Taliban supporters with a poster of Osama bin Laden during an October 2001 rally in Quetta, Pakistan.
Danse Macabre

By Charles Lane

Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt
(Alfred A. Knopf, 672 pages, $35)

Among the many consequences of the attacks by al-Qaeda against the United States on September 11, 2001, has been a torrent of writings by intellectuals seeking either to explain modern terrorism or to propose ways of dealing with it—or both. No author, however, has approached the subject with greater ambition than Philip Bobbitt, the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence at the Law School and director of the Center for National Security at Columbia. Perhaps Bobbitt’s penchant for Bigthink is a family trait; he is a nephew of President Lyndon B. Johnson, known for pursuing Texas-sized
goals in both domestic and foreign affairs. Early in Terror and Consent Bobbitt declares that “every widely held idea we currently entertain about twenty-first century terrorism and its relationship to the Wars against Terror is wrong and must be thoroughly rethought.” This book, he tells us, is his effort “to begin this fundamental rethinking.”

Constructing such an all-encompassing theory is indeed a massive undertaking. Bobbitt’s arguments sprawl over hundreds of pages; and he displays his erudition in nearly every paragraph. The following is a partial list of the persons, places, concepts, and events Bobbitt discusses: Parmenides’ Fallacy; Benjamin Franklin; the Bohemian Revolt; Guy Fawkes; the Barbary Pirates; Hurricane Katrina; the Monroe Doctrine; several landmark decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court; the Reagan Doctrine; the writings of Professor S. F. C. Milsom — and, of course, al-Qaeda.

These are marshaled in support of Bobbitt’s fundamental claim: that each historical era has its characteristic “constitutional order.” The nation-state dominated the 20th century, as the competing imperial “state-nations” of Europe dominated the 19th, and so on back to the “princely states” of Renaissance Italy. Yet each constitutional order called forth a corresponding form of terrorism, like so many evil doppelgängers. These terrorisms “reacted against the values while mimicking the techniques of the prevailing constitutional order.” Thus the absolutist crowned heads of Europe faced anarchist assassins in the 19th century; the U.S. and its allies around the world faced “national liberation movements” in the 20th.

In Bobbitt’s view, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled not only the end of the Cold War but also the beginning of the end of the nation-state. The emerging constitutional order is that of the “market state.” Whereas the nation-state — whether Communist, Fascist, or parliamentary — derived its legitimacy from a promise to secure the welfare of a particular national group, the market state, which can also be more or less democratic, makes a grander promise to its citizenry. “Market states say: Give us the power and we will give you new opportunities,” Bobbitt writes. They favor capitalist incentives over regulation, outsourcing over bureaucracy, and global economic interdependence over self-sufficiency.
Therefore, 21st-century terrorism will be market-state terrorism — global in scope, flexible in organization, and utterly opportunistic. Market states facilitate information sharing through the Internet for commercial or entertainment purposes. But market-state terrorists can exploit that same network to find out how to buy or build weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. If the market state itself seems an increasingly borderless entity, terrorist groups will operate from no particular headquarters and assemble cadres from every country on the planet. Al-Qaeda, Bobbitt writes, is already a kind of “virtual state.”

The political goal of market-state terrorists is to destroy market states of consent—Bobbitt’s term for post–Cold War democracies such as the U.S. and the U.K. (where he maintains a second home)—and to replace them with market states of terror. As Bobbitt uses the phrase, state of terror is a pun: It means either a public gripped by fear, or an actual polity governed by totalitarian means as opposed to consensual ones. He is not always perfectly clear which one market-state terrorists are out to create. But the implication is plain enough. Unlike the more focused terrorists of previous ages, today’s globalized terrorists are potentially much more destructive, on a much wider scale, and they “win” if states of consent become so desperate for security that they abandon their democratic ways.

Given this argument, Bobbitt is surprisingly sympathetic to the Bush administration, whose invasion of Iraq he considers a defensible attempt to deny market-state terrorists a potential ally in the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. He adds that he “do[es] not believe that . . . the Bush administration has dramatically curtailed the constitutional rights of Americans.” He faults the Bush administration instead for neglecting the links between law and military strategy. The administration has simply claimed various legal powers — such as the power to confine terror suspects indefinitely at Guantánamo — rather than engaging with Congress and allied countries to modify existing law, domestic and international, in accordance with the new challenges posed by 21st-century terrorism. The result has been a crippling lack of legitimacy for the American war on terrorism.

This plea for a new fusion of law and strategy is surely Bobbitt’s strongest point. If, indeed, the Wars against Terror, as Bobbitt calls them, are with us for the long term, then they must be pursued on the basis of clear rules that strike most Americans — and most people in the watchful global village — as fair. In arriving at this sound conclusion, however, Bobbitt leaves several questions unanswered along the way. His treatment of al-Qaeda, which he regards as merely the harbinger of even more dangerous global terrorist organizations, devotes oddly little attention to the Islamist ideology of Osama bin Laden and his followers. Perhaps the market state calls forth its own terroristic enemy, in some deterministic fashion, but why, exactly, is it that Islamist extremists dominate market-state terrorism, and is there any realistic prospect that any other ideology will take its place?

Then there are the trade-offs involved in battling terror, as he defines it. If we are in a war against terror, and if terror includes not only the fear induced by the likes of al-Qaeda, but also, as Bobbitt suggests, the panic wrought by ethnic cleansing or by natural disasters such as Katrina, then where exactly does the waging of war end and “ordinary” government begin? Bobbitt’s “principal recommendation . . . is that we pay more attention to our vulnerabilities.” But those are as limitless as the human imagination, as Bobbitt’s musings about weaponized Ebola viruses and nuclear strikes by eco-extremists show. Some threats are far more plausible than others; governments have to choose accordingly when allocating scarce resources.

In fairness to Bobbitt, though, that is not his principal concern. The challenge of Terror and Consent — its demand that we think anew in this new era — may resonate more with his fellow intellectuals than with policy makers: Indeed, it may be aimed more at the former than the latter. Whatever its ultimate impact, the sheer breadth and audacity of Bobbitt’s book ensure that it cannot be ignored.

Charles Lane, a member of the editorial board of the Washington Post, is the author of The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, The Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction.

Germans scrap their war machines in 1919 under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  
We Left in Pieces

By William R. Keylor

A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today
By David A. Andelman (Wiley, 336 pages, $25.95)

The peace settlement after the First World War has been subjected to a steady stream of criticism ever since the leaders of the coalition that defeated Germany and its allies signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The most pungent broadsides were unleashed by disenchanted members of the British and American delegations to the peace conference, who lamented the betrayal of the noble project for a just peace proposed by President Woodrow Wilson. John Maynard Keynes’s influential jeremiad The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) set the censorious tone. Ray Stannard Baker’s Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (1922) and Harold Nicolson’s Peacemaking 1919 (1933) added damning particulars to the indictment. By the end of the Second World War, the definitive verdict on Versailles was in: The vile, vindictive, “Carthaginian” settlement of 1919 had led inexorably to the darkness that descended across Europe from 1933 to 1945.

This critical assessment of the Versailles peace settlement was tempered by a new generation of historians in the 1970s and 1980s, who had the advantage of access to the recently opened British and French archives. They contended that the peacemakers had been much more moderate and conciliatory than portrayed in these earlier denunciations. They concluded that the Versailles system had failed less because it was too harsh toward Germany than because, through a combination of German recalcitrance and Allied hesitation, it had not been scrupulously implemented. The conclusions of the numerous scholarly monographs produced by this revisionist school were later incorporated in two standard general studies of the subject: Manfred Boemeke et al., eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years (1998) and Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (2001).

David A. Andelman ’66JRN has resuscitated the earlier interpretation in his elegantly written A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today. A distinguished former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and CBS News, Andelman has revisited his 1965 senior honors thesis at Harvard and punctuated it with insights gained from his own extensive experience as a reporter overseas. As the subtitle suggests, he updates the standard indictment of the peace settlement of 1919 by tracing its long-term consequences even to our own day. Andelman holds the peacemakers at Versailles responsible not only for the horrors of the Second World War, but also for many of the political crises that have plagued mankind since 1945. Relying heavily on Nicolson’s acerbic critique of the proceedings in Paris, he portrays David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando — Woodrow Wilson’s three antagonists at the peace table — as narrow-minded, Machiavellian advocates for their nations’ greedy quest for land and loot.

An implicit counterfactual proposition underlies Andelman’s narrative: If only the prime ministers of Great Britain, France, and Italy had had the good sense to endorse the American president’s bold and imaginative project for the postwar world, the terrible events that caused so much human suffering for the remainder of the 20th century and in the first decade of our own might have been forestalled. The component of Wilson’s prescription for international peace and security that is dearest to Andelman’s heart is the principle of national self-determination. If only the European statesmen had recognized the need to separate the various ethnic groups in the Balkans instead of fusing them into the “completely artificial nation” of Yugoslavia, the carnage in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s would have been averted.

Unfortunately, the concept of self-determination based on ethnicity and language represented a dire threat to the peace and security of postwar Europe. Consider the paradox, for example, if this principle had been scrupulously applied by the peacemakers of 1919 to the delineation of Germany’s postwar frontiers. The resulting reward for that country’s military defeat would have been all of the territory that Hitler later acquired or reacquired through diplomatic intimidation or military aggression that finally led to the Second World War: the German-speaking borderland of Czechoslovakia; the German-speaking Republic of Austria; and the German-speaking city of Danzig, together with the largely German-speaking “corridor” connecting it to the newly reconstituted state of Poland. Such an outcome would have been utterly unacceptable, and understandably so, to the victorious Allies that had shed so much blood and expended so much treasure during the four years of the recent war. How could they have been expected to acquiesce in the creation of a postwar Germany with more territory, resources, and population than it had possessed at the beginning of hostilities?

It is worth recalling how the problem of the ethnic German minorities scattered across Central Europe was finally resolved at the end of the Second World War. The Big Three at Potsdam, the successors of the Big Four at Paris who had wrestled with the problem a quarter of a century earlier, cut the Gordian knot. They approved the brutal transfer of more than ten million German speakers from half a dozen countries in Central and Eastern Europe to the shrunken remnant of the Third Reich. This campaign of what we would call today “ethnic cleansing,” together with the inter-allied military occupation and the forcible extraction of reparations from its occupation zone by the Soviet Union, constituted a much more severe peace settlement than the one depicted in the orthodox historiography from Keynes to Andelman.

Where Andelman’s brief against Versailles hits the mark is in his perceptive assessment of the European allies’ hypocritical refusal to apply the principle of national self-determination to the non-Western peoples of the colonial world. In his “Fourteen Points” address on January 8, 1918, outlining his government’s war aims, Woodrow Wilson had called for an impartial adjustment of colonial claims in which “the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims” of the colonial powers. This remarkable and unprecedented proposal, together with the American president’s endorsement of the general goal of national self-determination in a subsequent speech, inspired spokespersons for the oppressed populations of India, Indochina, and other European overseas possessions to petition the peacemakers for self-determination for their own peoples. Andelman’s evocative representation of Nguyen Ai Quoc, the young Vietnamese patriot working as a busboy at the Ritz Hotel in Paris who would later adopt the pseudonym Ho Chi Minh, is a masterpiece of psychological analysis. Ho’s original hopes that his “Eight Claims of the Annamite People” would receive Wilson’s support vanished as it became evident that the principle of self-determination would apply only to the white populations of Central and Eastern Europe. Even if Wilson had favored the granting of independence to the colonial peoples — and there is no evidence that this Southerner with retrograde racial views ever entertained such an idea — he would have been hard put to persuade the British and French premiers to dismantle their colonial empires amid the euphoria of victory. States do not normally relinquish territory, resources, and population after winning wars.

In addition to his skillful limning of the future Ho Chi Minh, Andelman provides memorable portraits of the large cast of supplicants who enlivened the Paris proceedings in 1919: Poland’s pianist-premier Ignace Jan Paderewski charms the American public with his renditions of Chopin before arriving at the conference to press his newly reestablished country’s extravagant territorial claims. The Hashemite Prince Feisal of the Hejaz and his British patron T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) pressed in vain for the unity of the Arab people and the carving of a vast Arab state out of the defunct Ottoman Empire. Chaim Weizmann, Felix Frankfurter, and other Zionist leaders successfully campaigned for the application of the Balfour Declaration to the proposed British Mandate in Palestine. V. K. Wellington Koo 1908CC, 1912GSAS, the charismatic Chinese diplomat, labored in vain to persuade the Big Four to reject Japan’s claim to the former German concessions on the Shandong peninsula (this single decision spawned the first serious anti-imperialist movement in China, whose supporters included the young militants Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai). These and other character sketches admirably capture the atmosphere of elaborate hopes and bitter disappointments that marked this monumental effort to redraw the map of Europe and establish a new world order of peace and stability after the carnage of the Great War.

William R. Keylor ’71GSAS, ’71SIPA is professor of history and international relations and director of the International History Institute at Boston University. He edited The Legacy of the Great War: Peacemaking, 1919, and his most recent book is the second edition of A World of Nations: The International Order since 1945.


In the City of New Pigtown

By Samuel McCracken

Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States
By George R. Stewart (New York Review Books Classics, 511 pages, $19.95)

When the Europeans began settling the New World, they found an Eden full of unnamed places.

How the Indians and Europeans put names on this land is the matter of George R. Stewart’s astonishingly but lightly learned study.

I was 10 when Names on the Land came out in 1945, and I devoured it. Reading this new edition 63 years later, I am astonished at how many details have stuck in my memory. Stewart ’22GSAS cast his eye over a wide territory and never seems to have missed a telling fact. His own curiosity must have been vast. After earning his PhD at Columbia, Stewart went on to teach English at Berkeley for more than half a century, specializing in the poetical metrics of ballads and in toponymy, the study of place names. He also produced superb books on many topics, including science fiction.

Names on the Land has as one major organizing principle the various ways in which the nameless land (from the European view) rapidly gained the large number of names needed in the process of exploration and settlement.
The first Spaniards found the New World an Eden full of unnamed places, and many of these were given the name of the saint whose day fell on or near their discovery. At other times and places, the names were more imaginative. Two that have lasted are Florida and California, the former alluding to the flowers that covered the place and the latter to a fictional island said to be ruled by Amazons.

One of the most successful of the explorer-nomenclators was John Smith, whose own plain name belied his taste for polysyllabic and mellifluous Indian names. Among those he put on the land that survive to this day are Massachusetts, Susquehanna, Potomac, and Rappahannock.

Smith was responsible for involving government in the business of naming. In 1616 he prepared a map to accompany his account of his explorations. On this, he placed a number of names, some of his own devising, some derived from those in use by the Indians. He then sent the draft map to the 16-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales, asking him to correct whatever names he found barbarous. The future Charles I thus named the cape 30 miles north of Boston at the northern end of Massachusetts Bay for his mother, Ann of Denmark; Cape Elizabeth near Portland, Maine, for his sister (from whom the House of Windsor derives its hereditary claim); and the Charles River for himself. He also tried to rename Cape Cod (so named in 1602 by the explorer Bartholomew Gosnold) for his father, King James, but this did not stick. The prince replaced Sowocatuck with Ipswich and Accomack with Plymouth, a name shortly to be soldered into our history.

In a scholarly tour de force covering three centuries, Stewart traces the name New York. In the Celtic language of the Britons, eburos meant “yew tree.” A settlement in the north of Britain was named for the yew: Eburacon. When the Romans came, they Latinized this to Eboracum. The man in the street, not fluent in Latin, made this Evoroc. Next, Germanic invaders Teutonized this as Eoforwic, “place of the boar.” (“This was by no means the equivalent of Pigtown,” notes Stewart, “for the boar was a highly respected and dangerous wild animal.”) Still later, the Danes “Scandinavized” the name as Yorvik, the final syllable now meaning “bay.” This eventually was simplified to York. But Stewart is not done: He traces the course of York down to the east bank of the Hudson. In 1664 the English renamed New Amsterdam, the colony they had just captured from the Dutch, for the Duke of York, brother of the king.

Stewart is equally informative and entertaining in a chapter titled, “How Congress took over,” which shows how the Feds put names on the vast new lands acquired through the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War. The fashion favored Indian names, and a name like Dakota was in like Flynn. But despite the preference of the settlers at the foot of the Rockies for the Spanish “Colorado” — a term alluding to the reddishly colored water of the river so named — their territory was almost prematurely named Idaho, an Indian word allegedly meaning “gem of the mountains.”
Writes Stewart: “Idaho became the favorite. A local convention accepted it, and the Committee on Territories approved. In 1861, a bill was presented, and everything seemed settled. Underground, however, some influence must have been at work. The Territorial delegate had apparently discovered that the name did not mean ‘Gem of the Mountains.’ Possibly he feared that like many other Indian names it meant something better not translated.” And so at the last minute Colorado became Colorado. But Idaho, whatever it may really mean, got its second chance.

There is nothing in this book that is not a potential source of delight. Lincoln is said to have damned a book with the faintest of praise by saying that people who liked this sort of thing would like it. People who like the sort of thing George R. Stewart did will not merely love this book, but may, as I have, treasure it over a lifetime.

Samuel McCracken is a critic and essayist living in Boston.