Home > World Events > Bacevich on the American faith in force (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

Bacevich on the American faith in force (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

February 10th, 2010

The American Conservative is a mixed bag, to put it mildly, but this piece by Andrew Bacevich (h/t Jack Strocchi) is well worth reading. Bacevich points out how rarely the faith of the American policy elite in military force has actually been rewarded with success. The key quote:

An alternative reading of our recent military past might suggest the following: first, that the political utility of force—the range of political problems where force possesses real relevance—is actually quite narrow; second, that definitive victory of the sort that yields a formal surrender ceremony at Appomattox or on the deck of an American warship tends to be a rarity; third, that ambiguous outcomes are much more probable, with those achieved at a cost far greater than even the most conscientious war planner is likely to anticipate; and fourth, that the prudent statesman therefore turns to force only as a last resort and only when the most vital national interests are at stake. Contra Kristol, force is an “instrument” in the same sense that a slot machine or a roulette wheel qualifies as an instrument.

To consider the long bloody chronicle of modern history, big wars and small ones alike, is to affirm the validity of these conclusions.

A couple of qualifications/quibbles.

First, it’s important to remember that, for a very long time, America’s standard experience of war was that of near-continuous advance towards victory. For everyone else involved, the Great War involved years of pointless slaughter, with thousands dying for every yard of mud gained or lost. The US entered late and its forces immediately turned the tide of battle. World War II was similar – by mid-1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor the Allies were advancing on every front.

Paradoxically, as these two cases indicate, the US faith in force reflects a long history of aversion to foreign wars, going back to the Founders. The US had its share of bellicose nationalists, but compared to nearly all previous states, where success in war with other states was taken as the primary measure of greatness, the US in the 19th century (at least up to about 1890) stands out for its pacific nature. But on the relatively rare occasions when the US went to war, it usually did so under (perceived and sometimes actual) conditions of necessity and with the unqualified commitment that entailed.[1]

In the second half of the 20th century, as Europe finally tired and sickened of war, the US went in the opposite direction, taking military power to be a standard instrument of national policy. Sixty years of failure have not shaken this new faith in force.

Bacevich points to a series of losses, or draws where the losses on all sides outweighed the gains – Korea, Vietnam, and both Iraq wars being the biggest.

Adopting criteria put forward by Max Boot, Bacevich counts only three unambiguous military victories for the US in the past 60 years, all over absurdly weak opponents: Johnson’s long forgotten invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Reagan in Grenada and Panama.

However, he wrongly dismisses Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, which (if you disregard long term implications) were clear successes. No significant cost in blood or treasure to the US, desirable political outcomes and humanitarian benefits sufficient that the inevitable civilian casualties were largely disregarded, as was the breach of international law involved in bypassing the Security Council on Kosovo.

These successful interventions (mostly opposed by neocons at the time) revived faith in military intervention that had been lost in Vietnam, and whose revival had been delayed by the disasters in Beirut and Mogadishu. Oddly enough, though, the lessons drawn by Colin Powell (use military power as a last resort, with overwhelming odds, well-defined objectives and clear conditions for a rapid exit) were ignored. Instead the lessons drawn were to ignore or circumvent international law, to count on easy victories and to work out the objectives once the victories had been won.

The results have been seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and through covert action and proxies, throughout the Middle East and beyond. Yet none of this has done much to dent the faith of the Foreign Policy Community, or the American elite in general, in the efficacy of military force. The public seems less enthusiastic, but there are few places were public opinion counts for less than in US foreign policy.

fn1. Some qualifications on this are obviously needed. First, the claim is not absolute but relative. The comparison is with attitudes in the US post-WWII, and with the European powers which waged imperial wars of conquest all around the world at the same time as fighting regular wars with each other, and Second, this relatively pacific attitude didn’t extend to the Native American population. Third, from around 1890 onwards, the US became more imperialist, particularly in South America.

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  1. Ken Lovell
    February 10th, 2010 at 18:58 | #1

    Unfortunately the justification for using force usually relies on “but this is how awful things would have been if we hadn’t done it” type reasoning. It’s self-evidently non-rebuttable in an objective, definitive sense, meaning the tired arguments will go on forever and the warmongers will remain smugly confident of their superior manliness and virtue.

  2. Salient Green
    February 10th, 2010 at 19:07 | #2

    America’s warlike nature is a fascinating subject to me but I am no scholar and have not the time to study anyway, but while having this nature is essential to defending an empire offshore, has not the US used the military and it’s activities in recent years more as an economic tool?

    Huge numbers of people are employed by the American military machine and wars stimulate the economy. Once you start thinking along those lines you have a tail wagging the dog thing The incredible waste generated by wars also suits the capitalist American ideology and economy. Consume consume. So what if you don’t “win” the war. You’ve got fatter wallets.

  3. charles
    February 10th, 2010 at 20:45 | #3

    Depends.

    Is the USA using war to win an argument or as a economic stimulus, if the leter the only problem is the inability to switch it off quickly in boom times.

  4. Salient Green
    February 10th, 2010 at 21:05 | #4

    charles, both, and more, such as flexing muscles, honing skills, testing new weapons, sending warnings. I wonder why you would want to switch off a war if it is contributing to an economic boom and especially if there are other reasons for keeping it going.

  5. Salient Green
    February 10th, 2010 at 21:06 | #5

    In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers. August Bebel

    The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations. David Friedman

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [1953] Dwight D Eisenhower

    A whole lot more here. http://www.quotegarden.com/war.html

  6. Patrickb
    February 10th, 2010 at 22:09 | #6

    I find your first qualification regarding a lack of US bellicosity in the 19th century a bit shallow. The US was just as bellicose as the Europeans when it came to wars over territory (which is the primary motive in most wars). But of course for much of the 19th century the area making up today’s US was a vast open space. Not so in Europe of course and war was much more frequent.

    On a more general point, it’s amazing how ingrained the notion that wars always have a decisive victor has become. History shows that wars of attrition are rare. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the being of the twentieth century perhaps only Napoleon could have claimed to have achieved total victory on a grand scale.

    It may be that with the socialisation of war via standing armies and conscription the temptation is there to keep fighting until total victory is achieved. To this end a powerful myth has a risen that nothing less that a vanquished and cowed enemy will serve. Despite recent experience this type of rhetoric persists in war speeches given by most leaders and this means they find themselves without the kind of options that were present in earlier times when war was seen as a means to a clear end.

  7. Martin
    February 10th, 2010 at 22:58 | #7

    Patrick B

    I think that Ghengis Khan and the Mongols would probably classify themselves as having achieved total victory on a grand scale

    cheers

    Martin

  8. Freelander
    February 10th, 2010 at 23:21 | #8

    I can’t agree with the US being described as being characterised by a pacifist nature. Most of the founding fathers were war mongers, not pacifists. Throughout the 19th Century there was the territorial expansion through annexation of parts of, and war with, Mexico. (Not to mention the Indians.) At the end of the 19th century there was the war with Spain (more territory). The US pushed its way into Japan in the 19th Century and had its share in the western pillage of China. Not to mention the US’s long involvement in Central and South America.

    From the beginning, the history of the US has been nothing but war, war, war with incursions all round. From 13 initial states the US expanded by conquest, purchase and occasional gift. Very early on they tried to capture Canada (1812). That was unsuccessful but they did gain territory. The Civil War had much to do with keeping the empire and little to do with slaves. The North didn’t want to let the South go. Many founding fathers and those who followed liked to view the USA as the new Roman empire. Unsurprisingly their upper house is called the senate. One of the titles they decided to give their ‘king’ President Washington, was Commander in Chief, which was one of King George’s titles. The New Roman empire – that is the way the neo cons think today and why they believe no power should be allowed to develop in the world to usurp US dominance.

    The US has a great history of ‘spin’. ‘Spin’ has always been the only light on the hill that the USA provided to the rest of the world. Otherwise, there has never been American exceptionalism. That is not to say that the US, like many other countries has not produced its share of exceptional individuals. Or that there have not been exceptional acts, like the Marshall plan, for example. Or that great material wealth, inventions and knowledge have not been produced in the country that was largely untouched by two world wars. But leader of the free world, champion of freedom of speech, defender of democracy… spin, spin, spin. One factor that has made the US more willing to waste lives in overseas adventures is that the US homeland has been untouched by war for generations. This is also why 911 was such a shock and resulted in an obscene overreaction which is the only real reason why ‘the world changed that day’.

  9. February 10th, 2010 at 23:41 | #9

    PrQ,
    A review of the US involvement in the Philippines shows that the imperialist impulse has been there a little bit longer – or were you referring to the Spanish-American War (and the subsequent Philippine-American war) when you referred to 1890?
    It also shows that the tactics used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were not new and were actually quite mild in comparison – although that in no way excuses them.
    .
    Salient Green,
    Most of those in business hate war – a quick look at most market indices shows that. War conditions also tend to centralise power in governments. When it all comes down to it, the only ones to benefit from wars are generally the politicians and the armaments manufacturers. Other areas suffer from (inter alia) the inherent restrictions to trade and the loss of skilled workers.

  10. gerard
    February 11th, 2010 at 01:55 | #10

    However, he wrongly dismisses Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, which (if you disregard long term implications) were clear successes. No significant cost in blood or treasure to the US, desirable political outcomes and humanitarian benefits sufficient that the inevitable civilian casualties were largely disregarded, as was the breach of international law involved in bypassing the Security Council on Kosovo.

    The fact that Bosnia and Kosovo were both in the former Yugoslavia and both involved Serbs being bad guys means that people tend to confuse the fairly legitimate intervention into Bosnia with the total abomination that was the intervention into Kosovo.

    The most pertinent facts are:

    Firstly that the civil war between Yugoslav forces and the Kosovo liberation army (a “terrorist organization” according to the CIA) may have been brutal but it was not a genocide by any stretch – and the most brutal acts committed by the Serb forces against the Albanians – later used as a retroactive justification – happened AFTER the OSCE monitors were withdrawn and the bombing started, and as Wesley Clark wrote, were precisely what NATO had anticipated would be the consequence of the bombing.
    This book contains the most detailed account I had read of the actual timeline, which if you look into it is utterly different from the picture presented by the media at the time.

    Secondly, that within the very borders of NATO at the time, Turkey was carrying out a brutal campaign against Kurdish separatists that made what the Serb forces were doing pale in comparison in terms of brutality, meaning that the pretext for war was the most enormous fetid pile of hypocrisy imaginable. We don’t tolerate war crimes on NATO’s borders but we’re absolutely fine with them (and will even fund them) outside NATO’s borders? The “humanitarian” case for war was an utter crock.

    Thirdly and most importantly, at the negotiations in Ramboulliet before the bombing, Milosevic basically offered NATO terms quite similar to the ones that were brokered by Russia at the end of the war and which ended the bombing.

    However at Ramboulliet, Madeline Albright demanded that Milosevic turn the entire country over to what was basically NATO occupation, plus “privatization of all Government assets”. She knew full well that these demands would be refused. As Henry Kissinger said, “The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing. Rambouillet is not a document that an angelic Serb could have accepted. It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in that form.”

    In the 1999 Nato bombing campaign, it was state-owned companies – rather than military sites – that were specifically targeted by the world’s richest nations. Nato only destroyed 14 tanks, but 372 industrial facilities were hit – including the Zastava car plant at Kragujevac, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless. Not one foreign or privately owned factory was bombed.

    After the removal of Slobodan Milosevic, the west got the “fast-track” reforming government in Belgrade it had long desired. One of the first steps of the new administration was to repeal the 1997 privatisation law and allow 70% of a company to be sold to foreign investors – with just 15% reserved for workers. The government then signed up to the World Bank’s programmes – effectively ending the country’s financial independence.

    The Kosovo war was a trial run for the Iraq War, and no more legitimate. Looking back on it, Bush and Rice should have just used a “humanitarian” case for invading Iraq (instead of the obviously-fake WMD garbage), since it was probably stronger than what had existed in Kosovo, and all the “liberals” would have lapped it right up.

  11. gerard
    February 11th, 2010 at 01:59 | #11

    oh, for an edit button.

    We don’t tolerate war crimes on NATO’s borders but we’re absolutely fine with them (and will even fund them) outside NATO’s borders?

    I mean we’re fine with them inside NATO’s borders. Turkey being part of NATO. And since NATO intervention requires unanimous approval by member states, it is important to note that Turkey only signed on after being explicitly promised that its own campaign against the Kurds would not be effected in the slightest.

  12. gerard
    February 11th, 2010 at 04:02 | #12

    just to add another excerpt from what is linked above.

    The secret annexe B of the Rambouillet accord – which provided for the military occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia – was, as the Foreign Office minister Lord Gilbert later conceded to the defence select committee, deliberately inserted to provoke rejection by Belgrade.

    But equally revealing about the west’s wider motives is chapter four, which dealt exclusively with the Kosovan economy. Article I (1) called for a “free-market economy”, and article II (1) for privatisation of all government-owned assets. At the time, the rump Yugoslavia – then not a member of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO or European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – was the last economy in central-southern Europe to be uncolonised by western capital. “Socially owned enterprises”, the form of worker self-management pioneered under Tito, still predominated.

    Yugoslavia had publicly owned petroleum, mining, car and tobacco industries, and 75% of industry was state or socially owned. In 1997, a privatisation law had stipulated that in sell-offs, at least 60% of shares had to be allocated to a company’s workers.

    The high priests of neo-liberalism were not happy. At the Davos summit early in 1999, Tony Blair berated Belgrade, not for its handling of Kosovo, but for its failure to embark on a programme of “economic reform” – new-world-order speak for selling state assets and running the economy in the interests of multinationals.

    The Kosovo War was an atrocity.

    And this?

    humanitarian benefits sufficient that the inevitable civilian casualties were largely disregarded, as was the breach of international law involved in bypassing the Security Council on Kosovo.

    Disregarded by who?

    Disregarded, perhaps, by the people who don’t bother to look into the appalling facts of the matter.

  13. James
    February 11th, 2010 at 08:53 | #13

    I’ve sometimes thought there is a connection between this faith in military force and the popularity of blockbuster action movies.
    Both are based on the belief that good intentions, cluelessness, righteous violence and a billion dollars worth of explosions and special effects can solve all problems.

  14. Salient Green
    February 11th, 2010 at 09:10 | #14

    American defense spending is 23% of budget with total spending over $1000 billion. That’s a massive share of the economy for direct expenditure let alone indirect economic activity dependant on defense. You don’t have to be an armaments manufacturer to benefit from America’s continuous war.

  15. PatrickB
    February 11th, 2010 at 10:27 | #15

    @Martin
    My scope was narrowed to Europe.

  16. Peter T
    February 11th, 2010 at 10:41 | #16

    I think the utility of war is one of those zombie ideas that just go on. War was – for most Europeans and Americans – either profitable/enjoyable or felt to be unavoidable to be regularly indulged in up to 1914. Not only was there often widespread support for war, but many those directly involved seem to have thought it a worthwhile lottery (you could get killed, but you could also get rich or further up the social ladder). Those who suffered most did not get a say. The balance of costs and benefits has shifted for lots of reasons, so it no longer makes much sense, but when did that stop a bad idea?

    This zombie lumbers on in the US when most other countries have staked it. I am not sure it is dead here – a look at the wallmap in the War Memorial in Canberra shows Australia to have had soldiers in just about every conflict available since Federation.

  17. PatrickB
    February 11th, 2010 at 10:43 | #17

    “a look at the wallmap in the War Memorial in Canberra shows Australia to have had soldiers in just about every conflict available since Federation”
    Yeah we’re dumb buggers alright. At least the Swiss used to get paid well. We’ve had to pay to get in!

  18. February 11th, 2010 at 11:12 | #18

    SG,
    You are right – you do not have to be an armaments manufacturer to benefit. But it does help.
    Most of the rest of the economy, though, is always hurt by the increases in taxation (either immediate or delayed) that suppresses both consumption and investment, the destruction of material (by enemy action), the wasteful expenditure (tanks and warplanes have few other uses but cost a lot), the interruptions to free trade, the waste of time that could otherwise be used productively, the interruptions to education, the increase in government control over the economy and so on. All of these reduce profits for most businesses.
    Business (other than armaments manufacture and a few associated businesses) are substantially hurt by war.

  19. Salient Green
    February 11th, 2010 at 12:06 | #19

    AR, it appears America’s defense spending is killing it’s economy but is it really? It hasn’t always appeared to be dragging America down. The military and space program have generated enormous wealth from inventions and intellectual property which have civilian applications all over the world and therefore export income. Perhaps defense has grown too large and/or the point of diminishing returns has long ago been reached.

  20. Freelander
    February 11th, 2010 at 13:25 | #20

    @Salient Green

    Sounds like the argument used for space exploration. Spend money on the military, rather than directly on R&D or don’t gather that money in by taxation, and the spill-over benefits will more than justify the expenditure. And, what about the stimulus to foreign economies that need reconstruction after bombing and the boon to the medical industry from all the work and rehabilitation they get to do. This is not just a cloud with a silver lining, its a cloud that is all silver!

  21. February 11th, 2010 at 13:35 | #21

    Patrickb :
    …History shows that wars of attrition are rare…

    Actually, they are common. Consider the Second Punic War, the Hundred Years War, the Spanish Reconquista, the rise and then decline of the Ottoman Empire, the English campaigns in Ireland, most 18th century campaigns in the Netherlands and northern Italy, and many others. Although there were highlights and sometimes even decisive battles, mostly those involved attrition (often with one siege after another, and so on).

  22. February 11th, 2010 at 13:39 | #22

    Freelander :
    …From the beginning, the history of the US has been nothing but war, war, war with incursions all round. From 13 initial states the US expanded by conquest, purchase and occasional gift. Very early on they tried to capture Canada (1812). That was unsuccessful but they did gain territory…

    Actually, no, they didn’t gain any territory at all from that war – although their other expansion continued, e.g. the Louisiana Purchase. Unless you are talking about them being given back the portions of Maine that the British had occupied?

  23. February 11th, 2010 at 13:44 | #23

    “…compared to nearly all previous states… the US in the 19th century (at least up to about 1890) stands out for its pacific nature. But on the relatively rare occasions when the US went to war, it usually did so under (perceived and sometimes actual) conditions of necessity…”

    Not so. Throughout the first half of that century the USA was belligerent as a state and had a considerable war sentiment (more than “its share of bellicose nationalists”, even by the standard of “[t]he comparison is… the European powers which waged imperial wars of conquest all around the world at the same time as fighting regular wars with each other”), directed towards its neighbours (Britain in Canada, then Spain in the Floridas, then Mexico, then Spain in Cuba and Britain in Canada again – though those last two conflicts were headed off by able diplomacy that pointed out that success could only lead to an imbalance in the USA between the North and the South, which was a serious issue by then).

  24. gerard
    February 11th, 2010 at 16:31 | #24

    The United States’ campaign of thorough genocide from the Atlantic to the Pacific was the exact opposite of “pacifist”. It was a complete extermination.

    You can hardly get any less pacifist than 19th Century America.

    Adolph Hitler specifically described America’s treatment of the Indians as an inspiration.

  25. February 11th, 2010 at 17:31 | #25

    Yes, and what is at stake is the future of humanitarian interventions as an effective or even viable instrument. Andrew Carr over at Chasing The Norm summed it up quite well the other day.

    Back in 2003 I supported the Iraq war on humanitarian intervention grounds (having written a couple of long and detailed papers on the subject back at law school). I am still not convinced it did not meet the requisite test. Powell’s conditions are military requirements and in regard to implementation, no doubt, Iraq was a horrible failure. His list does not however address the rationale for humanitarian intervention itself. Eg. overwhelming odds: relevance of this to taking action is not clear.

  26. Freelander
    February 11th, 2010 at 17:45 | #26

    @P.M.Lawrence

    I thought the war at least facilitated westward expansion and further pilfering of Indian land? That’s territorial gain, isn’t it? The American colonialists never avoided a good opportunity for war for territorial expansion. Of course, they always came up with a great excuse. Like, for example, the taxation (without representation) excuse after the British war with France to defend the colonies (the first Tea Party).

  27. February 11th, 2010 at 18:44 | #27

    gerard@#24

    The United States’ campaign of thorough genocide from the Atlantic to the Pacific was the exact opposite of “pacifist”. It was a complete extermination. You can hardly get any less pacifist than 19th Century America. Adolph Hitler specifically described America’s treatment of the Indians as an inspiration.

    Pr Q bent over too far backwards to be see “pacifism” in the US’s 19thC political method, charitable to a fault. See here for me poking empirical holes in that interpretation.

    But gerard, as usual, escalates to hyperbolic absurdity in the opposite direction. You can get a lot “less pacifist than 19th Century America”, going by its record of commercial land acquisition over that period. It tempered its Westward Ho! Manifest Destiny with lots of enlightened self-interest, rather than brutal exploitation. The Louisiana Purchase, Purchase and the Annexation of Hawaii show US strategists often preferring the deal to the sword in acquiring territory.

    The European conquerors of North America have always been ambivalent about the Indians. They detested their savagery and backwardness, but admired their warrior spirit and innate dignity.

    The American Indians did get a raw deal from the US government, particularly reneging on land treaties (“Indian givers”). But the Indians were a conquered people and could not expect to have it all their own way.

    It is infantile Leftism to romanticise American Indian culture or cast them as further victims in the general Leftist demonology of WASPs. Marx would have supported the US government.

    In general American Indians got a better deal from whitey than they gave rival tribes with whom they frequently warred. And they were guilty of numerous atrocities against white settlers. Jefferson has good cause to label them as “merciless Indian savages”.

    Its is ridiculous to claim that American Indians suffered “complete extermination” during the 19thC. One does not make treaties and create reservations for a population one wises to exterminate. The founding fathers went so far as classifying “five civilised tribes” as future citizens.

    Estimates of American Indian 19thC casualties vary from David Stannard’s gerard-style atrocity propaganda claim of “100 million” dead to Windschuttle-style low-ball estimates limiting casualties to the tens of thousands killed in the Indian Wars and ethnic cleansing.

    Hitler approved of vegetarianism so perhaps his pet favourites should not be the final word on what is wrong with History. (Godwin’s Law violation, BTW.)

    Most Germans love “cowboy and Indian” stories. They appeal to their race memory as forest warriors (shades of Roman conquest). No doubt Hitler admired US ethnic cleansing land grabs. But he would have been horrified to know that there was a long list of 19thC US statesman who had Indian blood coursing through their veins. (Not forgetting Churchill.)

  28. Freelander
    February 11th, 2010 at 19:28 | #28

    @Jack Strocchi

    Oh ya, sure, those American Indians had it coming. Those “merciless Indian savages”.

    “One does not make treaties and create reservations for a population one wises to exterminate.” Doesn’t one? One makes treaties one does not intend to keep and does several other things as part of a process of gain to increase one’s advantage while keeping your ultimate goals hidden from the ‘enemy’. Reservations were interim solutions, and even that land was taken whenever it suited, and when contemplating extermination one may be constrained until the right opportunity arises.

  29. Alice
    February 11th, 2010 at 19:42 | #29

    @Jack Strocchi
    Jack – I only have one thing to say to this – the pieces of land given to the Indians as reseravtions were genocidal pieces of land and on wbhich it was made sure there were no valuable resources to extract first (and if it was discovered there were after the treaties were signed between the Americans and the Indians – then the Americans reneged on the reservation treaties in order to allow the white prospectors in).

    The American Indians were indeed victims in the end and it is not infantile leftism to imagine so.

    Sitting Bull: You teach our children the words of your God, “Be fruitful and multiply.” But it seems these words are not meant for the Indian. For what kind of man would take a wife and have children he cannot feed? No Indian man. Not a Lakota, not an Arikara, not a Crow. You would have us cut off our balls and end our race right here on a patch of land on which nothing can live, and that will not happen! I have spoken.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0821638/quotes

    But I dare say the Americans killed them with alcohol and guns firstl first…before they did any deals over their land.

    Of course the American Indians were victims. To believe otherwise is akin to seeing the Aboriginals as worthy aggressors against superior firepower (both in guns and firewater) in Australian history.

    American pacifism? I dont believe it existed, now or ever. I personally think the US and Americans one of the most warlike nations on earth.

  30. Patrickb
    February 11th, 2010 at 22:16 | #30

    @P.M.Lawrence
    There may be something in what you say. Perhaps attrition was the wrong term. But:

    “the rise and then decline of the Ottoman Empire”

    Does that count as a war? With regard to any of the Punic wars, note I did say since the fall of the Roman Empire and anyway the 2nd Punic war left the city of Carthage unscathed, perhaps you mean the 3rd? The Anglo Dutch battles for control of trade routes don’t look like a fight to the death, perhaps you have a different interpretation? I would have thought the 16th century wars fought by Charles the V and then Philip the II in the Spanish Netherlands would be closer to the mark although they all ended with uneasy truces. I think you need to do a little more research.

  31. Peter T
    February 12th, 2010 at 10:29 | #31

    The past is another country – they did things differently. Most people did not regard war as inherently immoral until recently. And the practices of war were always pretty horrid – and almost always included starving or killing civilians and the use of terror (and these were in practice accepted as legitimate). From the 17th century on there is a disconnect between the intellectual discourse on war and the actual practice – where Henry the Fifth could cheerfully say that “war without fire is like meat without salt”, his successors were much less open about the reality on the ground.

    Incidentally, the American Revolution was fairly vicious – and a greater proportion of the population left the country after the rebel victory than they did in Vietnam.

    patrickb – what do you mean by “attrition”?

  32. gerard
    February 12th, 2010 at 15:43 | #32

    if I knew which part of my comment was keeping it in moderation I would remove it

  33. February 12th, 2010 at 19:39 | #33

    Patrickb :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    There may be something in what you say. Perhaps attrition was the wrong term. But:
    “the rise and then decline of the Ottoman Empire”
    Does that count as a war? With regard to any of the Punic wars, note I did say since the fall of the Roman Empire and anyway the 2nd Punic war left the city of Carthage unscathed, perhaps you mean the 3rd? The Anglo Dutch battles for control of trade routes don’t look like a fight to the death, perhaps you have a different interpretation? I would have thought the 16th century wars fought by Charles the V and then Philip the II in the Spanish Netherlands would be closer to the mark although they all ended with uneasy truces. I think you need to do a little more research.

    I was referring to all the wars carried out during the rise and then decline of the Ottoman Empire; most of what happened was attrition.

    I took your reference to only Napoleon having achieved victory on a grand scale since the Roman Empire as being separate from your statement about wars of attrition, since he mostly neither applied nor experienced such methods.

    I was indeed referring to the Second Punic War; remember, what I was talking about was the rarity or otherwise of wars of attrition, not about total victories at all.

    Similarly, not only is it irrelevant whether “The Anglo Dutch battles for control of trade routes [were] a fight to the death”, they had nothing to do with attrition either, and if you look closely you will see that I never mentioned them at all.

    I do not need to do any more research; rather, you should pay attention to what I actually asserted. With the qualifications I made previously, there was still a lot of war of attrition in each of:-

    - the Second Punic War;

    - the Hundred Years War;

    - the Spanish Reconquista;

    - the rise and then decline of the Ottoman Empire;

    - the English campaigns in Ireland;

    - most 18th century campaigns in the Netherlands and northern Italy.

    Notice, Anglo-Dutch wars over commercial resources weren’t even mentioned; you made that up.

    Just possibly, you meant to write “wars of annihilation” – but I didn’t, and it is no criticism of me to point out that examples of attrition that I gave weren’t counter-examples to something you didn’t write but only to what you did write.

  34. February 12th, 2010 at 19:53 | #34

    Freelander :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    I thought the war at least facilitated westward expansion and further pilfering of Indian land? That’s territorial gain, isn’t it? The American colonialists never avoided a good opportunity for war for territorial expansion. Of course, they always came up with a great excuse. Like, for example, the taxation (without representation) excuse after the British war with France to defend the colonies (the first Tea Party).

    The outcome of the British-American War gave the USA absolutely no territory whatsoever. The gains you are describing were quite separate, and that war did absolutely nothing to further them; Britain made no claims in the area and only kept a few posts manned pending US compliance with previous treaty obligations (you can argue that the war ended that, but actually it was the fact that the USA complied with the new treaty – which they could have done with the old one). Of course, if the USA had lost seriously, the Indians near the Great Lakes might have been strengthened and expansion in that area might have been slowed – but not fighting the war at all might even have sped it up.

    It’s also amusing that the high flown US prose about “avoiding foreign entanglements” and being a friend to all was simply a rhetorical cover for welching on entanglements and commitments the USA had already incurred towards its allies in the War of Independence – just like not wanting to pay for previous defence by the British.

  35. February 12th, 2010 at 20:27 | #35

    Jack Strocchi
    …The Louisiana Purchase, Purchase and the Annexation of Hawaii show US strategists often preferring the deal to the sword in acquiring territory.
    …The American Indians did get a raw deal from the US government, particularly reneging on land treaties (“Indian givers”)…
    …Its is ridiculous to claim that American Indians suffered “complete extermination” during the 19thC. One does not make treaties and create reservations for a population one wises to exterminate. The founding fathers went so far as classifying “five civilised tribes” as future citizens…

    The annexation of Hawaii was not a case of a “deal” rather than violence, any more than the annexations of Florida, Texas and California at the request of their formally republican “governments” meant there had been no violence in creating those to make the formal requests. It’s just an off balance sheet thing. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote up the Hawaii business in passing in his A Footnote to History, including how the US infiltrators carried out their coup when the navy was away showing the flag.

    That’s not where the term “Indian givers” comes from.

    Some American Indians certainly suffered complete extermination during the nineteenth century, e.g. the Yahi. Whether there was an intention to do that is less relevant, although of course the Nazi/Jew and Turk/Armenian things show that one does indeed “make treaties and create reservations for a population one wis[h]es to exterminate”, as a simple matter of convenience. It is perhaps worth comparing and contrasting the “founding fathers’” rhetoric about the five civilised tribes with what happened to them later at other hands. In the words of the old Nasreddin Hoxha story, “never mind his eyes, watch his hands”.

  36. Alice
    February 12th, 2010 at 20:55 | #36

    @P.M.Lawrence
    Perhaps you have not been often enough to Hawaii PM Lawrence to hear the Hawaiians verson of events

    “The truth is that each and every step along Hawaii’s path from sovereign and independent nation, to annexed territory, to state, was done in violation of laws and treaties then in effect, without regard to the wishes of the Hawaiian people. Many people, including President Grover Cleveland, opposed the annexation of Hawaii.

    But in the end, simple greed and military interest overrode any concerns or moral right and legality. Hawaii’s legitimate government was toppled using threat of American military force. Hawaii was stolen from her people for the benefit of wealthy American plantation owners and military interests, and the justifications for the crime were invented after-the-fact.

    An off balance sheet thing?? I dont think so.

    http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/HAWAII/hawaii.html

    But back to the thread. I still dont think Americans can ever be classified as “pacifist” by nature in the past or now. They stand out for their military interventions which makes them a very warlike race IMHO. As much as we may not wish to see it, given we have been allies to the US in the past….. this should not interfere with objective assessments of the US and its military inclinations as a race of people.

  37. February 12th, 2010 at 23:12 | #37

    Since comments at Crooked Timber are closed, I thought I’d just chuck the following in here for people to think about:-

    Josh G. wrote “the American Civil War stands out as the bloodiest conflict of its era”.

    No, it wasn’t, the War of the Triple Alliance was.

    K. Williams wrote “The question is whether intervening made things better off than not intervening would have. And in the list above, there’s little doubt that intervention made things better off, at least from an American perspective, in Korea, Kuwait, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. I fail to see how that’s a dismal record…”.

    Apart from Korea (with John Quiggin’s caveats), all of those made things worse – except for domestic political consumption. So that is a dismal record.

    Gareth Rees wrote of “The US tried to invade Canada, but it didn’t turn out too well for the US”, “On the contrary: although the Treaty of Ghent restored the status quo, one of the results of the war of 1812 was the total destruction of Tecumseh’s confederacy of tribes, leaving the upper midwest defenceless. The US was quick to occupy and settle this area (Indiana became a state in 1816 and Illinois in 1818).”

    That wasn’t a result of that war but of a distinct military action in the same period; fighting the British as well probably made it harder. That is, without that war it would have happened anyway, more quickly and easily.

    Maurice Meilleur wrote “Well, as I far as I can tell from the history I know, neither the US nor the British ‘won’ the war. It was settled at Ghent… If the war was started in earnest with a US invasion of Canada, it also involved a British blockade of US seaports and attacks and invasions in the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf Coast, and northern Mississippi regions.”

    Definitively, Britain won, in that every single one of the US war aims failed to be achieved by that war. The fact that some of them were in fact implemented via the treaty actually flowed from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 (or so they thought), so impressment was ending anyway. Also, there were no British invasions in those areas but rather incursions (i.e., hit and run), with the only British invasion being in Maine.

    “…Great Britain’s polic[i]es were as much to blame as those of the US…”.

    No. Every single grievance the USA had related to matters covered by the previous peace treaty, that Britain wasn’t required to action until the USA complied with its obligations. All the USA had to do to resolve matters was comply.

    “In any case, the larger point I was making was that the war was exceptional in US history in the 19th century as being not entirely our fault”.

    That’s wrong, because of the above.

    Jack Strocchi wrote ‘Its a bit of a stretch to describe “the US in the 19th century” as “standing out for its pacific nature”. It spent much of that century pursuing its Manifest Destiny as it expanded Westward and then Southward Ho!, knocking the stuffing out of the British and Spanish Empires in the process.’

    Er, no, not the former.

    Treilhard wrote “…the point still stands that unlike the European powers, dividing up the whole of Africa & most of Asia amongst themselves, the US remains relatively isolated. The only notable exceptions thrown out are 1812 and the Mexican-American War, but these hardly compare to the Boer Wars, Crimean War, Sepoy Rebellion, etc… US forces actually occupied Mexico City, and then left after (1) purchasing the American Southwest (not a terribly fair price, to be certain) and (2) voting in Congress not to take the whole of Northeast Mexico as well. It is unimagineable that a European power would’ve behaved this way…”

    One, US behaviour was typical of how European powers did things; only the areas in which they operated differed. It is quite wrong to assert that “[t]he only notable exceptions thrown out are 1812 and the Mexican-American War”, because there were lots more (e.g., Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and all the Indian Wars). And it is entirely imaginable that European powers would leave something behind; for instance, that’s why Turkey got nibbled away rather than devoured in large gulps, and why lots of princely states survived under the British Raj, and so on.

    democratic core wrote “Moreover, the US has generally promoted a global economic order based on free trade, which is diametrically opposed to the mercanitlist, protectionist policies pursued by the European colonial empires”.

    Er, no. It hasn’t used free trade, just a different form of control that it called that. In fact, its use of currency in dollarised economies is a close parallel to French colonial practice in North Africa, and even earlier in the Revoloutionary Wars – there’s no “diametrically opposed” about it.

    “Personally, I like this world a heck of lot more than the world created by the European colonial empires”.

    Well, you would, and for just the same reason that I don’t – it’s something that fits you like your own clothes.

  38. February 12th, 2010 at 23:23 | #38

    Alice :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    Perhaps you have not been often enough to Hawaii PM Lawrence to hear the Hawaiians verson of events
    “The truth is that each and every step along Hawaii’s path from sovereign and independent nation, to annexed territory, to state, was done in violation of laws and treaties then in effect, without regard to the wishes of the Hawaiian people. Many people, including President Grover Cleveland, opposed the annexation of Hawaii.
    But in the end, simple greed and military interest overrode any concerns or moral right and legality. Hawaii’s legitimate government was toppled using threat of American military force. Hawaii was stolen from her people for the benefit of wealthy American plantation owners and military interests, and the justifications for the crime were invented after-the-fact.

    An off balance sheet thing?? I dont think so.
    http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/HAWAII/hawaii.html
    But back to the thread. I still dont think Americans can ever be classified as “pacifist” by nature in the past or now. They stand out for their military interventions which makes them a very warlike race IMHO. As much as we may not wish to see it, given we have been allies to the US in the past….. this should not interfere with objective assessments of the US and its military inclinations as a race of people.

    Alice, your first sentence gives the impression that you think the rest contradicts my views, which suggests that you don’t understand what I was trying to say: Hawaii wasn’t acquired in a “deal” but by a stitch up following violence. That was actual violence, not merely the threat of it – although, through trickery, the amount the US interests needed to deploy was minimised. When someone else described that as a deal, that was the off balance sheet thing – since the USA as such was only formally involved at later stages, after the violent bits.

    I suspect you are merely reacting to me and my comments as though I were the kind of person who would assert the sorts of things you object to and as though those comments were those things. Here on this thread, as on other threads, I merely try to bring out and stand by the truth, no matter how people may choose sides. However, if I may say so, in the Hawaiian case US interests were pushing their spurious justifications before as well as after the fact.

  39. Alice
    February 13th, 2010 at 07:55 | #39

    @P.M.Lawrence
    PML

    You say above…about me

    “I suspect you are merely reacting to me and my comments as though I were the kind of person who would assert the sorts of things you object to and as though those comments were those things.”

    In response

    You are making an assumption about what I am reacting to and why, which, if you had asked me, I could have told you is quite incorrect. Moreover, you have no evidence to the contrary so please try to avoid expressing your own assumptions about me in your posts on the topic in question.

  40. February 13th, 2010 at 11:27 | #40

    Alice :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    PML
    You say above…about me
    “I suspect you are merely reacting to me and my comments as though I were the kind of person who would assert the sorts of things you object to and as though those comments were those things.”
    In response
    You are making an assumption about what I am reacting to and why, which, if you had asked me, I could have told you is quite incorrect. Moreover, you have no evidence to the contrary so please try to avoid expressing your own assumptions about me in your posts on the topic in question.

    No, Alice, I am not making assumptions about you, I am going on what you have revealed and only taking it as far as that supports it. If I were making assumptions I would have (incorrectly) used the word “know” rather than “suspect”. And I will continue to draw your and other people’s attention to issues you get wrong, when and where you get them wrong, rather than letting them slide on the posts in question. May I suggest that you return to the substantive matter of this thread, i.e. just what the USA did and just how the USA did all those things? Your interpretation methods only come into it from how they substitute other stuff for what is actually posted, but as long as you keep doing that people need to know about them if they want to unwind them and get back to what was actually there; it would be more helpful if that back and forth were avoided in the first place.

  41. Alice
    February 13th, 2010 at 13:00 | #41

    @P.M.Lawrence
    I am putting in a complaint to Professor Quiggin about your continued objectionable harassment of me and your assumptions and comments that you make regarding my comments PML. I made one point about Hawaii in this thread and you made a personal attack in your reply.

    Your behaviour and what I would suggest is verbal abuse is completely unacceptable to me. I suggest you find some other persons comments to “psyhcologically evaluate: whilst at the same time performing a very obvious and feeble attempt at character assassination.

    You are quite out of line PML and I will put my com plaint in writing to Professor Quiggin. This is not the first time you have behaved thus to me and Id rather have no communication with you whatsoever and will do exactly that in future. Id appreciate the same from you.

    You are a very discourteous person with the absolute minmimum of respect or manners.
    Now go away.

  42. February 13th, 2010 at 13:41 | #42

    Alice, I have tried, repeatedly, to pull your remarks back to the substantive issues, and only commented about you to the extent that you had aimed at me. In this I was not trying to retaliate but to bring out and separate the personal from the substantive.

    Now, if you find that position personal and offensive, you are asserting your own right to do those things to others (including me) without being called on it. Indeed, you are making out that my objections to personal attacks… are personal attacks, that your history of making them is a history of my making them! (Readers can search for past examples if they wish.)

    If you can find any assumptions about you that I have made, as opposed to suspicions I have developed, do please bring them out and rebut them so I know for sure what you are objecting to. I can see no valid grounds for objection in what I have put in the past few posts, so do show me rather than tell people that they are there.

    Now, please, let’s get back to those US issues, can we?

  43. February 13th, 2010 at 13:48 | #43

    You’ve gotten quite sensitive all of a sudden, Alice, given your past form. PML made no objectionable comments (though I suppose that’s inherently subjective), and I hope JQ concurs.

  44. Alice
    February 13th, 2010 at 14:04 | #44

    @P.M.Lawrence
    says “Now, please, let’s get back to those US issues, can we?

    Then just do it PML (go back to the topic and take your own advice). I have sent my letter to the Prof. Ive had enough of your non expert psychological evaluations of me..and your calls for sympathy from the crowd and threats to post links and the other rude comment you have addressed to me in the past week (also on weekend reflections which I ignored).
    My post here on this thread was innocuous and you started the personal attacks on me, in this thread, on my character, my so called “meanings” as interpreted negatively by you along with appeals to the crowd.

    This is verbal bullying and Id like you to stop. It is not acceptable and its not the first time.

  45. Alice
    February 13th, 2010 at 20:22 | #45

    This discussion thread also brings to mind the enormous damage caused by US military interventions and the deployment of landmines.
    To date Obama has not signed the interantional mine ban treaty.

    http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/column/article_fcab8de9-7a20-58ea-9420-e7ba8e39294d.html

    This really is shameful. Is it evidence that the US is more warlike this century than last? I dont know…but given the enormous and ongoing problems with US landmine deployment, it would seem to suggest – yes they are more warlike this century than last (but is it a realistic view?). It is also very disappointing that a democrat president feels unable to sign this treaty.

    In Camobodia 35,000 have been injured by landmines and that figure can be doubled when accouning for immediate deaths (many children who succumb the force). Then there is Landmines remain dangerous long after the military intervention is considered concluded. They are a form of war pollution and environmental damage to the point of unproductivity which exists for years. They render tracts of arable land useless for decades adding to suffering and impeding war recovery.

    “Today, 156 nations are party to the treaty — including Afghanistan, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, all of Europe except Finland (Poland has signed but not yet ratified), all of sub-Saharan Africa except Somalia, almost half of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (including Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Algeria), and the entire Western Hemisphere, except for the United States and Cuba.”

    For a president who was supposed to bring change, the big changes needed are falling by the wayside or are being moderated….not that we could expect better in this day and age from a republican president, most of whom continue to worship “delusionally” … at the alter of US military might.

    Yet it is nothing new. Landmines were used in the American revolution and the American Civil war in the form of “fougasse” – bombs planted in shallow pits covered with shards of metal to serve as shrapnel. The first modern fused landmines were created by confederate troops in 1862. Refer following link
    http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/mines/history/history.html

    The field of battle may not have been as international in past centuries (but neither was effective military transport logistic capabilities)…but could the US really be accorded the status of pacifist in earlier times? Or was the US merely limited in its war activities by the military supply chain technologies of an earlier time? That is what I question. The fundamental inclination for war activities of and by the US may have been little different to the modern era.

  46. Alice
    February 13th, 2010 at 20:24 | #46

    I made a comment on US war tendencies comparing this century and last but alas it is in moderation.

  47. February 13th, 2010 at 20:55 | #47

    Alice :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    says “Now, please, let’s get back to those US issues, can we?
    Then just do it PML (go back to the topic and take your own advice). I have sent my letter to the Prof. Ive had enough of your non expert psychological evaluations of me..and your calls for sympathy from the crowd and threats to post links and the other rude comment you have addressed to me in the past week (also on weekend reflections which I ignored).
    My post here on this thread was innocuous and you started the personal attacks on me, in this thread, on my character, my so called “meanings” as interpreted negatively by you along with appeals to the crowd.
    This is verbal bullying and Id like you to stop. It is not acceptable and its not the first time.

    I have not made psychological evaluations of you, just of some of your behaviour – nothing like enough to be of you. I could not help but notice that you accuse others of personal attacks when they object to being personally attacked (it hasn’t just been me), and then being reminded that there is actually a psychological description of this – but I have not set out to evaluate you, nor have I done much along those lines in passing.

    I have not called for sympathy from the crowd, merely pointed out that readers can search the history of our interactions if they wish to see for themselves; how they decide rests with them.

    I have not threatened to post links, precisely because I have previously noticed how you dislike people being shown those things; I merely suggested they look for themselves if they wanted to check. (I am seriously tempted to provide a link to earlier cases, though… but, as you may notice, I am not doing so and have not done so on this thread.)

    I have not wittingly been rude, although I have been unwilling to sacrifice telling things how I saw them for the sake of conciliation; however, to the best of my knowledge, there was nothing rude or offensive in what or how I presented matters. If you wish to show me examples that escaped my attention, feel free and I shall accept the presentation as constructive criticism.

    I made no reference to your character whatsoever. I did refer to your method of interpretation, that substituted a pro-US position for what I actually stated (on this thread; elsewhere there has been other subject matter).

    Whether my objecting to misrepresentation is verbal bullying or not, well, it will stop just as soon as the cause for my objecting does – but I do not consider objecting to misrepresentation or even objecting to abuse to be abusive in that way. I will not simply abandon objections to these things that get in the way of the subject; I will return to the subject by clearing these obstacles away, then getting on with it. That means I will address substantive matters as they arise, and other matters as they arise – but I would prefer that they not arise.

  48. Freelander
    February 14th, 2010 at 00:52 | #48

    What the article on Hawaii says may be true. The story is credible, being quite consistent with the type of behaviour that missionaries and various ‘entrepreneurs’ engaged in elsewhere. However, the source http://whatreallyhappened.com/ does not appear uniformly reliable.

    See for example: http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/climategate.php

    Also, no references are provided for the various statements.

    Official histories have often been conventional myths designed to benefit the winners. And the official histories of both sides of some dispute often differ significantly. Nevertheless, what did happen can often be directly and indirectly discerned from solid evidence from the period. I imagine that there is a good, well referenced, history of Hawaii for that period.

  49. Alice
    February 14th, 2010 at 09:02 | #49

    @P.M.Lawrence
    For quite a few of your recent posts PML not even responding to me – you preface them with

    “at the risk of offending Alice I would like to say….”

    Dont make negative public insinuations about me. I dont even know you. Dont discuss me in your posts. Dont give me any more of your so called well meaning advice – just post your damn point in the thread and get off my case.

  50. Alice
    February 14th, 2010 at 09:09 | #50

    @P.M.Lawrence
    Topic PML. Topic is “Bacevich on the American faith in force (crosspost from Crooked Timber) is “. I am not the topic. Thats what JQ wants. If you want to talk to me about the topic you now have to wait until my comment comes out of moderation. If you want to talk further to all and sundry about me I certainly wont be replying to you.

  51. jquiggin
    February 15th, 2010 at 05:35 | #51

    I’m calling a halt to this thread. Please stop this, everyone.

Comments are closed.