Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Analysis of U.S. Wars

Here is my letter to The Lima News, which precipitated my investigation of the above topic:

"Your Monday editorial, "Jordan, friends off to a good start" correctly concludes that in order to address the deficit problem in any meaningful way, all spending needs to be "on the table".

However, buried within the editorial is a misuse of language which is the kind of thing that makes intelligent discussion of this issue so difficult. You define discretionary spending as "anything other than defense and entitlement programs".

Why in the world is defense spending any less "discretionary" than any other items in the federal budget? The fact is, it is highly discretionary, and we could save many billions of dollars each year by closing our bases on foreign soil and bringing our troops home to this country, where they belong. Only then will the Department of "Defense" no longer be a misnomer."

I propose to expand on this last sentence. Until 1947 the U.S. used the term "Department of War" to refer to the military. The name change to the current "Department of Defense" was completed in 1949. What is strikingly ironic is the prevalence of "wars of choice" since this name change, a change which implied that we were going to use our military only for defensive purposes from then on. I will attempt an analysis of our country's wars, both before and after the name change.

Barbary War. In the early 1800's our shipping was being regularly attacked by Barbary pirates, and Jefferson had every right and the duty, even, to do what he could to put an end to this barbaric practice.

War of 1812. The British were guilty of impressment of our sailors into their navy. This is a relatively innocuous-sounding term, but a more accurate description would be that the British were forcibly kidnapping our citizens and forcing them into involuntary service on their navy ships. This is obviously intolerable for any sovereign country, and the U.S. was justified into going to war, though Madison's handling of it is highly questionable and showed a singular lack of leadership.

Mexican-American War. This one is a little trickier. I think a fair examination of the historical record shows that Polk provoked the Mexicans into attacking our troops, by sending them onto land he knew was being claimed by Mexico. Mexico viewed the border as the Nueces River, not the Rio Grande, and a glance at a map shows that the Nueces boundary would have made a lot more sense geographically. As it is, the south end of Texas juts into Mexico, and the triangle of land that does this is logically more a part of Mexico than the U.S.

Pat Buchanan, in "How the Right Went Wrong", says that preventive wars are alien to the American tradition, which is a central theme in many of his post-9/11 writings. Buchanan says that "Polk waited until the Mexican army shed 'American blood on American soil' before asking Congress to declare war." This is an atypically weak point by Buchanan, whose recent books are otherwise well-researched and argued. A better analysis is to recognize that yes, Polk did make that argument for going to war, but the rest of the story is that Polk deliberately provoked this, knowing that that was the only way to convince Congress to satisfy his demand for war. And many in Congress were still unconvinced and did not support Polk's war, including a Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln who demanded that Polk "show me the spot" where such blood had allegedly been shed.

Polk's war had widespread opposition in the U.S., and certainly the invasion of Mexico was not necessary or legitimate. Polk got his territory, but at the price of tarnishing the American reputation.

Civil War. Another unnecessary war. What is so incredible about this whole fiasco in American history is that Lincoln assumed the South had no right to secede, without ever offering any rationale that would stand up to analysis. Yet, people from the North followed him like lemmings over the cliff. Amazing, and so sad.

Let us analyze the legal issues which Lincoln refused to discuss. One must first understand that the Constitution sets out a limited set of powers granted to the federal government by the states and the people. Among these was *not* the right to prevent a state from seceding, and certainly not the right to use military force to do so.

The next step is to recognize that the Constitution says nothing one way or the other about the right of a state to secede. It doesn't say it is permissible, and neither does it prohibit it. One must thus read the document as a whole to infer what the legalities of secession are.

The most relevant portions for this analysis are the 9th and 1oth amendments. The 9th says "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other retained by the people." The 10th says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Also pertinent is the 2nd amendment, which gives citizens the right to bear arms, one obvious purpose of which is to protect the people against the tyranny of an overbearing federal government.

Although Lincoln himself didn't stress this, some have made much of the Preamble, which starts "We, the People of the United States..." This could be read as emphasizing the larger union, to the detriment of the individual states. However, this argument fails when one understands that the wording is an accident. The original wording was "That the people of the States of New Hampshire...." (naming all 13 original states). The naming of the states was taken out because the constitutional convention could not tell in advance which states would ratify the new constitution. Only 9 were needed for ratification, so there would have been as many as 4 left out. Thus, the constitution really was a compact among the several states, with federal powers limited to those specifically granted under the document.

Lincoln, supposedly a great lawyer, would have flunked had this been a final exam. He offered nothing convincing to support his assumption that secession was illegal, and in fact he engaged in despicable sophistry in his insistence on calling it a "rebellion", so as to bring it under the definition of treason and therefore justify his violent reaction to it. In fact, it was not a rebellion in any normal sense of the word, but rather it was an attempt to peaceably secede. Lincoln should have let them go in peace.

One of the most despicable things Lincoln did was suspend habeas corpus and imprison 13,000 people without trial, simply because they were suspected of being "Southern sympathizers." If one travels through southern Indiana or southern Ohio and talks to the people, it is apparent that many folks in these areas consider themselves southerners. Surely they can't be blamed for having some sympathy for their brothers and cousins and aunts and uncles in the South, yet these are the people Lincoln threw into jail for the duration of the war!

In "The Book of America", authors Neal R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom give a wonderful account of the political, cultural and economic dynamics at work in each of the 50 states. Writing about Indiana, they say that "Indiana had its own Mason-Dixon line, dividing the state--and its politics and accents--roughly in half along the course of the old National Road, now U.S. 40 (paralleled by Interstate 70). These people who live between rote 40 and the Ohio River are more southern than midwestern in outlook, and yet Lincoln unlawfully imprisoned 13,000 of them for having this outlook. It is so ironic that today we castigate regimes around the world which imprison their political opponents, and yet we continue to idolize Lincoln for doing exactly the same thing! Historians, wake up and smell the coffee!

In making war on the South, Lincoln went against the advice of almost his entire Cabinet. In her award-winning book, "Team of Rivals", Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about how Lincoln was confronted with the issue of whether to re-provision For Sumter on his very first day in office. On his desk was a letter from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, quoting General Scott as saying "I see no alternative but a surrender".

Lincoln then put the issue to his Cabinet. Kearns Goodwin details the responses, and then concludes, "In the end, five cabinet members strongly opposed the resupply and reinforcement of Fort Sumter; one remained ambiguous; one was in favor." Despite having the advantage of all of these voices of reason, Lincoln pondered the issue for two weeks and then made the fateful decision to reprovision the fort. Alarmed and angered by this decision, Lincoln's Secretary of State, Seward, wrote a scathing letter to Lincoln expressing his concerns, and telling Lincoln that the administration was "without a policy, either domestic or foreign". At least George W. Bush has the excuse that his advisers led him astray. Lincoln has no such excuse.

It should be noted that the union likely would have lost only the original 7 states which seceded. The other 4--Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia--joined only after Lincoln started his unjust war, and those states were then faced with the prospect of their young men being drafted into Lincoln's army to fight against their brothers and cousins in the South. Rather than endure that, they joined the Confederacy.
It is interesting to ponder how things might have been different had the 7 states been allowed to go in peace. One small example: in the 2004 presidential election, Bush beat Kerry by 286-251 in the electoral college. Take away those 7 right-wing states and Kerry wins 251-178! Just think how much better off this country would be without the right-wing dominance caused by Lincoln's misguided attempts to hold all the states together.

Spanish-American War. Recent analysis has verified that the Maine was not blown up by the Spanish. McKinley went to war based on yellow journalists arousing the populace and he was wrong to do so.

World War I. It has been suggested that Wilson's war was an unnecessary one, but I don't agree. The historical record hows that Wilson made every attempt to mediate a peace in the European war prior to 1917, but the parties just would not cooperate. We got involved only after the Germans started sinking our ships, doing so to the tune of 5 in the single month of March, 1917.

World War II. FDR actually is more blameworthy than Wilson for getting us into war. The record shows that he was pushing the country to war well before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. His propaganda machine was working full-time to prepare the country for war and to "sell" the idea to the populace. He provided U.S. escorts to British shipping, apparently hoping that the Germans would attack our ships so that he could enter the war as he wanted to. Once into the war, his incarceration of Japanese-Americans was despicable, and a diligent inquiry would reveal, I submit, many other atrocities that FDR was willing to, and did, engage in. Nevertheless, one must conclude that as between war of choice and war of necessity (i.e., response to being attacked), this was the latter.

Korean War. Here is where it really gets dicey. The whole post-WW2 scenario leading up to the Cold War is problematic. In George Kennan's memoirs, he recounts how he strenuously objected to the proposed speech by Pres. Truman laying out the Truman doctrine. Kennan, our #1 expert at the time on Russia/Soviet Union, believed the Soviet goal was not war and/or military conquest, but rather was political and economic in nature. Yet, as usual, we ignored our experts and plunged ahead with no moral or factual compass. Truman in fact promulgated his Truman Doctrine, announcing to the world that the Soviets intended military domination, a blatantly false allegation, as documents which have come to light since the fall of the Soviet Union have verified, and the Cold War ensued.

The Korean War was a result of this faulty world view by the Truman administration. Certainly the U.S. was not attacked, and we shed American blood for no good reason, and certainly not on American soil!

Kennan explains in his memoirs why he took exception to Pres. Truman's speech announcing the Truman Policy of aid to Greece and Turkey. He cites the overly-broad pronouncement of Truman that "I believe it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Kennan states that "This passage, and others as well, placed our aid to Greece in the framework of a universal policy rather than in that of a specific decision addressed to a specific set of circumstances. It implied that what we had decided to do in the case of Greece was something we would be prepared to do in the case of any other country..."

Kennan goes on to state that "I would also take exception to the repeated suggestions, in the text of that message, that what we were concerned to defend in Greece was the democratic quality of the country's institutions." Kennan concludes that "I have been struck by the congenital aversion of Americans to taking specific decisions on specific problems, and by their persistent urge to seek universal formulae or doctrines in which to clothe and justify particular actions."

Certainly this overly-broad rendition of American policy has been repeated many times since Truman's time, but blame Truman for starting it. Since then we had the outrageous statement in JFK's inauguration speech that we would "pay any price" to defend freedom around the world, and then after 9/11, Bush's enunciation of his policy to the same effect. Kennan states clearly that "it was important, in my view, that the Soviet threat be recognized for what it was--primarily a political one and not a threat of military attack." Truman was wrong not to listen to his Russian expert, a man who had spent his whole adult life learning about Russia and faithfully serving the U.S. as a diplomat in Russian affairs.

By misrepresenting the Soviet threat as a military one, rather than a political one, Truman started the ball rolling toward the Cold War, and committed the U.S. to military adventures all around the world. All a country had to do was cry "Communist infiltrators", and we were there with our aid. The fact that most of these regimes with their hands out were hardly democratic didn't seem to bother anybody, despite the pronouncement of our supposed goals of promoting democracy. We face the same dilemma today in Egypt, as any more democratic government will surely be more hostile to the U.S. than the old one was.

The whole mentality started by Truman can be seen in the accusation that Truman "lost China" when it went Communist. As if we owned China, and it was ours to "lose"! This was the mentality of the Cold War, an ugly time created by Truman and his staff and totally unnecessary. This same "domino" mentality got us into the Korean War, and shame on Truman for doing so.

Vietnam War. Johnson was similarly in the grip of the Cold War hysteria, which as we have seen was false and detrimental to our national interests and well-being. Again, we were not attacked and Johnson had ample time to reverse course, including advice from his VP Humphrey, which he ignored. Shame on him.

Gulf War. Again, we were not attacked. The whole lie involved in these wars of choice is that "American interests" are involved, hence we must go to war. If the applicable dept. is the "Dept. of Defense", not the "Dept. of Offense", then why are we undertaking these costly adventures all around the world?

Iraq War. Again, George W. Bush involves us in an unnecessary war based on false intelligence. But let us look at his rationale beyond the question of faulty intelligence. This is what has caused Pat Buchanan to adopt our misguided foreign policy as his #1 issue, and he has written incessantly about this since then, in both his books and his columns.

In his book "Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency", Buchanan analyzes the speeches of President Bush and explains how wrongheaded he was in his worldview. 9 days after 9/11, Bush couched the battle in either/or terms, with no nuance at all allowed into his thinking. Buchanan says the rhetoric hearkened back to Christ ("He who is not with me is against me") when Bush said, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". Bush began to describe the war on terror in moral terms, calling our enemies "evildoers" and saying "This war is a struggle between good and evil".

Then came Bush's State of the Union address, with his infamous "axis of evil" statement. He was clearly threatening war against Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, none of which had anything to do with 9/11. Buchanan says that "the Bush threat of war upon nations that had not attacked us was unprecedented". He goes on to say that "President Bush had no authority to issue those threats. The constitution does not empower the president to launch preventive wars."

Next comes Bush's speech at West Point on June 2nd, 2002. In analyzing this speech, Buchanan says that "Bush now rejected as obsolete the doctrines of containment and deterrence that had won the Cold War, and advocated anew an American policy of preemptive wars." Bush's ideological confusion here is that he applied principles for dealing with individuals to his dealing with what he termed "rogue nations". Buchanan says that Bush was right in his approach to dealing with individual terrorists, but that "in dealing with nations, containment and deterrence had never failed us."

Buchanan says that "This Bush declaration--that we will brook no rival, ever again, that the future is one of permanent American hegemony--is a gauntlet thrown down to every rival and would-be world power and a challenge to lesser powers to unite against us." Buchanan asks the question, "What support is there in history for the view that by meddling in the internal politics of foreign nations we advance our security?" He concludes with the observation that "Terrorism is the price of empire. If you do not wish to pay the price, you must give up the empire."

Rather than meddling in the affairs of other countries, we should bring our troops home to our own soil. However, Bush's approach is just the opposite of this, and, if not corrected by future presidents, will result in America's prestige around the world continuing to decline and America sinking into the trash heap of history.

Afghanistan War. This goes on Obama's doorstep. Bush's action was in response to an occasion on which we actually *were* attacked. Obama widened the war to engage in a futile venture of nation-building which is doomed to failure, as any mediocre student of history can easily see.

So, the scorecard turns out to be: 3 wars of choice prior to 1949, and 5 since. A sorry record indeed. "Dept. of War" turns out to be a better title than "Dept. of Defense", which truly is a misnomer.


Paul Neufeld Weaver said...

War of 1812 - You rightly point out that impressment of people from the US was a major grievance leading to the war. However, I have had my view of this conflict expanded by understanding it within the general process of US expansionism in the 19th century. Before this war, the US was mainly on the eastern seabord. During the war, many US officials, including Madison, saw it as an opportunity to add Canada to the United States. For example, former President Thomas Jefferson said "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent."
In fact, the US forces expected the locals to rise up against the British and welcome the "Americans" as liberators. However, many of the white residents of "Upper Canada" were former loyalists who fled the 13 colonies at the time of the Revolution and were not interested in joining the United States.
So, even if the possession of Canadian territory wasn't the principle objective, it was an important aspect of the war, especially for the people who were living north of the US. In addition, an important effect of the war was to open up the west for US expansion by reducing the power of American Indian tribes which were receiving some support from England. Indians from a number of tribes joined together in NW Ohio and Indiana around the leadership of Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who had followers from Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Chickamauga, Fox, Miami, Mingo, Ojibway, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Delaware (Lenape), Mascouten, Potawatomi, Sauk, and Wyandot tribes. After the war of 1812 the area I now live in was ceded by the British to the US, but had not yet been ceded by the American Indians to the US. That would come with further warfare.

chessart said...

I agree there were multiple factors behind the War of 1812. Another valid one which I didn't mention was that after the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 it was discovered that the British had aided Tecumseh. My purpose in the post was not to detail *all* the reasons for each war, but rather to determine whether there were any *valid* reasons.

Opposition to the War of 1812 was widespread in New England, and in fact the Hartford Convention met for three weeks and seriously discussed secession. Pronouncements such as Jefferson's could be interpreted as merely designed to bolster support for the war in New England, where said support was sorely lacking.

I am interested in when the U.S. gained control of Ohio. Under the Treaty of Greenville following the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, the U.S. was ceded much of Ohio, but the map seems to indicate northwest Ohio was still Native American territory, though it's not completely clear. Any idea when our part of the state was ultimately ceded to the U.S.?