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'I Was ThInkIng, as I OfTen DO These Days, Of War': The U.s.
In The 21sT CenTUry
Marilyn B. Young
eCOnOmIC VOTIng anD The naTIOnal frOnT:
TOWarDs a sUbregIOnal UnDersTanDIng Of
The exTreme-rIghT VOTe In franCe
John Amerling Aldrich
the JouRnal oF Politics anD inteRnational aFFaiRs
helpIng "The OTher": The Challenges Of InTernaTIOnal
relIef OrganIzaTIOns fUnDraIsIng In The UnITeD sTaTes
keep yOUr TIreD, yOUr pOOr:
COmparIng aTTITUDes TOWarDs mUslIm COmmUnITes In The UnITeD sTaTes anD germany Sabeeh Jameel Do Religious societies DiscRiminate against Women in Family laW?
a FRameWoRk analysis oF genDeR equality issues Caitlin Kaldany Voting on Wall stReet: eFFects oF the 2012 PResiDential election on equity maRkets Justina Lee unVeileD: tRansPaRency anD DemocRacy Darshan Patel unDeRstanDing sunni oPPosition to Palestinian Resettlement in lebanon in the context oF conFessional Politics Zainab Qureshi Fall 2013 • Volume XIII Volume XIII Journal of Politics and International Affairs New York University Fall 2013 • Volume XIII New York University Featuring a Special Contribution from marIlyn B. young Fall 2013 • Volume xiii • FALL 2013 VOLUME XIII 'I Was ThInkIng, as I OfTen DO These Days, Of War': The U.s. In The 21sT CenTUry marIlyn B. young 8
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I take the title of my talk from a poem by C.K. Williams, “The Hearth,” written after listening to the news on a cold winter evening in February 2003. He writes that he has been thinking “as I often do these days, of war” and “wondering how those who have power over us/can effect such things and by what/cynical reasoning pardon themselves." The poem spells it out: war is “radar, rockets, shrapnel,/cities razed, soil poisoned/for thousands of generations; … suffering so vast/it nullifies everything else.”3 I find that I have spent most of my life as a teacher and scholar thinking and writing about war.
I moved from war to war, from the War of 1898 and US participation in the Boxer Expedition and the Chinese civil war, to the Vietnam War, back to the Korean War, then further back to World War II and forward to the wars of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Initially, I wrote about all these as if war and peace were discrete: pre-war, war, peace or post-war. Over time, this progression of wars has looked to 1 Delmore Schwartz, “Comment,” Partisan Review, Jan-Feb 1951, 18:1, p.13 2 Available at: http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2011/05/14/ 3 C.K. Williams, “The Hearth,” Collected Poems (New York, 2006), p.614
me less like a progression than a continuation: as if between one war and the next, the country was on hold. The shadow of war, as Mike Sherry called it 15 years ago, seems not to be a shadow but entirely substantial: the substance of American history.
The subject of American wars is not new, and in recent years it has become a constant subject.
But I think it is a good thing in an historian of American foreign policy to be preoccupied with war. I think our continuous task must be to make war visible, vivid, an inescapable part of the country’s selfconsciousness, as inescapable a subject of study as it is a reality.
The constancy of war and its as constant erasure is linked intimately to the pursuit and maintenance of an American empire similarly erased. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, nations are each imperial in their own way and each way has its own euphemism. The euphemisms change over time, as does the nature of the empire : in the 19th century, expansion was the preferred description, up to and including expanding across the Pacific.4 In the mid to late 20th century, it was the establishment of a liberal capitalist world order that, Dean Acheson explained, would “help people who believe the way we do, to continue to live the way they want to live." In both the 20th century and this one, the projection of American power was equated, by all administrations, many pundits and some historians, with the fundamental and universal values of freedom and democracy. This is to say that in all three centuries the pursuit of empire was usually accompanied by a denial that the US was or could be an empire, its policies imperialist. Or, if recognized, then, as John Lewis Gaddis put it, the empire Americans built was “a new kind of empire – a democratic empire – for the simple reason that they were, by habit and history, democratic in their politics.”5 Walter Lippmann complained of an American propensity to deny the existence of its empire, in a1927 essay entitled “Empire: the days of our nonage are over." He observed that “all the world thinks of the United States as an empire, except the people of the United States." He believed the “reluctance [was] genuine,” that there was no hypocrisy “in the pained protest which rises whenever a Latin American or a European speaks of us as imperialistic." But other countries paid attention to what the US said and did.
“We on the other hand think of what we feel. And the result is that we go on creating what mankind calls an empire while we continue to believe quite sincerely that it is not an empire because it does not feel to us the way we imagine an empire ought to feel.”6 Not feeling like an empire, the US fought imperial wars nonetheless. The War of 1898, as it became a war of occupation and colonization was at first vigorously opposed and then remembered as an aberration; as not the beginning of an American overseas empire, but a one-off. This misremembering attained one impressive peak when George W. Bush spoke to the Filipino Congress in October, 2003 and declared America “proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule,” erasing the years of counterinsurgency warfare. Never feeling like an empire, the US could fight a series of wars in Central America and the Caribbean that led Major General Smedley Butler to declare himself a “racketeer, a gangster for capitalism,” and to call war 4 See my Rhetoric of Empire (Cambridge, MA., 1968).
5 John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford, 1998), p.289.
6 Walter Lippmann, “Empire: the days of our nonage are over,” in Men of Destiny; quoted in David Ryan and Victory Pungong, editors, “By Way of Introduction: The United States, Decolonization and the World System,” in The United States and Decolonization: Power and Freedom (Basingstoke, 2000), pp. 18-19.
Journal of Politics and international affairs10 Marilyn B. young
itself a “racket” conducted “for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses,” and understood by only a “small inside group.”7 The wars of the American empire did not end in Manila on July 4, 1902 but have continued to the present. This afternoon I want to speak about some of these wars: the hot wars of the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam, the homeopathic small wars that followed Vietnam, and the current state of permanent war. I will speak mainly of the process through which public opinion has been persuaded to take war rather than peace as the normal state of affairs.
The disproportional American use of force was also taken as natural. In Korea, 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm were dropped and some 2 to 3 million Koreans died. The US was not bombed; there were 33,000 plus combat dead. Some commentators in the liberal press did take note of the discrepancy, but the general public, was indifferent.
Vietnam was different and protests against the ferocity of the air war grew over the years.
But after Vietnam, massive bombing returned, without undue public comment, and today, though the bombers are often drones rather than B52s, the air war is barely visible. (Note: the drone program is divided between the military and the CIA. The latter regularly denies all knowledge of their use and, unlike Harrison Salisbury during the Vietnam War, reporters are rarely in a position to witness their impact.)8 World War II, the war politicians and patriots have enshrined as ideal, a war fought for unimpugnable reasons by the “greatest generation,” ended not just decisively but triumphantly in public euphoria. “To resume one’s own life!” William Barrett, philosopher and Partisan Review editor recalled.
“It seemed a small and humdrum thing to be asking for, and yet most of us believed it would not be the same old life again. Hitler and the Nazis were gone, the whole face of the world seemed changed, and a long period of peace and promise must surely lie ahead.”9 George C. Marshall remembered it the same way and some years later complained about the way people had “rush[ed] back to their civilian jobs and [left] the tanks to rot in the Pacific and military strength that was built up fade away."10 He needn’t have worried. Within months of V-J Day, America’s Soviet ally was being portrayed as America’s rival. At Washington dinner parties, observers as different as Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace and the British novelist E.M. Forster were taken aback by the bloody-minded comments of their companions. After a Washington dinner party early in 1946 during which the high-powered guests had alternately called for “kick[ing] the Russians in the balls” and encircling the Soviet Union with military bases, Wallace worried in this diary that “only one logical action” could follow such a world view “and that is to provoke a war with Russia as soon as possible.”11 Forster remembered a similar event a year later: “I 7 Smedley Butler, War is a Racket: the Profit Motive Behind Warfare (written in 1935; republished in a World Classics edition in 2010; no city given), p.7.
8 The drone program is divided between the military and the CIA and it is difficult to get cumulative statistics on the among of tonnage dropped. Unlike Harrison Salisbury during the Vietnam War, reporters are rarely in a position to witness their impact.
9 William Barrett, The Truants (New York, 1982), p.20 10 Oral history interview of Frank Pace, Jr. by Jerry N. Hess, February 26, 1972; available online from the Harry S.
Truman Library and Museum (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/pacefj4.htm; accessed 6/28/11).
11 Quoted in John C. Culver and John Hyde, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry a. Wallace (New York, 2000), 410.
Fall 2013 The U.S. in The 21ST CenTUry 11 shall never forget a dinner party…at which one of the guests, a journalist, urged that atomic bombs should be dropped upon the Soviet Union without notice… They were cultivated men, but as soon as the idea of Russia occurred to them, their faces became blood red; they ceased to be human. No one seemed appalled by the display but myself, no one was surprised and our hostess congratulated herself afterwards on the success of her party.”12 You are all familiar with the drumbeat of the next few years, the alarums and excursions of the early Cold War from Greece to Berlin to the Communist victory in China, all culminating unexpectedly in a hot war in Korea. Accompanying these distant conflicts was the danger awaiting us at home, the possibility nuclear annihilation, and the warnings that America was at risk: the struggle between freedom and democracy had not ended in 1945 but transformed itself. Only the opponents were different: Russians instead of Germans, Chinese rather than Japanese.