by Justin Raimondo
May 23, 2012
recent Rasmussen poll has 51 percent of Americans favoring the pullout of
all US troops from Europe - and yet not a single major American politician
would even consider endorsing such a move.
Why is that?
I thought politicians were supposed
to be consummate opportunists, whose weather vane-like views shift with the
winds of public opinion. If so, then they should be jumping on the
anti-NATO, anti-interventionist, “mind-our-own-business” bandwagon - right?
great gulf between the American public and the elites when it comes to
foreign policy is a constant source of irritation for the latter. The
mandarins of the foreign policy establishment have long bemoaned the
“isolationism” of the American people.
It’s the natural inclination of a
free people to leave others alone, and the Founders exemplified this
sentiment when they decried the impulse to “go abroad in search of monsters
America “is the well-wisher to the freedom and
independence of all,”
declared John Quincy Adams in his famous 1821
Fourth of July speech, but:
“She is the champion and vindicator only of
her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her
voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under
other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign
independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication,
in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy,
and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from
liberty to force…
She might become the dictatress of the
world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
This was the consensus view of the American
elite when our country was just out of its cradle, and no one thought to
question it: the idea that America would impose its own system on
foreigners, and that we had some kind of moral responsibility to save the
world from itself, was alien to the American ethos.
The example of
Napoleonic France served as ample
enough warning to any interventionists who would have had us succumb to the
temptations of empire: as the French army “liberated” Europe, France itself
morphed into a monarchy. When Napoleon crowned himself at Rheims it was an
act of transfiguration foreseen by the founders when they warned against the
threat of militarism to America’s republican legacy.
The danger to the Constitution and the country,
they realized, was internal - and it emanated from the imperialist impulse.
As James Madison
put it in his debate
with the neo-royalist Alexander Hamilton:
“Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is,
perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the
germ of every other.
“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the
many under the domination of the few.
“In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its
influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied;
and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing
the force, of the people.
“The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the
inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a
state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered
in both. No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual
This anti-interventionist stance flowed from the
Founders’ philosophy of governance, which was to
strictly limit the power of
the federal government and
bind the hands of would-be tyrants with the
chains of the Constitution.
As these chains rusted over time, however, the
imperialist impulse was unleashed.
It started with the Spanish-American war, and was exemplified by the windbag
warmonger Theodore Roosevelt, who saw military conflict as the road to
the moral regeneration of the nation. While Roosevelt and his supporters
made economic and political arguments in favor of their policy, theirs was
essentially a case for war as moral rearmament.
With the disappearance of the frontier, they
averred, the nation has fallen into a state of “decadence,” and the only way
to revive that frontier spirit is to extend the frontier beyond the seas and
stake a claim for empire.
Teddy’s blustering imperialism was given much impetus by the religious
swept the country in the nineteenth century: a form of
post-millennial pietism that insisted on “purifying” the country of “sin.”
Although in the south and Midwest, this
revivalism was personal - involving being “born again,” and dispensing with
the denominationalism and focus on liturgical orthodoxy that had previously
characterized American Protestantism - in the Yankee north it assumed the
proportions of a political ideology in which government was seen as the
agent of virtue.
Theologically, the pietists held that
the Second Coming was imminent, but that in order to pave the way for
His arrival, it was necessary to first create the Kingdom of God on
earth - this, they believed, would hasten the Second Coming.
It was but a short hop, skip, and a jump from “purifying” the country to
“purifying” the rest of the world. While preachers at home excoriated “demon
rum” and sought to uplift the masses of sinners with all sorts of government
programs to inculcate in them the
spirit of righteousness, on the foreign
policy front Washington moved with dispatch to emulate the European empires
establishing an imperium of its own.
However, it would be an empire with a
As President William McKinley
“When I next realized that the Philippines
had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them…
I walked the floor of the White House night
after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen,
that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and
guidance more than one night.
And one night late it came to me this way -
I don’t know how it was, but it came:
“that we could not give them back to
Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable;
“that we could not turn them over to
France and Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that
would be bad business and discreditable;
“that we could not leave them to
themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they
would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than
Spain’s was; and
“that there was nothing left for us
to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and
uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do
the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom
Christ also died.
“And then I went to bed, and went to sleep,
and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of
the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the
Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on
the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay
while I am President!”
As the pietist ideology of our Yankee
elites was secularized, the impulse to “uplift and civilize and
Christianize” was transmuted into a crusade to uplift and civilize and
“Democracy” had become the new civic religion,
and the effort to export it to benighted foreigners was a useful rationale
for expansionism. As usual, however, this official altruism masked mercenary
motives: for example, in Hawaii, where the sugar barons cemented their
monopoly and their profits by
instigating a coup against the native rulers.
As America extended its reach into Central and
South America the long arm of Wall Street reached out to grab what it could.
World War I was the fulfillment of the secular pietism that had gripped the
American elites, as Murray Rothbard shows in
this essay, the culmination of
religious and ideological trends that had long been in incubation.
The war to “make the world safe for democracy”
was hailed by progressive intellectuals from John Dewey to Herbert Croly as
a crusade that would pave the way for “production for use, not for profit,”
and “discipline” the population to achieve the desired “social ends.”
Conscription was hailed as a social leveler.
War collectivism - the control of industrial
production in the name of “national security” - was applauded by the
progressive intellectuals of the time as the advent of a new era, tragically
cut short by the Armistice:
“We were on the verge of having an
international industrial machine when peace broke,” said Rexford Tugwell,
who would go on to become the most radical of Franklin Roosevelt’s
“brain trusters.” “Only the Armistice prevented a great experiment in
control of production, control of prices, and control of consumption.”
It was a long way from the warnings of the
Founders against the temptations of incessant militarism.
It has to be emphasized that the elites were the agents of this tragic
transformation, while ordinary Americans, for the most part, were passive
observers. The great machine of
war propaganda was necessary to wind them up
into a state of appropriately warlike ferocity, and when that great wind
machine died down, so too did the public’s bloodlust.
A vast propaganda apparatus sprang up that
characterized the Germans as veritable agents of the Devil. The teaching of
the German language was banned in all school and universities, and in
America’s symphony halls there was a moratorium on the playing of music by
But measures had to be taken in case everyone failed to get the message. War
dissenters were ruthlessly repressed, with Eugene Debs
jailed for making
speeches against the war: in towns across America, the “American Protective
Association” - a semi-governmental organization that had the full approval
of the White House - tarred and feathered war opponents. Socialist and
antiwar newspapers were closed down.
As time went on, the machinery of repression and government propaganda -
designed to keep a lid on the natural inclination of Americans to abjure the
emoluments of empire - grew to gargantuan proportions. World War II was a
Great Leap Forward in this regard.
The war was the great furnace in which the
modern Warfare State was forged, and out of FDR’s foundry came the
finely-honed machinery of
perpetual warfare we find ourselves saddled with
Out of that horror came
American citizens being herded into concentration camps, and what John T.
Flynn called “the smear terror” - a shadowy network of interlocking
interventionist organizations specializing in slandering prominent
anti-interventionists as Nazis, fifth columnists, and saboteurs of
In short, the modern War Party was born, one
which functions pretty much the same today as it did in the Great Debate of
the 1930s. As it turned out, most of these smear groups were directly funded
and directed by British intelligence, which was frantically trying to
maneuver us into the war.
World War II also laid the foundations of
the cold war, which would provide
a profitable rationale for the War Party in the postwar years. Again, the
British played a key role in inaugurating the new policy, with Winston
Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” jeremiad.
The cold war led to a new wave of repression on
the home front, with anyone to the left of Harry Truman targeted as a “red”:
the rise of “McCarthyism” led to the conversion of the formerly
“isolationist” conservatives into enthusiasts for nuclear war.
The cold war was the occasion for the professionalization and streamlining
of the national security state, its full elaboration into an ideological and
managerial system in command of vast resources. A whole new profession
sprang up, the “Kremlinologist,” whose job it was to glean changes in the
Soviet leadership by interpreting the positions of the communist leaders as
they stood on the Kremlin walls reviewing the Red Army on parade.
The culture of expertise thrived, and learned
essays were written and published in august scholarly journals interpreting
the hidden meanings of obscure announcements in Pravda. This provided income
and prestige for the new rising class of over-educated white people who
would otherwise have been teaching high school civics - as well as political
ballast for fake “conservatives” like Joe McCarthy, who had
previously belonged to the moderate wing of his party.
McCarthy jumped at the main chance and hitched a
ride on the wings of the war hysteria that possessed Western elites and the
major organs of public opinion.
However, when the anti-communist fanatics of the American right-wing finally
got their fondest wish, and we were engaged in a shooting war with the reds
in Southeast Asia, the War Party was dealt a major setback.
Under the magnifying lens of modern technology,
which gave us the ability to see and hear what was transpiring on the
battlefield thousands of miles away, the propagandistic fantasy of America’s
heroic anti-communist crusade was destroyed.
Years of media hype about the
looming commie menace were erased by the widely-disseminated images and
horror stories generated by that war: the alleged communist “threat” was
replaced, in the public’s imagination, with the very real threat of internal
corruption as the consequence of our foreign policy.
This led to a backlash in which, for the second time in our history, a
mass-based antiwar movement took center stage - and, this time, won the
intellectual and political debate.
For years the War Party griped about the
“Vietnam Syndrome,” which prevented Washington from intervening militarily
on the grand scale they fondly hoped for. They thought the 9/11 terrorist
attacks would remove that obstacle from their path, but the advantage they
gained didn’t last - because the real world consequences of their policy
Public skepticism of interventionism is at an all-time high: a
taken a few years ago revealed the vast gulf between our interventionist
elites and the “isolationist” public, who showed an overwhelming preference
for a foreign policy of “minding our own business,” as the pollsters put it.
So why are we presently engaged in what seems like a policy of perpetual
war, in spite of the wars’ unpopularity?
Because, for one thing, the making of foreign policy is entirely invested in
one branch of government: the executive. The long process of undermining the
Constitution has ended in the Imperial Presidency and the creation of a
national security bureaucracy where decisions are made in secret, in
consultation with a bevy of “experts.”
The foreign policy of this country is decided,
not by the people or their representatives, but by the inhabitants of think
tanks, the leadership of
special interest groups, and
lobbyists. Policy is made, in short, by the elites, centered in Washington
and New York.
The media plays such a key role in this that we might as well start
referring to the War Party as the military-industrial-media complex.
A classic example is the “reporting” done by the
New York Times in the run up to the invasion of Iraq: Judith Miller’s
retailing of the Bush administration’s
talking points in the form of “news”
articles was an important part of the campaign to mobilize the elites in
favor of intervention.
Once they were on board, convincing the public
was almost an afterthought.
Rachel Maddow makes a version of this point in her recent book,
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power,
the American public, she
argues, is distanced from the key foreign policy decisions that are now the
exclusive domain of the elites, and hardly notice we’re in a state of
constant warfare. Yet her pro-Big Government views prevent her from seeing
this distancing effect is the inevitable result of the growth of centralized
We have drifted away from the Founders’ vision,
she laments, when it comes to foreign policy - but that’s because we have
drifted very far indeed from their minimalist ideology of governance, which
is the polar opposite of Maddow’s governmental maximalism.
The military-industrial-media complex is a mighty Wurlitzer that is even now
winding up its current campaign, which is to provoke a war with Iran. In
action, it is an awesome thing to see: with perfect unanimity, all the
Serious People in Washington converge and repeat the agreed-upon talking
points, with the “mainstream” media acting as an echo chamber of voices
singing war songs in perfect unison.
A more effective propaganda campaign was never
launched by any totalitarian regime.
Countering this noise level is much more than a full-time job, and do I have
to remind you of the great disparity of resources between the War Party and
the Good Guys?
You may have noticed that we’re a week into our quarterly fundraising drive
- and the results have not been all that great.
We’re raising less from fewer contributors, and
we’re behind where we should be. Thankfully, a group of supporters has
raised a lump sum - $31,000 - in matching funds: which means, they’ll match
your contributions dollar-for-dollar.
Which means: we don’t get a penny
until you donate one.
Look, we’re David to the War Party’s Goliath, armed only with the equivalent
of a slingshot. But if we don’t raise enough to pay for that slingshot, the
story will have quite a non-Biblical ending. Slingshots don’t cost all that
much, relatively speaking - not when you compare it to the huge sums spent
by the War Party.
They have access to the US Treasury, and we only
have the voluntary contributions of our readers and supporters, i.e. you.