A Review of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything – Tales from the Pentagon

Rosa Brooks writes a captivating exploration of all that the US military does, and the major ethical and legal questions around war that beg our attention.

In 2017, Americans live in a society where the military is almost always front and center. Through movies, video games, ceremonies before sporting events, the news, and connections to family and friends, we experience constant reminders of the importance of the military in our personal lives and in our national security.
But few of us have the insights of author Rosa Brooks, whose 2016 book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything is a fascinating work on many levels. A former employee of the Pentagon and the State Department, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, a law professor at Georgetown, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and a US Army wife, Brooks’ perspective has both breadth and depth, and it’s evident on every page of the book.
A lot of ground is covered in just under 370 pages. Brooks reintroduces readers to the military many think they know, and quickly exposes many of us (myself included) as the frauds we are. She explores statistics detailing the makeup of the US military, describes twice array of jobs its members participate in all over the world, and discusses the struggles between it and the other government agencies with which it must coexist —and against which it may intentionally or unintentionally compete.
Brooks also explores many of the cultural and legal ways people throughout history have tried to identify, justify, and manage war. This ranges from philosophical explanations for why societies wage war, legal justification for the use of force against sovereign states, legal responsibilities borne by individuals and nations during periods of conflict and violence, and the struggle between the rights of sovereign states and their responsibilities to their people in the current international order.
She highlights shortcomings and failures on the part of the government to limit their reliance on the military, and the reasons that it has become the “Walmart” of government problem-solving for all challenges beyond the borders of the US. She also calls out the flimsy legal justification for some of the more extreme measures taken by the US in the War on Terror: indefinite detention of subjects without access to attorneys, torture, and today’s targeted killings through the use of drones. But worst of all, she warns us that these new departures from international norms may cause other states to follow suit or even to escalate such extreme measures, resulting in an even more dangerous and unpredictable world for all.
Brooks also identifies ways in which the military could grow and improve. More fluidity between civilian and military roles and experience would benefit both spheres of our society, and despite taking on more tasks from civilian agencies, it lags behind in training and adaptability at times. She levies her criticism constructively, as one who would prefer to see the military be more successful in the many challenging tasks it must take on.
Superb writing ties all of these complex topics together in a very enjoyable and clear way, making the book an absolute pleasure to read. It is sensibly organized, and despite exploring a diverse landscape of ethical, historical, legal, political and military concepts and ideas, I never felt lost.
Brooks offers a thoughtful analysis of how things came to be, and how we may yet reset our understanding of war, peace, and the space between; of how our military and government might work together at home and with the rest of the world to create a more predictable and a more just world that could be safer for all.
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