One hundred years ago on July 28 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. One month earlier, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on a public trip to Serbia. This would obviously lead to heightened tension in the region, and following a series of diplomatic failures, such as the July Ultimatum, this July Crisis led to a declaration of war.
This war, which at the time was thought to be a “short” war, and was even coined idealistically, The War to End War, would lead to roughly 37 million casualties (dead, wounded, missing) – including around 10 million military, and 7 million civilian deaths! (source: here) Not only that, but the effects of the Versailles Treaty, which formally ended the war, would have long-lasting consequences that would create many of the conditions upon which World War Two would later be built upon.
World War One, and especially it’s causes (which will not all be discussed here, let alone in detail), just goes to show that even with all of the progress in the physical sciences and in technology – we, as a species have progressed very little in the so-called “social sciences”. Many, for whatever reason, have a hard time applying the Golden Rule in our everyday relations. This leads to a situation in which this dominating tendency in the people is then “represented” in the various state mechanisms and felt via state power. Essentially, as technology progresses, mankind still seems more disposed to merely use these innovations to more efficiently kill, tyrannize and/or control our neighbors.
Although there are many lessons that should be learned in this centennial year of the start of World War One – this entry will only speak to a couple of those lessons; and in so doing, this article will hopefully give a good and sound example to the minds of the readers of how the fundamental principles behind the founding of America apply throughout history, and to all people.
The Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded by the apostle Matthew, taught the basis of just social interaction, often coined “The Golden Rule”, in what is known as The Sermon on the Mount – and it truly is as applicable today as it was in His own day, let alone as it was in 1914, when the whole world would shake from the consequences of abandoning such a just standard. Hopefully, by the end of the article, the truth behind that teaching will be more apparent.
A QUICK NOTE ON FOREIGN POLICY FROM A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS PERSPECTIVE; FREE TRADE AND PEACE
Society does not exist outside of the individuals that make it up. Therefore, the concept of individual moral principle cannot somehow be set aside when discussing simply a collection of individuals – even if organized under a collective banner, or “nation”. If this is not realized, then not only will there not be a clear distinction as to what is good and bad state action, but the role and purpose of government will be vague and lack the precision necessary for determining any good standard – as is seemingly more apparent in the physical sciences.
Thus, as Ezra Taft Benson stated so succinctly in The Proper Role of Government: “the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.” Therefore, one must ask themselves, what can one, as an individual, legitimately do without infringing on the rights of any other person – and then extend that standard into the agency of which the protection of Rights is its’ sole purpose.
Many who may even be able to analyze similarly on the domestic front, or even the so-called “social issues” (as if all political issues aren’t social to one degree or another), seem to have a hard time extending this beyond arbitrary borders into the realm of foreign policy.
Yet, as with any other set of issues, the same moral standard applies. And honestly, if moral action can arbitrarily be set aside, without moral displacement, in how a group of individuals (or a “nation”, if you will) treats another group of individuals – then how can the principle logically stand on its own in the first place? In other words, if the Golden Rule does not adequately apply in how nations deal with each other – then why would it be adequate in interpersonal relationships on a more individual level? If a principle cannot stand on its own when it comes to individuals, then it cannot stand when extended to situations involving many individuals.
When approached from this perspective, foreign policy becomes very limited and very simple. It is seen in a way that is as simple as how one should treat their neighbor in their own personal lives. In fact, the founders knew a term that succinctly described proper foreign relations, and it is a term even found within the U.S. Constitution itself: The Law of Nations.
The 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary defines The Law of Nations, in part, as: “the rules that regulate the mutual intercourse of nations or states. These rules depend on natural law, or the principles of justice which spring from the social state“. (underline added.)
Notice that, just as legitimate individual actions in relation to each other are based on Natural Law, that likewise the same standard applies to “the mutual intercourse of nations or states”.
It is not the role of government to do anything but protect the rights and enforce the duties of those living within the jurisdiction thereof. Therefore, it may not legitimately do anything (as “proactive” as it may seem) to further particular interests around the world in the name of the so-called “general welfare” – which, of course, is seemingly left to the politicians themselves to arbitrarily define depending on the circumstances of the moment as they perceive it.
This is perhaps why many statesman in the founding era were so wise in their promotion of the standard of Non-Interventionism as the foreign policy of the United States. Whether George Washington’s warning of permanent alliances, or even the Monroe Doctrine, which essentially told Europe to mind it’s own business as America would do the same – the idea was to treat other nations as we wanted to be treated; and to be examples of peace, not excuses for conflict and supporters of unjustified bloodshed.
President Thomas Jefferson, in his First Inaugural Address, held up this standard when he stated: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”
Notice, not merely alliances, per se – which the 13 states had created in even the federal system of the United States – but entangling alliances. That is to say, alliances that are not “win-win” situations; not just in the minds of the politicians that happen to be in power at the time in their respective countries – but for the people whom they are supposed to representing, and in the protection of those same people’s rights!
Think about it: If you, as an individual, have no right to hire someone to negotiate your own terms with a nearby town in the name of your neighbor without their consent – then how could a true and sound foreign policy be built on the same faulty standard? If this is true of any government – then how much more true would it be for a group of States, such as the United States?Many so-called conservatives who claim to get this point, when it comes to units of money in regards to issues often labelled as “Socialism”, seem to have a harder time realizing the same problem when it comes to policy in regards to opinion and beliefs – let alone to relationships between nations! If it is not legitimate to forcefully take from some to give to others domestically, how is it legitimate to take an opinion of some and force it as the policy supposedly representing “all” in the same involuntary manner?
It should be up to the people to decide with whom they will or will not trade, and with whom they are friends with. It should be up to the people to decide, just as it should be domestically, which foreign persons and businesses they choose to exchange goods and services with.
It should not be up to politicians, who would necessarily be abusing power, to one degree or another, to so condemn some nations and to be friendly with others. It not for the taxing power to use arbitrary incentives implemented via state force to attempt to manipulate world markets. Although this is often done in the name of “peace” and “justice” – it is these very policies (such as protectionist tariffs, trade embargoes and other sanctions) that, not only lead to war and conflict, but are often the very vehicles by which they are carried out! And, of course, the controllers of the state always tend to resolve conflicts they create with more conflict – at your expense, of course.
The overall effect of the free trade and exchange of individual peoples brings about very different results. As the french political philosopher Montesquieu stated in L’esprit des lois (or, The Spirit of the Laws) – a book that was very influential on the people of early America: “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”
This principle of reciprocity in society, or between societies, is one reason why – absent an abandonment of the Golden Rule – PEACE becomes the default position. Thus, in the modern playbook of how to prevent future war must necessarily be the overall strategy of free trade! And the corollary is efficiently summed up with the slogan that “if goods don’t cross borders, armies soon will.”
Even in the words of the Declaration of Independence, once the 13 States were independent – and even with the clear understanding of the potential for all-out war as a result of such independence, the American governments openly committed to treat Great Britain “as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends“.
It is at the point that aggression is used against the rights of the people, whether individually or nationally (of course, depending on the context and the specifics of the situation) that a reaction, even a violent one, may be completely justified; not in spite, but actually in harmony with that same set of principles. Just as the exercise of rights is just, the defense of one’s ability to so exercise is, likewise, just.
ENTANGLING ALLIANCES – MORAL HAZARD AND CONFLICT; A QUICK NOTE ON TAXATION AND IT’S DIRECT RELATION TO THE INCENTIVES OF POLITICIANS
As was quoted earlier, President Thomas committed to peaceful relations with all nations, as well as avoiding entangling alliances on the same universal basis. We see this wisdom being abandoned and being directly related to the First World War.
Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungary issued an Ultimatum which involved ten demands they required of Serbia to avoid war between the two countries. Serbia would only agree to eight of the ten demands. The foolishness of treating diplomacy as a sort of “you do everything I want, and I won’t blow you up” type of mentality aside, this type of ultimatum typically tends to indicate the predisposition towards aggression in the first place. Yet, there may be even more to the story than this.
Serbian politicians had the unequivocal, even military backing of Russian politicians, and subsequently, Austro-Hungarian politicians had an equivalent form of alliance with German politicians – and both acted in a way they may not otherwise have acted on their own, absent these “entangling alliances”. These kinds of entangling alliances create a moral hazard – where the parties involved – in this case Serbia and Austro-Hungary – take riskier moves due to their ability to planning on the sharing of the costs that would inevitably result from such action.
This carte blanche and unquestioned backing of nations by agreement, regardless of the circumstances is exactly what men like Jefferson desired America to completely avoid due to the tendency of these types of situations to lead to war. If Europe had taken the same advice – perhaps the Great War would have been avoided, or at least, much more limited in its destruction.
In the words of George Washington, as found in his Farewell Address: “a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification“.
Unfortunately, this very mentality that was warned against by “The Father of America” himself has more often then not been abandoned in American history by Americans themselves. From the imperialist elements of the War of 1812, or the Mexican-American War, and then to, of course, the First World War itself – the American people have often succumbed the wiles of the promoters of conflict, while, in a form of disgusting irony, claiming to be a “‘Christian’ nation”. Would it not be, at best, hypocritical to champion aggressive war in the name of “the Prince of Peace”?
It should also be noted that this principle of moral hazard is not only found on a macro level when the proper role of government is abandoned, in the context of international relations, but it is also found in terms of actions of the politicians themselves in relation to the peoples whom they supposedly “represent”.
If the politicians themselves were individually held solely responsible for the actions they took – and didn’t have the assurance that they could pass on the risk of their decision-making to the people (or via debt, onto future people), we would live in a very different political climate indeed! This point alone should give a glimpse into the vital reasons as to why government should be strictly held to its limited and proper role.
The Government’s legitimate ability to access the resources of the people – or in other words, the property of the people – is a great indicator as to the quality of the system being analyzed. This is why the mode of what is legitimate taxation in a governmental system is so crucial even (or perhaps, especially) in the context of foreign policy and war.
The lack of an ability to directly tax a people on their person, time or property – disallows and disincentives a political class from even attempting to ally themselves with other “nations” throughout the world, especially in a way that could lead to any form of conflict – which of course, takes resources to carry out. Even the most extreme imperial tendencies within even a ruling class will always be shattered by the lack of an ability to directly access the resources of the people.
The Founders that were involved in the creation of the U.S. Constitution, in their wisdom, did seek to alleviate this in not only limiting the ability to organize an Army – but by Constitutionally codifying that, except under very limiting circumstances: “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid…” In fact, the only constitutional federal taxation always involves indirect taxation, or taxes on the movement of goods, or the exercise of privileged activity.
This, regardless of any sort of seeming “consensus” amongst modern so-called “scholars” of the Constitution, was not changed in the least degree via the Sixteenth Amendment. (But that is a subject for another article on another day).
PROPAGANDA – STATISM AS A DE FACTO NATIONAL “RELIGION”
All power comes from the people. This truth is even admitted in the context of war when one thinks of the ways and means in which wars are actually fought. A battle between the politicians would not bring real power to the table at all if it weren’t for their ability to lean on the strength of “their” people. Not only that, but people are typically very protective of what is rightfully theirs and therefore, it is the secret of those who wish to dominate others – whether inside or outside of the respective political boundaries – to find a way to control the property of the people.
If this were openly done by brute force, the people would more than likely rebel to one extent or another – and as is obvious, the people being more numerous than the number of those “representing” them – this will often lead to a diminishing of political power when it is the goal of those seeking the control to increase their power. Therefore, it is often a political class’s strategy to use disinformation and propaganda to further their imperialist aims.
One way to control a people is to convince them that there is a huge “threat”, and to mask the conflict as a “divine” conflict between good and evil – with, of course, the ruling class’s political aims (whether accurately explained to the people or not) being those that are unequivocally on the side of good! They claim “the nation” is under attack by another “nation” – all whilst never defining their terms, and simultaneously playing on the tribal tendency within the natural man to merely gravitate to a “team” they prefer and claim as their own, no matter what. This is all regardless of any other factors that are involved, and regardless of the principles of Truth and Justice.
President Woodrow Wilson used the tool of propaganda, even with the help of many Progressive Christians who, neglecting the pure Christian principles of the Gospels, often coined the conflict in Europe as “The War for Righteousness” (source: here). In fact, President Woodrow Wilson, who was elected on a platform of keeping America out of the war in spite of his true intentions (“He kept us out of war” was his campaign slogan), even had a Committee of Public Information work to find a way to promote the war as not only “legitimate”, but an amazing opportunity.
On that Committee was the future author of the book Propaganda and nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, who worked hard to promote the lie to the American people that America’s war efforts were to “bring democracy to all of Europe”, and were, thus, noble and worth actively supporting. It should be noted that, due to the negativity surrounding the word “propaganda”, Bernays later promoted the term “Public Relations” in an attempt to mask the real nature of his work.
This strategy, as crazy as it may seem in hindsight, not only worked – but did so in the extreme. The American People generally, were obviously not even sensitive enough to the principles of good government to recognize that “democracy” (or rather, “mobocracy”) is, in and of itself, an atrocious form of government domestically – let alone a type that is worthy of spreading. And, with that being said, is it any surprise that a people that lack such clarity, will simultaneously fail to recognize the evils of militarily spreading any agenda around the world?
If a person, individually, is not justified in forcing a form of home or family regulation upon their neighbor – how can they legitimately delegate that power to their agents in government? And would this principle somehow magically disappear in the context of foreign policy, when discussing peoples who do not even live within the jurisdiction of the same governmental system?
That being said, if the people of those nations refuse to champion good systems, who are “we”, to impose – against their will – something that is obviously not seen by them as something in their best interest. And, to borrow from “the Prince of Peace” – if we would not like that done to ourselves, then how are we morally justified in doing it to others?
Yet, these arguments apparently did not appeal to the people then, nor does it seem to appeal to many people today.
The irony of “force” being claimed as “Christian” – which philosophy is more apparently claimed to be one of persuasion and influence by example – calls into question the very basis of what it means to truly be “Christian”. Even the metaphor of America being a “city on a hill” is one that assumes that the primary mode of influence in the world would be via persuasive means, and by the power of example.
In fact, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, even directly spoke to this topic in a speech that is worth quoting at length. It is fitting that this quotation followed his reading of the full text of the Declaration of Independence.
“[W]hat has America done for the benefit of mankind?
Let our answer be this–America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right.
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
This imperial-inspired coercion, in the name of “democracy”, or “the will of the people”, is an ugly form of presumption that falsely assumes that it was the will of those having the system forced upon them in the first place! If it was their will, then why would it not be the system they actually chose for themselves, or the one they actively choose to sustain?
And, as was correctly alluded to by John Quincy Adams, in World War One (among many other historical examples) – America’s policy had turned “insensibly” from freedom to force.
CONSEQUENCE AND QUICK CONCLUSION
Ultimately, the will of the people, or what they allow to be claimed as their will, seems to always prevail in the end. That point is true, regardless of Constitutional protection, since at the end of the day, the Constitution truly is merely a piece of paper in relation to a people that decide to not enforce the concepts and administrative rules found therein. And no piece of paper, or constitutional principle, will stop a populace that is deceived into believing that it is their so-called “duty” to exercise immoral coercion upon another people (even if those people are themselves) – to supposedly be on the “righteous” side of a war against “evil”. When this occurs, it seems they will participate, at all costs, even at the cost of the very freedom they so-often claim to be defending.
This illusion of “Holy War”, based on lies, superstition, and propaganda – ironically, puts the state and the purposely undefined (or even mis-defined) “Nation” in the place of God in a comic book version of a romanticized crusade for so-called “morality”. This mentality brings a new paradox to the popular phrase “separation of church and state”. In this type of situation, what used to typically be simple acts of devotion to a good cause, such as a pledge of allegiance to a symbol of freedom, often turn into a dogmatic ritual for the worldly State.
All the while, freedom is still being diminished in the name of supposedly increasing it.
Perhaps, as James Madison stated to Thomas Jefferson in a letter that “it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.”
World War One was a tragedy in epic proportions. And it didn’t even stop there. The effects of the war were felt revived once again, in even more brutal fashion, in what later would be called World War Two.
In fact, Interventionism by America into the war may have even directly contributed to the tragedy of World War Two, since before American involvement in World War One, a stalemate and mutual peace terms would have been inevitable. Yet, due to American military power tipping the victory overwhelmingly into one direction – the terms of the treaty were unequivocally anti-German. Thus, the stage was set for yet another tragedy in world history – since the Nazi regime built upon the disastrous effects felt by the German people from the provisions levied against them at Versailles.
And yet many would claim good intentions as a valid excuse. It would be obviously futile to tell that to the millions who would yet die for hardly a good reason.
As is the case with many situations in which the State mechanism is used to intervene in human affairs without due cause, the State “is [often] a disease masquerading as its own cure”.
Let’s pray that the people of this world turn their hearts once again toward truth to even give ourselves a chance of staving off any other similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
But, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.