March 17, 2008
As a hard-core paleocon who opposed virtually every U.S. intervention outside her borders since the end of the Cold War, I’ve often found myself conflicted when looking back at history. I abhor the demonization of “isolationists” practiced by neocon chickenhawks, but I can’t help agreeing that in the context of World War II, the interventionists were right.
I admire men like Pat Buchanan and Justin Raimondo who seek to correct the historical record, and insist that GIVEN WHAT WAS KNOWN IN 1940, the isolationists’ position was entirely honorable. It is disgraceful to employ the benefits of hindsight to paint these opponents of war as sympathetic to the Nazis. Indeed, such analyses of history are used primarily by those who are trying today to flog the U.S. into a frenzy of alarm over every crisis that arises in the world—none of which bears any real resemblance to the rise of totalitarianism in Europe between 1917 and 1941. This frenzy serves an ideological purpose: to keep the American people whipped up into a war-hysteria that will serve the military industrial complex and the interests of various lobbyists, while reversing (in the eyes of detached and decadent academic elitists) the moral decline of ordinary Americans—who are too stupid for philosophy, and must be kept in line by vulgar religiosity and jingoism.
It’s perfectly understandable that in 1940, men of good will were suspicious about entering yet another war on behalf of England and France against a resurgent Germany, given the farrago of lies that were used to lure us into an unjust war in 1917—indeed, I would argue, a war in which we were fighting on the wrong side. Ironically, the reckless propaganda that spread lies about German atrocities between 1914 and 1918 served to undermine subsequent reports of nightmarish Nazi cruelty which in fact was entirely factual—for which the best source, for years, was the Yiddish exile press and the intrepid L’Osservatore Romano.
With all that said, I cannot help being glad that Franklin Roosevelt maneuvered America into the Second World War, for a number of grave and serious reasons. Conscious that once again I am writing something calculated to infuriate virtually every one of my readers, albeit for different reasons, I will enumerate them:
1) The U.S., by intervening in World War I, and preventing a negotiated peace between Germany and the Entente, was directly responsible for the unjust Versailles peace, the destruction of Austria-Hungary, and the radical imbalance of power that resulted in continental Europe. Indirectly, we’d helped bring the Bolshevisk to power. We made that mess, and contracted a responsibility for cleaning it up.
2) The genocide in China being practiced by Japan was morally repugnant, and the rise of Japanese power in the Pacific posed a danger to U.S. interests (even if our occupation of the Philippines was itself the result of an unjust war). We were entirely justified in imposing an oil embargo on the Japanese regime, which had been taken over by rabid militarists through a campaign of targeted assassinations that undermined a parliamentary democracy.
3) The conquest of Europe by either a victorious Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, with England either neutralized or defeated, was a prospect unacceptable to a nation that was mostly descended from Europe, which owed its civilization and liberties to the heritage of Europe, and the historic legacy of a Christian Faith that each of these powers was pledged to destroy.
4) The organized murder of ethnic minorities by Germany was ongoing, whereas Stalin’s crimes lay mostly in the past. Leaving Hitler and Stalin to slug things out would have enabled the murder of millions more innocents, and left our mother Continent in the hands of monsters.
5) The U.S. had ample reason to fear the power of a united Eurasian landmass harnessed by a totalitarian power devoted to the extermination either of enemy races or classes. The Cold War that would have resulted from one of those victories would have faced America with a Europe unified by either Hitler or Stalin, from Gibraltar to the Urals. Whether we could have triumphed against such an enemy is an open question.
For all these reasons, I cannot help being grateful for Franklin Roosevelt’s Machiavellian policies, and glad that good men like Robert Taft and Charles Lindbergh didn’t get the chance to prove how wrong they were.
I think that those of us who oppose interventionism today play into the hands of the warmongers when we easily accept that we stand in continuity with those who opposed the fight against Hitler. While it might make for a neater facade of intellectual consistency, it grants enormous credibility to those who rally us to a crusade against the Jabberwock they have called “Islamo-fascism.” And it ignores the critical point that the situation today is utterly different from those we faced in 1938; our enemies are radically weaker and dispersed among civilians; they pose no direct military or economic threat to the U.S.; their chief weapon is the cradle. The battle against resurgent Islam must be fought by our intelligence services and border patrol, not the Marines, and the survival of the West depends on its willingness to reproduce itself and defend its institutions from internal subversion, not invasion. Indeed, the only significant resemblance between the Nazis and the Islamists is anti-Semitism. That’s a good reason to oppose the Islamists, but it tells us nothing about how to do it. Indeed, if we go on trying to “fight the last war” (as the French did in building their Maginot Line) we face almost certain defeat.
In my next post, I’ll explore the myth of “American exceptionalism” which animated the Old Right, and see how much validity it had.