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Faculty and Scholarship

Professor Dudziak examines the impact of war on law and democracy

Emory University School of Law |

Americans tend to view wartime as a definite period, with a beginning and an end, followed by peacetime. But war and peace aren’t so easily defined, Mary L. Dudziak says in her new book, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences.

Dudziak is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, designate, and joined Emory Law this summer. She is also director of the new Project on War and Security in Law, Culture and Society.

Dudziak writes in the introduction: “My aim is to illuminate a conundrum: we imagine wars to be bound in time, but the American experience is to the contrary. Since 9/11, war has been framed in a boundless way, extending anywhere in the world that the specter of terrorism resides, even as some of the country’s political leaders—on the left and right—denounce its seeming endlessness.”

The persistent belief that wartime is exceptional, and that normal time is peacetime, has unfortunate consequences, Dudziak argues. Departures from the rule of law during war are justified in part because war is temporary. But when U.S military engagement is ongoing, the impact of war on American democracy does not subside, but instead accumulates. There is no longer a “peacetime” during which war powers and restrictions are relaxed.

In reviewing the book, Northwestern University School of Law Professor Joseph Margulies writes, “War Time is a fascinating meditation on the perils of clinging to a myth of national identity that increasingly bears only a glancing resemblance to modern life.”

The American public is not deeply engaged with our current on-going, smaller scale wars that are increasingly fought with remotely operated technology like drones. The costs of war are experienced by military personnel, their families, and by people in other nations where conflict is carried out. This has a troublesome impact at home, Dudziak argues. Insulated from war’s impact, the American people leave military policy to the experts. This leaves us without a political check on war powers, enhancing unilateral presidential war power.

Peter Maass writes in a review in The Nation: “We are experiencing a reverse Orwellian situation, in which the state, rather than elevating war to perpetuate itself, obscures war to perpetuate itself.”

There is no tidy legal fix to the dilemmas posed by enduring war. Dudziak instead echoes President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s call in his iconic military-industrial-complex speech for vigilance about the way the changing nature of war affects the very structure of democratic governance. “Demystifying the idea of wartime, and revealing how it works in the American culture, will not end any wars or even get Americans to care more about them,” she writes. “But it might offer a path toward a more satisfactory understanding of the relationship between war and American Democracy.”

Related links

War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

“The War is Not Over Yet,” Dudziak’s opinion article in The New York Times