Bookmark This is a feature that highlights new books by College of Arts & Sciences faculty and alumni, published on the first Friday of every month during the academic year.
Featured book: Monsters to Destroy: Understanding the War on Terror (Oxford University Press, November 2019) by Navin A. Bapat.
Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?
A: The book starts with a puzzle: Terrorism kills far fewer Americans annually than automobile accidents, firearms or even lightning strikes. Given this minimal risk, why would Americans continue expending lives and treasure to fight the global war on terror? My argument is that the shock of 9/11 gave the U.S. an opportunity to expand and preserve American control over global energy markets. To permanently establish this dominance, the U.S. offered military protection to states critical in the extraction, sale and transportation of energy from all of their external and internal enemies. By labeling each of these adversaries as “terrorists,” the U.S. was able to gain the political support it needed and was able to spend significant amounts of resources on defending these regimes. However, since the U.S. was willing to protect these states in perpetuity, the leaders of these regimes had no incentive to disarm their terrorists. This inaction allowed terrorists to transition into more powerful and virulent insurgencies, which ultimately caused these conflicts to escalate. Once it became clear that the U.S. could not guarantee these regimes permanent safety, many of them began to break their cooperation with U.S. foreign policy objectives. Although the war on terror began to ensure that the U.S. remained dominant forever, the U.S. is now facing what seems like a permanent war against terrorists to protect what influence it has over global energy markets.
Q: How does this fit in with your research interests and passions?
A: This book pulls together several disparate puzzles I’ve been interested in. Once I learned from data analysis that terrorism is not a very significant threat, I became very interested in understanding why governments react so harshly to it. Along the way, I learned that the answer to this question might have causes that were rooted in economics and finance. These topics became fascinating to me during and after the financial crisis. The book eventually allowed me to link both of these topics together.
Q: What was the original idea that made you think: “There’s a book here?”
A: I wrote a paper about why the U.S. was willing to tolerate the adverse effects of the war on terror earlier in my career. However, because journal articles are shorter, and tend to emphasize technical research more, I was not able to explain the whole story of the U.S. war on terror in one article. I certainly was not able to explain the historical background and the context for U.S. decision-making. I therefore needed a larger text — which led me down the book route. As I started on the book, I also wanted to make my research more accessible to a general audience. So my belief that there was a book here came from wanting to allow my research to speak to a broader audience and putting more emphasis on the history behind the war on terror.
Q: What surprised you when researching/writing this book?
A: I think the biggest surprise was that the U.S. was far more influential in many more conflicts than I thought it was. The research also helped me understand why there is an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in areas where it seems like the U.S. has little influence. On the flip side, it also surprised me that there was a logic to this behavior, and that I could understand why someone could reasonably argue that the war should continue despite the costs, even though I do not necessarily agree with that conclusion.
Q: Where’s your go-to writing spot, and how do you deal with writer’s block?
A: This depends on where I am in the writing process. If I am beginning a chapter or a paper, I like to be somewhere off campus. Two of my favorites are the Open Eye Cafe and the Honeysuckle Cafe in Carrboro. However, once I’ve started a project and need to finish it, I can usually do so on weekends at my office. All of my supporting materials are there, so I can progress a bit faster — so long as I don’t have to be creative there.
Navin A. Bapat is the Dowd Professor in the Study of Peace and War and chair of the curriculum in peace, war and defense.