Indulge me to dredge up the most obscure foreign conflict in American history – the long-forgotten War of 1812 – to illustrate my provocative point: When your mortal enemy, the Leviathan state, starts a war, you had better think twice about fulfilling your supposed "patriotic" duty by marching off to battle. And Libertarians (to their credit) have basically figured out this scam well ahead of everybody else and that, while only a fool defends his country, a wise man defends himself. Let me elaborate.
Do the math: 1812 was a leap year that featured a presidential election. The Fourth Chief Executive, James Madison, who, as a young man basically wrote the United States Constitution, twenty-five years later was up for reelection while presiding over a failed administration. And after dominating the national government in Washington for a dozen years, the early Republican Party (which changed its name to Democrat a decade later) had evidently worn out its welcome. A fusion ticket of opposition Federalists and disaffected Northern Republicans nominated a formidable challenger – DeWitt Clinton of New York the man who later, as Governor of the Empire State, would prove instrumental in the construction of the Erie Canal.
So in the same spirit as the fanciful 1997 movie classic, Wag the Dog, Madison and his Republican Party contrived to wage a war against Britain as the centerpiece of their reelection campaign strategy. For a swift military strike to capture lightly defended Canada would presumably rally the voters behind the incumbent in time for the Fall 1812 balloting.
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Meanwhile, the election battlelines were clearly drawn. The popular New Yorker Clinton was bound to carry the North while the Virginian Madison would capture the South and West. Like the 2000 Bush-Gore contest that revolved around one key state – remember Florida and the infamous "hanging chads" the 1812 struggle boiled down to the swing state of Pennsylvania. Naturally, Madison ultimately carried Pennsylvania, thus reassuring his reelection, which you doubtless already knew since in school you never learned about any President named DeWitt Clinton. But had the challenger actually carried the Keystone State, the Federalist/Dissident Republican ticket would have secured the election in a squeaker.
Now comes the fun part: The Congress' War Declaration directed against Britain, which passed by a party vote in June 1812, was so transparently motivated by partisan politics that some New England businessmen privately approached London with a curious, if admittedly, “treasonous” offer. The anti-Madison North could continue its brisk trade with its prime customer and supplier while Britain, for its part, would wage war only against the bottom half of the United States. In fact, many northerners considered their real "enemy" to be, not the British (the now officially-designated national adversary), but rather the scheming Republican Party politicians like Madison who had initiated a needless foreign struggle as part of their cynical, self-serving reelection campaign strategy. Was the conduct of Madison's opponents "treason" or merely the justifiable pursuit of their own self-interest?
Elsewhere, not to be outdone in the “treason” department, Madison, who must have read Article 3 Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution that defines “treason" as giving "aid and comfort" to our nation's wartime enemy – after all, Madison basically crafted the document – astutely recognized that he would lose the Presidency without carrying Pennsylvania, which was full of voting farmers who anticipated selling part of their fall harvest to the British. Madison thus permitted grain shipments to continue as usual! In fact, Madison’s campaign supporters emphasized that, despite the Declaration of War on Britain and the launching of the American invasion of Canada (an expedition which failed miserably), Republicans had no intention of interfering with the farmers’ profits!
Two years hence, a British strike force (fed with Pennsylvania grain) sailed up the Chesapeake and burned Washington D.C. forcing Madison to flee from his own capital city.
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It was knowledge such as this that I absorbed as a youthful UCLA History Ph.D. candidate many moons ago that served to stimulate my lifelong interest in identifying the root cause of war. And so did Daniel Ellsberg's shocking 1971 disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, which chronicled how American leaders had repeatedly lied to the public in pursuit of their own political agenda all the while exhorting our boys to fight and die for their “country.”
A subsequent January 1973 epiphany – that all wars must be so driven – altered the course of my life forever. In hindsight, I experienced what the late-historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, would call a "paradigm flash" – it was Kuhn himself who popularized the notion of a "paradigm shift." And it was Kuhn who, although I never met him personally, did exchange several letters with me back during the 1980s, which furnished crucial assistance to me for placing my often disjointed thoughts in proper perspective.
After receiving my doctorate in 1979, I quickly surveyed the historic record and discovered that we could identity approximately 300-or-so wars stretching back from Greco-Roman times to the present day that yield sufficient data regarding the decision-making process to permit the diligent researcher to play Sherlock Holmes. In this fashion, I would be able to test my hunch that all wars were the result of leaders' cynical, self-serving political manipulation.
Through careful analysis, these 300-odd authentic historical cases can furnish enough information to: (1) recreate the intellectual and bureaucratic framework in existence at that crucial moment, (2) identify the key decision-making elite who held the authority to make war, (3) explore the institutional and bureaucratic framework in which each particular decision for war was reached, (4) reconstruct the exact sequence of events that led to the decision for war having been taken, (5) discover the ostensible "reason" being served up for public consumption, and (6) recount what these key decision-making elites admitted privately amongst themselves regarding the real "reason" (the "hidden agenda," if you will) for their own conflict. Only in this comprehensive manner will scholars be able finally to answer satisfactorily the age-old question: "Why war?"
My mammoth research effort has taken far longer than I could have ever imagined. And I'm still years away from publication of my data. In the meantime, I have decided to make public my findings. Check out my website – www.worldwidewarproject.org – for a preview of things to come.
When I embarked on my ambitious project three decades ago, I had intended that I would eventually make contact with numerous world-class scholars, who would be able to validate my thesis regarding their own particular area of historical expertise. I had initially anticipated corresponding with recognized experts by snail mail. But in the interim, thank God, Al Gore invented the Internet!
Thus my newly-constructed website – www.worldwidewarproject.org – now features hundreds of postings (soon to be a full thousand) from world-class historians confirming my theories.
Finally, although my website is still very much a work-in-progress – I've only managed to post responses for the first third of my 300-or-so case studies – I expect that you will find my research provocative and enlightening, as well as sending a clear message to any future James Madisons: "Be warned! I'm hip to your nasty political tricks and I'm always watching you."
December 8, 2009