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‘Why Nations Go to War’ by John G. Stoessinger

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Davis Farris Civ 202 November 30, 2009 Why Nations go to War Review Why do notions go to war? What is the reasoning behind their actions? John G. Stoessinger analyzes these questions in his book, Why Nations go to War. Stoessinger believes that to understand the war, you must understand the leaders of the war. When you understand the leaders you understand their actions and when you understand their actions, you have the answer to the question, “Why do nations go to war? ” In this review paper I am going to review each chapter individually, 1-10.

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I will then give a brief summary of the book and what I think as a whole based on my reading. Chapter 1 This chapter is an analyzation of the beginning of WWI and how Austria’s and Serbia’s actions led Europe into this state of war. Stoessinger believed that every leader had a distorted view of themselves. They thought greater of themselves and lesser of their enemies than they really were.

This was one of the major contributing factors to the war. He says: All the participants suffered from greater or lesser distortions in their images of themselves. They tended to see themselves as honorable, virtuous, and pure, and the dversary as diabolical. (page 24) Because they all believed that they were all acting as if they should, in the right manner, they had no problem with their actions. They had no problem assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Austria had no problem punishing Serbia for this assassination. The Kaiser believed that he could do as he wished. He gave Austria the “go ahead” to punishing Serbia. After Austria drafted out their requirements, which they knew couldn’t be met, they would go to war. The Kaiser issued a “blank check” stating that he would back up Austria with any of their actions.

He did not know what Austria would do to punish Serbia. Stoessinger stated, “On July 5 [the Kaiser] took the fateful step of assuring Austria that she could count on Gernamy’s faithful support even if the punitive action she was planning to take against Serbia would bring her into conflict with Russia,” (page 6). This statement and issuing of the “blank check” showed the Kaiser’s “confusion of personal ethics and political judgement,” (page 7). The Kaiser was stupid to have done this. He didn’t take into consideration what Austria could have done, which Austria ended up doing, going to war with Serbia.

Germany backing up Austria in their war effort was definitely against their best interests. Serbia was in alliance with Russia and Austria was in alliance with Germany. If Germany was to go to war with Serbia while helping Austria, Russia would be very mad. This is exactly what happened. Russia was very upset that Germany broke their trust by helping Austria. If the leaders of the different nations thought about their actions, the conflict could have been easily diverted from world war to a conference held between the two original countries, Austria and Serbia. I believe that Stoessinger is correct with his assumptions.

The leaders had no regard for the other nations. They thought very little of them and thought that everything would roll over nicely. Austria believed that they could crush Serbia with Germany’s help and that Russia wouldn’t intervene because Russia was compassionate for the loss of the Archduke and thought punishment was necessary. Austria was wrong. The Kaiser was wrong. Incompetence from the leaders of the countries involved was what caused the war. Chapter 2 The second chapter looks at Hitler’s invasion of Russia. I completely agree with Stoessinger’s idea that:

The key to an understanding of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Russia is more likely found in the realm of psychology than in political science or strategic thought. (page 31) Hitler didn’t care about the conquering of Russia. He feared that they would interfere in the construction of his Third Reich. Stoessinger believed that Hitler wanted an entire destruction of all the slavic nations. I agree with this also. Stoessinger wrote that Hitler addressed his general and announced his plans for the imminent destruction of Poland: I shall give a propagandist cause for starting the war. Never mind whether it is plausible or ot. The victor will not be asked, later on, whether we told the truth or not. In starting and waging war, it is not Right that matters but Victory. Have no pity. Adopt a brutal attitude…. Complete destruction of Poland is the military aim. To be fast is the main thing. Pursue until complete annihilation. The start will be probably ordered Saturday morning. (cited in Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, p. 361) Hitler was not to hold back. He wanted to eliminate the gap between Germany and Russia. With the annihilation of Poland the German and Russian borders met. Hitler killed two birds with one stone with this action.

He destroyed another slavic nation and brought Russia’s and Germany’s borders together. Hitler could easily attack Russia now without having to move through Poland. Hitler didn’t want to take over Russia. He wanted to ravage their cities and towns making it impossible to govern. Hitler wanted no interference with his construction of the Third Reich. Now that I have an understanding of why Hitler was in such a rush to annihilate Russia, I can understand why he wanted the USA to enter the war. If we were hurting financially as well as militarily we could not interfere with Hitler’s attempt to conquer the entire western hemisphere.

We all know that Hitler failed to create his Third Reich and that soon before the end of the war he committed suicide. There were many factors that lead to his suicide. One of which I believe to be his miscalculations of Russia. First, the Russian winter. Second is the misperception of the Russian Soldiers will to fight for their Russian homeland. Stoessinger said, “Stalin immediately perceived that the Russian soldier would not give his life for Communism, the party, or its leader, but that he would fight to the death for his Russian homeland,” (page 56).

This war was influenced by the incompetence of the leaders; specifically Germany’s leader, Hitler. Hitler did not take a lot of things into consideration and because of this he lost the war. Chapter 3 The third chapter takes into account the misperceptions of General Douglass MacArthur during the Korean War. The beginning of the Korean war is unclear to all. Stoessinger has a few theories as do other people. His theories are: 1) Stalin was upset that his advancements in the western front were stopped by NATO and he turned to Asia to begin to expand his territory. 2) Stalin wanted to create problems for China after the rise of Mao Zedong. ) There was a Chinese initiative in North Korea. 4) The North Korean attack of South Korea was caused by internal affairs. Regardless of the theories war was declared and this affected many nations. Stoessinger said: The outbreak of the Korean War may be divided into three separate and distinct phases: the decision to repel the North Korean attack; the decision to cross the thirty-eighth parallel; and MacArthur’s drive to the Yalu River that provoked the Chinese intervention. In my judgement, the first decision was correct, the second dubious, and the third disastrous. (page 86)

I will be reflecting on the third decision: MacArthur’s drive to the Yalu River that provoked the Chinese intervention. During the Korean War the line of battle moved all over the map. The original line that separated North and South Korea was the 38th parallel. This was the pre-war boundary that split the two nations. The UN crossed this boundary to fight back against the communist North Koreans. This move wasn’t wrong but necessary. To show that South Korean’s meant business and that they truly were upset with the attack they had to push North Korea back into their land to prove their point.

I am not in agreement with how far South Korea pushed North Korea. I agree with Stoessinger’s statement that MacArthur’s drive to the Yalu River that provoked the Chinese intervention was disastrous. Misperceptions have been a major cause to the many outcomes of wars fought in the years previous to the Korean War. This is a major cause to the outcome of the Korean War as well. Stoessinger states: Basic to an understanding of MacArthur’s drive to the Yalu was his peculiar misperception of China’s power. Even though he characterized China as a nation lusting for expansion,

MacArthur had a curious contempt for the Chinese soldier…. To be blunt, he did not respect his enemy, and this disrespect was to cost him dearly. (page 82) MacArthur believed that driving to the Yalu with his men would bring China into this conflict and that he could have an easy victory. MacArthur believed he could easily defeat the Chinese and he would be a hero after the battle was through. Because of his misperceptions, MacArthur clearly added on one, if not two more years to the end of the war and added a much greater loss of US soldier lives.

Because of this he is not recognized as a hero and greatly changed the outcome of the war. Chapter 4 This chapter analyzes the Vietnam war and the type of war being fought in the involved nations’ eyes. Once again, Stoessinger states that there is a great misperception that lead to the start of the war and the outcome of the war: In the course of a single generation, five American presidents misperceived reality in Indochina and substituted their own phantoms, first called fear and later called hope. These fears and hopes obscured reality until they produced a nightmare that could not be denied: he longest war in American history and the most divisive conflict domestically since the Civil War. (page 101) America was fighting against communism. As a democratic nation America wanted as little communist nations in the world as possible. The Vietnam war was an attempt by America to create one less communist nation. The war took place in the middle of the Cold War that was being “fought” between Communist Russia and Democratic America. Stoessinger believes that in historical perspective, the great unanswered question about Vietnam will be: Which would have been less costly, and earlier Communist victory or the agony of this war?

I believe that the Vietnam war was a waste of American lives. Knowing what is know today, Vietnam ended up communist anyway. There should have been no reason for the death of nearly 60,000 troops. The misperception by the five presidents of what was actually happening in Vietnam was what caused America to enter the war. Had America taken some time to look deeper into their plans and the current events in Vietnam during the early to mid 50s the Vietnam war may have been avoided all together and not a single American life would have been lost.

Cite this ‘Why Nations Go to War’ by John G. Stoessinger

‘Why Nations Go to War’ by John G. Stoessinger. (2018, Feb 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/why-nations-go-to-war-by-john-g-stoessinger/

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