Lately there has been a lot of criticism of the libertarian approach to defense and foreign policy. It is derided as isolationist and somehow “dangerous for America” to not be all amped up to bomb Iran. Isolationism has been a dirty word in American politics for around 70 years, for some fairly well thought out reasons. This pose has long out-worn its utility, however. It continues because most of our leaders and pundits are historically ignorant. Let’s help them out.
In the run up to World War II there was a significant portion of the US population that had no interest in getting involved. They remembered the 100,000 Americans that died in World War I and had no desire to add to their number. Even after Adolph Hitler demanded part of Czechoslovakia in 1938, they were not interested. The UK Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, seeing no help from the US, and remembering the British Empire’s 1,000,000 war dead, flew to Munich and signed an embarrassing peace treaty giving Hitler what he wanted. This came to be known as “appeasement”. The treaty turned out to be a worthless piece of paper, and the ensuing decade revealed just what a monster Hitler was. The justly reviled appeasement is paired with the concept of isolation in the minds of our pundits. World War II was one of our best wars, fought to rid the world of one of history’s greatest abominations.
But why did Hitler exist in the first place? The last veteran has died, it’s time to look at this honestly. Hitler would never have come to power without Woodrow Wilson’s disastrous decision to jump into World War I. The war started with the assassination of the heir to the throne of one of Germany’s allies. Looking back through the lens of Hitler, though, the Germans have been made out to be the bad guys. This is not fair.
In 1914 European civilization decided to kill itself. Every major power in Europe made the decision that “national honor” was more important than millions of lives. After three years, and an atrocious cost, the war was finally beginning to exhaust itself. Wilson jumped in and picked a winner. The European powers were equally guilty, but because of our participation Britain and France got to impose the Treaty of Versailles on Germany, with massive war reparations, and a loss of territory to go with its 2 million dead soldiers. Germany went insane.
So yes, appeasement is a bad thing, and we should not go for Tokugawa-style isolation. It is important to remember, however, that while our glorious arms did rid the world of Hitler, Woodrow Wilson’s military adventurism also created him. This knowledge of the root causes of WWII is something that our foreign policy establishment lacks. This hobbles them. Everything becomes about appeasement and isolation. 1938 is the only relevant year in history according to too many. In our half-century struggle with the USSR (another fight Wilson picked BTW ), this was occasionally useful. Now that the main enemies are preachers in caves and tin-pot dictators who occasionally mouth off about Israel the mental handicaps of our leaders need to be addressed. Our military might is capable of solving some problems, but it also creates them. More people in power in the US should be aware of that.