People of faith called to be peacemakers gain greatly from books as politically wise and nuanced as David Rieffs collection of recent essays, At the Point of a Gun. Not long ago, Rieff was an interventionist who supported the efforts of the United States, its allies, and the United Nations in using force against those who commit human rights atrocities and also for humanitarian emergencies. Now he believes the United States should almost always "lean away from war" because there are "not many just wars."
The books 15 essays were previously published in magazines such as The New Republic and The New York Times Magazine, for which Rieff is a regular writer, between 1996 and 2004. A leading journalist and expert on contemporary armed interventions, Rieff has the intellectual and moral courage to publicly change his mind and show how he became convinced - on the streets of Iraq and in hot spots such as Kosovo - that neoconservatives hoping to spread democracy and humanitarians wishing to end ethnic cleansing and deliver food share a false trust in weaponry and a not-so-subtle imperialism. Rieffs changed mind and heart emerge in the prefaces, postscripts, and "afterthoughts" he has added to many of these pieces.
Does altruism justify war? Rieff argues both sides of this question from his own before-and-after writings, which makes for compelling reading and subtle conclusions. He elucidates conflicts - such as in Rwanda - where the "victims were ready, willing, and able to become the victimizers when they got their turn." Nonetheless, Rieff still counts Rwanda with Bosnia as the two warranted exceptions to his new non-interventionist position.