Thompson and Other People’s Liberty

Fred Thompson recently told a stump speech crowd, “You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn’t take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.”

An unsigned author at the Washington Post has awarded him “four Pinocchios” for this claim, noting that American military casualties have been relatively low and that, anyway, it’s tough to score the motivations of countries going to war. While that’s right as far as it goes, that makes Thompson’s claim debatable, not a lie. Further, while I’m sure it was just a jingoistic crowd pleaser added in by a speech writer rather than Thompson’s long-considered position, it’s certainly defensible.

Let’s look at the wars and casualty figures cited by the WaPo fact checker:

    Spanish American War 2,446
    World War I 116,516
    World War II 405,399
    Korean War 36,574
    Vietnam War 58,209
    Persian Gulf War 382
    Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq (as of yesterday) 4,217

While ostensibly motivated by a desire for Cuban liberation, the Spanish-American war was mostly imperialistic, with the United States emerging with numerous overseas territories. The other 6/7 conflicts, though, were/are all arguably mostly about “other people’s liberty.”

WWI remains the most complicated of America’s conflicts, with a very belated and reluctant entry forced on President Woodrow Wilson by enemy attacks and political pressure from former President Theodore Roosevelt and others. Still, we ultimately entered on the side that fought to repel invaders. Further, Wilson insisted on establishing a post-war collective security regime in the League of Nations that aimed to forestall future conflict.

While the United States refused to directly intervene in WWII until an attack on our base at Pearl Harbor, we had been supplying material support to the Allies from essentially the beginning of the conflict. Unlike any of the European powers — let alone the Soviets, cited by the WaPo author as making “sacrifices [which] contributed greatly to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi domination” despite having been collaborators with Hitler who switched sides only after being double crossed — our homeland was not under threat and our chief motivation was to defeat an evil ideology.

The wars in Korea and Vietnam were sold as part of a fight against international Communism but, at their heart, were about liberty. While naive and misguided in many ways, fueled by a lack of understanding of the local cultures and about the nature of Third World Communism (which was invariably nationalistic rather than part of a broad Soviet conspiracy) Americans honestly believed that they were fighting to keep people free from Stalinist-style totalitarianism.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, have mixed motivations. Still, most of the casualties taken were/have been in the cause of liberty.

Gulf War I was ultimately about liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invaders. While certainly true that we would not have intervened, as a wag observed many years ago in Foreign Affairs, “had Benin invaded Burkino Faso or vice versa,” the fighting ended with Saddam’s withdrawal of his forces from Kuwait. Further, it was followed by years of military operations to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south.

Afghanistan was initially about vengeance against the Taliban for their role in harboring the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks. The five years since, though, have been devoted to propping up a fragile democracy.

Similarly, Iraq II was about weapons of mass destruction, regime change, and a whole host of things other than liberty. But fewer than 200 Americans died in that phase of the war. The other 4000 plus have died in an effort to establish and sustain a functioning democracy.

So, yes, the facts are more complicated than Thompson’s stump speech line; they always are. Americans have fought a lot of wars, none of them for a single purpose. Over the last century, though, all of them have had at least some substantial “other people’s liberty” component. Who else can make that claim?

I join Ed Morrissey in awarding the Post “ten dunce caps” for this one.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. WaPo: The Soviets Died For Liberty…

    Newspapers like to play gotcha games with presidential candidates and their stump speeches. Most of the time, the fact-checking sessions focus on number-juggling on tax proposals and spending policy, and they find plenty of daylight between claims and …

  2. Michael says:

    The French and the English have also shed quite a bit of blood for other people’s liberty, how does their sacrifice stack up to our own?

  3. Anthony C says:

    James,

    It seems to me that it depends on what Thompson meant. You seem to be of the view that what he meant was that “If you look at our track record, the wars we fought this century were all fought for liberty and you can’t really say that of anybody else”. I think that is probably a fair claim, so far as these claims go (certainly fair by the standards of the campaign trail). But it looks to me like what he was actually claiming goes quite a way beyond that. I suppose it depends what you mean by “shed more blood”. While America’s wars have largely been good ones, the amount of blood shed both in absolute terms and in terms of percentage of population have been relatively small compared to those of her major allies. If you accept, albeit with provisos, that WW1 counts in the “War for Liberty” column, then you have to deal with the fact that British deaths both amounted to a vastly higher proportion of the population and in absolute terms amounted to more than all the USA’s 20th century shed blood put together. As for the French, you could add British and American dead together and there’d still be a way to go.

    I think the notion that America’s wars have been in good causes broadly holds up.

    I think to argue that none of the three big wars this century (Great, Second, Cold) could have been won without American material support would be perfectly reasonable.

    I think the idea that the USA has paid a higher blood price in the cause of freedom this century than the rest of the world combined – which I think is actually what Thompson is saying – is both factually flat wrong and a pretty substantial snub to a lot of other people.

  4. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    And I salute both you and Ed Morrissey for your award to the WaPo. While you were a bit more analytical than Mr. Morrissey, the conclusions are the same.

    While other political candidates will speak for what seems to be an unending time about American foreign policy and what is right or wrong about it, Fred Thompson says so much in so few words.

    The more I hear from Fred Thompson, the more I like the man.

  5. James Joyner says:

    It seems to me that it depends on what Thompson meant.

    No question. Although, again, I’m not sure he meant much of anything. It was just an applause line in a speech.

    If you accept, albeit with provisos, that WW1 counts in the “War for Liberty” column, then you have to deal with the fact that British deaths both amounted to a vastly higher proportion of the population and in absolute terms amounted to more than all the USA’s 20th century shed blood put together. As for the French, you could add British and American dead together and there’d still be a way to go.

    Sure. But France and England both had much more direct stakes in the wars than the USA. That’s especially true of the French, who fought much of WWI on their own soil and were invaded by and then collaborated with the Nazis in WWII.

    The Brits have a much better case, in that they likely would not have suffered massive casualties in WWII had they not eventually stood up for their Polish allies.

  6. […] has links to Outside The Beltway , who states: So, yes, the facts are more complicated than Thompson’s stump speech line; they […]

  7. WAPO Piece Attacks Fred Thompson’s Praise of America as Defender of Liberty…

    You are just not going to believe this. The Washington Post has printed an opinion piece, bearing no name, that seeks to disprove and deny Fred Thompson’s marvelous and powerful statement:

    “You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn’t…

  8. Can you consider the dead of the U.S. Civil War in this list as well, or at least the Union portion?

  9. Tom Myers says:

    Anthony, I do think that Morrissey deals with your point at least somewhat convincingly: you can’t just say that WWI etc. were (to some large extent) wars for liberty and the British lost more men, when their motivations were not the same as ours. For an American, WWII was to a significant extent a war for “other people’s liberty”; not so for the Soviets, and I would think the same holds (to a lesser degree) when you compare US and British involvement in WWI. Even for the Spanish-American War, well, gee. My grandfather told me of being a small boy taken to the docks in Baltimore to cheer the troops, by his nurse; she (who had been born a slave) was sure it was for “other people’s liberty.” Maybe that’s not an authoritative source 🙂 but he grew up (and went off to WWI) believing that liberty had something to do with it all. Somehow.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    World War I was fought for liberty? Are you kidding me? The U.S. entered the war only after the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmermann telegraph, which demonstrated hostile intent towards the U.S. on the part of Germany. While it’s true that Germany was an “invading force”, but that has largely to do with the fact that they had a superior military, and if you think the English or the French wouldn’t have invaded Germany had they the military upper hand, you’re deluding yourself. Don’t forget, too, the the primary German grievance of the war is that they felt “locked out” of being able to own colonial possessions in Asia and Africa as a result of…. English and French intervention. England and France were fighting to defend THEIR EMPIRES.

    Hardly a defense of liberty.

  11. Triumph says:

    Freddie is right on. It is estimated that 360,000 Union soldiers died when we fought the slave-loving Confederate bastards.

    Of course, since Fred is a proud man of the Confederacy, it is unclear where he stands on this one.

  12. Lurking Observer says:

    Alex Knapp:

    While the French were pretty much itching for a fight with the Germans, I think it’s much harder to argue that Britain was likely to have fought a war with Germany at the time of World War I, had the Germans not acted first.

    Germany helped push the Brits into war by:

    1. Invading Belgium—providing the UK with a casus belli through its longstanding ties with Belgium.

    2. Attacking France first—since the UK had been holding staff talks and making joint war plans for at least a decade. Had Germany allowed France to execute its Plan XVII first, however, and also not invaded Belgium, it is an open question whether the British government could have committed forces to the Continent on behalf of Paris.

    Triumph: That war over slavery, was that led by an Abraham Lincoln who wrote Horace Greeley in the midst of the war that he wanted the Union reunited, and would gladly do so without freeing any of the slaves? Does that make Lincoln a “proud man of the Confederacy”?

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Uh, yeah Thompson is full of it and Mr Joyner your argument makes no sense.

    You want to call WW2 a war where we fought for others. We only entered the actual war when attacked. By comparison the Brits went into the war after poland got attacked. Either they were fighting for someone else’s liberty or we werenn’t but there’s no colorable argument that gives only us that status.

    Now an argument that Thompson could make that is defensible is that we’ve shed the least blood subjugating others of any major power. That’s probably true. The Brits and French of course have thier colony building, Japan and China have done their bit, and Russia had it’s warsaw pact building. We had some pretty damn ugly history in central america but it doesn’t quite stack up.

    Of course we’ve only be around 200 years, that gives most of the other countries a huge advantage in the bloodshed department.

  14. Matt says:

    The Post author is a bit cavalier in immediately dismissing the U.S. civil war as a “domestic conflict” and so not about “other people’s liberty.” With the 13th amendment former slaves became U.S. citizens, but to the extent the war was fought over slavery (and that extent can be debated, of course) the Union wasn’t shedding its blood for its own liberty. And I think the sequence of events — war, then 13th Amendment, which would have been impossible before the war — is probative, too.

  15. Tom Myers says:

    Alex, I agree that the European motives in WWI had relatively little to do with liberty, and that the US motives were far from exclusively liberty-of-others-directed. As I understand it, the US was in various ways attacked and threatened by Germany in anticipation that the US would help Britain. But I do think that a lot of the popular support for the war (and in the US, that has always mattered; that’s what guys went to die for, even when drafted) came from the thought — delusion, if you like — that they were fighting for freedom, and indeed that this was what the US was all about.

    Lurking, when you say Lincoln wrote that “he wanted the Union reunited, and would gladly do so without freeing any of the slaves” I think you are stretching the text a bit:

    If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; …I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

    As President, it was not his job to free the slaves, but it was his job to preserve the Union. “gladly” is not a part of the picture, I think.

  16. Lurking Observer says:

    Tlaloc:

    Of course, the Brits and French went to war with Germany not simply because Poland was attacked, but because they had a treaty with Poland. International law and all that required that they go to war.

    More to the point, their credibility was on the line, as they had only a year previously reneged on a similar treaty with Czechoslovakia. This was, of course, the infamous Munich agreement that had led Chamberlain to wave the piece of paper and declare that he had secured “peace in our time”.

    And what did going to war entail for France and Britain? Not exactly either a French or British offensive against Germany to draw off forces from the Polish front, nor any attempt to run supplies through to the Poles (admittedly extremely difficult).

    By comparison, US support to friendly nations where there was no treaty commitment was far more detrimental. The US oil embargo on Japan (which was what precipitated the attack on Pearl Harbor) was undertaken because of Japanese atrocities in their war with China, and cost the US access to Japanese markets and any prospect of a peaceful resolution of the Asian situation (by conceding a special Japanese sphere over all of China).

    The US was already extending support to Britain by 1940 (FDR violating US laws he had personally signed), and by early 1941, this included joint war planning, providing Lend-Lease aid, attacking German warships (and telling the American people it was Germans who had started it), and relieving British forces in places like Iceland. All of which just happen to constitute violations of international law, btw.

  17. Lurking Observer says:

    Tom Myers:

    Fair enough.

    From all accounts, Lincoln was deeply troubled by slavery, but he was no radical abolitionist like, say, Thaddeus Stevens.

    The point I make is more along the lines that those who would argue that the Civil War was fought primarily over slavery are forgetting that this was not the ostensible reason for the war, as the POTUS of the time noted.

  18. legion says:

    So, Freddie is a bit of an idiot, but if elected, he’ll surround himself with smart guys who’ll do all the hard thinking for him.

    Hmmm… where have I heard that before…

  19. Mark Jaquith says:

    I’m confused. Is it supposed to be a good thing that we routinely send our sons and daughters to die for causes that are not our own? That we send them to die for reasons other than our immediate national security? That they routinely travel halfway around the world to die at the hands of an enemy fighting them with weapons we provided them?

  20. Andy says:

    The point I make is more along the lines that those who would argue that the Civil War was fought primarily over slavery are forgetting that this was not the ostensible reason for the war, as the POTUS of the time noted.

    This is quite wrong — revisionist history at its worst and most stupid.

    The underlying reason that the Southern states seceded was slavery. The the abolitionist pressures on the federal government and expansion of the free-states to include western territories where what led to the war.

    Anyone who declares that “states-rights” and not slavery was the cause of the Civil War is either an unrepentant crypto-racist or simply uneducated.

  21. Lurking Observer says:

    Andy:

    The issue of slavery was the hot-button issue of its day, dating back arguably to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional convention.

    However, the ostensible reason for the war in 1861 was secession.

    Much as the proximate cause of WWI was the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian arch-duke, but was related to great power rivalries, interlocking alliances, etc.

    And, much as “WMD” was the reason that was put forth, but was only one of a number of reasons that actually underlay the war in Iraq.

    But if you want to throw the “racism” charge around, feel free.

  22. Tom Myers says:

    Andy, Lurking isn’t (I think) saying that the Confederate succession declarations weren’t about preserving slavery from what they saw as a threat to it; he’s saying that Lincoln wasn’t (primarily) fighting to end it, and I believe that the letter we were quoting does support that view.

    Incidentally, I don’t suppose you’ll find any pure motives or indeed any purity outside of mathematics, but when you look to what Eisenhower thought would resonate with his troops’ motivation, you see:

    In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

    When you look to Hitler, you see or rather hear something else:

    Germany, Germany, over everything, over everything in the world

    (translation by babelfish, sorry). There’s a difference. And then, of course, we can fuss about the British treaty with Poland and their perfectly rational fear of Operation Sealion (German invasion)…and always about the balance of national interest with national identity with national idealism (if any); you can, I think, rationally disagree with Thompson, but so far I view Thompson as doing much better than the Post.

  23. Andy says:

    However, the ostensible reason for the war in 1861 was secession.

    Well, yes, and the cause of secession was the slavery issue. States-rights was the right of those states to allow slavery.

    I mean, we can be particularly pedantic and say that the cause of the civil war fort sumter because that’s where the first shots were fired, even though SC had seceded a few days earlier.

  24. Tlaloc says:

    Of course, the Brits and French went to war with Germany not simply because Poland was attacked, but because they had a treaty with Poland. International law and all that required that they go to war.

    But does that somehow make them not fighting for other’s liberty? Why would having a treaty negate that?

  25. Tom Myers says:

    Mark, I don’t think this post or its comments are primarily about whether “it’s a good thing” or not, but if you want to discuss it with people who do think they’re talking about a good thing, you’ll have to try for phrasing that describes something they can recognize: “causes that are not their own” won’t do it. Thompson believes, I think, that other people’s liberty is everybody’s cause, because it’s right. (Or maybe he’s faking it, but that’s another question. I don’t think Eisenhower was faking it. A lot of people aren’t faking it.) Some people believe that “because it’s right” ain’t good enough, but that enlightened self-interest leads to the same decision: for some of these it’s a question of who you want to be your friends, and how good a friend you want to be. And so on, in spite of all the bad things we’ve done in the past, we try to do the best we can now. It’s complicated. You might be interested in Tom Barnett and his work on strategy; he doesn’t think much of Bush, but favored the “Big Bang” (= Iraq invasion), and it’s not about idealism. Most things are puzzling; puzzlement is good.

  26. Andy says:

    But does that somehow make them not fighting for other’s liberty? Why would having a treaty negate that?

    It seems like a treaty obligating you to the defense of a friend is the definition of a responsible defense of liberty.

  27. Update on WAPO Attack on Fred Thompson’s Praise of American as Defender of Liberty…

    Here is an update on the Washington Post hit piece on Fred Thompson for is strong statement regarding America being the defender of liberty. Fred has repeatedly said the following (move the YouTube slider bar to about the 1:00 minute remaining mark):

  28. Tlaloc says:

    It seems like a treaty obligating you to the defense of a friend is the definition of a responsible defense of liberty.

    That’s pretty much how I see it.

  29. Jeff says:

    I agree with some other comments that the cause of the South’s secession was slavery, but it is overwhelmingly clear that the Union chose to fight strictly to preserve the Union, nothing more. I will grant that based on letters and accounts, there were many individual Union soldiers that felt a duty to fight in order to free the slaves.

    As for Korea and Vietnam, if you truly believe that we fought those wars for the purposes of liberty and freedom of the indiginous people, then you are delusional. That was about the last thing on the mind of the war planners. That was just the feel-good message given the the general public.

  30. […] there’s James Joyner whose nuance angle still smacks the newspaper: So, yes, the facts are more complicated than […]

  31. […] Outside the Beltway […]

  32. David says:

    Andy, I was kinda following you until you said South Carolina seceded a couple of days before Fort Sumter. Try several months. Specifically December 21, 1860 for the former and April 12, 1861 for the later.

  33. sherlock says:

    It is impossible to get into the heads of people in the past and ascribe motives to them. But you can evaluate behavior.

    Prior to June 1942, the USSR was allied with the Nazis, and had provided cover for the re-arming of Germany during the 1930’s.

    After June 1942, the USSR had to fight for it’s life against a former ally turned enemy.

    After May 1945, USSR co-opted all the territory it had overrun in defeating Germany, and held it as an empire until it fell apart 50 years or so later.

    Thus it is demonstrably true that the USSR did not lose those 8 million people during WWII fighting for anyone’s freedom but their own. This is not to demean the contribution of the USSR, but to clarify the effect of it, which was to replace one tyranny with another.

    In stark contrast, the US fought the Axis all over the world even while not under direct proximate threat, and once it had defeated the Axis, withdrew as fast as possible consistent with establishing democratic governments. The original garrisons that were maintained in Germany and Japan have been drastically drawn down, are there to deter further adventures from the old communist powers, and in no way impose any form of American control on those countries.

    Thus the US demonstrably did NOT do as the USSR did, but instead fostered the growth of democracy among its conquered enemies. This is at least arguably called “fighting for others’ freedom”, and it has worked in turning two societies, both to their very core militaristic, into liberal democracies and allies.

    I hasten to add, for the Democrats, that this did not happen on a short, politically-driven schedule.

  34. Michael says:

    To paraphrase sherlock: When communist Russia conquered a country, it forced them into a communist government allied to Russia. When democratic America conquered a country, they liberated them into a democratic government allied to America.

    It’s all so clear now.

  35. Andy says:

    Andy, I was kinda following you until you said South Carolina seceded a couple of days before Fort Sumter. Try several months. Specifically December 21, 1860 for the former and April 12, 1861 for the later.

    Meant months… sigh for no editing.

  36. Lurking Observer says:

    Sherlock and Michael:

    Ah, but as the Left so eagerly pointed out during the Reagan administration, forcing a governemnt to be democratic is just as evil as forcing a nation to be Communist.

    Thus, they compared the invasion of Grenada with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

    Note that this is distinct from the current criticism of Iraq, which is that the Iraqis are not ready for democracy. Were they ready, then the next critique would’ve been a rehashing of this line: Who are we to suggest that democracy is appropriate for other people, even if they’re ready for it?

  37. Andy says:

    I hasten to add, for the Democrats, that this did not happen on a short, politically-driven schedule.

    Indeed, it happened in less time than we’ve been in Iraq, against a much stronger adversary.

    Maybe FDR was competent, unlike Bush et al.

  38. Lurking Observer says:

    So, Andy, you accept the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Do you think we’d face the same level of resistance, if we were doing that to Iraqi cities?

  39. Andy says:

    So, Andy, you accept the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Do you think we’d face the same level of resistance, if we were doing that to Iraqi cities?

    I have some problems with the firebombings and perhaps Nagasaki, and there were lots of issues at home as well — see Japanese internment — but on the whole, WW2 was handled fairly well against truly dangerous opponents.

    Perhaps if we had started to exterminate large numbers of Iraqis, things would be more under control. However, that scenario versus our current situation is a false dichotomy that only exists in the minds of lunatics.

    I’ll note how it’s funny (sad, not haha) how the proponents of leveling Iraqi cities don’t seem to have been concerned about getting enough troops in for security, as opposed to destroyin’.

    1 million Iraqis are dead and 4 million are displaced. We have utterly failed them and ourselves.

  40. The reasons the US Civil War began are not necessarily the same as why it continued to be fought for so long and eventually won. The bottom line proximate cause of the US Civil War was that the South realized that demographics were titling strongly against them and as such slavery was not going to last long, though the underlying dynamics were a little more, dare I say it, nuanced than that. The population growth of the North, the abolitionist movement, the expansion westward and the effects of the industrial revolution were leaving the states of the Old South behind and they knew it. Eventually, the constitution would be changed to eliminate slavery and they could not abide that. At the same time, it must be realized that most of the soldiers of the confederate army did not own slaves. The fact is that many of them thought they were fighting for state’s rights as they understood the concept of federalism then. Our concept of federalism today is so much changed from theirs as to make this hard to understand today.

    President Lincoln’s goal, once elected, was to preserve the Union, because that was what he had the authority and responsibility to do. Lincoln had long opposed slavery but respected the institutions of government enough to realize he could not, and should not, act out of his personal preferences and beliefs no matter how right they were or how strongly felt they might be. Nonetheless, President Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and issued it in 1863, thus changing the stated aims of the war. It is worth noting that President Lincoln had the Emancipation Proclamation much earlier, but felt he had to wait for a military victory (Antietam, as it happens, though calling that a victory is another discussion for another day, but I digress) before announcing it or else its effect would be lessened as it would be seen only as a desperate act by the Union which was at the time losing the war. It is also worth noting that President Lincoln countermanded orders to free slaves in 1861 because at that time he feared too many Union officers would quit because they were not at that time fighting to free the slaves.

    But I understand how some people believe a war plan be written in full beforehand and cannot be updated or modifed to deal with a changing landscape. And FWIW, someone can be wrong about some of this without being a racist, just as they can be right about some of this and still be a racist.

  41. sherlock says:

    It’s all so clear now.

    Somehow I detect a tongue in cheek here… apparently you believe that there is no substantial difference between the behaviors of the US and the USSR post WWII. If true, I find that amazing.

  42. ec1009 says:

    Wars are never fought for altruism or other peoples liberty. They are always fought for that country’s perceived interests, either wisely or foolishly. Grow up and Thompson’s point was stupid, naive and dishonest.

  43. Tlaloc says:

    Somehow I detect a tongue in cheek here… apparently you believe that there is no substantial difference between the behaviors of the US and the USSR post WWII. If true, I find that amazing.

    Of course there are differences. But our actions and the soviets were not diametrically opposed as you try to suggest. The cold war was not a case of the soviets being beliggerent and us having to respond, it was both sides trying to force their views on the world. We did that in south east asia and central america. The soviets did it in eastern europe and Afghanistan. neither side was innocent and good, neither side was irredeemably evil. Both sides did hideously ugly things and both deserve scorn for that.

  44. Cernig says:

    What a bloody silly argument only Americans intent on naive self-justification could have. There has never been a nation which entered a war out of selfless concern for the liberty of others.

    The political, economic and military impact of those others losing/gaining their liberty on the national interests of the nation thinking about entering the war is the only time liberty gets consideration. It is, in essence, a selfish calculus.

    Regards, C

  45. steph says:

    World War 2 was in our best interests. Do you really think Germany would have stopped with Europe?

    I also think we protect the world from another world war 2 like war. Everyone knows in Europe if they attack each other we step in. They are not afraid of each other’s armies but are afraid of us.

    I do think we’re going to have to save Europe from itself again.

  46. steph says:

    I do know that there are millions of people who would be much better off if we had won Korea and Vietnam.

    The people of Vietnam and North Korea.

  47. Lurking Observer says:

    Okay tlaloc, given your stance that there was no difference between the Americans and the Soviets, here’s a simple question:

    How many people fled to the USSR?

    How many people fled to the PRC?

    How many people fled to North Vietnam, North Korea, or to Cuba today?

    Now, let’s put it in reverse:

    How many people fled from the United States?

    How many people fled from West Germany?

    How many people fled from Japan?

    I find it odd, in a world where the Soviets and Americans are so equal in their despicability, those who could flee didn’t, while those who had to take enormous risks—did.

  48. sherlock says:

    The cold war was not a case of the soviets being beliggerent and us having to respond, it was both sides trying to force their views on the world. We did that in south east asia and central america. The soviets did it in eastern europe and Afghanistan.

    In Central America and Southeast Asia, Soviet imperialism attempted to take over control as it did in Cuba. The US responded in its own interests. The defining characteristic of the Cold War was Soviet adventurism (where it was not already entrenched by the rule of the gun), and US response to it. The US did not so much defeat the Soviets as hold them up long enough that the corruption of their own society caused it to implode.

    Both sides did hideously ugly things and both deserve scorn for that.

    This is value-free Moral Relativism 101 exemplified.

    This week’s daily “2-minute scorns” will be directed to: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot (twice) and Lt. Calley.

  49. Tom Myers says:

    Sherlock (and Tlaloc, for that matter), wouldn’t it be good to distinguish between subgroups of US policy? “We” have not been monolithic; Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” essay was perhaps the most famous outcome of disapproval of our Mexican adventure, but he was certainly not alone:

    Many newspapers, especially in the North, declared that the war would benefit the Mexican people by bringing them the blessings of democracy and liberty. …But …Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s militant newspaper, the Liberator, expressed open support for the Mexican people: … “Henry Clay declared, “This is no war of defense, but one of unnecessary and offensive aggression.”

    A freshman Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln lashed out against the war, calling it immoral, proslavery, and a threat to the nation’s republican values.

    I admit I may have some bias here, because I learned about our Mexican wars in a Mexican public elementary school (my dad was running the Veracruz shipyard, the “astilleros de Veracruz”, in the early 60s); I think Garrison, Lincoln and Clay were basically right. (But I note that in order to get the war going, the hawks had to sell it as pro-democracy; I don’t think that was true for the contemporary British Empire, even though it was effectively pro-democracy in the end.)
    The US subdivisions continue to exist…and I suspect that pretty much everybody is sincere, but there have certainly been times when the good guys among us were not the setters of policy. When we supported the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua (e.g., while I was going to junior high there)…this was not a good thing, and btw we have kind of a bad history there too, which Nicaraguans remember much better than my compatriots. This doesn’t overturn my overall belief that Thompson was being a lot more defensible than the WaPo criticism, but…well, the opposed belief is perfectly understandable.

  50. Dr W says:

    Now, let’s put it in reverse:
    How many people fled from the United States?
    How many people fled from West Germany?
    How many people fled from Japan?

    You ask the wrong question.

    We should compare many were killed or made refugees in El Salvador, Guatamala, Hounduras,Chile, Argentina, etc.? The US enforced it hegemony, supported corrupt and violent puppet regimes, and exploited natural resources in its own backyard every bit as thoroughly as (and often more brutally than) the Soviets and Chinese did from WW I on (or maybe the spanish american war on).

    I do know that there are millions of people who would be much better off if we had won Korea and Vietnam.

    The people of Vietnam and North Korea.

    You missed the lessons of these conflicts. Both conflicts were proxy wars fought by the US and Russia and/or China. Probably the people in both countries would have wanted both powers to leave. In Vietnam, we allied ourselves with the most regressive, undemocratic, oligarchs we could find and then pretended that a liberal democracy would sweep the nation. Given where things in Vietnam are now, I bet the Vietnamese would have rather avoided the massive loss of life and limb (still going on via land mines and unexploded ordinance) as well as the massive chemical waste legacy of defoliants that came with our intervention there. We were a colonial power just like the French and just like the French they wanted us out.