Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez

Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez

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by Philip Smith
     
 

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Why did America invade Iraq? Why do nations choose to fight certain wars and not others? How do we bring ourselves to believe that the sacrifice of our troops is acceptable? For most, the answers to these questions are tied to struggles for power or resources and the machinations of particular interest groups. Philip Smith argues that this realist answer to the…  See more details below

Overview

Why did America invade Iraq? Why do nations choose to fight certain wars and not others? How do we bring ourselves to believe that the sacrifice of our troops is acceptable? For most, the answers to these questions are tied to struggles for power or resources and the machinations of particular interest groups. Philip Smith argues that this realist answer to the age-old "why war?" question is insufficient. Instead, Smith suggests that every war has its roots in the ways we tell and interpret stories.

Comprised of case studies of the War in Iraq, the Gulf War, and the Suez Crisis, Why War? decodes the cultural logic of the narratives that justify military action. Each nation, Smith argues, makes use of binary codes—good and evil, sacred and profane, rational and irrational, to name a few. These codes, in the hands of political leaders, activists, and the media, are deployed within four different types of narratives—mundane, tragic, romantic, or apocalyptic. With this cultural system, Smith is able to radically recast our "war stories" and show how nations can have vastly different understandings of crises as each identifies the relevant protagonists and antagonists, objects of struggle, and threats and dangers.

The large-scale sacrifice of human lives necessary in modern war, according to Smith, requires an apocalyptic vision of world events. In the case of the War in Iraq, for example, he argues that the United States and Britain replicated a narrative of impending global doom from the Gulf War. But in their apocalyptic account they mistakenly made the now seemingly toothless Saddam Hussein once again a symbol of evil by writing him into the story alongside al Qaeda, resulting in the war's contestation in the United States, Britain, and abroad.

Offering an innovative approach to understanding how major wars are packaged, sold, and understood, Why War? will be applauded by anyone with an interest in military history, political science, cultural studies, and communication.

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Editorial Reviews

Theory and Society

"A theoretically-inspired as well as inspiring book. Smith raises questions that push us to extend the boundaries of conventional sociological thinking."

— Monika Krause

International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

"Why War? deserves the careful attention of diplomatic and cultural historians, political scientists, sociologists, and cultural studies scholars, all of whom may find the volume a thought-provoking assignment for their graduate and advanced undergraduate students."

— Chris Toensing

Wendy Griswold

Why War? is a terrific book: sophisticated, fascinating, passionate, and beautifully written. Contending that the standard ways of understanding wars leave much unexplained, Philip Smith instead applies cultural binaries to conflicts that include the War in Iraq, the Gulf War, and the Suez Crisis. It could hardly be more timely and will go on the same shelves with some of the great works of military theory and history, as well as on the very short list of serious and nonpartisan attempts to understand the Iraq War.”—Wendy Griswold, Northwestern University
 
 
 

 

Barry Schwartz

“That our perceptions of war reflect both its qualities and the experience we bring to it is a venerable theory, but it lacks any formulation of how symbols convert our experience into perceptions. Philip Smith brilliantly fills this gap. He identifies the actual narrative forms, from the ‘romantic’ to the ‘apocalyptic,’ that have organized debate about three wars in four different nations. The result is a fascinating account of culture’s role in mediating the political realities and individual understandings of international conflict. No one, after reading his groundbreaking book, will ever think the same about war.”—Barry Schwartz, University of Georgia

Theory and Society - Monika Krause

"A theoretically-inspired as well as inspiring book. Smith raises questions that push us to extend the boundaries of conventional sociological thinking."
International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies - Chris Toensing

"Why War? deserves the careful attention of diplomatic and cultural historians, political scientists, sociologists, and cultural studies scholars, all of whom may find the volume a thought-provoking assignment for their graduate and advanced undergraduate students."

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226763910
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
03/15/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
264
File size:
416 KB

Meet the Author

Philip Smith is assistant professor of sociology at Yale University. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including the widely praised Cultural Theory: An Introduction.

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Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pulled Nico in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in and sets my bag on the bunk.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leves.