Monday, May 28, 2012

"Most wars we've fought have been fought over ideology and philosophy"

This came from Idaho's Sen. Jim Risch.


Here's a list of conflicts in which the US was involved and my opinion on whether it was motivated by ideology or by material concerns such as resources or keeping up friendly governments.  These are not perfectly ambiguous, as I'll note during the Cold War.  Stating that a war was not motivated by ideology does not mean that it was the wrong thing to do, such as if we are protecting our own territorial sovereignty.  Similarly, just because a war was motivated by ideology does not mean it was the right thing to do.

Revolutionary War - Yes.  Representation, ore more accurately, lack thereof in Parliament was the real problem and what did we do?  We made a representative government.  Sorta.

Northwest Indian War - No.  Britain was supposed to give us the Northwest Territory but supported the local Indians with forts and whatnot.  We could argue that this was about the philosophy of treaties or some other spin, but essentially it's about territorial control, which if that's "ideology or philosophy" then every general is a philosopher.

Quasi-War - No.  France was being a dick, so we shot at each other a bit and they stopped attacking our ships.

First Barbary War - No.  We got into a fight with pirates who were capturing our merchants.

Tecumseh's War - No.  More fighting over the Northwest Territory.

War of 1812 - No.  Britain was attacking our merchants, enslaving sailors, and supporting Indian attacks.  We started a fight, we lost a lot, they eventually left again.  Oh, and Canada added another notch to its list of Failed Invasions of Canada.  Those Canadians are like sneaky Russians, in that they are hard to invade and cold, but speak something like English.

Second Barbary War - No.  We fought pirates again.

Seminole Wars - Multiple Nos.  We started fights with Spain and captured Florida, which given the democracy record of the state was clearly just a trap (have you heard Rick Scott is claiming US citizens are foreign and unable to vote?).

You know what?  Let's cut out some of the little stuff.  We chased more pirates, we got in fights with natives around the world.  It wasn't philosophical, but calling each little thing a war is a stretch anyway.  So let's lump it all together as a single No.  While we're at it, let's stop counting the fights with Native Indians and just stick those in with the other Nos.  In other words, unless we're shooting white people, it doesn't count (I'm trying to pretend that my arbitrary grouping of what were as deadly as 'real' wars is actually ironic racism rather than just racism).

Mexican-American War - Yes.  Texas declared independence and we backed it up.  Though the Texans might have all just been Americans who were encouraged to settle there to push out the natives and revolted because they were worried about losing their slaves, but let's call it an independence movement and add the second Yes of the day.

Then we got into fights with China, including one where we sided with the British who were trying to expand the opium and slave trade with China.  That's so damn awful that I'm counting it as an anti-Yes.

Civil War - Yes and Yes.  One side was protecting institutional racism and economic disparity (poor whites weren't so well off either) and the other side was protecting the union.  I don't agree with the philosophy, but I'll accept evil as the philosophical backing for secession and count the war as a double-Yes.

Spanish-American War - Yes.  Spain was horribly suppressing independence movements.  We kicked out Spain.  Then we started our own oppression, but that's not part of the war, so it's still a Yes.

World War I - No.  Beside a few revolutionaries in the Balkans, there wasn't much ideology going on here.  We wandered in to join the winning side (which was going to win without us, thanks to impending famine in Germany) after Germany sunk one too many ships (which they had to do because they needed to stop the flow of supplies to their enemies).

Russian Revolution - No.  We joined the invasion to try to put down those scary Bolsheviks, because they wanted to pull Russia out of the war, and as a general rule of thumb, the winning side is the one that has Russia to most of the dying.

World War II - Yes.  We were definitely on the not-Fascist side and went to great lengths to supply Britain and stopped trading with Japan.  However we didn't actually join the war until we were attacked.  I suspect we would have eventually, even if Japan hadn't done so.

When we get to the Cold War things become murky.  Was opposition to Communism an ideological matter or a territorial matter, since we believed that Communism was a Russian plot rather than a completely independent ideology.

Korean War - No.  We supported the genocidal government of South Korea (the roles were somewhat flipped back then) to keep the Soviet Union out (despite the invasion being supported by the Chinese).

Bay of Pigs - No.  This could have been an actual ideological Capitalism vs. Communism fight if we'd had the courage to actually fight it, rather than send Cuban exiles to die without the promised US support.

Vietnam War/Cambodian Civil War - Yes.  In Vietnam they voted for a Communist government.  We decided to go with the dictator instead.  Cambodia had its own Communists, so we had to fight there too, and it all added up to a big mess in which a lot of Americans died.

Dominican Republic - Yes.  Communism or dictator?  Dictator of course!  Screw all that democracy and self-determination nonsense.

Grenada - Yes.  Grenada wins independence from Britain and establishes a government (which was ambiguously democratic.  Popular leftists stage a coup and overthrow the government.  Military leftists kill those leftists.  US invades to re-establish a stable government (not the one with the leftists).

Panama - Yes.  Noriega stopped being useful to us and started just being a generic asshole who was crushing democracy and people in Panama, so we invaded and arrested him.

First Gulf War - Yes.  Iraq invaded its neighbor.  Granted its neighbor happened to have a lot of oil that we wanted, but this was not a purely materialistic war.

NATO/UN actions in the Balkans - Yes.  There was not much to gain strategically by ending the civil war (though there was the effect of preventing a Jihad in the area; we weren't so focused on that yet); it was just the right thing to do, ending the massacres and fighting.

Haiti - Yes.  There was a coup against the elected President.  With the support of the UN, we stared really hard at the Hatian army, which backed down.  Peacekeepers ensured that the democratic government stayed in place.

Afghanistan - No.  We didn't worry much about oppressive theocracies as long as they weren't harboring people responsible for 9/11.

Second Gulf War - Yes.  Hussein was a horrible person, but he was a useful check on Iran and  knew what happened the last time he threatened US interests in the region.  However, a bunch of blind idiots and liars led us to war on the promise of WMDs that didn't exist, in order to start a domino effect of democracy that didn't happen.

Libya - Yes.  We clearly weren't just trying to end the civil war to get the oil flowing or we'd have  done more for the rebels, or backed the regime.

Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, etc. - No.  We're supporting a variety of dictators and shady characters through at-best legally ambiguous actions in the interest of security.

As I add it up, I'm getting 14 Yes and 15 No.  It would only take one to flip it to a majority yes.  I did lump together a lot of Noes.  However it doesn't make much sense to count wars as if each one is equal, particularly to make it a Yes or No absolute.  Every war, with the possible exception of the interventions in the Balkans, has some mix of philosophy and pragmatism.

However I do think we can say that to claim that most wars were over ideology or philosophy, as opposed to the usual national security interest or the support of the military-industrial complex, is a ridiculous overreach.  As much as we want to put a good face on our history, the US is not unambiguously good.  It's not even necessarily good from an international standpoint, bullying those who don't go along with its economic or strategic interests, just as all countries do.  There are no nice countries, only one which aren't as bad when compared to evil ones.  So sure, we're no North Korea, but we're not a nation of saints either and to pretend that we are is dangerous.  Once we assume sainthood, we stop striving to prove it.


Jondare said...

"Once we assume sainthood, we stop trying to prove it."

That is an excellent quote, easily worth reading the post, even had it not been as well thought as it is.

Another good one, keep 'em coming!

Klepsacovic said...

I'm glad you liked that line. Unfortunately I realized too late that we've been in a lot of wars, so I ended up cutting some corners, and a lot of nuance. There's a lot of argument to go either way on many of these wars: maybe 1812 was more ideological than I claim, maybe the Revolution was less, maybe World War II should be counted as separate wars, since we were attacked directly in the Pacific but not so much in the Atlantic.