The sweeping concepts in Shogan’s title suggest a pedantic book best left to professors. As a recent college graduate—a survivor of self-important academia—I shared that apprehension. However, the author’s clear, intelligent writing guides the reader through the most tangled ideological thickets.
War Without End looks at the past 40 years through the lens of America’s “culture war”—social and religious conflicts that have affected political decisions, sometimes explicitly but often subversively, since the start of the Vietnam War. Always fair-minded and objective, Shogan focuses on key players in each battle: Abbie Hoffman and Richard Daley, Richard Nixon and George McGovern, George H.W. Bush and Pat Robertson—right up to Al Gore and the younger George Bush. The book traces today’s conflicts to their roots in the late 1950s, which Shogan cites as the beginning of what we think of as the 1960s. The influence of the Christian Right on the GOP, the outrage over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the bitter 2000 presidential election are all examined in light of precedents set four decades ago.
Historical accounts often lack the color that made the events they describe worth writing about. But War Without End sparkles with detail. Shogan writes that while young and inebriated, George W. Bush drove into some trash cans belonging to a Supreme Court justice: “When his father summoned George W., the son, a couple of sheets to the wind, challenged his father. ‘Let’s settle this mano a mano,’ he demanded.”
Shogan’s 30 years of journalism experience—he was a Washington correspondent for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times—allow for a wealth of material. He describes the Clinton impeachment from the perspective of attorneys on both sides and the 1968 Democratic Convention riots from the streets as well as the headquarters hotel. He also probes skirmishes that the average reader might not know about, such as the reasons behind John Ashcroft’s appointment as US attorney general.
Even the least politically savvy reader can glean a lot from War Without End. This is, after all, our history.