Webb on War

Spencer Ackerman takes to the pages of the Washington Independent to do a book report on Jim Webb’s 1991 novel Something to Die For, which Spencer believes offers “a window into Webb’s views on war.”

The upshot:

War is not one tool of national strategy among many — it is the most awful of human experiences. It is not to be used without a thorough understanding of and appreciation for its objectives, their importance and their consequences. And it is never to be undertaken half-way. If anything, Webb resembles Gen. Colin L. Powell and the generation of Vietnam veterans who ascended to the Pentagon under Reagan defense secretary Caspar Weinberger. (Unsurprisingly, perhaps, because he was one of them.)

But interestingly, Webb is agnostic in the novel about what his conception of the national interest is — offering instead what it isn’t. He offers guidelines for when and how to wage war, but, perhaps wisely for a novel, prefers to give a formula rather than solve a problem.

This is interesting (to me, anyway) on two levels. First, I’m about a third of the way through Something to Die For, which I bought off a remainders rack circa 1992 but never got around to reading, and just can’t force myself to finish given its general lack of goodness as a novel.

Second, I’m also about a third of the way through Matt Yglesias’ new book, Heads in the Sand, which I’m finding much better than Webb’s. I’ll write a more thorough review of it when I’m done but, suffice it to say, pretty much nobody actually has a parsimonious, consistent definition of what “the national interest” is vis-a-vis being worth going to war.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. tom p says:

    “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    First off, EVERY thing is in the national interest (except of course, my ex mother in-laws bunions) The question is, “At what point is it worth spending somebody else’s life, to spare discomfort in one’s own?”

    If we are going to war, we should all bear the cost. Then, and only then, can we come to a true consensus on what is in the “national interest”