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What We’re Reading: War on Peace by Ronan Farrow


You know the game where two things are named and you have to pick one, no matter how outrageous… that’s the game…

If someone asked me, “Would you rather be President of the United States or Secretary of State?”

I’d pick Secretary of State.

When a President speaks, at least in recent decades, it’s interesting for a moment… maybe.

When a Secretary of State speaks, I lean in and expect something significant, something potentially historic.

You get a hint of the stature of that office in realizing that Thomas Jefferson was the first to hold it under George Washington.  (John Jay was a placeholder for a few months.)

Built around that office is the entire Foreign Service presence of the United States of America, a presence that has been established and built over 230 years.

Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace describes “the end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence.”  It’s a sad book in many respects, and one that should cause a very unsettled feeling in the pit of our collective stomachs.

Farrow makes the case, through his meticulous research, hundreds of interviews and Pulitzer Prize-winning caliber writing skills, that American diplomacy is being replaced by military strategy. We’re becoming a nation “that shoots first and asks questions later.”

The book is not political.  That would have been a turn off to me and I likely would not have finished it. Rather, it is a very passionate defense of and celebration of the foreign service and diplomacy.

From a stylistic standpoint, the book is wonderful.  It is, in fact, a page-turner, just as his first book Catch and Kill is (read it!).  It’s absolutely impressive that, at such a young age, Ronan Farrow has so much experience under his belt (check out his resume) and has developed the skills to communicate his passion for his topics through writing nonfiction.

He makes the case that the world has become and will become more and more dangerous as diplomacy is less and less the solution, that war is the failure of diplomacy.  If diplomacy is completely sidelined, it can only mean an increasingly unstable world.

I was reading this book at the same time the conflict with Iran began heating up.  Literally, I sat reading War on Peace while the muted television detailed the world watching and wondering how the United States and Iran were going to either resolve the crisis or move past it.  Of course, even more of this speculation and even official rhetoric were playing out on Twitter…

I’m asking myself questions that I was not even thinking about prior to reading this book:

I’m absolutely supportive of the United States of America and fully believe we should defend ourselves. I equally believe we cannot and should not stop the tedious, long-term process of getting to know our fellow occupants of planet Earth—we cannot stop talking face to face, or diplomacy suffers.

Farrow interviewed every living Secretary of State for this book.  At least for that reason, for those who love American history, this book is a keeper and definitely belongs on your bookshelf.  

I am an unabashed fan of Ronan Farrow!  No idea what he’s writing next, but I’m looking forward to it.