This commentary is based on “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace”, edited by H.E. Barnes.
Chapter 9: American Foreign Policy in the Light of National Interest at the Mid-Century, by George A. Lundberg
By following the policy we have adhered to since the days of Washington we have prospered beyond precedent; we have done more for the cause of liberty in the world than arms could effect; we have shown to other nations the way to greatness and happiness….
But if we should involve ourselves in the web of European politics, in a war which could effect nothing . . . where, then, would be the last hope of the friends of freedom throughout the world? Far better it is . . . that, adhering to our wise pacific system, and avoiding the distant wars of Europe, we should keep our own lamp burning brightly on this western shore, as a light to all nations, than to hazard its utter extinction amidst the ruins of fallen or falling republics in Europe.
—Henry Clay, 1852
We went into the fight [the Korean War] to save the Republic of Korea, a free country established by the United Nations. . . . Meanwhile, we must continue to strengthen the forces of freedom throughout the world....
That means military aid, especially to those places like Indo-China which might be hardest hit by some new Communist attack. . . .
In Europe we must go on helping our friends and allies to build up their military forces....
—Harry S. Truman, address to Congress, 1952
The sentiments expressed via these two quotes capture well the change in the views of many of the political leaders in the intervening 100 years. Both politicians use the term “we,” but Clay uses the term in a manner suggesting humility in foreign relations – leave one lamp in the world to burn brightly while others, through war, work to snuff it out. Truman, on the other hand, uses the term “we” in a manner suggesting aggressive state involvement in all matters military throughout the globe.
Truman is concerned about “some new Communist attack,” or rebuilding the “military forces” of the same European “friends and allies” (Germany and Italy, for example) recently defeated in war – as a buttress against the European enemy (Russia) that was an ally in the recent war. Farcical.
Who is this “we” for whom the politicians speak? Lundberg sheds some light on this as well as other issues related with “national” foreign policy. He starts with an appropriate caveat:
The extent to which there exists in a nation any single goal or goals that are held in common to a high degree is itself a question of fact.
I was glad to find this sentence in his paper. It gave some grounding regarding his viewpoint on the individual as opposed to the collective state. With this always in the background, let’s proceed:
Foreign policy is usually conducted by a few persons. The wise or unwise decisions of these few, from the standpoint of their own definition of national interest, is actually what is operative in concrete situations.
The more centralized the decision-making function, the truer this statement resonates. It is certainly true in the United States today, despite the apparent intentions of the framers of the Constitution (regarding treaties and declaring war). As time has passed, and as precedents have been set, most if not all authority regarding foreign policy today rests within the Executive branch – the president, secretary of state, and secretary of defense most specifically.
Referring to the non-interventionist public mood in the U.S. prior to the First Word War, and making a vigorous return in the years between the two great wars, Lundberg suggests:
At no time has there been evidence of widespread public support of the new internationalism. Only under the impact of concentrated propaganda from the highest official sources regarding the alleged imminent peril, including invasion, of the nation has the necessary support been secured for the wars under cover of which the two ventures into the new internationalism has been achieved.
Wilson became president in 1916 and Roosevelt in 1940 on the most outspoken pledges of nonparticipation in European and Asiatic wars. Wilson's departure from this policy was overwhelmingly repudiated in 1920 and his internationalist program was subsequently dropped from the Democratic platforms of 1924 and 1928. Franklin D. Roosevelt himself explicitly declared, in 1932, his opposition to our joining the League of Nations. The neutrality legislation of the 1930s represented a return to our traditional foreign police, and only as a result of the provoked attack upon Pearl Harbor was it possible again to secure a declaration of war in 1941.
From the standpoint of the public, avoiding entanglement in foreign wars seemed to be of significant importance. Both Wilson and Roosevelt recognized this and ran on non-interventionist platforms.
Lundberg notes that since the end of the war, the country has remained on war footing (he writes this in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Cold War and during the Korean War). Sadly, this war footing has gone on virtually uninterrupted for 60 years since he wrote those words.
Lundberg identifies two of the most commonly advanced as goals of national policy, namely, (1) security and (2) prosperity. As to security, he describes a paranoia that exists among the American people – this written 50 years before Americans became convinced that men in caves half a world away were about to conquer the United States:
A nation in which millions of people can be frightened by a radio broadcast into accepting as authentic a wholly fanciful news broadcast about an invasion from Mars, betrays a state of nerves that must be considered pathological. Especially is this true if one considers that it was not principally the illiterate part of the population who were the chief victims of the panic, but rather definitely middle-class people with considerable "education."
The location from which the fanciful invasion springs forth has been changed (from Mars to caves in a foreign desert); the storyline has not changed much.
Or, consider the ease with which vast numbers of Americans have accepted the notion that we have, on two separate occasions in the last thirty-five years, been in imminent danger from invasion by Germany and by Japan. No logistics have ever shown that such events were within a range of probability requiring concern. Subsequent investigations have shown that such operations have, in fact, never been contemplated by the countries in question. Yet it is perhaps correct to say that a considerable public in the United States lives in more or less constant fear of such eventualities.
Yes, it is “perhaps correct to say” this, even today. Even the unipolar power of the United States today is not capable of achieving such domination – not even in one foreign land (say Iraq or Afghanistan), let alone the entire world. This inability to even control one small corner of the globe comes despite hundreds of foreign bases, a dozen aircraft carriers, global surveillance capabilities, and a military budget almost equal to that of all other countries in the world.
Yet somehow Germany and Japan were going to do this in a world of Britain, France, Russia, and the United States – conquer each of them in turn and still remain strong enough and in control of these conquered populations such that they could then turn their attention to the next hapless victim.
To the contrary, Lundberg suggests that it is the rest of the world that might more rationally fear attack or invasion by the United States – remember, this is written 60 years ago:
Professor Sibley recently summarized in briefest outline the record of the United States with respect to war and conquest, as follows:
It is difficult to know just what the United Nations Charter means when it speaks of its constituent members as "peace-loving"; but if it means by the term a relative absence of war in the history and traditions of the nations involved, it is not speaking of the United States. First the long and costly American Revolution; then the undeclared war with France; then the war against Tripoli; the fatuous War of 1812; miscellaneous and costly Indian wars between 1800 and 1860, many of them arising because of treaties broken by the United States; the frankly imperialist war against Mexico; the long and bloody Civil War; an extensive series of wars against so-called "uncivilized" Indian tribes beginning shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War; the Spanish-American War; the cruel and costly suppression of the Filipino insurrection; undeclared wars in the Caribbean area during the administration of the "anti-imperialist" Woodrow Wilson; the First World War; undeclared war against Nicaragua during the twenties; and finally the enormously costly Second World War. That is the record—one year in four, conservatively estimated, a war year.
For the same period of national existence there are perhaps few, if any, countries, except Great Britain, that could equal the record. At the very least, foreign nations cannot help but note that twice within the last thirty-five years the United States has invaded both Europe and Asia with military expeditions that could not, except by the wildest stretch of the imagination; be termed defensive. The invasion of Russia in 1919 is not even known to many Americans. It is these objective facts, not our pious and perhaps sincere pretensions regarding them, that must weigh in the opinion of foreign countries.
I will say the invasion of Russia was not known to me. I find two references on this subject:
The American Expeditionary Force Siberia (AEF Siberia) was a United States Army force that was involved in the Russian Civil War in Vladivostok, Russian Empire, during the end of World War I after the October Revolution, from 1918 to 1920.
The last American soldiers left Siberia on April 1, 1920. During their 19 months in Siberia, 189 soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia died from all causes.
The last soldiers left seventeen months after the Armistice – including two Russian winters!
The Polar Bear Expedition (also known as the Northern Russian Expedition, the American North Russia Expeditionary Force - ANREF or the American Expeditionary Force North Russia - AEFNR) was a contingent of about 5,000 U.S. troops that landed in Arkhangelsk, Russia as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and fought the Red Army in the surrounding region during the period of September 1918 through July 1919.
In early June , the bulk of the ANREF sailed for Brest, France and then for New York City and home, which for two-thirds of them was in the state of Michigan.
During their time in North Russia, the American forces suffered more than 110 deaths from battle, plus about 30 missing and 70 deaths from disease, 90% of which were caused by the Spanish Flu.
These American “polar bears” were left to fight in the coldest Russia for six months after the Armistice, during the cold of a northern Russian winter.
Back to Sibley:
Nor does it help to contend that, in recent years, we have not kept, and do not intend permanently to retain, any of the territory conquered. The regimes we have protected, established, or bolstered in the invaded areas are, from the standpoint of our enemies, merely so many Quisling regimes openly supported financially and with military supplies for the purpose of strengthening our military, economic, and political position for whatever program we see fit to adopt.
Puppet governments in order to avoid the appearance of control. Forgive my redundancy, but this insight was penned 60 years ago. Nothing has changed, only accelerated.
Having described the irrational fear, perhaps paranoia, on the part of many Americans, and having outlined that it might instead be the rest of the world that could rightly live in fear of American policies, Lundberg comes to the question of the national interest as regarding foreign policy.
I will explore this in a subsequent post.