Saturday, January 7, 2012

Non-Intervention and WWII

The question has been raised as to how a non-interventionist policy fits in with the prosecution of WWII.  The dilemma is presented as follows:

Given: World War II was war required for the continuance of our way of life.
Given: Non-interventionism would have had us stay out of the war.
Conclusion: If we had kept a non-interventionist policy, we would all be speaking Japanese, Italian, and German, and the Jews and blacks would be extinct.
Ergo, non-interventionism is bunk.
To rephrase in the slightly more sensational terms:
You don't want to interfere in other countries' affairs?  But what about Hitler!!!?!!!
(I'm pretty sure this counts as an instance of Godwin's Law, but I'll assume it's a valid question for the time being.)

Here is the most cogent response I can think of at the moment.  Others may have things to add, or perhaps might take a different tack, but here's my own answer.

The original question displays a fundamental lack of understanding regarding what non-interventionism actually is.  In fact, WWII is the perfect "case study" for how non-interventionism actually works, Constitutionally.

No non-interventionist that I know of would argue that we should have stayed out of the war.  I know several (myself included) that would argue that we could have stayed out of the war by making some different choices earlier on.   But given that we didn't make said choices, we all agree that getting involved was the necessary thing to do.

This shows that the phrase "non-interventionist" does not represent an absolute.  We are not absolutely against all intervention.  Our position is not isolationist, nor is it anti-war.1  This is the point I was trying to make in the very first post on this topic.

If war needs to be done, then let's do it!

But here's where the difference lies: a non-interventionist does not primarily rely on the strength of fear, that is, on the threat death and destruction to be perpetrated by America if we don't get our way.

See, the non-interventionist vision is based on a fundamental principle: respect for others, even those who do not respect you in return.

We are not against carrying (and using!) a big stick, when necessary.  But America seems to have forgotten the "walk softly" part.  We've also forgotten that the big stick's default state is supposed to be as a  defensive weapon, not as an offensive one (in both senses of the word).

I would make a strong clarification here, that "respect" does NOT equal "capitulation".  Respect does NOT equal groveling and begging for permission from the UN or other nations to actually do anything.  It's not about permission.

Sovereign countries don't need our permission, and we don't need theirs.  We can, however, "walk softly", like good neighbors, and check to see if whatever we do will cause burdens on the other nations that they are not able or willing to bear freely, without coercion by fear.

Let's put it in religious terms, since most of the interventionists tend to claim the name, at least nominally, of "Christian", for themselves, and for our nation.

Non-interventionism is the carrying out in national policy of the concept of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Put another way: it's karma on the international scale.

See, not all nations are our friends, and it would be naive in the extreme to imagine this to be so.  But even those who, at best, would sell us down the river for their own interests -- that is to say, our enemies -- ought still to be treated as truly sovereign nations, and allowed to run their business as they see fit, even if it is to their own detriment.

Yet another rendition, which is also the basic libertarian precept: If it harms none, do as you will.

The non-interventionist is not against the use of war, both military and economic.  Sometimes it is necessary. However, the non-interventionist desires that only truly just wars be fought, and only then with the full consent and cooperation of the nation.

This is enshrined in our Constitution by Article 1, Section 8, which explicitly grants to the Congress the power to declare War, and thereby also explicitly restricts said power from any other national entity, including the Commander in Chief himself.

Now, as to whether Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Serbia, Bosnia, Somalia, Libya, Uganda, etc. actually constitute war or not, and if so whether we should have fought these -- those are entirely different conversations.  Also, whether the economic sanctions on Iran and other countries constitute war or not, and if so, whether these wars are just or not -- also entirely different conversations.

Unfortunately, incomplete fragments of those conversations do tend to get pulled into the basic talking points of non-interventionism, and frequently are mistaken for the main point.  I say "unfortunately", because I think that it muddies the waters and leads to exactly the kind of misunderstandings I'm trying to correct here.

Perhaps "non-interventionist" is a problematic label for the attitude we espouse.  Perhaps an alternative would be "careful", and "open", and "respectful".  Maybe even "reluctant", although that has a slightly negative ring to it.

A better label might be "Sovereign-nationalist", although the "nationalist" part has some other baggage with it that we might not want, so maybe just "sovereigntist" would be best.  We would mean it as:
We understand and respect the sovereignty of other nations, no matter how small or large.  We believe that this respect, whether reciprocated or not, is essential to maintain our own sovereignty, which is based on the same fundamental concept (i.e. of national sovereignty).
To assert our own sovereignty, while denying by actions or words the sovereignty of other nations, is hypocrisy, and will lead (and is leading) to the dissolution of the very sovereignty (our own) which we wish to assert.

War only happens when an aggressor nation voluntarily relinquishes it's own sovereignty in this same way: by violating the sovereignty of other nations.  In such cases, said other nations are right and just to defend themselves at the very least, to declare a state of War, and to prosecute the War with all vigor.

Often in these cases, "the best defense is a good offense".  This offense differs from the aggressor nation's offense, in that the newly offensive nation is reacting, and is not an aggressor.  (You can see clearly, I hope, where the concept of "preemptive strike" falls on this paradigm.)

The aggressor is a rogue state, a feral nation, rabid, and in need of being "put down", having relinquished their own sovereignty by being the aggressor.

In the case of WWII, the Axis powers were undoubtedly the aggressors, and the Allied powers were justly acting to stop this aggression.  This was based in reality, not possibility; concrete action, not imaginative speculation.

So what changed?  I'll address that in a different post, from a historical perspective, rather than a non-interventionist one (in other words, I'll talk about what actually happened, and not how it could have/should have/might have blah blah blah).  Hint: it involves The Bomb.

I may do a post after that one, too, to show how non-interventionist policy, as outlined above -- that is, the reluctance to perpetrate war, while embodying adamant willingness to take it to it's full extent when it is in fact necessary -- still applies in the age of The Bomb, and is, in fact, even more important!

1And yet, in spite of having said this several times, the detractors still insist on displaying their stunted empathy, intellectual disability and mental immaturity by refusing to accept that this is in fact our position.  They refuse to engage in subtlety of conversation, of thought.  They are incapable, it seems, of nuance.

If this is not deliberate, then I hold some hope (however little) that perhaps they may be taught these things.  Nevertheless, I am at the point where I am about to give up, and just leave them to their ignorance.

If, on the other hand, this refusal is deliberate, then I should have left them to their stupidity (for so it is, if deliberate) a long time ago.

So....this will be my last post answering their questions, if they do not display some level of progress in their understanding of my position as I understand it (as opposed to their caricature of it), whether they actually agree with it or not.  (I may still post on the topic, but I will not engage with questions that show an inability or unwillingness to engage with what I'm actually saying, and not with a straw man.)


  1. As you should know Godwin’s Law states that “given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis. Since I am NOT criticizing any point you made in this discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis Godwin’s Law does not apply. In sum, I am simply asking you how someone with your view of foreign policy would have responded to an aggressive nation such as Germany in the WWII era.

    What you say in the balance of the article is that non-interventionists are not really non-interventionists but a different-sort-of-an-interventionist. But I see no real difference between current US policy and your view.

    Currently the US relies on diplomacy, economic pressure, show of force, covert ops, and etc before any full on invasion. Take the current situation with Iran. There is much evidence indicating they are building nuclear weapons. Or at least the components to build a nuclear weapon. Western countries think this is a very very bad idea. They have tried threats of diplomacy, economic pressure, and covert ops (stuxnet) to force them to reconsider. They responded with a show of force as did the US. Note with all of the above there is no war. The US does not just immediately go to war. They have many diverse cards to play before that happens.

    As I said before, since you have defined what you meant by non-interventionist, I don’t see much of any substantial difference between your position and the current US foreign policy

  2. @Godwin's law: I was making a joke...sheesh!

    What I say in this article is that non-interventionists are not absolutely pacifist. We do, however, prefer peace -- real peace. That is, as far as is humanly possible, we dwell peaceably with all, bearing insult and blustery threat with dignity and humility, not provoking others. We do not use coercion to "further our interests around the world" -- read: "steal or bully others into giving up their stuff". We remain strong, so that they know the consequences of trying take -our- stuff. But we do not assume that their stuff is ours.

    If we start drifting towards war, the non-interventionist asks Congress to take a good, hard, open look at the issue, and decide whether a) it's actually necessary, and b) we can afford it, and c) what the blowback will be.

    This is why the non-interventionist has no problem with WWII. It was done decently and in order, with a proper declaration of War according to the law, for the express interest of stopping an in-progress active aggression (i.e. not preemptive, and not reacting to mere grandstanding).

    This is the principle. It is not a detailed set of applications. This principle can be applied anywhere at any time. As I said in this post, I am in the process of writing a post about how it applies to Iran.

    Your statement beginning your third paragraph is not so much a problem. The problem is it's presumption. Ok, fine -- we rely on all that "before any full invasion"; but the underlying problem is: who decided that we should be aggressive toward Iran (or any other country) on any of these fronts? As you say, these things are prelude to war, with "full invasion" as it's final destination. But who decided we should wage such a diplomatic, economic, and military (however covert) war?

    In real life, cutting someone off is one of the most insulting things you can do, diplomatically! It's one of the most devastating things you can do financially. Is that not an act of war? If not, then it is at least an act of aggressive coercion, which is precisely what the non-interventionist is against. "Live and let live," we say.

    Regarding Iran specifically, as I showed in a comment on another post: this isn't about the security of the US, or even Israel. Never has been. This is about oil, plain and simple. The rest is war propaganda, as I will show in the post about Iran.


Hi! Feel free to comment. However, I was getting posts from different Anonymous people, and it's difficult to know who is who so I can keep the conversation straight in my head. So I'm requesting that you please bear with my weakness, and identify yourself. Even if you want to use a different name than your real name -- that's fine. But give yourself a handle for me, please. :) Thanks...