool."

If going after bi Laden is imperative, how do you justify 4,287 dead U.S. service persons, 30,182 wounded U.S. service persons and over 100,000 innocent Iraqi casualties to avenge the death of 3121 Americans on 9/11??? This, in a country that never had anything to do with 9/11 or EVER had Osama bin Laden!

This is a discussion about the mindless justification of unjustifiable wars.

A little bit more thought might prevent these unthinkable atrocities.

Shame on all of us for our mindless unquestioning!

Nov. 11 2010 01:03 PM
Phoebe from NJ

Excellent discussion, and very appropriate for Veterans Day.

Nov. 11 2010 01:02 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ john from office

No, queens, middle aged and a former paralegal so I'm quite familiar with how "smart" you have to be pass the bar in NYC LOL ... please do me a favor and let me know which Ivy you attended so I can be sure to keep my kids away - was it Brown? Has to be Brown or you've got to be a legacy, just like BUSH II, another Ivy grad with an MBA and a basement IQ.

Nov. 11 2010 01:02 PM
Peg from rural NY

To jgarbuz from Queens - studies have shown that most Americans do not listen to liberal media. The majority (over 75%) listen to conservative media. Also most of the major media outlets are owned by conservatives. Obviously you've swallowed the "media liberal bias" hoax along with the rest of the untruths fed to the American public. Is a small liberal/progressive voice such a threat? At least you want to listen. Thank you for sharing your views on this very important topic.

Nov. 11 2010 12:54 PM
John from office

Writing fast, because at work so I make mistakes..

Mr. Bad, Ivy league school, wall street address, where are you, hipster in BK?

Nov. 11 2010 12:54 PM
Sandra from Astoria

Ethan, they can get that jingoistic nonsense anywhere else today. This was an excellent, uncommon discussion.

John, you want me to believe you have a master's degree when you can barely write a sentence coherently? Classic.

Nov. 11 2010 12:47 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ john from office

No doubt a proud University of phoenix grad - do you think anyone is really impressed by a law degree? Where is it from Carbozo or Touro? Law school is where liberal arts bums go when they're ready to admit failure and chase the brass ring - doesn't leave much time for thinking does it?

Nov. 11 2010 12:47 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Opal from NYC

Opal, you just made that up - it's a total fantasy and essentially recapitulated propaganda. The Taliban are an ISI (Pakistan intelligence) creation - the money, training arms and camps were all sponsored by the ISI. The few foreign fighters left in Afghanistan after the russian pullout were the core of what the FBI called "Al Qaeeda" on order to bring a criminal action but they never self identified as such until the US gave them the recognition. They did operate in Afghanistan for a time, merely out of convenience but they have since decamped to the tribal areas of Pakistan and are quite safe, secure and undisturbed there and will remain so. Al Qaeeda is largely a fictional construct, a shorthand for any Islamic terrorists with no differentiation in US policy/media coverage in order to make "easier" for the typical deep thinking US consumer to grasp.

Nov. 11 2010 12:43 PM
Mark Brown from

Ha Ha Ha.

and I quote, the guest says 're-engineer our country for peace' (because the military is full of our children)
and the Military industrial complex.

Go see my other blog about rescuing the country at

I suggest:

a) a military/non military type mandatory education/training/service corp for after HS.

b) a huge jobs program that will re-construct the country's infrastructure and give careers to all who want to learn..

go vist MY blog for more

Nov. 11 2010 12:43 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To John from Office..

The Hasmonean Jewish state was recognized by the Roman Senate around 139 BC and a treaty of alliance was enacted. But in 135 AD, some 280 years later, the same Roman empire totally eradicated it, sending the Jewish people into an exile lasting over 1800 years.

Nov. 11 2010 12:41 PM
john from office

Mr. Bad, Masters in American History and Law Degree, just not a fool. Not prepared to walk into the gas chamber with the jews.

Nov. 11 2010 12:40 PM

If war is part of the American "way of life", then it's clear how going to war -- any war -- is 'defending' the American way of life.

Americans derive some kind of pleasure from war -- a national psychosis.

Check out Christopher Hedges's "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."

Nov. 11 2010 12:38 PM
Ahmed from NYC


This is probably the best show I've ever heard on your program!!! Totally amazing. Please have more of this type of discussion. This type of rational questioning and discussion is never found in the mainstream media.

Thank you!

Nov. 11 2010 12:38 PM
John from office

How do you conflict resolute with Hitler, or Osama?? This is a fool.

Nov. 11 2010 12:37 PM
ethan from nyc

i find it slightly offensive that you (leonard) chose to have this guest on today. on any other day of the year, i would expect it, and i usually enjoy your show. however i find it in bad taste to have this guest scheduled for veterans day.

the last guest was talking about ptsd and our soldiers coming home with problems. now those same soldiers, if they turn on wnyc today, get to hear how, in your opinion and that of your guest, our soldiers have been wasting their lives because of:
1. pointless ("unjustified") wars
2. an ungrateful public.

maybe you could have invited a guest who could talk about the sacrifices and heroism of our servicemen and women for today's show.

Nov. 11 2010 12:37 PM

What exactly is "Our way of Life". Americans do not agree about this.

Nov. 11 2010 12:35 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ John from offfice

Yes John, we would be enslaved by the Taliban or as the worlds biggest petrol consumer would be left high and dry without fuel. Dear god, you are a simpleton sir, beyond even my ability to imagine without placing you in the opening scene of 2001 - do you get your news/views from comic books or fox news exclusively.

Nov. 11 2010 12:35 PM
Amy from Manhattan

The clip I remember from after Iraq invaded Kuwait was the one in which Bush said Iraq had attacked its "trusting & much smaller neighbor." The trusting neighbor that was, as Richard Rubenstein pointed out, was drilling on a slant under the border into oil deposits inside Iraq.

Nov. 11 2010 12:33 PM
Opal from NYC

I marached against the Vietnam War, I protested the Iraq War. But our present situation is different. It's more like WWII. We are not fighting the Afghanis, we are fighting the Taliban and al Qaeeda.
In 1989, when the USSR was defeated in Afghanistan with the help of the US, the US left leaving a destitute people. Into this vacuum, the Taliban took over and al Qaeda festered. It is from here that the 9/11 attack took place. Al Qaeda continues to try to attack through various means--the Time Sq.unsuccessful car bomb, dangerous letters sent through the mail, etc. Unfortunately this enemy is different from the Axis war and more dangerous-they can't be located on a map.
If we leave Afghanistan now, the same thing could easily happen as did after 1989.

Nov. 11 2010 12:33 PM

Ask this fool why Saddam did not withdraw from Kuwait in the FIVE MONTHS before the coalition liberated Kuwait.

Ask him if he thinks all the Arab nations.who were in the coalition were evil like the US.

Nov. 11 2010 12:33 PM
Mark Brown from

Interesting about the Bush 1/Bush 2 wars.

I like to call this the "Bush -- 100 years war"
it starts in 1990, continues today in Iraq, and even Afganistan...

AND will last a whole lot longer!!!!

Nov. 11 2010 12:30 PM
dboy from nyc

As cliche as it is every time it's said, there are no winners in war.

The new HBO documentary, Wartorn 1861- 2010 which is airing tonight, is a good example.

This film does not even describe the innocent victims in the invaded country that no one hears about.

Americans need to understand that war is more serious than a spectator sport.

The mother of a veteran can tell you just how serious.

Nov. 11 2010 12:29 PM
john from office

Len, apply your standards to Israel.

Nov. 11 2010 12:28 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To John from Office

Make that LIBERAL JEWS, John, LIBERAL JEWS. We do NOT all think alike, believe it or not. However, much of the media is dominated by left-leaning liberals. And they are not all that pro-Israel either.

Nov. 11 2010 12:28 PM

Richard Rubenstein must be one of the few people remaining who remember April Glaspie. The New York Times, CNN, NPR and others have consigned her and those events to the American memory hole. Those of us who mention her today and who are not academics are invariably condemned as fringe left-wingers.

Nov. 11 2010 12:27 PM
Mark Brown from

Interesting about the Bush 1/Bush 2 wars.

I like to call this the "Bush -- 100 years war"
it starts in 1990, continues today in Iraq, and even Afganistan...

AND will last a whole lot longer!!!!

Nov. 11 2010 12:27 PM
John from offfice

We would be enslaved or living without fuel, if this intellectual and people like Len ruled us. Wars are fought, and rightly so for resources. We cannot exist without them. Also, what do you do with people who want to kill you, try to understand them??.

Nov. 11 2010 12:27 PM
allen Cohen from New York

Iraq controls 1/6th of the worlds oll supply
we know our invasion was primarily designed to insure our long term corperate access to this recource...

I think most americans know that since this war our doctrine is that we are entitled to use force when it is to preserve our perceived "national interests".

and this has set an attrotious new standard
world wide...

I'd say more than anything else it defines our "new worlld order"

and is used similarly by russia isreal china...
and means that international law
has become a total joke

as Obama said in his nobel acceptance speech he will try to observe it... but the US president can not be expected to be bound to it.

Nov. 11 2010 12:26 PM
Agreeing with John

Israel has committed and permitted some serious atrocities. Anyone with illusions about Israel's tactics should check out Thomas L. Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalmen". No one can seriously dispute what he uncovered. The man won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting.

Nov. 11 2010 12:26 PM
Scott from Brooklyn

Bravo for having the Nerve to discuss something like this on a day when so much of our discussion about the Armed Forces is symbolic pomp and circumstance.

Nov. 11 2010 12:24 PM
Henry from Katonah

Since the early 1970s , we have had all volunteer armed forces. Probably that explains how wars with low public approval can continue.
Charlie Rangel suggested if we were serious about preventing unwise wars, we would revive the draft. Obviously that idea did not go far, in fact it did not even get a serious public discussion.

Nov. 11 2010 12:24 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

I was surprised to learn recently that the Ancient Romans only fought wars that were in their view defensive. Roman leaders went through the same elaborate ruses to argue to their public that war was needed. Could the professor comment on the long history of the phenomena?

Nov. 11 2010 12:24 PM
Hugh Sansom

Richard Rubenstein echoes what has been said by many -- outside the United States and others here who are accustomed to be threatened, attacked and worse for views that _only_ call for a degree of self-reflection by Americans: Edward Said, Tony Judt, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Robert Fisk, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali, Richard Falk, Juan Cole, Naomi Klein, and on and on.

So tolerant is the United States that universities where some of the above mentioned and others worked or still work made threats about tenure. The media excoriated them. Members of Congress and pundits charged anti-Americanism. And brave, anonymous individuals leveled death threats.

Quite a democracy we have going.

Nov. 11 2010 12:23 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

FINALLY! A guest with a critical, intelligent viewpoint on US policy and the central theme of US History ... Could the guest please posit his thoughts as to why this rational, fact based perspective is not considered "mainstream"?

Nov. 11 2010 12:22 PM

Can you ask about the role of the military-industrial complex being a huge part of the economy on the large increase in war-making by the US since WWII ?

Nov. 11 2010 12:22 PM

I completely agree that we first have to examine our own actions before attempting to explain 'why bad things happen' to us.

Nov. 11 2010 12:22 PM
Loreen from Bloomfield

I understand why there was little outcry against the wars in 2001, but why is there virtually no outcry *today*? The American public seems to have completely forgotten that we're still fighting over there; you barely see a headline about it anymore.

I think what we learn from this is that the public attention span -- even in a crisis -- is about 15 minutes, and a determined administration can simply forge ahead with its own designs with total assurance that the clamor will just evaporate.

Nov. 11 2010 12:21 PM
John from Office

Why do Jews, like Len, Brian and this guest so critical of the US and our actions in the world, but never Israel. They are glorious heros.

Nov. 11 2010 12:21 PM

It is so comforting to hear a sane discussion of this painful topic on Veterans' Day.

Nov. 11 2010 12:20 PM
Leah from Brook

In case the page starts getting inundated with negative responses to Dr. Rubenstein's wise calls for American self-reflection, I wanted to emphasize how essential his message is and thank him for his unassuming bravery in speaking it.

Nov. 11 2010 12:19 PM
Ed from Larchmont

War is a punishment for sin.

We've killed many children in this country, external war is an unavoidable consequence.

There is no hope for civilization until abortion is eliminated. Mother Teresa.

Nov. 11 2010 12:18 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The US is an empire ,and has been since we broke out of the original 13 colonies/states in the late 18th/early 19th century. We called ourselves an "empire of Liberty." We fought and defeated the native "indian" nations to expand our territory. We fought the British up in Canada in an attempt to grab more terrority. We took half of what was then Mexico. We took Hawaii without firing a shot. The Phillippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Pacific islands from the Spaniards. And as we grew in size and power, it was inevitable that we would replace the British and French empires to police the world in our own interest. We have to patrol the trade routes in the oceans. We have to guard the security of the oil fields that fuel our economy. WE are the reluctant marshall, who had to take the badge, like it or not, because no one else would or could do the job. Maybe China or India or someone else will take it over some day, but till then there is no one else most of the world trusts to do the job that SOMEBODY has to do it!

Nov. 11 2010 12:17 PM

Most Americans have never been civilians in war zones. Do we overglorify our military or ignore it because of this?

Nov. 11 2010 12:17 PM

Leonard--you're awesome. Thank you so much for this topic.

Nov. 11 2010 12:13 PM
Beverley K. from Riverdale

It amazes me that Americans still talk about "winning" and "losing" a war like winning or losing a football game. I hope we're coming to realize how unbelievably complex these conflicts are, and how they have the potential to drag on for generations.

Nov. 11 2010 12:13 PM

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