For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Folly of War
American Foreign Policy 1898-2005
  • Donald E. Schmidt
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The Folly of War. American Foreign Policy 1898-2005
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This historical examination of American foreign policy in the 20th century questions how we conduct wars, and how we maintain the proud self assurance known as "American exceptionalism." The Folly of War is a unique history book in that it does not accept as inevitable the existing narrative of America going to war. Instead it vigorously questions whether the war was necessary, whether the consequences of going to war were adequately discussed, and whether the war was successful.

About the Author

Donald E. Schmidt has taught history and political science at the high school level and United State history, Political Science and Comparative Politics at the college level for 35 years. He holds an advanced degree in modern U.S. diplomatic history from California State University, Northridge. He notes,

“The title may make my book sound like it was written by an angry, long-haired, hippie-like professor. But on the contrary I am just a conservative Midwesterner who raised a family, loves simple things in life, but somehow found himself in a contentious and liberal-dominated profession, teaching in a leftist city - Los Angeles. (I voted for and defended Reagan in my history department - talk about stress! )

"The Midwestern culture in which I grew up placed a premium of integrity. The deceitful manipulation of the public that I see, starting in particular with FDR, sickens me. When I saw that Bush was heading into Iraq, I felt compelled to speak out. I am not about to turn this nation's tragic foreign policy around, but at least I can have my say."

About the Book

The Folly of War is a hard-hitting, critical analysis of American wars in the 20th century that set a pattern for the early 21st century. Drawing on a wide rage of sources and rigorously marshaling the facts, the book concludes that...

The Folly of War is a hard-hitting, critical analysis of American wars in the 20th century that set a pattern for the early 21st century. Drawing on a wide rage of sources and rigorously marshaling the facts, the book concludes that these wars have been futile, unnecessary and foolish. Rejecting the Left’s contention that American foreign policy has been driven by greedy corporate interests, the author starts from the premise that average Americans have supported these wars out of a will to “do good"— but have failed in that aim, and in the process done much harm.

This is a disturbing book that raises questions about how we go to war, how we fight wars, and how we eventually lose wars. Many Americans viewed the military defeat in Vietnam as an aberration, interrupting a string of foreign military successes. This book sees that tragedy as part of a line of politically reckless engagements. Driven by a proud self assurance that is often termed “American exceptionalism,” the nation arms itself to the teeth and intrudes into every region, pacing on a treadmill of perpetual war to achieve perpetual peace.

Writing Chapter 13, "The War on Terror - The Contrived War" in 2003, just as the Bush administration was making its fateful decision to invade Iraq, Schmidt concluded at that time that the discussion among the principals (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, etc.) was stacked with faulty information and the decision was made on an emotional level rather than a rational one. Further, he predicted that nothing good would come of the Iraq venture - unfortunately that assessment was correct. One of the officials in the Bush White House who participated in the pre-war discussions, admitted the attack was irrational: "The only reason we went into Iraq is we were looking for somebody's ass to kick.... Afghanistan was too easy." (Days of Fire - Bush and Cheney in the White House, by Peter Baker, p 191, Doubleday, 2013).

At the end of seven major wars and after one million American soldiers have been killed, we are no closer to the perfect security we seek.


Preface

...By October 1940, Germany had lost the air war over the British Isles; England was now secure as Germany turned its attention eastward towards communist Russia. Churchill triumphantly announced in the fall of 1940: “We were alive. We had...

...By October 1940, Germany had lost the air war over the British Isles; England was now secure as Germany turned its attention eastward towards communist Russia. Churchill triumphantly announced in the fall of 1940: “We were alive. We had beaten the German Air Force. There had been no invasion of the island." In June 1941, Germany launched its long-awaited offensive into the east of Europe for Lebensraum.

ISOLATIONISM AND AMERICA FIRST

Stung by the disappointments of World War I, the United States under Republican leadership in the Twenties and early Thirties veered away from Militant Idealism towards its 19th century policy of neutrality. President George Washington’s words uttered in his Farewell Address had renewed meaning: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is — in extending our commercial relations — to have with them as little political connections as possible.” 

The label “Isolationism” was a pejorative term attached to those who opposed American intervention in Europe. The term Isolationism lent itself to caricatures of an ostrich with its head in the sand, unaware of and unconcerned with what was transpiring around it. Used in this manner, it was an insult to Washington, Jefferson, the Adams and all 19th century Americans who regarded a limited, neutralist United States foreign policy as wise. Opponents incorrectly depicted Isolationists as refusing to have any commercial, diplomatic, cultural or financial relations with the rest of the world. Instead of debating the merits of a neutralist foreign policy, opponents choose to distort, defame and deceive.

The obvious facts are that during the “Isolationist” Twenties, as well as earlier, the United States carried on a rich relationship with the world, even while it rejected “entangling alliances.” The United States did not join the League of Nations or the World Court, but its commercial ties with the world were expanded and it entered into numerous treaty arrangements, including disarmament agreements and treaties which outlawed the general use of war. World War I reparation issues were resolved, international finances were strengthened and world trade blossomed. American foreign policy was devoted to the narrow defense of America,...


Introduction

It was a crisp, clear day in January 1991, a day that beckoned us to go outside and enjoy the beauty of a Southern California winter. But there were grades to be assigned and outlines for next semester to prepare; the aesthetics of the day would have to wait.

Momentous events were transpiring across the continent in Washington D.C. as...

It was a crisp, clear day in January 1991, a day that beckoned us to go outside and enjoy the beauty of a Southern California winter. But there were grades to be assigned and outlines for next semester to prepare; the aesthetics of the day would have to wait.

Momentous events were transpiring across the continent in Washington D.C. as the Congress debated President Bush's decision to intervene in the Iraqi dispute with Kuwait. As a college history professor, I was vitally interested in the Bush decision to send troops to the Persian Gulf. Most of my colleagues were opposed to any such military venture. I gave some grudging support to the President, although even at that time I would have preferred to see the Gulf States and other regional powers deal with the problem.

My office door was open and a colleague stopped to chat, the conversation quickly veering to the impending war. My colleague, we will call him Dick, expressed strong opposition to the military conflict and I made some weak comments in support of the President.

Dick curtly retorted: Would you want Dave (my son) to go to Kuwait and die for this cause?

I made another inconsequential response as Dick left.

But Dick's sharp question struck me like a thunderbolt. Was this a war that would merit giving up the life of my precious son, David? My only son? I closed my office door and sat staring out the window — deep in thought, terribly disturbed by the prospect of such a tragedy. In all my reading in American history, in all my studies of war, that question had never occurred to me. But why not? The more I thought about that comment, then and over the next decade, the more I became convinced that every citizen ought to be asking (and answering) this very personal question — but we generally avoid it.

Is this a war that is so important that you would be willing to give up the life of someone who is most dear to you?

Answering this question should preface any war for policy makers as well. I wonder if President George W. Bush considered this question in 2003 as he sent Americans to Iraq to die.

For the sake of freeing the Iraqi people (or whatever other objective has been attached to this war, in hindsight) would you, President Bush, be willing to sacrifice the life of one of your daughters — Barbara or Jenna?

Most people regard history as mythology — simply a fable to be read for entertainment and to confirm their pride in their nation and its heroes. For these people, history should soothe and comfort, not confuse. Anything that conflicts with this view is too unsettling. For others, history is a critical examination of the past to learn from mistakes and successes. These readers analyze history, relying on accumulated facts and the use of logic. They are willing to draw appropriate conclusions, however unpleasant and unexpected they may be. If this is your view, please enjoy reading my account of America’s 20th-century foreign policy.

My own perception of war has never been the same since Dick made his rather acerbic comment at my office door. This book is written in the hope that all who read it will thoughtfully consider that question, now and whenever this country proposes to go to war: Is this war worth the life of your child?



Pages 388
Year: 2005
LC Classification: E745.S33
Dewey code: 327.73'009'04—dc22
BISAC: POL011000
BISAC: HIS027110
BISAC: HIS027550
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-382-5
Price: USD 25.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-383-2
Price: USD 33.00
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