The following is the preface to The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars, published by The Future of Freedom Foundation in 1996.
For over one hundred years, the American way of life was unique: no income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, economic regulations, or welfare. Except for allowing slavery, government’s role was primarily limited to protecting people from the violence of others, both foreign and domestic, and providing a judiciary by which people could peacefully resolve their disputes. People were free to live their lives the way they chose, as long as they did so peacefully. They could accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and decide for themselves what to do with it. The result was the most prosperous, healthy, and charitable period in history.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the American philosophy during the nineteenth century was the American people’s refusal to permit their government officials to engage in foreign wars. Our ancestors had learned the lessons of history—that war is the greatest enemy of liberty and the best friend to omnipotent government.
They also understood that people throughout the world had been fighting for centuries. The best contribution Americans could make to the world would be to stay out of the conflicts and instead be a model that other nations could emulate. Thus, Americans limited their government to protecting them from invasion and prohibited their president from engaging in war without a congressionally approved declaration of war.
Unfortunately, with the advent of the welfare state, twentieth-century Americans abandoned the ideals and principles of their ancestors. The welfare state brought us paternalistic government that takes care of us, watches over us, plans and directs our lives, and plunders and redistributes our wealth. The welfare state brought all of the things our ancestors warned us about: loss of liberty, exorbitant taxes, and swarms of bureaucrats who harass and eat out our substance.
The abandonment also took place in foreign affairs. If the government could plan and provide welfare for millions of Americans, why stop there? Why not do the same for Europeans as well as for people all over the world?
It began with the Spanish-American War in 1898. But the truly fateful step tool place with America’s intervention into World War I. The American government decided that it was time to end the endless series of European wars, once and for all. So Americans were conscripted and sent overseas to ensure that that would be the last European way anyone would ever see. Through American intervention, the world would finally be made safe for democracy. It would be the war to end all future wars.
Alas, it would not be. Instead, American intervention so dramatically altered the balance of power in Europe that a decimated Germany became fertile ground for the rise of Adolf Hitler a little over a decade later. Before long, U.S. government officials were clamoring for entry into World War II. This time, they said, they would get it right.
As in World War I, Germany was again decimated. But the aftermath was not exactly what the global planners had envisioned: East Germany and Eastern Europe, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, suffered under totalitarian, communist dictatorship (as distinct from totalitarian, Nazi dictatorship)—and continued to do so for over fifty years. Americans who had lost loved ones on the European battlefields were consoled by American public officials with: “At least they died so that Eastern Europe could be under the domination of our communist allies rather than the Nazis.”
Then came decades of a Cold War against America’s World War II allies—the communists—with the attendant rise in the modern military-industrial complex. There were also hot wars in Korea and Vietnam, in which tens of thousands of American men and women were killed and injured. And, of course, there have been the hundreds of other smaller interventions and wars throughout the world. Each time, Americans were assured this war or this intervention would help bring a peaceful and harmonious world.
The result was the exact opposite. Perpetual war brought death, destruction, and a loss of liberty for the American people. It never brought a lasting peace in the world.
On the eve of the twenty-first century, Americans are faced with competing visions of where we want our nation to go. On the one hand, we have the vision of America’s Founders: individual liberty, private property, and limited government, in which there is no welfare, Social Security, income taxation, Medicare, Medicaid, regulations, subsidies, and the like. Equally important, no foreign wars.
On the other hand, we have the vision of the twentieth-century public officials: ever-increasing taxation, regulations, and political plunder. And, of course, body bags and caskets as part of their attempt to remake the world into one gigantic welfare state.
It is time for the American people to recognize that our ancestors were right and that twentieth-century public officials were wrong. It is time to recapture the principles of our Founders. It is time to lead the world out of the welfare-state darkness in which it has plunged during most of our lifetime. And the time to do so is now.