The Destruction and Containment of "Evil:" The American Perspective on War

The Destruction and Containment of "Evil:"

The American Perspective on War

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The Destruction and Containment of "Evil:"

The American Perspective on War

A. Introduction

In consideration of how America is to face the "problem," of the end of the ending of the Cold War, it's necessary to consider the extent of the problem of this event, and even whether the ending of the Cold War can be considered a problem at all. Does the end of the Cold War mean that America has "lost" anything, and if so, what is the extent of that loss.

B. Historical Background: An America "Made" by War

One of the presuppositions of this course, and of this question, is that America was "made by war." As an analysis of American history would show, America was, at times, served by war, at times nearly destroyed by war, but not particularly "made by war," as I will show.

A stronger argument might be made that the American government was "made by war," but even here the case is not convincing. During the Revolution, as pointed out by Weigley, the Confederation government noticeably failed to pursue the war, and a part of this failure was its inability to tax or to muster men in the field, the power that writers such as Hobbes consider essential for an effective government. The Constitution was written, in part, to overcome this deficiency, and in the pre-amble references are made to the need for a "common defense." So one reason for the stronger, but purposely limited, government of the Constitution was to fight wars, but, obviously, there were other purposes as well.

If the Constitution created a government, partially, to foster an ability to make war, that government expanded also, due to war, much in the manner explained in Porter's book. This was most noticeable during the last century in which government spending rose exponentially during both World War I and World War II, and despite the decline in spending after each conflict, did not return to the lower pre-war levels.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the US. government grew from events other than a need to provide a competent national defense. The pre-amble of the Constitution lists several purposes other than national defense, and much of government growth during this century has come for other reasons. During the thirties, for example, the Great Depression launched a whole slew of political bureaus and agencies, and the social climate of the sixties did much the same thing. As Goodsell's Defense of the Bureaucracy shows, moreover, the number of people employed by the Federal government as a percentage basis of the population has actually fallen during this century while our military commitments have expanded. Even during the much discussed Reagan defense build-up of the eighties, the most significant and growing item in the Federal budget were social programs. This should not seem surprising as many of the 20th century states with the biggest national budgets, such as Sweden, do not have significant military forces. The expansion of the Federal budget, then, came about for a number of reasons, of which the military, even during the Cold War, remained only one.

The larger problem with this question, however, is the presupposition that America, as a nation, was "made by war," and here, even less of a case can be made than that of the government. Porter's work on the growth of nation-state presupposes a kind of "iron triangle," between military technology, defense spending, and bureaucracy. The nation-state, in Porter's view, exists for the reason of making war. These states, then, go to war and prepare for war in order to better their rivals and to increase the power of their rulers. This is much akin to Clausewitz's view of war as an extension of politics.

If Porter's contentions were true of America, this would explain much of American history in the Twentieth Century, but it would fail to explain much. Why didn't the US, for example, extract treaty ports from China in the 19th Century? Why didn't the US. invade Cuba? Why would the US. invade countries such as Haiti that have no strategic value and then leave them? Why wouldn't the US, when Mexico was at its mercy, annex the whole country? I would suggest that America's reasons for going to war are far more complex than those explained by any Clausewitzian analysis and far more interesting.

C. Why does America Go To War?

America goes to war for reasons that are somewhat rational, and somewhat irrational, but influenced by more fundamental factors than increasing national power or influence. To explore these reasons requires looking at several dominant factors that shape the American mind-set and make it fundamentally different from that of the "true war" of Clausewitz.

At its core, America has not an ethnicity like the Clausewitzian states, but a set of beliefs. The strongest impact on these set of beliefs was the Puritan origins of the American polity as explained in the Puritan Origins of the American Self, The Puritan mind, and others. The Puritans believed themselves a special people "blessed by God." As the religious elements of this sense of "specialness" faded, they were replaced by a set of political ideas encapsulated in the Constitution. It's no accident that the grandchildren of the Puritans who thumbed their noses at the British kings were in the streets snow-balling British soldiers in Boston. The Constitution became the embodiment of what is "right" that once had been the province of religion.

This sense of righteous was important because of the mongrel nature of the American people While the British people could claim an ethnic identity 10000 years old and the French could speak about a sense of "Frenchness," the Americans dealt with constant influxes of new and alien people. While it might be disputed whether this ethnic influx created a "salad bowl" or a "melting pot," any discussion with a new immigrant reveals a very important fact: they identify America with its ideas and ideals, not with its people or even its ruler. Further, since these immigrants generally come to American more committed to its ideas than native-born citizens, they provide a constant re-enforcement of those ideals that would otherwise erode.

The geographical isolation increased this feeling of American "specialness" as well as providing ample evidence of its truth. Even areas that seemed to be worthless, like the Great Plains, proved worthwhile and value, enabling the continued absorption of more immigrants. The literature of the 19th Century of America, even that of exiles such as Henry James (the Ambassadors), attests to the fact that Americans considered their country morally superior to those of the rest of the world.

It is this sense of American values, then, not "war" that shaped America and may provide the only "glue" that holds a disparate people together.

D. The Purpose of War to Americans

The purpose of war, and of force in general, to Americans, then was to do "right." While Americans might dispute the meaning of these terms, this theme forms the backdrop of every American internal adventure from a CIA assassination to the Vietnam War. In the 19th Century, foreign interactions were few, but, as America's armed might grew, as a result of wars, so did its contacts with other nations. To American foreign policy-makers, then, war was an not extension of foreign policy as an extension of American morality, a chance to do "right around the world," "make the world safe for democracy," "destroy the evil empire," etc..

These ideas, these core beliefs, are very rational, but they're held with an irrational attachment. Beneath the "fire" of the "atomic" age breathes the hatred of the cave man. They are rational in that they come from the long Enlightenment history of considering the ideas of government. Thus James Madison, before starting work on the Constitution, took the time to read every constitution ever written and critique them. On the other hand, they ideas are held with irrational fervor. While there was little distinction, in early American history, between defending these ideals and defending the country itself, this altered with the growth of American power. In the 1990s, Americans have the luxury of touching a dial, looking at events, and saying: "But that's not right!" and acting upon that belief.

It is a fact that nations have a concept of "national prestige." The peculiar American coloring is that this sense of "face" is linked not to "showing the flag," but to righting perceived injustices. This makes our country a fortuitous choice as the world's remaining superpower: we take our role very seriously.

E. The Scope of the Use of Force

Given this general purpose for war, its important to notice the way in which the use of military force is debated in America. Basically, the debate always concerns two questions: scope and morality.

The Constitution differentiated between declared "war" and "calling out the troops." This distinction is, in fact, partly historical, but reflects on the mindset of the founding fathers. They wrote the Constitution anticipating that Washington would be president and lead the troops, as he did against the plotters of the Whiskey Rebellion. Less important events of this kind, then, would be left to the discretion of the president, who had ample experience, to handle. For a declaration of war signaling a major conflict, the President would need a 3/4 majority of the Congress, a very difficult task due Congresses' contentiousness then and now. In other words, the President would have to convince the Congress that a serious moral issue had arisen justifying a full-scale national effort.

The use of force in the last century has not significantly differed from this pattern. McKinley prayed to God before deciding to conquer the Filipinos, Roosevelt talked about being a "good neighbor" before invading Haiti, and Ronald Reagan painted the president of Panama as a "dictator." While more cynical commentators discussed Saddam Hussein's seizing of Kuwaiti oil, it was Bush's statements about "right and wrong!" that got a declaration of war.

Debate arose, however, when the scope of events seemed to require a Congressional declaration, and an all-out effort. Vietnam provides a capsule look at levels of involvement. When Kennedy first sent advisors to Vietnam, there was little discussion of this. As the war escalated, however, as had been the case in Korea, Congress began to question whether the president had over-stepped his authority as commander-in-chief.

These discussions about scope, however, are less important than those about morality. As a nation, Americans expect that the use of force will result in "good." While Weigley has shown the Americans tend to expect wars to end in annihilation, this does not necessarily mean that a total commitment to the end is needed. Sometimes a week-end invasion is enough. It's the feeling of certainty, not the high committment, that must be "sold" to Americans.

This debate on correct levels of force, moreover, that extends, not only into the military, but into the police powers and even popular culture. A policeman who uses more force than is perceived to be sufficient is questioned, but no one questions the use of force itself. In the movies, the "good guy," in the end blows away the bad guys, no matter what the odds, something that does not happen in the films of other countries. The belief is not that "might makes right," but that "right makes might." The American belief in the use of force, and its morality, might well be summed up by a quote from Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force:

"There's nothing wrong with a little shooting, Commissioner, as long as the right people get shot."

F. What Is Morality in The American Use of Force

If moral considerations, are most important, then it is important to define those considerations. Foremost among them is a sense of fair play and human rights. If something is being done to the people of a country, and force can clearly end this evil being done, then the use of (sufficient) force is justified. George Bush used this as justification of the Gulf War, and President Clinton used this to justify Somalia and Haiti.

The problem comes, however, when its difficult to determine if force is "solving the problem" and if it's causing worse problems. In Vietnam, for example, the calculus of taking American casualties to save others who didn't seem "grateful" brought the entire war into question. In Somali, there was an attempt to identify an enemy (Aidid), but when it became clear that there were multiple, chaotically aligned enemies, the government lost interest. Even in cases, such as El Salvador, where the use of force was limited to sending money to buy arms, the US. started to withdraw mentally when it became clear that the "good guys" were just as bad as the "bad guys" in terms of not upholding human rights and killing innocent people. In this context, it's appropriate to look our longest struggle, the Cold War.

G. The Cold War as "Different Kind of War"

The Cold War, then, must be considered against this backdrop of American history and culture. In some senses it is a unique event, but in many ways it does not differ from the other uses of force before or it after it. As in other conflicts, this struggles appealed to Americans as "good" versus "evil," and the only significant debates concerned whether the levels of force were appropriate and exactly how evil was the enemy.

The main difference between the Cold War and other American conflicts was the size and shape of the intervention. The Cold War entailed a long-term, limited scale commitment from a portion of the population rather than a short-term, full-scale commitment from the whole population. No one when knew where, when, or how the enemy would strike. Since both sides had committed themselves to near-instantaneous response, further, the situation dictated there could be no long "build-up." Forces necessary to wage the struggle needed to be in place and ready to be called upon at a moment's notice.

While the Cold War might've seemed a commitment of force comparable to one of the World Wars, it was, by nature a limited struggle, a fact slowly, but surely perceived by the defense intellectuals, as shown in Weigley. The most formidable weapons on both sides, nuclear warheads, were so horrid in nature that neither side would use them, even when the US. possessed an overwhelming advantage and a Machiavellian "first strike" would've served American interests. As before, moral considerations needed to be weighed. Though most Americans considered the Soviet system "evil," they were unwilling to consign an entire population to death as that was considered even more repugnant. The real battle, then, proved to be largely economic in nature (quite appropriate for a struggle in which each side based its justice on the logic of a superior economic systems). Each side tried to get a weapon that would get it overwhelming superiority while it tried to contain and "worry" its adversary. Thus, the Cold War represented a constant, low-level use of force, rather than a sudden explosion as in the case of previous wars.

H. The Cold War Marginalization

The nature of the Cold War dictated that it would be fought in a limited and indirect fashion. An all-out effort by either side would've ended the struggle in mutual-destruction. While this kind of war held some disadvantages for the participants, it also presented some advantages, foremost among them being that the vast majority of the population could be excluded from the war processes.

Two important participants in the economic and technical struggle were manufacturers and scientists. Scientists, in particular, took great pains to distance themselves from any semblance of involvement in the struggle. Those working for NASA could point to the peaceful exploration of space, those working on communications (ARPNET) were more likely to mention scientific collaborations than their military use. That their work also had "military uses" was considered almost a dirty secret.

The manufacturers of weapons had fewer qualms. Since most of these corporations depended on the Cold War for their long term contracts, they concentrated on controlling the defense establishment. Despite Eisenhower's speech, however, these manufacturers did not represent an overwhelming force in politics or even the economy. During World War II, the US. government spent over double its GDP; by contrast, defense contracts of the Cold War seem a pittance.

The "front-line" participants, the military, were most effected by the Cold War. Since readiness was a high priority, the government had to take steps to guarantee recruitment of high caliber service members, especially technical people, and retain them. This resulted in expanded GI. benefits, a generous standard of living for service members, and technical training. The military became an almost middle class career, and America started to develop "military families."

There was a price, however, to those who joined the military "class:" marginalization. The military had always possessed its own way of life, but the numbers in non-wartime had been extremely small. The military had been more of a life event than a way of life, and the only attempt at anything near "mass mobilization," during Vietnam, notably failed. The frequent moves, the high levels of integration, the exposure to foreign culture, all served to making those involved in military service a distinct sub-culture. This meant there were considerable rewards for staying in the service and penalties for leaving, including alienation.

Finally, the military members possessed one particular trait unique form that of the rest of society: commitment to the Cold War. By enlisting, they'd already made the decision that should there be a conflict, they would fight. In this instance, the strong commitment of the few substituted for the temporary commitment of the many. This sense of "duty" was amply demonstrated by the relatively few desertions during Desert Storm and the very professional way in which the war was fought.

I. What Does the End of the Cold War Mean

Given this background, the ending of the Cold War won't particularly mean that much. For that reason, the "problem" of the End of the Cold War will not be much of a problem. To show the extent of the "problem," it's necessary to catalogue its effects.

For the large part of the population, the end of the Cold War will mean the ending of a small commitment to fighting Communism. There's was a commitment never called to question, except during Vietnam, and then shown to be not very deep. The decreased threat of an atomic war can only be soon as good.

For the economy, the end of the Cold War can only be positive. While the break-up of the scientific community supporting the arms build-up will mean some losses in basic research, the greater freedom allowed in private enterprise will accelerate the rate of technical change. It's no surprize that since the ending of the Cold War, the United States has far outperformed Japan in technical innovation. As is usual, the market provides stronger incentives than the government.

Further, the end of Cold War will mean greater resources for the private sector. To put it in economic terms, society considers itself better off with 100 Chevies than a single M1 tank-unless there's a war going on. The arms industry, always resourceful, will continue to find buyers, and since more will be foreign buyers, this will provide ample reason to support our use of force because these sales will create a fresh supply of enemies.

The group most effected, however, will be the displaced military, and the effect will not be as great as supposed. There will be some problems with racially mixed families (and individuals) fitting into a less tolerant external society, but may force social change. Further, it could only be to society to see minority individuals, well trained by their tours, become a force that doesn't need "affirmative action" to be successful in the private sector. The ex-service members, however, fit remarkably well into the peacetime economy, and, again, its notable that unemployment has not risen since the ending of the Cold War.

The most serious loss, then, is that of a convenient and omnipresent enemy to "draw the nation together." Presidents, however, have already proven quite capable of finding other enemies of sufficiently despicable character to rouse our indignation. Saddam Hussein was one, and the criminal regime of Haiti another. In the case of Haiti and Iraq it's nice to note that both were formerly subsidized by the US. Furthermore, without the distractions of the Cold War, Americans may take the time to ask some basic and important questions about our country. Can America foster the fibre to fight a War Against Crime or a War Against Ignorance? This remains to be seen, but a country that was willing to take on the world's greatest naval power when it didn't even have an army or tax power, just because it was the "right thing to do" ought to be to take a look at itself and take action.

In short, then, while the end of the Cold War, like any war, will produce some displacements, in the long run, it can only make our country stronger.

J. The Perception of the "Problem" As a Generational Phenomena

The perception that the ending of the Cold War is a "problem," largely is a matter of perspective, and most, as already explained above, have only to gain from the ending of the Cold War. Still, its' a common phenomena that individuals share an important life-time experience, this brings them together and colors their memories of that experience with a certain romanticism. Since the military drafts young men, this is likely, also, to cause an association of that experience with youth; letting go, then, is difficult. This may explain the rather "gung-ho" attitude of the World War II generation towards Vietnam. This makes it quite natural that individuals who experienced military service during the times of World War II and Korea, both arguably successful, would consider the ending of the Cold War with some nostalgia. Talking to people raised in the thirties, also, raises memories of "hard times," but "good people;" yet no one in that generation, however, would wish another Depression on the nation. Nor does the Vietnam generation show the same nostalgia towards the ending of the "Cold War" as their elders.

In his old age, Henry James wrote that America needed to experience the "moral equivalent" of war. When World War I began, James expressed his affection for England by giving up his citizenship (in a characteristically American gesture) and becoming British. It's worth noting that during the Civil War, when James had plenty of information about war and ample opportunity to enlist, he chose not to do so. James attitude, perhaps, is typical of the effects of aging: distance changes perception and, in the case of veterans, turns a bonanza into a "problem." This may well explain why older people, those who fought World War II and Korea, not their children may see the loss of the "Cold War" as a problem.

K. Why Study the Ending of the Cold War

Given the foregoing analysis, it may seem strange that there is great relevance in studying the materials offered in this course. Porter's book, for example, shows the historical connection between warfare and the nation state. Indisputably, warfare caused the growth of the American bureaucracy. His book fails to explain, however, the continuation of the state which, except for Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, seems to exist more to further social programs than to fight wars.

Keegan's book shows, among other things, the cultural dimensions of war as well as some of its psychological underpinnings. He destroys the notion, of Clausewitz, that there is such a thing as "true war." By showing that cultures differ, his book forms the background for the particular analysis of American war, and its motivations done above. Further, Keegans almost psychological analysis of the "stages" of warfare, shows the persistence of illogical, id-based, warfare under the more polished surface of the modern age of "fire," and suggest the linking of enlightened reasoning, and Puritanical stubbornness, suggested above.

Finally, besides its obvious benefit as a record of the evolution of American strategy, Weigley's book shows the particularly American obsession with "total victory." This peculiarity, which stems from geographical and historical factors, colors the dialogue surrounding the use of force explored above, as well as the more narrow strategic concerns of the deployment of force.

L. Where do We Go From Here

None of these books, however, provides more than a background to the post-Cold War future that stands before. Rather lamenting the "problems" caused by the Cold War's end, we must access its opportunities. From nearly every point of view, the ending of the Cold War means good news. The only difficulty is the lack of an external focus for the American pursuit of right. It's easy to list the problems that face the country, but the fact is, the use of force, military or police, can have only limited effect on most of them. At best, then, studying the Cold War reveals a simple fact:

It's time we stop studying the war and get on with our lives.

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