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Preventable Day of Infamy

December 7, 2009

Today is December 7th.  On December 8, 1941, in a six minute address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that December 7th was “a date which will live in infamy,” because on that date the Japanese imperial navy attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Within thirty-three minutes of his address, Congress declared war on Japan.  One Representative, Jeannette Rankin (MT), vote against the declaration.   She knew that war is not the answer, and she had the courage to vote her conscience.  A statue of her now stands in the US Capitol.

In his Sunday, September 2, 2007 op-ed “When War Was the Answer,” George Will says, “ …Today, in an America understandably weary of a war of choice that has been defined by execrable choices, a frequently seen bumper sticker proclaims: ‘War is not the answer.’” (That would be FCNL’s bumper sticker, of course.)  He then points out that sometimes war is the only answer, such was World War II.

We get this response a lot.  “Yes, war may not be the answer all the time, but what about World War II?”

Who could be against “the good war?”*  That’s supposed to stop the conversation and make the case for a strong military.  If a few wars are necessary and just, then the nation needs to be ready to fight and win them.  Our nation spends more than all other nations of the world spend on their militaries.  The U.S. can fight and win wars, but why can’t the U.S. prevent wars?  Wouldn’t preventing wars be a better national security strategy?  Wouldn’t it save millions of lives and billions of dollars?

Was World War II preventable?  Surely not, you say.  While traveling in Iowa last month for an FCNL and STARPAC (Stop the Arms Race Political Action Committee) speaking tour, retired Methodist minister Robert D. William, of Indianola, IA, pointed me to a little known remark by the famous British minister of war, Winston Churchill,

“There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe.  It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored to-day; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool.  We surely must not let that happen again….” (The Sinews of Peace, March 5, 1946, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri)

The date which will live in infamy, December 7th, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor surely could not have been prevented, right?  Well, maybe.  In Sunday’s New York Times, Week in Review Section, p. 11, James Bradley writes about “Diplomacy That Will Live in Infamy.”  He reports on another U.S. president named Roosevelt, namely Teddy.  He said, “… But I always wondered, why did we fight in the Pacific?  Yes, there was a Pearl Harbor, but why did the Japanese attack us in the first place?”

Brady’s research led him to discover that President Theodore Roosevelt played a diplomatic “game” at the beginning of the 20th Century which he kept secret from Congress and U.S. allies, and that “game” created the conditions for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  In short, the date that will live in infamy, December 7, 1941, might have been prevented in July 1905, had Theodore Roosevelt not approved, secretly, Japanese annexation of Korea and encouraged its imperial reach.

On December 1st at West Point, President Obama addressed the future generals of America telling them that he was sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to fight in Afghanistan.  Paradoxically, in his speech about escalating the U.S. war there, Obama also said, “America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict.”

I hope that he will listen to himself, because he’s right.  America will be stronger, more secure, safer, and more prosperous as it gets better at preventing deadly conflict.  To get better at preventing deadly conflict, President Obama and Congress will need first to correct the huge imbalance between federal spending for war fighting and for civilian-led prevention of deadly conflict.

You get what you pay for.  Our research by FCNL staff shows that 96% of all U.S. foreign affairs spending goes to the military.  That leaves 4% for all diplomacy, development, and international cooperation.  Taxpayers are paying for war fighting, and, guess what, they are getting war fighting.  Taxpayers are barely paying anything for preventing wars, and taxpayers are not getting war prevention.  When will we ever learn?

Today, the U.S. has more military band members than it has diplomats.  So, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, ‘we’re letting it happen, again and again and again.’  Taxpayer dollars make U.S. military industries fat and happy.  Perhaps that’s all that Congress cares about, but we should be on Congress day and night until the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict drives U.S. foreign policy and foreign affairs spending decisions.  Then we’ll have no more “dates that will live in infamy.”

(*See Steve Cary’s Those Who Refused to Fight the Good War.)

2 Comments
  1. March 25, 2010 1:59 pm

    How could World War II have been prevented according to Winston Churchill? He makes it clear in this longer excerpt of his 1946 Speech at Westminster College in Missouri:

    I have a definite and practical proposal to make for action. Courts and magistrates may be set up but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organization must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step, but we must begin now. I propose that each of the Powers and States should be invited to delegate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organization. These squadrons would be trained and prepared in their own countries, but would move around in rotation from one country to another. They would wear the uniform of their own countries but with different badges. They would not be required to act against their own nation, but in other respects they would be directed by the world organization. This might be started on a modest scale and would grow as confidence grew. I wished to see this done after the first world war, and I devoutly trust it may be done forthwith….
    Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title “The Sinews of Peace”

  2. March 25, 2010 2:50 pm

    When I pasted in the Churchill quote above, I missed one paragraph: Here again is the full quote:

    A world organization has already been erected for the prime purpose of
    preventing war. UNO, the successor of the League of Nations, with the
    decisive addition of the United States and all that that means, is already
    at work. We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality
    and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing
    of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many
    nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of
    Babel. Before we cast away the solid assurances of national armaments for
    self-preservation we must be certain that our temple is built, not upon
    shifting sands or quagmires, but upon a rock. Anyone can see with his eyes
    open that our path will be difficult and also long, but if we persevere
    together as we did in the two world wars — though not, alas, in the
    interval between them — I cannot doubt that we shall achieve our common
    purpose in the end.

    I have a definite and practical proposal to make for action. Courts and magistrates may be set up but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organization must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step, but we must begin now. I propose that each of the Powers and States should be invited to delegate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organization. These squadrons would be trained and prepared in their own countries, but would move around in rotation from one country to another. They would wear the uniform of their own countries but with different badges. They would not be required to act against their own nation, but in other respects they would be directed by the world organization. This might be started on a modest scale and would grow as confidence grew. I wished to see this done after the first world war, and I devoutly trust it may be done forthwith….
    Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title “The Sinews of Peace”
    —Winston Churchill, Speech at Westminster College in Missouri, 1946

    What Churhill, Truman and many others realized was that humanity has already invented a system that eliminates war. When we have a single sovereignty, a single government, we don’t fight wars. Members of every ethnic groups waring around the world live side by side in the US, yet we haven’t had a war inside the country since the civil war – when two different governments claimed sovereignty. Inside, we do have crimes and even acts of terrorism – such as when Tim McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But Oklahoma didn’t declare war on Michigan for harboring the Michigan Militia. Instead it was handled as a police matter. As Harry Truman said, there’s no reason we can’t do that in the world:
    “When Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over the water in the Arkansas River they don’t call out the National Guard in each state and go to war over it. They bring suit in the Supreme Court of the U. S. and abide by the decision. There isn’t a reason in the world why we cannot do that internationally… It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for you to get along in the republic of the United States.”

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