The professor who influenced me the most as an undergraduate was Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, an iconoclastic political scientist who uses game theory and other behavioral tools to assess domestic and international affairs. I was so absorbed in writing my book that I missed his new co-authored book on The Spoils of War: Greed, Power, and the Conflicts that Made Our Greatest Presidents. Here is the abstract:
It’s striking how many of the presidents Americans venerate-Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, to name a few-oversaw some of the republic’s bloodiest years. Perhaps they were driven by the needs of the American people and the nation. Or maybe they were just looking out for themselves.
This revealing and entertaining book puts some of America’s greatest leaders under the microscope, showing how their calls for war, usually remembered as brave and noble, were in fact selfish and convenient. In each case, our presidents chose personal gain over national interest while loudly evoking justice and freedom. The result is an eye-opening retelling of American history, and a call for reforms that may make the future better.
Bueno de Mesquita and Smith demonstrate in compelling fashion that wars, even bloody and noble ones, are not primarily motivated by democracy or freedom or the sanctity of human life. When our presidents risk the lives of brave young soldiers, they do it for themselves.