by Benjamin L. Landis
In August 1945 the United States was quite literally sitting on top of the world. With its allies in Europe it had destroyed Nazism and forced Germany to accept an unconditional surrender. In the Pacific with minimal support from allies it had compelled Japan to accept an unconditional surrender. Then, unlike the United Kingdom and France in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, it did not impose humiliating conditions on the conquered peoples, but established benign occupations and as promptly as possible created democratic governments in Japan and in West Germany and progressively eased these countries back to full sovereignty. In August 1945 the United States alone possessed nuclear weapons.On January 6, 1944, President Roosevelt had defined the four essential freedoms for mankind: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. In July 1944 under United States leadership an international monetary and financial conference was held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it created the post-war international monetary and financial systems. Again, under United States leadership, in April 1945 the United Nations Conference on International organization began the deliberations which led to the United Nations Charter and the creation of the United Nations Organization, which came to life on October 24, 1945.
Nineteen forty-five was undoubtedly the finest moment in the century and a half of its existence. The United States was poised on the edge of a greatness that no other country had ever realized. It had shed its traditional isolationism. Its words and actions appeared to indicate that it was prepared to assume its hard-won place in the world, to open the world to a better future, to share and inculcate the principles and governing philosophy of its founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, and to strive to make the Four Freedoms universal.
The moment came and went. The opportunity was not seized. The last effort to change the world in its image can be placed in April 1948 when the Marshall Plan became effective and, although its programs were limited to countries of Western Europe, it had, nonetheless envisioned a wider application. The United States government offer to extend this aid to the Soviet Union and its satellites was rejected. Then in June 1948 the Soviet Union imposed its blockade of Berlin. Not only did this declare the opening of the Cold War, it, more importantly, caused a dramatic about face in the relationship of the United States with the rest of the nations of the world.
Anti-Communism had for long been a strong element in the American political psyche. In 1938 the House Un-American Activities Committee was created to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and of those organizations suspected of having Communist, as well as Nazi, ties. The most renowned of its chairmen was Martin Dies, even though he only held this position from 1938 to 1944. The committee itself endured under different, less flamboyant chairs until 1975. Its hold on the American collective psyche was never great, particularly because its claims were usually, not only inaccurate, but scurrilous and ridiculous, one of the most notorious being the implication that Shirley Temple was a “fellow-traveler”. She was ten years old at the time. Nonetheless, by its very existence, it contributed to instill in the collective American psyche the apprehension that Communism was a threat.
Much more importantly in his contribution to this apprehension were the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Although he waged his anti-Communist “witch hunt” for only four years (1950-1954), the effects of his public declarations were traumatizing. Even though his claims of Communist infiltration into the government were in large part unsubstantiated, his vociferousness, combined with events in the world at large, were much more significant than those of the House Un-American Activities Committee in infecting the collective American psyche with the virus of paranoia.
In August 1949 the Soviet Union conducted its first test of an atomic weapon. Some Americans began to build and stock personal shelters in the event of a nuclear attack. Some schools conducted drills to teach their pupils to hide themselves underneath their desks in the event of attack. In October 1949 the Communist People’s Republic of China was officially founded; the U.S.-supported Kuomintang withdrew to Taiwan. Four years earlier Ho Chi Minh had declared the establishment of a Communist state in North Vietnam, even while the French were trying to regain possession of their former colony.
The attitude of the American people changed drastically between 1945 and 1949. From a spirit of openness, rejecting its pre-war isolationism, it became infected by the virus of paranoia. The collective American spirit was no longer interested in a possible world-mission. It developed a fear that its institutions, its way of life, would succumb to Communism. The fact that this was a totally irrational reaction to world events and to the “witch hunters” did not diminish its power. The American people now conceived their mission to be to protect themselves and their territory. The American people and their government willingly sacrificed their principles and heritage to fight Communism. And as the Cold War continued through the decades, the level of paranoia also increased.
In February 1948 the Communist Party took over the government of Czechoslovakia. In June 1950 Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States government fearing a possible Soviet intervention in Europe significantly augmented its military forces in West Germany. In 1954 after the North Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Conference that followed, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the official founding of the Socialist Republic of North Vietnam. In 1956 the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and crushed its anti-Communist revolution.
The most devastating blow that definitively anchored paranoia in the American soul was the installation of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads by the Soviet Union in Cuba in retaliation to the United States having done the same in Turkey. In October 1962 for 13 days the impression was that the world trembled on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev finally arrived at a compromise solution that removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba and the American missiles from Turkey. It was one of the very rare diplomatic successes for both the United States and the Soviet Union during the 43 years of the Cold War, thanks to President Kennedy’s refusal to accept the urgings of his advisors to attack Cuba and to both his and pPemier Khrushchev’s willingness to negotiate a compromise solution.
Blow after blow. It became apparent to the American spirit that the Soviet Union was intent on expanding Communism country by country throughout the world. The intensity of paranoia in the collective American society continued to increase. And that intensity was reinforced in the government, regardless of political party. Unfortunately, paranoia leads to two consequences, one, unfortunate, the other, disastrous. The first is a pervasive perception that one is surrounded by danger, threats, menace. This perception leads ineluctably to a defensive attitude toward the surrounding world. One’s conduct must consider this factor in all contacts with that world. One concentrates one’s efforts, one’s resources, one’s decisions on safeguarding one’s self. One is no longer capable of examining issues rationally. Self protection becomes the overriding consideration in all activities. Paranoia leads to believing that there are dangers lurking underneath one’s bed, in the closet, in the attic.
This attitude led to the CIA-managed overthrow of a freely elected democratic government in Iran in 1953 and the installation of a monarchical dictatorship. It led to another CIA-managed overthrow in 1973 of a democratically elected government in Chile and the establishment of a military dictatorship. It Ied to the support and financing by the United States of the overthrow of the El Salvador government in 1980 in order to suppress a people’s revolution. It led to the illegal sale of arms to Iran in the early 1980’s and the partial use of the revenues to fund illegally a rebellion against a freely elected government in Nicaragua. The CIA also participated in the training of the rebels in their bases in neighboring countries. Pushed by its paranoia the US government abandoned its heritage and supported dictators throughout the world.
Although such paranoia leads to sealing one’s self off from the real worldand to carrying out irrational acts, it is not the most consequential of its effects. This is the turn to Miltarism as the preferred, if not the only, means for solving problems. This is the doctrine that the paranoia of the American psyche created during the years of the Cold War. The United States did not invent Militarism. It is an evil spirit that has existed since almost the beginning of civilization. The Assyrians, Athens, Sparta, Macedon, Rome, Napoleonic France, Prussian Germany, and most horrifically, Hitlerian Germany: all adopted the doctrine. And the Cold War paranoia of the American people pushed them to adopt it.
In 1963 the United States government supported the invasion of newly Communist Cuba that ended in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In 1965 the United States began its 8-year long futile military intervention in Vietnam. During this period it also heavily bombed Laos and Cambodia. In April 1965 the United States invaded the Dominican Republic and occupied the country for a year and a half. (There had been a previous American invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic in May 1916 that lasted until 1922.) In October 1983 against the expressed wishes of the United Nations General Assembly, the United States invaded the small island nation of Grenada in order to overthrow its government. For the same reason in December 1989 the United States invaded Panama.
What is, in fact, the psychological and philosophical nature of Militarism? In essence, it is a doctrine that is never explicitly formulated, but that views the use of arms as the primary and preferred means of solving problems in international relations. In the United States during this period and up to today the Department of State has been superseded by the Department of Defense as the forger of American diplomacy. And diplomacy as such has become a mere adjunct to military considerations. And the rise of Militarism, always latent in the American psyche, was given its impetus during this period by the paranoia and sense of endangerment infecting the psyche of American society and even more strongly, that of the United States government.
Then, in 1991, the world changed. The Soviet Union disappeared. The new Russia disavowed Communism. The specter of Communism as an expanding doctrine, slowly taking over the rest of the world under the impulsion of the now-defunct Soviet Union ceased to exist. The feeling of paranoia ingrained in the American spirit over a period of about 45 years should have begun to dissipate. Yet it did not. Militarism had secured a too strong implantation in the American spirit. Military and political leaders and the other elements of the military-industrial complex maintained the paranoia of American society in proclaiming China to be a threat as serious as the Soviet Union, if not more serious. And the American people succumbed to their propaganda, even though China had never shown any desire to propagate Communism around the world. In fact, since Deng Xiaopeng took over the leadership in 1980 and began to institute economic reforms that were quasi-capitalist in nature, China has ceased to be a Communist country except in name. It is now simply a run-of-the-mill dictatorship. Nonetheless, those with a vested interest in maintaining the paranoia of the American people and in fostering Militarism continue to cite China as a threat, along with implausible North Korea and Iran.
With the disappearance of the Soviet Union the United States ceased cloaking its paranoia as anti-Communist efforts and felt free to launch itself into open Militarism. In 1999 along with allies it bombed Serbia into submission. (It is necessary to be clear that there were since the end of the Second World War two military interventions by the United States that can be considered righteous. The first, of course, was the defense of South Korea against the North Korean invasion. Yet, because of the failure of President Truman to restrain the megalomania of General Douglas MacArthur, this conflict was transformed into a war of conquest. One can only speculate how different today’s world would be if United States forces had stopped well south of the Yalu and forced a defeated North Korea to negotiate an armistice. The second conflict was the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from its Iraqi occupier. Fortunately, President G. H. W Bush possessed enough common sense and geopolitical savvy to realize that extending the war into the conquest of Iraq would have been costly and futile and was not called for under the prevailing circumstances.)
Then on September 11, 2001 a terrorist attack destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and crashed an airplane into the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 persons. This was an Al Qaeda operation. It cannot be judged an Al Qaeda success. This was a failure of the United States government to protect its territory and its citizens. On the one hand, there were strong indications that a terrorist attack was imminent. Some of the probable participants had been identified. Yet the upper echelons of the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to react. On the other hand, the Federal government after a succession of airplane hijackings had delegated flight security to the commercial air carriers. These businesses, ever conscious of their bottom lines, used inadequately trained, poorly paid, and inadequately motivated personnel to conduct security screenings. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the terrorists were able to smuggle weapons (box cutters) on board the three chosen flights.
As a result of the attacks the collective paranoia in American society and in the national government soared. And the reigning doctrine of Militarism pushed the United States to invade Iraq under false pretenses. And also Afghanistan. The two ostensible reasons for invading this latter country were the elimination of a jihadist refuge in Afghanistan and the capture or killing of Osama Bin Laden. The first objective was attained by the elimination of the Taliban government before significant U.S. forces were in country. Osama Bin Laden escaped successfully to Pakistan where he remained until his death in 2011. The deployment of large numbers of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, therefore, had no legitimate purpose with respect to American interests. Nonetheless, today in 2013 the United States is still waging a futile war there.
In 2011 the United States participated in the bombing of Libya to support rebel groups in their efforts to overthrow the government of Muammar Qaddafi.
Today, in 2013, paranoid Militarism is the primary moving force in American diplomacy. The present crisis as a result of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilian population is a prime example of the grip that Militarism has on the mentality of the United States government. The immediate reaction of the United States was to move to employ military force against Syria, not to achieve any concrete, situation-changing objective, but to create problematically sufficient fear in Bassar al-Assad that he would not use chemical weapons again. It is as though President Obama in consultation with his advisors asked the question, “How can we punish Assad?”, rather than the more positive and useful question, “How can we ensure that chemical weapons will not be used again?” Whether one should credit the informal talks between Presidents Obama and Putin at the G20 meeting, or the off-the-cuff answer to a reporter’s question by Secretary of State Kerry, or President Putin’s idea alone is moot. The fact that diplomacy is now playing the role it is supposed to play is a sign that serious international problems can be resolved without recurrence to military force. Whether this thought will penetrate the psyche of the United States government for future occasions is problematic.
The major issue facing American diplomacy today is how to overcome the paranoia and spirit of Militarism that infect the psyche of the American public and its government. I would suggest that the first step is for the American public to look at the world as it really is and not as it is described by the military-industrial-political establishment. For example, let us look at the present and future potential threats to the territorial integrity of the United States and to the safety of the American people. These can be categorized as follows: invasion, nuclear attack, chemical weapons attack, terrorism, cyber warfare.
The American people should recognize that no country in the world has the capability of invading the United States. Moreover, no country in the world has the desire, even unavowed, to invade the United States. Furthermore, as long as the United States maintains a reasonably sized, equipped, and trained navy and air force no nation will ever be capable of invading the United States.
No nation in the world, regardless of how belligerent, regardless of any threats its leader cooses to make, would entertain the idea of launching a nuclear attack against the United States. Any nation that dared to do so would be, in effect, asking that it be wiped out. No chief of state , regardless of how bellicose, how deranged, would invite his and his country’s destruction by launching a nuclear attack against American territory. Only Russia has an equivalent nuclear strike capability. The other seven nations with nuclear arms are far inferior, even combined, to the nuclear strike capability of the United States. Of these seven, three are American allies and it is difficult to imagine that they would ever rupture their friendly relations with the United States. Two of the others are, at the least, friends of the United States. One of the others has very possibly the most pragmatic government in the world and has no desire to see its national interests destroyed by a large scale nuclear attack. The remaining nuclear “power” is, of course, North Korea. Its nuclear warfare capability is minimal. In fact, it may very well not have a deliverable nuclear weapon at all. When, and if, it does achieve this capability, its arsenal will be so inferior to that of the United States that not even a madman would consider it a good idea to launch a nuclear attack against the United States. Kim Jong-un is not mad, regardless of his saber rattling and ranting. Nor are his generals on whom he depends to retain his position.
The possibility exists that two smaller nuclear powers could use nuclear weapons against each other, for example Pakistan against India or vice versa. The possibility exists that a smaller nuclear power could use nuclear arms against a non-nuclear power, for example, Israel against Iran. To deter such unwarranted use of nuclear weapons the United States needs to proclaim an official nuclear warfare policy in order that other nuclear powers understand the futility of using this weapon. I would suggest that that policy include
(1) The United States will never again be the first to use nuclear weapons.
(2) The United States considers the use of nuclear weapons as unwarranted, regardless of the situation, and a crime against humanity.
(3) If any nation uses nuclear weapons against another, the United States will strike that nation with equivalent nuclear force and, to the degree possible, against similar targets.
(4) If any terrorist organization succeeds in obtaining a nuclear weapon and uses it against any country, the United States, after determining what country supplied the nuclear weapon or the materials to manufacture it as well as what country served as a base for the terrorist organization, will strike either or both the countries involved with nuclear or non-nuclear weapons to inflict equivalent damage against similar targets.
(5) It is the intention of the United States to strive to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. To this end, the United States will initiate and continue negotiations with Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals significantly. And when those arsenals have been reduced to a level representing approximately twice the size of the largest arsenal among the smaller nuclear powers, these powers will be asked to join further negotiations to progressively reduce all nuclear weapons arsenals to zero.
(6) In the event any non-nuclear nation attempts to furnish itself with nuclear weapons, the United States, if possible, along with its allies and the international community, will persistently use all diplomatic means to deter such nation in its efforts. In the event such efforts over time are unsuccessful, the United States, if possible, with its allies and the international community, will take such military action as deemed appropriate to eliminate such nation’s capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
It would be salutary if Russia were to join the United States in adopting and proclaiming this policy. If not, the United States should declare it unilaterally.
The potential threat of the use of chemical weapons is also minimal. One hundred eighty-seven nations have signed the Convention on Chemical Weapons of 1993 and are progressively under international monitoring eliminating their stocks of chemical weapons. Syria, a non-signatory, has, as I write this, requested to join the other signatories. Whether the international community will be able to enforce and control the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is an open question. But this initial step is a promising sign. That leaves only North Korea, another non-signatory, with a substantial stockpile of chemical weapons. As of now, North Korea has no capability to deliver chemical weapons on American soil. Nonetheless, the above suggested nuclear weapons policy should have the following corollaries with regard to chemical weapons:
(7) The United States considers the use of chemical weapons as unwarranted, regardless of the situation, and a crime against humanity.
(8) If any nation uses chemical weapons against the people of another country, the United States, if possible, with its allies and the international community, will undertake military strikes against similar targets in that nation and of an equivalent destructive nature.
(9) If any terrorist organization acquires the capability of using chemical weapons and does so against the people of any country, the United States, after having determined the source of the chemical weapons or the materials to manufacture the weapons as well as the country that harbored the terrorists will, if possible, with its allies and the international community, initiate a military strike against the nation having furnished the weapons or the materials for the weapons as well as against the nation that harbored the terrorist organization. The strike will be against similar or other appropriate targets and will be of equivalent or greater destructive force.
With respect to terrorism, there exist two forms: domestic and international. The essential difference between them is that domestic terrorism is planned, organized, and executed by residents of the United States against targets inside the United States, whereas international terrorism is planned, organized, and executed by non-residents of the United States against either American targets abroad or inside the United States. The suppression and the bringing to justice of domestic terrorists is the responsibility of the police at all levels (national, state, county, municipal), the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice. This responsibility is both individual and joint and requires the highest degree of cooperation and coordination. International terrorism is the responsibility of the CIA and the Department of Defense. This responsibility is both individual and joint and requires the highest degree of cooperation and coordination. As directed by the President, other federal police agencies, as requested by either the CIA or the Department of Defense, can be made available to assist in the carrying out of that responsibility. In particular, specialized Army and Navy units should be called on when deemed necessary.
The threat of terrorist attack, and, in particular, an international terrorist attack, is minimal. The measures that have been put into effect since the attacks of September 11, 2001, have reduced the threat of an international terrorist attack to virtually zero. There is a far greater risk of a domestic terrorist act than an international terrorist act. Yet domestic terrorism does not incite the paranoia as does the much-less risky international terrorism. The American public must keep the two forms of terrorism well separated in their minds when they evaluate the risks involved. Furthermore, one must remember that massive military intervention is not the proper instrument to use to prevent a terrorist attack or to bring the perpetrators to justice, whether the attack occurs in the United States or overseas. This has been conclusively demonstrated by the futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cyber warfare represents a different kind of threat. Unless nations develop the capability to penetrate systems, such as, those that control air flights and armed nuclear weapons, the dangers involved do not include physical damage to either individuals or property. These dangers should not be underestimated, but they can also be thwarted. The defensive aspects of cyber warfare with regard to the armed forces are logically the domain of the Department of Defense. Those defensive aspects with regard to the civilian economy and infrastructure fall logically within the domain of the Department of Homeland Security with close cooperation and coordination with the FBI and the Department of Justice.. The offensive aspects of cyber warfare rest the domain of the Department of Defense.
Today, the risks of cyber attack are, fortunately, minimal. This may well not always be the case. But one can ask oneself, “Why would another nation launch a cyber attack against the United States?” The answer is, “strictly for its nuisance value”. It certainly cannot be followed up with an invasion, a nuclear attack, or a chemical weapons attack. There is no terrorist organization that has or is likely to have the capability of engaging in cyber warfare, other than sporadic “hacking”.
In summary, all the possible threats against the territorial integrity and the safety of the American public are minimal to non-existent. And yet the American public remains paranoid about the possibility of such threats. This paranoia has led the United States government to adopt Militarism as its basic means of dealing with international relations problems. Even though it is recognized that Militarism leads to futile wars with exorbitant costs in monetary and material resources, and, especially in human lives, soldiers and civilians, men, women and, most tragically, children as well as to a loss of liberty for the American people. Can this situation be corrected? Can the American people rid themselves of the psychosis of paranoia?
The first step is, obviously, that they see the world as it really is and not as the sponsors of Militarism want them to see it and thus accept that the United States and its people are at a very small risk of danger from overseas. The greatest risk is domestic.
Once this is accepted, a number of measures can be taken to eliminate the blight of Militarism. First, the Army and Marine Corps can be reduced by at least 50% without endangering the safety of American society or the integrity of American territory. Obviously, such a reduction cannot be started until the armed forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan. However, the current objective of end 2014 could be considerably shortened without endangering the American people. (See article “Afghanistan: An American Tragedy” by the present author archived on this site) The subsequent reduction in the Army and Marine Corps could then be phased over 5 years. On the other hand, a strong Navy and Air Force are essential to thwart any conceivable threat, however improbable, of invasion or nuclear attack. They are, nonetheless, presently oversized for such missions and could be reduced by about 20%.
The United States should withdraw its forces from those places where they serve no useful purpose with regard to the military defense of the United States. For example, from Germany, from Japan, from South Korea, etc. Also, U.S. forces and installations should be withdrawn from all nations that have non-democratic, dictatorial governments. The same should also be applied to the furnishing of funds for their armed forces. In fact, the concept of furnishing military aid to nations needs to be reviewed on the basis that the United States would furnish no such aid to any nation unless it was potentially and manifestly threatened by one of its neighbors. The removal of the American military footprint on the rest of the world would further reduce tensions between the rest of the world, particularly the Islamic world, and the United States and lessen the motivation to engage in international terrorism.
The adoption of the above measures would be a giant step toward reducing the psychosis of Militarism in the psyche of the American people and the United States government and would also assist in eliminating the Department of Defense as the actual leader of American foreign policy.
At the same time, vigorous efforts would need to be made to re-establish the Department of State and the Foreign Service as the actual leaders of American foreign policy under the direction of the President. (See article ”The Time Has Come: A Prescription for the Renaissance of American Diplomacy” by the present author archived on this site) These efforts would entail (1) a reorganization of the Department of State [See article “A ‘Next Generation’ Department of State’ A Proposal for the Consolidation of the Management of Foreign Affairs” by Ambassador (ret.) Edward Marks archived on this site.] Within the framework of such a reorganization the role of ambassadors must be strengthened if American diplomacy is to be successful. They must have the authority and responsibility for the control of all Americfan relations within the countries to which they are assigned. (2) an overhaul of Foreign Service recruitment and career training [See article “A Foreign Service for the Twenty-first Century” by the present author archived on this site] (3) the establishment of a coherent foundation for American foreign policy in keeping with the ideals of our nation’s conception [See article “Foundation for a Coherent Foreign Policy” by the present author archived on this site] (4) an overhaul of the Foreign Service Institute to enhance the qualifications of Foreign Service officers and (5) a substantial increase in the funds available for American diplomatic operations.
Also, the United States government should offer to reopen diplomatic relations with all those nations where they do not exist, such as, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc. To break off diplomatic relations with another nation is an anachronism, unless the two nations are at war with each other. If relations are difficult or strained with another nation, it is precisely then that direct diplomacy between the nations concerned is absolutely necessary in order to attempt to eliminate the causes for the difficulty or strain. Throughout the Cold War the United States maintained diplomatic relations with its “enemy”, even when the Cuban missile crisis occurred. It is patently ridiculous and non-productive not to have relations with Cuba, Iran, and Norh Korea.
In addition, in order to reduce the mindset of Militarism in the government, the title of the National Security Advisor to the President should be changed to International Relations Advisor and the title of the National Security Council should be changed to International Relations Council. The present terms were probably appropriate during the Cold War, but today they simply reinforce the idea that the United States and its people are surrounded by fearsome and unknown dangers.
Concomitant with the shedding of its paranoia, the American people need to recognize that no power, divine or earthly, has given the United States the mission to save the world from itself. This self-selected mission has resulted more in “dominating” than in “saving” by the application of death and destruction to countries around the world that were no threat to the United States. The mission of the Federal government is amply and clearly stated in the Preamble to the Constitution. There is no mandate therein to “save” the world”. If the American people wish to give themselves an international mission it would be by far more in keeping with their heritage and with the tenor of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution that they adopt one that attempts to assist the world to live in peace, to expand human rights throughout all cultures and equalize them for men, women, and children, to expend their efforts and funds on attempting to improve the lot of peoples throughout the world by contributing to their capability to feed themselves, to their capability to educate themselves to live productively in the Twenty-first Century, to govern themselves in freedom and respect for the rights of all individuals, even their adversaries. But the American people need to recognize, also, that there is no imperative that they give themselves and their government any international mission whatsoever. It’s up to them.
Finally, the American people need to recognize that military intervention solves no problems, only creates additional ones, unless there is a sound, realizable military objective (the conquest of Germany, the conquest of Japan, the liberation of South Korea, the liberation of Kuwait, etc.). The most recent and rawest examples of this truism are the useless military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than George W. Bush’s desire to “go one up” on his father, more than the rapaciousness of the “warhawks” pushing him, more than the phoney intelligence with regard to Iraq, more than the lack of courage on the part of leaders, such as, Colin Powell, who should have said, “I resign”, these wars demonstrated the total lack of understanding by the United States government’s leaders of the real situation in the Islamic World.
Over centuries, the Islamic World fell prey to Western European colonization or “mandated” control. In 1602 the Dutch colonized what is now Indonesia, then called the Dutch East Indies. Early in the Nineteenth Century Egypt effectively became a British colony, except in name. In 1830 the French colonized Algeria. At the end of the First World War and with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and France arbitrarily drew lines in the sand to establish a host of Islamic countries in the Middle East that were placed by the League of Nations under their control. By this time all the Islamic World, except Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran, was under Western European control. Muslims were strangers in their own countries. They were force fed Western European culture. With no political power they turned inward to find solace and dignity in their religion and to the past glories of their history to find pride. Then, with unexpected rapidity, these colonized populations became masters of their own houses. Yet they then discovered that Time had passed them by. While the Western World had moved from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance through the Reformation to Democracy and Industrialization, the Islamic World was mired in its own feudal past.
The liberation brought to the fore the deep religious cleavage between Sunni and Shiite, between a relatively liberal interpretation of the Koran and a multitude of fundamentalist sects. The liberation brought forth a tendency to adopt Western culture on the part of a minority. It also brought forth an initially silent desire for more individual freedom after the Western model. As a result of all the above, the present Islamic World is in turmoil, Sunni versus Shiite, secular versus religious, freedom seekers versus totalitarians, Westernizers versus feudalists. These conflicts have already burst out in what has been called the “Arab Spring”. in the Sunni terrorism in Iraq,, in the oppression of the Shiite population in Bahrein, in the continuing appeal of the Taliban, etc. The Islamic World is attempting to bring itself into the Twenty-first century. And it may well require the entire century to accomplish its transformation. And it will only be accomplished in blood and destruction, just as it took the American Revolution to create the United States and the French Revolution to overthrow a longstanding monarchy. No significant improvement in the condition of mankind has ever been achieved without the horror of death and destruction. It will be no different for the Islamic World.
No military intervention by the United States can change for the better the situation in this world. The Muslims must do it themselves. And this is the final reason why the psychotic Militarism of the United States government must be cured.
The American people and their government have lived over 60 years in a state of paranoid fear of the world that surrounds them. This sickness has continued even after the breakup of the Soviet Union and its aggressive efforts to expand Communism. It has continued because of the psychosis of Militarism which their paranoia created and which has continued to be fostered by the military-industrial establishment in order to further its own interests. Because of this, Militarism has infected the psyche of our politicians, to include most of our presidents since the beginning of the Cold War.
As a consequence, with respect to international relations, the American people and their government have disregarded the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and launched themselves into clandestine overthrows of democratically elected governments, of support of totalitarian governments, and of unnecessary, inane, futile wars at great human cost, both in soldiers and civilians.
The American people must cease to listen to the fear mongers. They must look at the world as it really is. They need to recognize that there is no threat to them from another country. They need to recognize that their greatest risk lies in domestic terrorism, not international terrorism. And in so doing, they can cure themselves of their long lasting paranoia. And they can once again allow the President through a revitalized Department of State and Foreign Service to serve the best interests of the United States and thus once more live up to the heritage and ideals of the American people.
In 1945 the United States forsook its opportunity to be the harbinger of a brave new world. Instead, the American people rejected the opportunity to advance the Four Freedoms declared by President Roosevelt and shrouded themselves in an irrational paranoia and glorified Militarism as their role in the world. That forsaken opportunity still exists in the Twenty-first Century. Will the American people and their government rise to the challenge?
The views expressed by the author are his own.
Benjamin L. Landis retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after a 27-year career that included service with the Military Assistance Advisory Group at the U.S. embassy in Paris and as Senior U.S. Liaison Officer with the French Forces in Germany. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the French Army Ecole d’Etat-Major, and has an MSA from The George Washington University. After retirement, he was Director of Administration and Finance for several major law firms in Washington. He is the author of Searching For Stability: The World in the Twenty-First Century.