War and Peace in East Asia, Lecture 2

So, sure, I didn’t honor this promise on (pre-APSA and, I’d argue, understandably distracted) syllabus day, but from today’s lecture forward I’m going to use this series of lecture-related posts to either revisit or expand on ideas from class; I won’t be summarizing or re-hashing things, just hitting on points that remain in my head once class ends.

Today, we covered the value of a political approach to understanding war; that is, one that allows us to explain both war—and, importantly, peace—as conscious political decisions, not merely the playtime whims of evil or defective people and governments. Inevitably, that’s hard at first. We recoil at the notion that something on the order of a world war, for example, could be the result of anything that we, as individuals, can understand or, horror of horrors, identify with. But if we understand war as political, then we can also understand the incentives that produce it—and I’d argue that there’s plenty of value in that, as opposed to using superstition, moralizing, or conventional wisdom, lest we continue relying on the analytical equivalent of, you know, treating super pneumonia with snakes and leeches:

We also talked about international orders, anarchical and hierarchical, and how the 20th Century is almost like a working out of the emergence of the former from the latter in East Asia—but I’ll be able to cover that in this space better as the semester progresses. Next session, though, we leave geography behind and start addressing the modern theory of war.

Prepare yourselves.