Week 12

American Foreign Policy

In the early years after independence, American foreign policy revolved around strict isolation, neutrality, and avoiding political or military alliances with foreign nations, especially Europe. George Washington set this policy during his presidency by remaining a neutral bystander to the military conflicts of Europe and focusing on the internal affairs of the United States.

Since colonial times, America has tended to exhibit a sense of idealism and mission. In the early years after independence, however, American foreign policy revolved around strict isolation, neutrality, and avoiding political or military alliances with foreign nations, especially Europe.

Commercial relations were acceptable as long as Americans were not pulled into the complexity of European affairs and rivalries. George Washington set this policy during his presidency by remaining a neutral bystander to the military conflicts of Europe and focusing on the internal affairs of the United States.

In his Farewell Address in 1796, Washington outlined the benefits of neutrality towards Europe and America’s unique destiny and place in the world. He states:

… Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other …

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little Political connection as possible—So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith—Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation.

—Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties in … the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships, or enmities …

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

`Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it …

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences …

Contrary to the policy of isolation and neutrality in Europe, Americans believed from the beginning that the United States had a special relationship with other nations in the Western Hemisphere because of our shared colonial heritage.

In 1823, President James Monroe established the Monroe Doctrine. The idea: America and Europe would occupy separate spheres of influence. Europe was to engage in no further colonization in the Western Hemisphere and in return the United States would stay out of European affairs. At the time the United States had no means of backing up this declaration militarily, but Europe was too preoccupied with colonization efforts in Asia and Africa to extend colonial involvement in the Americas and so the doctrine stood.

James Monroe, “Monroe Doctrine,” 1823

The occasion has been judged proper, for asserting as a principle … that the American Continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Power.

Of events in [Europe], with which we have so much intercourse, and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The Citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly, in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellowmen on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced, that we resent injuries, or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this Hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected … The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America … We owe it therefore to candor, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers, to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this Hemisphere, as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependences of any European power, we have not interfered, and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their Independence, and maintained it, and whose Independence we have, on great consideration, and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner, their destiny, by any European power, in any other light, than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States

Our policy in regard to Europe … is not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations, by a frank, firm and manly policy, meeting in all instances, the just claims of every power; submitting to injuries from none. But, in regard to [the American continents], circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers, should extend their political system, to any portion of either continent, without endangering our peace and happiness, nor can any one believe, that our southern Brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new Governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States, to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope, that other powers will pursue the same course …

The Monroe Doctrine became the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere for over one hundred years. America’s relationship with the countries of the Western Hemisphere was strengthened by the Roosevelt Corollary in 1904. The Corollary announced to the world that the United States would act as the protector and policeman in conflicts between American nations, thus establishing a policy that justified American intervention in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Theodore Roosevelt: “Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine”—1906

… It is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for the welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing … may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing and impotence, to the exercise of an international police power … Our interests and those of our southern neighbors are really identical. They have great natural riches, and if within their borders the reign of law and justice obtains, prosperity is sure to come to them … We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations.

As noble as America’s stated goals in the Western Hemisphere were, their paternalism and control often made for a complicated foreign policy. American efforts at interference, influence, and occasionally armed invasion were often despised and rejected. While some welcomed American help, most saw that help as an effort to intrude in local matters in an effort to protect American interests.

Although most Americans saw “imperialism” negatively,, the United States did act to form and maintain an empire through conquest and domination in some fashion. The early United States was focused on a type of continental imperialism: westward expansion through the Louisiana Purchase,relocation and dislocation of Native American tribes, and the annexed Mexican territory gained in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). Throughout the nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States was destined to control all territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts, was widely held and promulgated.

As America developed into an industrial and continent-wide powerhouse, the sense of mission began to include a desire to expand and share the free-market system and create markets and suppliers of raw materials for industrialization. Along with this sense of mission, a spirit of nationalism—a strong patriotic devotion to one’s country—has impacted America’s role in the Western Hemisphere. This can largely be a positive attribute, but extreme nationalism can lead to militaristic patriotism, wars of conquest and empire building, domestic division, and international oppression.

This spirit can be seen during the last decade of the nineteenth century, as a spirit of nationalism and expansion gripped America, leading it into armed conflict with Spain. As a result of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the United States gained a colonial empire which included Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, along with the annexation of Hawaii. This accidental empire was not planned as imperialistic expansion, but was viewed that way by many of the territories that were acquired. For example, the Filipinos fought alongside the United States against Spain, hoping to gain independence. When the United States decided to remain in power in the Philippines at the conclusion of the war, the Filipino independence movement took up arms against the United States. It took three years of fighting for the United States to put down the rebellion. To American policymakers, the Philippines was not yet ready for self-government and it was the duty of the United States to oversee the country. To the Filipinos, this was seen as imperialism.

One of the strongest advocates of this type of American colonial empire was Senator Albert Beveridge, whose ideas about manifest destiny, American nationalism and superiority, and the continuing sense of religious mission can be clearly seen in the following popular campaign speech.

“The March of the Flag”: Albert Beveridge—1898

It is a noble land that God has given us; a land that can feed and clothe the world; a land whose coastlines would inclose half the countries of Europe; a land set like a sentinel between the two imperial oceans of the globe, a greater England with a nobler destiny. It is a mighty people that He has planted on this soil; a people sprung from the most masterful blood of history … people imperial by virtue of their power, by right of their institutions, by authority of their Heaven-directed purposes-the propagandists and not the misers of liberty.

It is a glorious history our God has bestowed upon His chosen people; a history heroic with faith in our mission and our future; a history of statesmen who flung the boundaries of the Republic out into unexplored lands and savage wilderness; a history of soldiers who carried the flag across blazing deserts and through the ranks of hostile mountains, even to the gates of sunset; a history of a multiplying people who overran a continent in half a century; a history of prophets who saw the consequences of evils inherited from the past and of martyrs who died to save us from them; a history divinely logical, in the process of whose tremendous reasoning we find ourselves today.

Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength, until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all mankind? Have we no mission to perform no duty to discharge to our fellow man? Has God endowed us with gifts beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar favor, merely to rot in our own selfishness, as men and nations must … Shall we be as the man who had one talent and hid it, or as he who had ten talents and used them until they grew to riches? And shall we reap the reward that waits on our discharge of our high duty; shall we occupy new markets for what our farmers raise, our factories make, our merchants sell—aye, and please God, new markets for what our ships shall carry?

Hawaii is ours; Puerto Rico is to be ours; at the prayer of her people Cuba finally will be ours; in the islands of the East, even to the gates of Asia, coaling stations are to be ours at the very least; the flag of a liberal government is to float over the Philippines, and may it be the banner that Taylor unfurled in Texas and Fremont carried to the coast.

The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer, The rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-government We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. How do they know what our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them? And, regardless of this formula of words made only for enlightened, self-governing people, do we owe no duty to the world? Shall we turn these peoples back to the reeking hands from which we have taken them? Shall we abandon them, with Germany, England, Japan, hungering for them? Shall we save them from those nations, to give them a self-rule of tragedy? …

Wonderfully has God guided us yonder at Bunker Hill and Yorktown. His providence was above us at New Orleans and on ensanguined seas His hand sustained us. Abraham Lincoln was His minister and His was the altar of freedom the Nation's soldiers set up on a hundred battle-fields. His power directed Dewey in the East and delivered the Spanish fleet into our hands … The American people cannot use a dishonest medium of exchange; it is ours to set the world its example of` right and honor. We cannot fly from our world duties; it is ours to execute the purpose of a fate that has driven us to be greater than our small intentions. We cannot retreat from any soil where Providence has unfurled our banner; it is ours to save that soil for liberty and civilization.

American Foreign Policy in the 20th Century

In 1914, Europe and much of the world entered into World War I (or the “Great War”). This was the first industrial war. This means that colonial empires of Europe fought with the new technologies (chemical warfare, airplanes, submarines, machine guns and other advanced weaponry). President Woodrow Wilson, consistent with America’s long standing commitment to isolation and neutrality, urged Americans to remain “impartial in thought, as well as action.” In time, neutrality became difficult because America was made up of immigrants with commercial and historic ties to the Allies as well as complicated allegiances to England and Germany.

American shipping bound for Germany was blockaded by the British Navy and shipping bound for England or France was sunk by German U-boats. American civilians became casualties of war when their ships were sunk. Additionally, both sides in the conflict engaged in political intrigue and espionage here in America to disrupt our ability to support the opposite side. Wilson was re-elected on the platform “He kept us out of war” in 1916, and he attempted to help negotiate a peace. However, Wilson eventually came to decide that if the United States was going to protect its international interests, or to have any influence on the world after the war, the United States would have to fight in Europe.

 Bipolarisation of the world during cold war

War Message to Congress, President Woodrow Wilson, 1917

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.

… The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them … It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.

As this address indicates, Wilson’s goals were based on America’s traditional sense of mission to offer the world the benefits of American liberty and free government. The entry of American forces helped turn the tide of the war, at the cost of nearly 32 billion dollars and 130,000 American lives. The losses by European combatants dwarfed those numbers, and left much of Europe’s civilian populations devastated by the war’s destruction.

Wilson always looked beyond the fighting of the war to a plan for peace in a postwar world. He proposed what came to be knows as Wilson’s 14 points, which included open covenants, freedom of the seas, free trade, arms reduction, and the formation of the League of Nations. With the end of hostilities in November of 1918, Wilson met with American allies in Versailles, France, to negotiate a peace treaty based on these principles.

Woodrow Wilson, 14 Points, 1918.

… What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us …

  1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
  2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
  3. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
  4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
  5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
  6. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia …
  7. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations …
  8. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
  9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
  10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
  11. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored …
  12. The turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
  13. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.
  14. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this programme does remove. We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this programme that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace-loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world—the new world in which we now live—instead of a place of mastery.

Unfortunately for Wilson, the allies were more focused on punishing Germany for starting the war than in making the world safe for democracy. Wilson was forced to negotiate away most of what he wanted in order to secure the acceptance of the League of Nations as a peace-keeping body. The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to admit guilt for starting the war, surrender her overseas colonies, pay war reparations, and limited its rearmament. In many ways this peace set the stage for the conflicts that would bring about World War II. Wilson returned home disappointed. Yet, he was confident that the League of Nations could later recover part of his original plan lost at Versailles. He presented the Treaty to the Senate in the United States for ratification.

The Senate, however, was less interested in “making the world safe for democracy” than in returning to the policy of keeping America free from “entangling alliances.” The Senate saw the League of Nations as a potential blank check to involve America in other foreign wars and as a violation of the American Constitution, and therefore refused to ratify the treaty, preventing the United States from joining the League of Nations. Following World War I, America reduced the size of its military and returned to its earlier position of isolation and neutrality.

World War II Freedom propaganda poster.
Most Americans were frustrated by the experience of World War I, and became suspicious of foreign crusades. Leaders vowed never to be dragged into another foreign conflict, especially in Europe. Yet even in this environment, American interests in foreign affairs and efforts to provide moral leadership between World War I and World War II can be seen in the Washington Naval Conference (1922) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The Washington Naval Conference sought to reduce the likelihood of another world war by reducing and balancing the size of the world’s naval fleets. Because of the agreement, potential combatants—including the United States, Great Britain, and Japan—were supposed to find themselves either without the naval armaments to wage a war or so evenly balanced with their enemies that going to war was inadvisable. Unfortunately, some nations, like Japan, came out of the conference feeling persecuted because they had not been allowed a navy in size equal to the United States and Great Britain, and many others along with Japan began looking for ways to violate the agreement and increase their naval arsenal anyway. The Kellogg—Briand Pact was an agreement between nations that they would not use military force as a way of furthering foreign policy goals. This agreement, too, would be broken by those nations that saw another world war as beneficial to their interests.

World War II began in Asia in 1931 and in Europe in 1939. Congress passed legislation to promote neutrality in the growing conflict, trying to avoid what many saw as the false propaganda, business interests, and commercial arms sales that had drawn them into the first world war. Franklin Roosevelt, limited by public sentiment, took measures to support Great Britain’s efforts to fight Germany. But in 1940, he promised “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars The United States did not become involved directly until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. This was quickly followed by Germany, an ally of Japan, declaring war against the United States.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Declaration of War on Japan,” December 8, 1941

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.

The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation. As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces with the unbounded determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

American objectives upon entry in World War II were to rescue the world from military aggression and tyranny and restore the territorial integrity of the invaded nations. The United States sought total defeat of the Axis Powers so that post-war world could be made much safer in the future. After the war was won America sought the rebuilding of Germany and Japan for the same reasons. It did not seek to create a colonial empire, thereby holding to its original objectives.

The destruction of World War II altered the entire world—economically, politically, and militarily. It was a total war. It involved more than 70 nations. Civilian losses were much higher than military ones. Entire societies participated, as soldiers, workers, victims of occupation, bombing, and mass murder. Even though the United States didn’t experience total war on its soil, the country was altered by its focus and involvement in the conflict. It increased the power of the president and the size of federal budgets to an unprecedented degree. For the most part, the ideals of isolation and neutrality were replaced by a new sense to protect America’s allies and the world from future military aggression and prevent another world war.

After World War II, the Soviet Union became a political, economic, and cultural competitor. An atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and competition rose between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, invaded twice in 20 years by Germany, sought to create a buffer zone in Eastern Europe, and exert its control over those countries. Americans feared that communist expansion and aggression would destroy world freedom, but since communism could not be destroyed without starting World War III, United States policy shifted to “containment,” limiting communism to its current sphere of influence.

This period of time came to be known as the Cold War. America entered into a number of military alliances including NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) and ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Alliance) to limit Soviet influence around the world. The existence and stockpiling of nuclear weapons during the Cold War made possible the total annihilation of life on the planet. This encouraged the two superpowers to engage each other in proxy wars rather than world wars. A regional conflict in Turkey led to the Truman Doctrine where President Truman committed America to helping all nations around the world to resist Soviet communism. As Truman stated, “The United States will defend free people and their free institutions at any place at any point in the world where outside communist aggression threatens that nation's internal stability. ” In 1949, China fell to communism and America pledged to support the non-communist government of China when it fled to Taiwan. America decided to back France’s claim to its colonies in Indochina after World War II to keep the region from falling under Soviet influence.

A map of Korea detailing the four phases of the Korean War.
Two of the most important regional conflicts, in terms of resources and men involved, were Korea and Vietnam. In the wake of World War II both Korea and Vietnam were left divided based on Soviet and American influences. In both areas, forces allied with the Soviets sought to end the geographic and political divisions using military power.

America sought to prevent what it saw as communist aggression and expansion in its defense of South Korea in the early 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s. Wrought with tragedy and disaster, these conflicts taught the United States difficult but necessary lessons.

  1. Before engaging in a war it is important to understand the true nature of the conflict, the land, and the people involved. Many of the tragedies of the Korean and Vietnam wars occurred because of misunderstanding and ignorance of the land, people, and country. North Vietnamese guerrilla tactics are prime examples of this ignorance.
  2. Some conflicts, even when there is a noble purpose, cannot be nobly resolved.
  3. The government must have achievable objectives and clearly communicate them to the people. The Vietnam War was a period of political unrest throughout the country. Promises were made to the American people that were never kept and reports were given out with fabricated or omitted numbers, spreading distrust and anger among the citizens.
  4. A map of Eastern Asia (South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, etc.) and the Ho Chi Minh Trail as well as the Tet attacks in 1968. It shows that Thailand and South Vietnam were nations allied with the U.S. and that China and North Vietnam were Communist nations. Neutral nations included Cambodia, Laos, and Burma.
    Without a plan and clear objectives it is difficult to persuade the American people to support a war, especially a long war fought on foreign shores. Even with careful planning, when the people are dissatisfied with government and war, they have the ability to vote in a leader who will end the fighting, making it difficult for democracies to sustain long wars.

Another drastic change in the postwar world was how militarism—maintaining political or economic control and enforcing foreign policy decisions through the use of military power—had become a key part of American foreign policy. Militarism requires a standing military; however much of America’s early history standing armies were an example of the British system of control over its colonies.

After World War II, America emerged as the world’s super power with military obligations around the world. The United States would try to be an international peacekeeper by fighting the influence of the Soviet Union. This would be difficult to do without a strong military establishment. This led to a“military industrial complex, which is a standing army plus all the support services necessary to maintain it. It is a complex interweaving of public funding and private business enterprise. In 1961, after 8 years as president and in the middle of the Cold War, Eisenhower, a former World War II general, spoke about the dangers of this military industrial complex and its outsized power in both the economy, the government, and American life.

Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

My fellow Americans: This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad. Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology—global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle—with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment. Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research—these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs—balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage—balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.

American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

In the post-Cold War era, brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States faces new challenges. A sense of responsibility, whether real or imagined, wanted or not, follows the United States in aspects of foreign affairs and world conflicts. Often there is the expectation that the United States must broker peace whenever conflict arises in the world. And when action is taken, America is often accused by others of practicing economic and/or political imperialism. The American economy is large compared to some nations, and America’s political power is somewhat dominant, so many foreign policy decisions the United States makes can affect other nations and peoples. Since sometimes those effects are negative, the charge of economic and political imperialism is nearly unavoidable.

Guidance from our Church leaders can help us feel peace and hope, and inspire us even in difficult times. In the General Conference following September 11th, 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the following address:

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live” General Conference, October 2001

Let us be prayerful. Let us pray for righteousness. Let us pray for the forces of good. Let us reach out to help men and women of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion and wherever they live. Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all. He has said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “War and Peace” General Conference April 2003

We sometimes are prone to glorify the great empires of the past, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and in more recent times, the vast British Empire. But there is a darker side to every one of them. There is a grim and tragic overlay of brutal conquest, of subjugation, of repression, and an astronomical cost in life and treasure … In the course of history tyrants have arisen from time to time who have oppressed their own people and threatened the world. Such is adjudged to be the case presently, and consequently great and terrifying forces with sophisticated and fearsome armaments have been engaged in battle.

One of our Articles of Faith, which represent an expression of our doctrine, states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law …” But modern revelation states that we are to “renounce war and proclaim peace.”In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace. There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally … When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that “the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for … power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.“And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God” …

It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression … This places us in the position of those who long for peace, who teach peace, who work for peace, but who also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our governments. Furthermore, we are a freedom-loving people, committed to the defense of liberty wherever it is in jeopardy. I believe that God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do. It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.

Now, there is much that we can and must do in these perilous times. We can give our opinions on the merits of the situation as we see it, but never let us become a party to words or works of evil concerning our brothers and sisters in various nations on one side or the other. Political differences never justify hatred or ill will. I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties.

Let us pray for those who are called upon to bear arms by their respective governments and plead for the protection of heaven upon them that they may return to their loved ones in safety … We can hope and pray for that glorious day foretold by the prophet Isaiah when men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Even in an evil world we can so live our lives as to merit the protecting care of our Father in Heaven. We can be as the righteous living among the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded that these cities might be spared for the sake of the righteous. And, above all, we can cultivate in our own hearts, and proclaim to the world, the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through His atoning sacrifice we are certain life will continue beyond the veil of death. We can teach that gospel which will lead to the exaltation of the obedient.

Even when the armaments of war ring out in deathly serenade and darkness and hatred reign in the hearts of some, there stands immovable, reassuring, comforting, and with great outreaching love the quiet figure of the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. We can proclaim with Paul: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This life is but a chapter in the eternal plan of our Father. It is full of conflict and seeming incongruities. Some die young. Some live to old age. We cannot explain it. But we accept it with the certain knowledge that through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord we shall all go on living, and this with the comforting assurance of His immeasurable love.

He has said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23).

And there, my brothers and sisters, we rest our faith. Regardless of the circumstances, we have the comfort and peace of Christ our Savior, our Redeemer, the living Son of the living God. I so testify in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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