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Scott A. Silverstone
3 Questions with Scott A. Silverstone
From Hitler's Germany to Saddam's Iraq: The Enduring False Promise of Preventative War
Scott Silverstone's book boldly challenges conventional wisdom about the value of preventive war, beginning with the rise of Hitler’s Germany through the invasion of Iraq. Silverstone argues that the Rhineland crisis leading up to WWII presents a critical case for studying power shifts among states—and the preventive war temptation that results.
In this Q&A, we asked Scott 3 questions for our readers to get a glimpse behind the scenes.
1) Why did you write the book and what do you hope readers take away from it?
I've nurtured an obsession with the strategic and ethical dimensions of preventive war since the run up to the Iraq War in 2003, and the debate that flared in the mid-2000s, over whether preventive attack against Iran's nuclear infrastructure was a wise strategy to neutralize this potential threat. Historically, preventive war has been a common strategy for states facing a rival that’s growing in military power, a situation that often generates the temptation to deliver a physical blow against the rival today in order to avoid a more dangerous future. There are pockets of strong support for preventive war in the United States, so drawing from 2,500 years of history, my goal is to warn against the false promise that attacking rising threats will solve the security problems that haunt our visions of the future. The book showcases a paradoxical outcome that has plagued preventive war strategies for millennia, in which operational military success against rising powers in the short term most often creates greater strategic dangers over the long term rather than eliminate them.
2) What’s the most surprising fact you learned when researching your book?
Winston Churchill is rightly revered for his leadership during the darkest days of World War II. And in the aftermath of that struggle, he has been held up as one of the few voices in the 1930s warning about the dangers of Nazi Germany and the need to stand forcefully against the growing threat while there was still time. This case has become an iconic historical moment for modern advocates of preventive war, who claim that Britain and France missed a golden opportunity to stop World War II if they had only used military force against Germany during the 1936 Rhineland remilitarization crisis. In his postwar memoirs, Churchill himself said that preventive military force at this time would have stopped the Nazi regime and changed the course of history. We might assume from this claim that Churchill was calling for preventive attack himself in 1936. But through my research I discovered that Churchill actually spoke out against using military force during the crisis, for exactly the reasons I demonstrate make preventive war a faulty strategy.
3) What is the book you would take with you on a deserted island?
The History of the Peloponnesian War
, the chronicle of the horrific clash between Athens and Sparta, the superpowers of 5th century B.C. Greece, by an Athenian named Thucydides. In the first pages of the book, Thucydides tells his reader that he is not writing this account of the great war to please the tastes of an immediate audience, but to leave a “possession for all time.” Thucydides would indeed be pleased to know that 2,500 years later, his work is the only major text from classical Greece that is faithfully studied and debated by contemporary students of international relations. He had the audacity to claim – in a way no one before him had – that given the nature of human beings, the events he described would be repeated in some way throughout human history. And when we pore over the gripping stories he tells, and extract the general lessons he left behind, we discover that the problems of power, war, strategy, leadership, and politics that he observed have potent echoes in our own time.
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