The Demilitarization of Europeans.

AuthorMosettig, Michael
PositionWhere Have All The Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe - Book review

Where Have All The Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe

By James J. Sheehan

Houghton Mifflin, 284 pages, $26

With "change" being a hot topic this year both in the European Union and the United States, there are a plethora of books about the possibilities for the West to rethink our future and to understand our recent past. Many eminent thinkers have weighed in, as bookshelves in Washington and elsewhere are bulging these days with weighty tomes by big thinkers. This literary surge coincided with the Iraq war and started with the 2003 publication of Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power that sharply contrasted U.S. and European attitudes toward the use of military force. That book was followed (and the reflection broadened) by Fareed Zakkaria's The Post-American World, Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and, more recently, Parag Khanna's The Second World, just to name a few. All of these authors are laying out a vision of the world in the midst of tumultuous change and their theses try to highlight the role the United States will play in it.

Amid this constellation, the taut and measured observations of the American academic specialist James J. Sheehan stand in refreshingly realistic contrast to the predictions of Khanna, who argues that Brussels will be the next Rome if only through force of example. And he is less judgmental, and certainly less dismissive, than Kagan, whose Mars-versus-Venus argumentation aroused such consternation in Europe in his previous book and whose new book, The Return of History, argues that the future will be full of challenges from a resurgent Russia as the Kremlin reverts to Tsarist-era visions based on the newfound power and wealth of its energy sector.

Sheehan's book is especially relevant to the question of America's future role precisely because it rarely mentions the United States. Even more remarkably, covering material familiar to students of history, Sheehan provides engaging insights on issues from compulsory military service to nuclear weapons--without needing revelations from newly-found documents. His previous prolific output has been aimed at specialists, but this work belongs on the reading list of every university general-history course on both sides of the Atlantic.

For one thing, his book is a bracing reminder about the caution required for any intelligent use of the media and even of intellectuals as guides to reality. With his great eye for the right quote, Sheehan reminds us...

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