Non-Intervention and Its Discontents

Anyone whose ideological roots are in the Old Right and who goes into print against the latest military crusade starts getting letters from conservatives. These letters begin with some variation of “if liberals like you . . . .” The critics do not have in mind nineteenth-century liberalism. They assume that anyone who opposes war is a pacifist, and that all pacifists except the Amish are leftists.

Why is this? For that matter, why is it that the outraged letters always come from conservatives? Why don’t we get letters from outraged liberals? In all of America’s military crusades, liberals in Congress and the White House vote for the war. Usually, the Left initiates this country’s entry into war: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. Toss in Somalia and the Balkans as side-shows.

The Bush family has initiated two major wars and a small one. (Remember Panama?) The Left has always voted the necessary funds. Bushbackers, we might call them. When it comes to guns and butter, the Left has never short-changed guns.

Then why is it that conservatives have the reputation of being warmongers, yet liberals start the really big wars, sometimes with vigorous protests from anti-war conservatives, such as the America First Committee in 1940—41? Why is it that liberals have the reputation of being anti-war pacifists? And why do conservatives sincerely believe this myth?


The pacifist tradition is associated with religion. The obvious example is the Mennonite tradition: Amish, Hutterites, etc. These groups are socially conservative, although Hutterite farmers hold property in common. They are either outside of mainstream religion in every nation or else only on the inside at the extreme fringes, i.e., Mennonites who use zippers.

The other organized American pacifist tradition is associated with the Quakers. The American Friends Service Committee is representative. Over time, the AFSC has become associated with theological liberalism. We do not think of AFSC members as Bible-thumpers.

The pacifists have always been political fringe people. They have tended to be religious fringe people, too. The mainstream Protestant denominations, despite their march into theological liberalism throughout the twentieth century, did not adopt pacifism as part of this transformation. On the contrary, they were generally on the side of military crusades. Theological liberals (Social Gospel Progressives) were enthusiastic promoters of Mr. Wilson’s War. Wilson was their man in every sense: spiritually, politically, and militarily — a Presbyterian ruling elder in their camp who had dragged Presbyterian Princeton University into liberalism (1902—10).

We are back to my original question: Why is it that conservatives are associated with warmongering?


The pacifists have been fringe people. But, throughout most of the twentieth century, conservatives were also fringe people. By the time Harry Truman took us into Korea in 1950 without a Congressional declaration of war, the conservative movement was just about dead. The Old Right had Senator Robert Taft to defend a non-interventionist policy, but no one else of prominence. Howard Buffett, Warren’s father, served in Congress, but he was the Ron Paul of his day: John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness.

American conservatism after 1948 became associated with anti-Communism. This was the result of the Hiss-Chambers controversy. Alger Hiss had been an agent of the USSR, but he had liberal credentials, so the Left/liberal Establishment formed a protective circle around him. The Left never forgave either Chambers or Nixon for having blown the whistle on Hiss.

Nixon, whose bogus conservative credentials were established during Congress’s Hiss-Chambers inquiry, had no ideology. He had been elected to Congress in 1946 by beating Jerry Voorhis, who was one of the last of the old-style Populists: a greenbacker in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan. Then Nixon went on to beat Hellen Gahagan Douglas in the Senate race of 1950. She, like her actor husband Melvyn, was a far leftist. Running to the right of her took no ideology.

Conservatives in the 1950s were anti-Communists. But they could be anti-Communists for several reasons, not always consistent: anti-socialist, anti-red empire, anti-atheist, anti-religious persecution, and that thoroughly legitimate category, anti-pointy-headed intellectuals.

Of all the anti-Communists who made it to the silver screen, by far the most memorable has to be Col. Bat Guano, machine gun in hand, who was not going to put up with any Communist preversions. Keenan Wynn’s caricature worked because there was too much truth to it. It was easy to believe that Col. Guano’s wife wore tennis shoes — back before tennis shoes were called running shoes and cost $200 a pair.

So, Truman’s foreign policy, wrapped in anti-Communism, received little opposition from conservatives. It was his domestic economic policies that drew conservatives’ fire, such as it was. There were not enough conservatives in 1951 to matter.

The foreign policy Establishment suffered no alteration when John Foster Dulles, who had been Hiss’s godfather at the Carnegie Endowment, replaced Dean Acheson, Hiss’s verbal defender, as Secretary of State in 1953. The re-making of Dulles into a conservative was one of the most successful charades in American political history: an old-line internationalist, a liberal Presbyterian elder, and a New York Corporate lawyer was re-cast, in about 24 months, as the master of anti-Russian nuclear brinksmanship. (The best book on this is Alan Stang’s The Actor.) Dulles had been one of Wilson’s bright boys at Princeton during the re-structuring.

[Note: For all you hard-core conspiracy buffs, Dulles served as the ecclesiastical defense counsel for Harry Emerson Fosdick in 1924 when Fosdick was brought to trial for liberalism. Fosdick was the brother of Raymond Fosdick, who by 1924 had been running the Rockefeller Foundation for three years. Harry was on the Foundation’s Board. John D. Jr. built the Riverside Church for Fosdick after Fosdick resigned from the Presbyterian Church in 1924, because, as a Baptist minister in a Presbyterian pulpit, Fosdick at last had decided that he could not affirm the Presbyterians’ 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, which nobody had previously asked him to do.]

Conservatives saw the American cause as an anti-Communist cause. They believed that the best defense against international Communism was an equally international military defense. This pulled the rug out from under the few remaining defenders of Old Right’s non-intervention in foreign policy. The pejorative term, “isolationism,” was used by the crusading Left and the equally crusading Right to dismiss the Old Right’s foreign policy. “It’s a new world,” said conservatives. “It’s a new world order,” said liberals.

A conservative in 1953 who looked back at China’s fall to the Communists in 1949 saw a sell-out at the top of the foreign policy Establishment: the left-wing Old China Hands in the State Department, who had promoted Mao as an agrarian reformer. He saw the government’s pressure on Chiang to bring Communists into his government. He received mailings from the China Lobby’s “Committee of One Million” — a remarkable exercise in deceptive demography — which had become by default the voice of conservatism in matters Chinese: more military money for Chiang. It was Chiang vs. Mao, the China Lobby vs. the Old China Hands. To get even with the pinkos, he had to line up behind Chiang. What never occurred to him was this: it was none of our business (NOOB) — not in Truman’s day, and not in Teddy Roosevelt’s day, either.


Then came Carroll Quigley’s 1,300-page unfootnoted tome, Tragedy and Hope (Macmillan, 1966). Here, in the most revolutionary 20 pages for American conservative history (pp. 950—70), a liberal history professor at Georgetown University blew the American Establishment’s cover. The Old China Hands’ money source and publishing outlet, the Institute for Pacific Relations — the conservatives’ dreaded IPR — had been an extension of the J. P. Morgan banking empire. Using the IPR as a springboard, Quigley backtracked into the story of American foreign policy: the connection with Morgan and Rockefeller and Carnegie, the connection to the entire foreign policy Establishment, including the Dulles brothers. It began to look as though American foreign policy had been little more than an extension of American oil and banking interests.

Then what of the century’s great crusades? Were they nothing more than the policies of the Morgans and Rockefellers? What of the leadership of the two political parties? Was the battle for the presidency really a battle over whether Council on Foreign Relations Team A beat CFR Team B (to use Susan Huck’s subsequent description)? It had that look about it.

In Reds (1981), Warren Beatty’s movie about John Reed, the author of Ten Days That Shook the World, a laudatory contemporary book on the Bolshevik revolution, Beatty begins the movie at an exclusive dinner party in Portland, Oregon in 1915. Reed is a guest. The host asks him what he thinks is at stake in the European war. “Profits” is Reed’s one-word answer. The host is horrified. Yet the Old Right and the interwar Left agreed with Reed two decades later.


The Left loves crusades. So does the Right. They join hands as they go marching.

The Left wants to defeat evil. So does the Right. The Left wants to make America the launching pad for world democracy. So does the Right. The Left wants to expand the federal government. The Right wants to expand the Defense Department. They compromise.

After the latest war is over, the Left wants to get its hands on the tax money that is now flowing into Washington because of emergency wartime taxes. Why? To fund bigger and better social welfare projects. The Right still wants to fund the Defense Department. The Left is officially uncomfortable with the Defense Department. The Right is officially uncomfortable with high taxes. They compromise.

Then they agree to fund each other’s projects with deficit spending. Banks buy bonds. Taxpayers then pay the banks. J. P. Morgan and friends applaud bipartisanship in action.

Critics from the Old Left — the anti-crusading Populists in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan — and critics from the Old Right find that they are united in challenging the crusades.

How many conservatives remember that Bryan resigned as Secretary of State in 1915 because he saw where Wilson’s unneutral neutrality policy was headed: into war in Europe on the side of England, who was using the Morgan Bank as its sales force to sell its wartime bonds? This was an act of statesmanship in an era in which such acts are rare. Conservatives ignore it.

How many conservatives are aware that Bryan’s replacement was Robert Lansing? Only those conspiracy-minded historians who know that he was the son-in-law of John W. Foster, Secretary of State under Harrison, who in turn was namesake of Foster’s grandson, John Foster Dulles. It never occurs to any academically employed historian to ask this question: Why did three Secretaries of State plus the head of the CIA come from one family? “No, no, no . . . don’t you go there!”

Fringe critics on the Left find that their leftist peers love crusades for democracy more than they love peace. Their representative is Jeanette Rankin, who voted against our entry into World War I and World War II — a unique distinction matched by no other member of Congress. Mainstream leftists prefer to forget about her.

Fringe critics on the Right find that their rightist peers love crusades for democracy more than they love low taxes. Their representatives are Robert Taft and Ron Paul.

Fringe historians on both the Left and the Right who follow the money find that these crusades invariably are intertwined with either the flow of oil or the flow of funds in a banking system that has been lubricated by oil. To go into print with this information is to become branded as a conspiracy historian.


The mainstream Left loves the wartime flow of taxpayer funds more than it hates war. The mainstream Right loves the glory of American military pre-eminence more than it hates taxes.

The fringe Left must give up its addiction to the flow of funds that only war initially generates. So far, it has refused. It wants to keep its hands on the postwar flow of funds to be used for peacetime welfare projects. Somehow, this never happens. The nation always gets into another crusade. The Defense Department wins.

The fringe Right is ready to give up the crusades and the flow of funds. But it finds, day by day, that its ranks are thinning. Big government conservatives are gaining recruits from big government libertarians. “This crusade is different!”

There will come a day when the flow of taxpayer funds can no longer be maintained, war or no war. When that day comes, peace will find new recruits. When it really is a question of guns or butter, the mainstream Left will abandon guns and vote for government-supplied butter, while the mainstream Right will support butter vouchers.

Let us pray that this day arrives before the anthrax attacks do.

April 22, 2005

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit

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