I sometimes wonder whether U.S. officials changed the name of Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I, to Veteran’s Day in order to get Americans to forget about World War I. If so, this year’s 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I must be their worst nightmare because it causes people to focus their attention on a war that the United States should never have entered and that had such enormously disastrous consequences.
After all, it wasn’t like the United States had been invaded by some foreign army. Instead, this was a war of choice, one thousands of miles away from American shores, one that American statists thought would show the grand virtues of foreign interventionism, a foreign-policy perspective that our American ancestors had rejected when they established our nation.
Our nation’s founding principle of non-intervention was encapsulated in the great speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the Fourth of July, 1821. Adams pointed out that the United States does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.”
What he meant by that was although there were lots of bad things in the world, including endless European wars, the U.S. government would not involve itself in trying to resolve them or taking sides in the conflicts. If America were ever to abandon its noninterventionist roots, Adams said, it would fundamentally alter American society, including converting the federal government into a regime with dictatorial characteristics.
But President Wilson and his interventionist cohorts rejected America’s founding philosophy of nonintervention. By intervening in the European conflict, they figured that the U.S. government could finally bring an end to European wars and usher in an era that would make the world “safe for democracy.”
Of course, the opposite happened, which is precisely why the last thing interventionists want modern day Americans to be focusing on is World War I.
No, it didn’t end all wars. No, it didn’t make the world safe for democracy. But, yes, it sure did fundamentally alter American society and convert the federal government into one with dictatorial characteristics, just as Adams said it would. It was during WWI that the Espionage Act was enacted, a tyrannical law that overhangs American society even today. It was also during WWI that the federal government was jailing people for criticizing America’s entry into the war. It was during WWI that people developed a malevolent mindset toward German-American immigrants and German culture.
America’s entry into World War I was also instrumental in giving rise to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime several years later. Absent U.S. intervention, there would never have been a Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war and whose vindictive “victor’s justice” terms Hitler was able to seize upon to rally support for his political party.
Is it any wonder then that the American people were totally disgusted with the outcome of World War I? They had seen America’s non-interventionist philosophy abandoned. They had seen the total waste of American lives. They had seen American society transformed in a totalitarian direction. And they had seen that the total defeat of Germany in World War I, brought about mainly by U.S. intervention, had led to the rise of Nazism in Germany.
So, when World War II broke out, not surprisingly the American people were overwhelmingly opposed to getting involved again.
But the interventionists, led this time by President Franklin Roosevelt, weren’t going to let that happen. Come hell or high water, they were bound and determined to get the United States involved in a second European war—or actually a continuation of the first one. This time, they felt, interventionism would set things right.
As much as he wanted to get the United States involved in another European war, to FDR’s credit he declined to do so in the absence of the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. But given the widespread antipathy among the American people toward another intervention, he knew that Congress would never grant his request for a declaration of war … unless the other side fired the first shot.
Thus, while assuring Americans in his 1940 presidential campaign that their boys were never going to be sent into another foreign war, Roosevelt was secretly doing everything he could to provoke the Germans into firing the first shot. When that effort failed, Roosevelt turned to the Pacific, with the aim of inducing the Japanese to fire the first shot, thereby providing FDR with a “back door” to getting the United States involved in the European war.
That’s what the oil embargo against Japan was all about, and the freezing of Japanese bank accounts in the United States, and the humiliating terms that Roosevelt offered in negotiations with the Japanese, and the secret funding of the Flying Tigers, which were attacking and killing Japanese soldiers before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Roosevelt figured that if he just squeezed the Japanese rulers hard enough, they would strike back, and then Roosevelt would get what he wanted.
That, of course, explains the extreme passivity that Roosevelt displayed on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. The last thing FDR wanted was to take any action that would dissuade the Japanese from attacking U.S. troops somewhere, at Pearl, in the Philippines, or elsewhere.
The way Roosevelt obviously figured it was that in war, men are always sacrificed. Thus, in order to overcome American opposition to what Roosevelt felt was a vitally necessary war that the U.S. needed to get involved in, the sacrifice of a few thousand American men would be worth it. What are a few lives when weighed against what Roosevelt felt was the future of civilization?
FDR’s scheme worked. The Japanese took the bait and attacked at Pearl Harbor. Germany came to Japan’s side with a declaration of war against the United States.
Roosevelt had his war. For all practical purposes, American opposition to entry into WWII evaporated.
Ever since, the interventionists have done their best to stamp World War II as the “good war” and to stamp out any collective memory of WWI and its disastrous consequences.
What were the results of this “good war” that interventionists celebrate? A total communist takeover of Eastern Europe and East Germany, the 45-year-long Cold War against America’s WWII partner and ally, the Soviet Union, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and a foreign policy of empire, the national-security state, an enormous standing army, the CIA, the NSA, interventionism, partnerships with brutal dictators, assassinations, coups, invasions, occupations, COINTELPRO, torture, and regime-change operations, all in the name of fighting “communism.”
With “victories” like those in World War I and World War II, who needs losses?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation
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