At the Point of a Gun

Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention

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About The Book

Veteran journalist David Rieff’s essays draw a searing portrait of what happens when the grandiose schemes of policymakers and human rights activists go horribly wrong in the field.

Writing for publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to The Nation to France’s Le Monde, David Rieff witnessed firsthand most of the armed interventions since the Cold War waged by the West or the United Nations in the name of human rights and democratization. In this timely collection of his most illuminating articles, Rieff, one of our leading experts on the subject, reassesses some of his own judgments about the use of military might to solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems.

At the Point of a Gun raises critical questions we cannot ignore in this era of gunboat democracy. When, if ever, is it appropriate to intervene militarily in the domestic affairs of other nations? Are human rights and humanitarian concerns legitimate reasons for intervening, or is the assault on sovereignty a flag of convenience for the recolonization of part of the world? And, above all, can democracy be imposed through the barrel of an M16? This is not an optimistic report, but the questions Rieff raises are of the essence as the United States grapples with the harsh consequences of what it has wrought on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

About The Author

Photo by Megan Hustad

David Rieff is the author of eight previous books, including Swimming in a Sea of Death, At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 4, 2013)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476737485

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Raves and Reviews

"Provocative. . . . Brutally articulate. . . . Intriguing." -- The New York Times

"David Rieff's ongoing examination of international events and their protagonists is often colored by a deep skepticism, but there is indeed much to be skeptical about nowadays. Rieff provides original and valuable insights into the Iraq war, Kosovo, Rwanda, and other situations. He evaluates institutions -- the U.S. government or the United Nations -- and he examines the practical validity of concepts -- humanitarianism, sanctions, internationalism, human rights, or democratization. Rieff's analysis, based on his firsthand observation, is stimulating and clear-eyed. His book is important for those who believe that ability to cope with the future starts with frank criticism and self-analysis, and that in human affairs and institutions, one of the prerequisites for progress is a relentless examination of past events, mistakes, and illusions." -- Brian Urquhart, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

"Rieff's lucid, fair-minded, and provocative essays should be mandatory reading for anybody who is trying to make sense out of our ever-more-troubling, post-September 11 world." -- Sanford D. Horwitt, San Francisco Chronicle

"In the last decade, Rieff has been one of the most engaging observers of war and humanitarian emergencies in such troubled places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At the Point of a Gun charts the predicament of liberal internationalism. . . . Offers fascinating reporting from post-invasion Iraq and reflections on the odd Bush-era 'marriage' of liberal Wilsonians and conservative hawks." -- G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

"Rejecting equally utopian humanitarianism and neoconservative ideology, Rieff's collection of essays provides a compelling analysis of when military intervention is necessary and when it is doomed to fail." -- George Soros

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