Weak Defense and Isolationism Lead to War
Spartanburg, SC, December 7, 2009
By Christina Jeffrey
Sixty-eight years ago today, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor. Twenty-four hundred Americans died and we entered World War II.
On December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session of Congress and gave his “Day of Infamy” address. It remains a striking and memorable response to an act of brutal aggression.[i]
As terrible as this moment in history was, it is important to note that Islamic-jihadists attacked and killed even more Americans on September 11, 2001. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-six Americans died in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. President Bush’s reaction was similar to FDR’s.[ii] The American people’s reaction was also similar. So today, with history on our minds and with wars and threats of war looming around the world, it might be useful to pause and review the last 100 years of our history, our well-known history of alternating isolationism and wars.
WWI destroyed a large portion of Europe’s best young men. From 1914 until 1917, while the slaughter was going on, America, having disarmed after the Spanish-American War, remained neutral. But almost as soon as we entered World War I, the warring nations came to the peace table. But our team was not effective at the peace table. Years of isolationism had weakened our diplomatic corps and the principal negotiator, President Woodrow Wilson, was unable to prevent France from insisting on harsh reparations. These would later prove useful to Adolf Hitler in his rise to power in Germany.
Although the United States guaranteed the peace in Europe, this guarantee did not last long. As the harsh peace of Versailles lead Europe into another World War, the U.S., having again disarmed and returned to its traditional isolationism, refused to get involved. If the U.S. had played its part as a major power in World Affairs, history might have been different. Certainly, Churchill thought so. Correspondence between Churchill and FDR shows Churchill lobbying FDR to make common cause with Great Britain to save the West from the imperialistic designs of Adolph Hitler.
Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor and Roosevelt’s soaring rhetoric:
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
The history of WWI and WWII opened the eyes of the American people to the need to protect ourselves by participating in world affairs. Thus isolationism was largely abandoned until 1989 as we engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. But with the dramatic destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Soviet communism, people whose lives were shaped by the fear of a nuclear holocaust could now happily embrace isolationism once again. When President Clinton cashed in “the peace dividend,” and drew down the size of our military, there were few complaints.
Today’s news brings talk of more unrest in the Middle East, this time from Iran.[iii] There, free speech is being suppressed and one hundred students have been detained. News from Iran’s would-be reformers, democratic allies in the making, is being restricted as Iran cracks down on internet access. Since Iran is known to have imperialistic ambitions and a developing nuclear capability, this news cannot be ignored. We must be strong and alert to the danger Iran poses to our allies and ultimately to our safety and security.
We want to believe that we can live in peace without entangling alliances, but history teaches otherwise. No matter our best wishes and fondest hopes, the world is a dangerous place, and a great nation is always a target. Wise foreign policy can help, but when war comes to us, Americans are always ready to respond with firmness and resolve. Like the Greatest Generation, the generation that rolled back the evils of Japanese Imperialism and Nazism, Americans on 9/12 were ready to bear any burden to keep their country safe.
Some of that energy and determination has waned over the ensuing 8 years. Democracies do not do long wars well.
Nevertheless, every generation must be prepared to respond to the troubles and evils of its day with the same determination shown by THE GREATEST GENERATION in order to “gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.” But better than war is the prevention of war. Our people need excellent educations and love of country. Our leaders need to come out of our schools knowing their history and why they love America. We must secure our borders and support a strong defense and excellence in our diplomacy. Freedom is not an automatic right which Americans inherit from their ancestors. Every generation earns it or loses it. Let us earn it, so help us God!