Friday, February 02, 2007

Speaking of Gabriel Kolko

By coincidence, given the reference in my last post, I'd just started reading Gabriel Kolko's 1968 book, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945. Noam Chomsky mentioned this book in passing several years ago (I think in a ZNet forum), and it became something of a holy grail for me, since it's out of print and thus very hard to find. Before I finally found a copy, I'd read his previously mentioned books, The Triumph of Conservatism and Century of War, both of which are excellent.

The following is from the introduction to The Politics of War:
I have written this book as much to describe the actual condition of the world during World War II as much as the way the United States defined and quite as often misconceived the course of global realities. Yet what can be said about the seeming variability of a national policy that to the professional, much less the casual observer, has often seemed chaotic? To the extent that any system is haphazard or improvised, of course, no single theory or explanation will cover the phenomenon, and the fashionable tendency to believe that men of power are the victims of errors rather than the creators of them--and that perhaps reason or pressure by reasonable men will bring them back to the truth--has reinforced this homily. This assumption, so crucial to the premises of liberal political theory, implies that "democratic" power structures are not merely poorly informed but innocent, and that a true dialogue between virtue and power is possible. Such an image, postulating behavior as a series of bumbles, ignores the possibility that policies which are dangerous, destructive, or even do not work are very often quite consistent and necessary in forwarding interests or holding the line in defensive situations.

In attempting to appraise the conduct of policy one does not have to assume that history is determined or made up of repeated accidents. It is sufficient to study its pattern of functional behavior, to comprehend the assumptions formulated in response to challenging situations, and to perceive a policy and pattern that in some sense makes future responses predictable and in this sense inevitable. And quite beyond rhetoric are the institutional forces that do or can influence policy and power. If rhetoric is confused with reality, the banalities of speech writers, platitudes, and the convenient transformation of words into useful symbols rather than truth all become the basis of analysis and a substitute for comprehending action, clear definitions, and institutional imperatives.


Laura said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was hoping to find a copy of this book also but it is $300 on Amazon due to, as you mentioned, being out of print. Hopefully Century of War contains a lot of the information from this book.
Best regards and thanks again for the post.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

Hi - While I do see the $300 price on Amazon, I also see some other options for the book, for much cheaper.

Try this or this.

And, no, I don't think Century of War covers the same ground, though it's worth reading too.