cover image On the Origins of War

On the Origins of War

Donald Kagan. Doubleday Books, $30 (606pp) ISBN 978-0-385-42374-8

This book is best read as a counterpoint to Paul Kennedy's 1987 study, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy emphasized the primacy of domestic politics; Kagan, professor of history and classics at Yale, focuses on international relations, pondering why states choose to go to war. He sees the determining factors as those enunciated by Thucydides: ``honor, fear, and interest.'' War cannot be eliminated because peace is not regarded as an absolute good, yet particular conflicts can be averted, according to Kagan. He analyzes five wars, ranging across 2500 years and involving widely different kinds of governments. He begins with the Greek city-states that fought the Peloponnesian Wars and moves to the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, before jumping to the 20th century for the two world wars and the near-war of the Cuban missile crisis. The wide temporal gap between the ancient and the modern examples highlights Kagan's thesis that peace does not keep itself: ``A persistent and repeated error through the ages has been the failure to understand that the preservation of peace requires active effort, planning, the expenditure of resources, and sacrifice, just as war does.'' A thoughtful review of an age-old phenomenon. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)