Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Humanitarianism vs. Justice

- Abstract

To hear President George W. Bush’s critics tell it, the steps the United States government took to fight terrorism after 9/11—from the holding of detainees at Guantánamo Bay to the Patriot Act—amounted to an unprecedented assault on civil liberties that was at odds with America’s long, noble tradition of upholding the rule of law even in wartime. Yale law professor John Fabian Witt is hardly a Bush partisan, but, based on his meticulous study of legal and military history, he reaches a very different conclusion—one that is more complicated and more interesting.

“From the Revolution forward,” he writes in Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, “the United States’ long history of leadership in creating the laws of war stands cheek by jowl with a destructive style of warfare that has come to be known among military historians as the ‘American way of war.’”

About the Author

Max Boot, a regular contributor to Commentary’s blog, Contentions, is Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the forthcoming Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (Liveright).