The Twentieth Century was a violent one. Militarily I suppose it began in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War; Central and Western Europe wasn't to see much peace from then until 1945, and the reconstruction of Western Europe was hardly complete until the 1960s. I used to think of World War II as a terrible interruption in the century; in fact, it was a termination.
(A termination of one kind of terror, perhaps followed by the beginning of another kind — not military but economic. Jury's out on that; we're in the midst of it, and can't see the forest for the trees.)
Lately World War II has been too much in mind, as if we knew, somehow, that we were on the cusp of another such trial. There's been a lot of discussion, for example, of honor and culpability, a lot of blame thrown at people whose own trials we can never really know. I'm thinking, for example, of Janet Malcolm's treatment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007), a book that annoyed me considerably when it appeared. We must investigate; we must document; we must discuss: but we must never cast judgment backward on the past; it's hard enough to practice it on the present.
We can, however, learn. This is what Robert Mnookin does in his book Bargaining with the Devil. It's written as an argument for negotiation, even at times negotiation with enemies, even those one might think of as evil (or at least as having done evil things); but in support of that thesis Mnookin recounts two examples drawn from the period of World War II: Winston Churchill's refusal to negotiate with Hitler in May 1940 — there are times when even Mnookin agrees it's wrong to negotiate — and Rudolf Kasztner's decision to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann over the release of Jews from Hungary in the waning days of the war.
A third example, the Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and his refusal to negotiate with the KGB, contrasts vividly with Nelson Mandela's negotiations with F.W. de Klerk — negotiations that contributed to the end of apartheid in the Union of South Africa. (De Klerk himself is not examined in any great length, but appears as a sympathetic character emerging from an evil system: it would be interesting to hear a conversation between him and Mikhail Gorbachev.)
Mnookin's book appears at the right historical moment, when some of the American Right is vilifying the State Department's evident embrace of negotiation and diplomacy as the right course, even with potential enemies. Beyond its immediate political value, though, Bargaining With the Devil is an interesting book and one offering useful application to everyday life: I'm glad I read it.