The Progressive Wars: A Short History of American Militarism from WWI to the Present
Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, photo taken from 6 miles away about 15 minutes after the explosion.
For a long time I subscribed to the idea, as many liberty folks do, that the Democrats oppress people at home and the Republicans oppress people abroad. While both of these things are true, the implication that Democrats do not oppress people abroad and Republicans do not oppress people at home is false. M. Stanton Evans’ statement is far more accurate.
“We have two parties here, and only two. One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party. … I’m very proud to be a member of the stupid party. … Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that’s both evil and stupid. That’s called bipartisanship.”
Since at least WWI, but arguably earlier, the driving force behind the American war machine has been the idea that humanity is a ball of clay that can be shaped and molded through government force. Progressive domestic policy naturally goes hand in hand with a foreign policy of military interventionism. The world view that democratic liberal ideals can be forced on the whole world can be traced from the Progressive era through the Democratic Party to the Neoconservatives and Progressive Democrat hawks of today.
WWI was a European conflict that America should have never been involved with, and would have stayed out of if not for the Progressive warmongering. Woodrow Wilson was a Progressive Democrat, and perhaps the worst president in American history. He brought us into WWI specifically as a means to implement social change. Wilson sold the war to the American people as “a war to make the world safe for democracy”, a statement eerily similar to the war propaganda issued by modern Neocons. He used WWI to implement emergency tax increases and other policies which would remain in affect after the war was over. At the end of the war, the treaty negotiated by Wilson set the stage for WWII by placing the blame for the war entirely on the German people and completely ignoring the Japanese when dividing the spoils of war. This was was instrumental in the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the Japanese siding with the Axis powers in WWII.
Although we often think of WWII as “justified”, public opinion at the beginning of the war was mostly opposed to involvement in another European war. Wars are expensive, and America was recovering from the Great Depression much more slowly than previous recessions, such as the panic of 1819, thanks to Roosevelt’s New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt was very much in favor of involvement, however, and he got his wish when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. To this day theories of a conspiracy that Roosevelt allowed the attack to be carried out, and perhaps even provoked it, persist. Although many of the claims are hard to prove, it is well understood that the Japanese planes appeared on the brand new radar systems well ahead of the attack, but were ignored by officers. I tend to take such conspiracy theories with a grain of salt, but won’t discount them entirely.
Certainly, Roosevelt had little regard for human life and had much to gain by involving the United States in another war. He placed Japanese Americans in concentration camps and tried to pass a 100% income tax rate on all earnings over $25,000 by executive order. Congress managed to block the effort, but by the end of the war earnings of over $200,000 were still taxed at 94%. He also refused to follow the standard set by every president since George Washington, and served for three consecutive terms. In fact, he won a fourth term as well but died before its beginning.
The war ended with Harry Truman, yet another Democrat, dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. While some Neocons today threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction to the dismay of liberal Democrats, the liberal Democrats were the only group to actually follow through. While it may be a controversial claim, I don’t believe that the use of these weapons was ever necessary or justified. Hitler had already been defeated, and Japan was facing invasion on two fronts. Americans had taken Okinawa, and the Russians were preparing an invasion from the North. The Japanese had already offered surrender terms under the condition that they be allowed to retain their Emperor in a non-military role, as he was also the head of their religion. America refused to accept anything less than unconditional surrender from the Japanese and dropped two atomic weapons on civilian populations in Japan. In the end, they still allowed the Japanese to keep their Emperor as a figurehead. I believe that the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the beginning of the Cold War, and was intended as a message to the other world atomic power, Russia: We have the bomb, and we will use it on civilians.
The radioactive dust had barely settled from WWII, when Truman led us into yet another war, Korea. This was the first of our proxy wars with communism during the Cold War. It was also beginning of the trend of nebulous wars waged against ideologies rather than nations posing a direct threat to American security, culminating in the modern day wars with “terrorism”. The war started in the wake of the invasion of Japan. Japan had occupied Korea during WWII. When the American and Soviet forces took Korea from the Japanese, they divided the country at the 38th parallel. The situation was similar to the division of Germany after WWII, and likely would have ended in much the same way if hostilities had not escalated in 1950. The disdain for the Korean people shared by both Soviets and Americans promoted the idea that this was simply a strategically important piece of land, and not the home of people with a right to self determination. The tug of war over Korea persists to this day. While an armistice was signed in 1953, no peace treaty has ever been signed, and North and South Korea are technically still at war.
During the Korean conflict, Truman was also supplying aid to the French who were fighting in Vietnam. Eisenhower, a Republican, was elected in 1953 as the Korean conflict was ending and the French were beginning their withdrawal from Vietnam. A main platform in his campaign was to end the Korean conflict, with nuclear weapons if necessary. Although he considered intervention on behalf of the French, mostly at the behest of then Vice President Richard Nixon, in the end he decided that another war in Asia was the last thing that America needed. He did offer financial aid to South Vietnam, and ordered coups in Iran and Guatemala. But despite his bellicose hawkish rhetoric and insane “domino theory” and “Eisenhower doctrine”, which justified later proxy wars with communism and interventions in the Middle East, he served a fairly peaceful presidency. In his farewell address, he spoke out against war and coined the term “military industrial complex”. He also warned Kennedy against involvement in Vietnam, advice that would eventually be ignored by Lyndon Johnson.
Although offering support to South Vietnam and opposing Soviet actions around the world, Kennedy managed to keep America out direct involvement in Vietnam until his assassination in 1963. His single attempt at military invasion, the “Bay of Pigs” in Cuba, was botched. The fallout eventually led to the Cuban Missle Crisis, which almost escalated to full nuclear war. Following Kennedy’s death, vice president Lyndon Johnson immediately put plans into motion for the invasion of Vietnam. Just two days after Kennedy was shot, he said
“The battle against communism must be joined in Southeast Asia with strength and determination to achieve success there – or the United States, inevitably, must surrender the Pacific and take up our defenses on our own shores. Asian communism is compromised and contained by the maintenance of free nations on the subcontinent. Without this inhibitory influence, the island outposts, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan – have no security and the vast Pacific becomes a Red Sea….The basic decision in Southeast Asia is here. We must decide whether to help these countries to the best of our ability or throw in the towel in the area and pull back our defense to San Francisco and a “Fortress America” concept.”
Yet again, the progressive Democrats were taking us to war with communism. Vietnam had much less support at home than previous wars, but still dragged on for a decade until Nixon withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.
The presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were relatively peaceful. Presidents during the 70’s and 80’s backed various factions in wars around the world, but did not engage in full scale American military invasions. The public had grown weary of wars with communism, and no longer viewed the radical left as a significant threat. Carter started arming the Mujaheddin against the Russians, but was proud of the fact that he never bombed anyone during his administration.
Reagan really kicked off the modern trend of bombing random countries. He bombed Grenada, Iran, Lebanon, Lybia, and Nicaragua. Reagan also sold arms to various anti-communist revolutionary groups, and allowed cocaine to flow into the United States to fund the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. Although held up as a hero by modern conservatives, he really represents the first progressive Neoconservative. It is no coincidence that his Vice President was none other than Herbert Walker Bush, who’s legacy would be decades of bloodshed in the Middle East. The economic boom during the Reagan administration was mostly a result of the deregulation instituted by Carter, who lost reelection as a result of the short but painful correction his economic policy caused.
H.W. Bush brought us into the first full scale war since Vietnam when he invaded Iraq in the Gulf War. Every president since has bombed Iraq. The military invasions carried out in Iraq and Panama by H.W. Bush set the trend of using the United States military as the world’s police force. While the actions of the Panamanian government could be seen as a direct threat to the United States, they were the direct result of American intervention in Panama. H.W. Bush was a major player in these interventions for decades as Director of the CIA and Vice President before he was elected President. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the atrocities Saddam committed ultimately had nothing to do with American interests. While the Bush interventions were intense and violent, and were the first to be broadcast live on TV as vivid Orwellian war propaganda, they weren’t the ongoing daily bombings that we experience today, which have become sickeningly normalized.
Clinton was elected in 1993, and characterized his bloody military campaigns as “humanitarian interventions”. Clinton’s humanitarianism was similar to Reagan’s “bomb everybody” strategy, except more so. He bombed Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Kosovo to stop the Serbs from killing Muslims. He bombed Muslims in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and of course Iraq. Surprisingly, people in these places weren’t too keen on Clinton’s humanitarianism. Some people just don’t want to be helped. The blow back from Clinton’s humanitarianism turned Al Qaeda from a fringe group into a global terror threat, and Osama Bin Laden into a folk hero of radical Islam.
While they often offer excuses for their behavior, most Republicans that I haven met don’t deny that George W. Bush grew the size of the federal government to ludicrous proportions, and that invasions of our privacy under the Patriot Act are not in keeping with a “hands off” approach to domestic policy. Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be completely in denial about the bloody warmongering and violations of civil liberties carried out by their own party. If they acknowledge that such things have in fact happened, they somehow manage to still blame Bush. They will say “well, Bush started it”, or “it’s the system, man!”, as if that somehow justifies the continuation, expansion, and implementation of new horrific foreign and domestic policies.
Outside of the brainwashed mainstream, it is common knowledge that Barack Obama has carried out many times the number of bombing campaigns as Bush. While it is true that Bush had absolutely no justification for the atrocities committed during the Iraq War, Obama has even less justification for his military adventurism. It is as if you tried to fix your car by striking the engine with a hammer, and when it still doesn’t work you just try a bigger hammer. This should surprise no one, since force is the only tool in the government tool box. Obama has not only continued domestic spying, he has expanded the program. Not only has he continued drone strikes which kill innocent people 90% of the time, he has expanded their use. He has not only continued bombing where Bush was already dropping bombs, he expanded into three more countries.
I never bought into the Obama-mania, and this behavior wasn’t exactly surprising to me. His campaign in 2008 reeked of corporate branding and disingenuous propaganda. For some reason, I was still under the impression that Democrats were the party of peace, however. In retrospect, throughout American history, the Democrats have been hawks. While we tend to think of WWI as the end of the “Progressive Era”, Progressivism persists to this day in both political parties. Until the rise of Neoconservatism, however, Progressives were limited to the political left. The proper way to change the world is to engage in free trade of goods and ideas and limit the power of government at home, the exact opposite of what left and right Progressives advocate. A free society is perfectly capable of out competing totalitarian regimes.
By Ross Ticknor