Can Interventionism Be 'A Good Thing'?

I recently received the following e-mail, sent in response to my article entitled "Orthogonality versus Opposite Direction" (which appeared in the February 14 issue of – see also

"Interesting way of looking at things. I’m not entirely convinced that the analogy is supremely apt or useful, but it’s refreshing to the technical mind.

"I don’t really understand your basis for unequivocally concluding that interventionism and do-goodism inevitably cause more problems than they solve. I’ll be impressed should you find a way to demonstrate that empirically! Should the United States have refused to engage in either World War? Should it have restricted its participation to responding to the Japanese? If the Japanese hadn’t attacked would it have been morally acceptable for the U.S. to allow Hitler to operate unchecked? Morality aside, do you actually believe that if everyone had just minded his own business after Poland was invaded there would have been fewer problems in the long run?"

Naturally, this provoked a reaction on my part, which I share with the reader below (a "cleaned-up" version that corrects a couple of misspellings and one subject-verb disagreement, and also removes my address of the recipient by name):

"The U.S. should certainly have refused to engage in WWI, which, as the eminent military historian John Keegan notes, was "a tragic and unnecessary conflict." U.S. involvement in the war led to the after-war settlement known as the Treaty of Versailles, which led to German resentment and paved the way for Hitler to rise to power in the 1930’s. Hardly a matter of "making the world safe for democracy"! As to the Japanese question, we provoked the Japanese to attack us at Pearl Harbor because our government didn’t like the idea of having a threat to rising American hegemony in East Asia. You can point to atrocities such as “the rape of Nanking” by the Japanese and the Holocaust by the Nazis to say that interventionism is needed, but I offer the following by way of a counter-argument:

  1. Principled neutrality is usually a better alternative than interventionism. Humanitarian efforts to aid the dispossessed in question, including the opening of our borders, while not sacrificing our young on the shores of Europe and Asia, would have been a mutually beneficial arrangement that might well have saved many lives, American and otherwise. Had we stayed out of Europe in the 1940’s, we could have let the Nazis and the Soviets battle it out, and then come to a negotiated truce, while putting forth our hand, in a benign manner, to help the Jews, Gypsies, and others suffering under Nazi rule. While the Swiss’ hands were not entirely clean so far as the prosecution of WWII was concerned, their efforts were closer to the ideal than ours. Besides, you could make the point that the Soviets won WWII, not us and the Brits, as the USSR took over much of Eastern Europe (including Poland, the country that Britain and France declared war with Germany over in 1939, even though the USSR invaded eastern Poland shortly thereafter – why was Germany’s invasion not OK, but the Soviets’ invasion was? And don’t say that it was because, in some sense, Stalin was any better than Hitler – Hitler had his millions, but Stalin had his tens of millions!) and built, as Churchill called it, the "Iron Curtain", which led to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Indeed, from that standpoint (namely the "domino effect"), it can be argued that WWI didn’t end until 1990, when the USSR fell, and given our continuing conflicts in the Middle East (the seeds of which were planted in the post-war plans of Wilson, George and Clemenceau), it might be fair to say, as others have, that WWI is still going on, 89 years after it started! The point is that conflicts perpetuate themselves long after they are started.
  2. American and allied governments have consistently employed a rank and pernicious double standard with regards to the commission of atrocities. The Holocaust was a monstrous evil, but so was the bombing of Dresden, the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the systematic rape of German women by the Soviets, all done within a 12-month span in 1944–45. In each case, thousands of innocent civilians either had their most basic human rights grossly violated, or were murdered outright. American policy during the Cold War, and continuing on to today, has been an ongoing affirmation of the "Somoza standard": "He’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard." A socialist regime in Chile, under the control of Allende? Why we can’t have that! We’ll have to install our puppet Pinochet and have him impose martial law, never mind that many people unnecessarily die in the process. Saddam Hussein represses Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shi’ites in the south? No skin off our backs, until he gets too "uppity" and invades the country of Kuwait. (And, to justify war against him, we’ll make up stories about babies being thrown out of incubators, and Iraqi troops massing on the Saudi Arabian border.) Noriega’s running drugs and weapons through his regime in Panama, and repressing his own people in the process? Who cares, so long as he’s useful to us? I could go on and on – the unpopular governments of Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam and the shah in Iran, our blind eye to Pakistan’s willingness to let Al Qaeda camps operate freely within their borders, and attack our troops in Afghanistan before scurrying back to safety in Pakistan (oh, you don’t understand, Don – Pakistan's our ally!), our government’s implacable unwillingness to let our troops be subject to the laws of the countries they occupy, even when they run over two teenage South Korean girls (last year) or rape women in Okinawa, and so forth, ad nauseam.

Remember this:

  1. Governments lie, and they do so pathologically.
  2. You, and all of the other "subjects" of the regime in question (including our benevolent masters who bestride the Potomac), are considered expendable by these same self-proclaimed masters of our fate.
  3. Governments will find ways to repress, however brutally, those it deems as threats to their power, which they intend to perpetuate, by whatever means necessary.
  4. Governments, upon the brutal exacting of punishment, or in preparation thereof, will say and do anything to couch their impending (or just-completed) actions in the most moral and ethical terms possible, in order to hide the overwhelming stench of their atrocities.

Am I anti-American? If you mean, am I in opposition to the government in Washington, D.C. (be it Democratic or Republican), I say, forcefully and unswervingly, yes!! But am I anti-American, in that I oppose the principles of liberty and justice for all, not according to what anybody in government may say constitutes justice and liberty, but according to the natural rights of man, which supersede constitutions, laws, and threats of abuse, I say no!! In that sense, I’m one of the most pro-American people you could ever find."

One final comment suffices. The e-mailer began his last sentence with the phrase "morality aside." The point of this article is to show, by means of many examples, that an entity can never set aside the issue of morality in the actions that it takes. We as individuals accept such a proposition as a given, while setting aside that same principle when it comes to the actions of governments! The sooner that people realize that "what's good for the goose is good for the gander," the better off we'll all be.

February 18, 2003


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