Professor’s Prologue by Dr. Bryan Brophy-Baermann, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the LA&PS Social Sciences Division
Thursday, January 03, 2013
“We” were fighting “them.” Our forces, meaning those individuals fighting on behalf of the rest of our nation, were in a contest with their forces. Leaders challenging leaders, nations challenging nations—the lines were clear and the outcomes clearer: we would win or we would lose. How odd it feels to think about those sometimes harrowing times with a kind of nostalgia, to find comfort in the simplicity of “us versus them”. War has never been considered a good thing, but it was at least considered discrete, purposeful. Presidents spoke; the nation rallied; we were “all in this together.” Flags were waved; kisses planted. P.W. Singer is here to tell us otherwise.
For the last ten years, Dr. Peter Warren Singer has been studying, writing and speaking about changes in warfare, focusing particularly on participants and methods. His first book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (2003), focused on the increased use of private-sector military forces in areas of conflict heretofore reserved for “traditional” warriors of the state. He continued his exploration of the changing character of the participants in warfare in his next book, Children at War (2005). In this book Singer details the complex story of the rise in the use of child soldier groups in conflicts around the world. In his third and latest book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and 21st Century Conflict (2009), Singer investigates dramatic changes in the potential future of war, a narrative that involves both a change in the participants and how those actors engage in the use of force in politics. Throughout this period, Singer has written dozens of articles and has participated in a wide variety of public and professional forums, engaging the widest possible audiences in the most thought provoking questions facing us about the deadliest forms of politics. Who should participate? How should we defend ourselves or project force? What costs, human and otherwise, are tolerable? Who is ultimately responsible for our strategic and tactical decisions? Is war becoming a never-ending story? Are we really “all in it together?”
Dr. Singer’s focus on policy and on the practical, public implications of his research makes him unique in the world of political science. Most political scientists, especially those who focus on topics like war and international relations, spend most of their professional lives teaching at academic institutions and doing research that is eventually published in journals or presented at academic conferences. The audiences for any of those activities are generally quite small, and the topics quite narrow and theoretical. Singer breaks that mold. He is currently a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution. A think tank in Washington D.C, the Brookings Institution conducts research with the primary goal of making recommendations to policy-makers. Brookings is well known for its political independence, and its non-partisan, or functionalist, approach to policy making. The researchers at Brookings seek to inform the best possible policy for a stronger democracy, a stronger society in every sense of the phrase, and a more stable and cooperative international system. Theoretical musings and narrow applications just won’t do—applied research for the betterment of society is what gives their activities meaning. This is the perfect environment for the thoughtful, important, and paradigm-changing research of P.W. Singer. His predictions and warnings force us to consider the practical and ethical facets of the policy making choices we, as democratic citizens, must make as we seek to achieve our goals around the world in the 21st century.
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