Go to Gene Keyes home page

Canadian Journal of Political Science, 1985-03, p. 197-198.

Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process
by Paul R. Pillar (Princeton: Princeton University Press, I983). 283 p.

Reviewed by Gene Keyes [formerly] Asst. Prof., Political Science, St. Thomas Univ., Fredericton, New Brunswick

2015-06-09 Update note 1: In this review from over 30 years ago, I savaged a disgusting war-mongering book by Paul R. Pillar, who was to become a top CIA analyst. More recently, however, Pillar has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and other militaristic missteps by America.

Note 2: Cambridge University Press sells my two-page article for $30 on the Web. I am pleased to offer it here for free, re-formatted by me for PDF and HTML.

Note 3: highlighted passage was omitted from the published review.
— Gene Keyes

This tedious talk/fight book counsels the "statesman at war" on winning by intimidation. For example, "lesson" 30 is "Consider military options that not only inflict violence but communicate the threat to inflict more" (248). It analyzes, aids, and abets the unholy symbiosis of peace ploys and body counts. It elaborates the power-posturing of "peace negotiations" during wars in progress. It uses scattered snippets — not case histories — from five "Negotiation Before Armistice" wars: l8l2; Indochina; Korea; Algeria; Vietnam.

Also, it is cankered with a lot of meretricious math, fitting a dictionary definition of empiric, meaning quack. Behold some garbage-in-, gospel-out (152):
A corresponding least-favorable estimate of the kill-ratio associated with allied attacks [in Vietnam] is obtained the same way, but with signs reversed:
7.21 - (.8 x 3.02)


= 83.47
-.40 + (.8 x .58)


Worse than meaningless statistics is that symptomatic barbarism, "kill-ratio." CIA analyst Pillar also retains the insolent anachronism "Viet Cong."

Among other deformities in this dissertation are the following. First, it regards war not as a "disease to be eradicated" but a "beast to be controlled" (5) — that is, to be used. For Pillar (or Kissinger, or Le Duc Tho), terminating a war is by no means the immediate concern. Second, it is apolitical as well as amoral. Democratic purpose and public opinion are embarrassing intrusions. Pillar mutters about "a citizenry which ... finds it hard to understand the need to support a military machine not to 'win' a war but merely to support a negotiation..." (232). Mostly, Pillar expatiates about "A" versus "B" (92ff.), or "Zeuthenian bargaining" replete with ludicrous formulas and graphs.

Third, if we picture any battlefield or burned-out village, how can we tolerate Pillar's discussion of "some conditions for reciprocation or nonreciprocation of concessions by Zeuthenian bargainers" (126) or the "optimum amount of violence" (173)? He is blissfully oblivious of children, women and men afflicted by napalm, orphanages and paraplegia. His tone is cynical, not sympathetic or indignant: "Most soldiers do not understand why they should die so that their government can strike a better rather than a worse bargain ..." (65). For good measure, Pillar justifies one of the most infamous quotations of the Vietnam war: " 'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.' " (178).

Fourth, the book has no sense of the ridiculous. How many weeks of carnage ensued as "bargainers" "bargained" about the shape of the negotiating table in Paris? From the wordy murk, however, comes an occasional glint of realities more grim than Pillar's absurd abstractions: "(Placating Thieu may have been one of the purposes of the [Christmas] bombing)" (206). Moreover "it is worth remembering that the last three, very violent, months of the Vietnam War were fought over details" (239). Pillar never stops to ask: By what iron quirk of fate do a few "talk" while tens of millions "fight" — or suffer grotesquely?

Finally, the book is rife with stylistic defects. Clichés and buzzwords abound. The bibliography is raw A-Z, with no subcategories on particular wars or topics. The turgid text is gummier than day-old oatmeal. The historical snippets are disjointed and utterly superficial. The bloodthirsty "lessons" for the "wartime decision-maker" are trite and pander to political-military mulishness.

If this book is so contemptible, why waste time criticizing it? Because in any guise. lRA or ivory tower, apologists for violence must be called to account. Even yet. there might be something worth salvaging. Dump the schlock math. Enrich the historical citations. Sort out the bibliography. Clean up the Machiavellian "lessons." Don't be a courtier to warlords. Give heed to the maimed. the bereaved. the orphaned. Consider what humane values and political purpose are of supreme concern to everyone in the world community.

Above all, quash the tragic sophistry that there is a "rational use of armed force" (239) and an "optimum level of violence" (247) which somehow lead to "peace" as part of a "bargaining process."

GENE KEYES St. Thomas University
Note 4: My use of the word "empiric" was a play on words, because a heavily mathematical "empirical" faction in political science purported to be more real than traditional writing. — gk