“Fried rats, pickled cats, good enough for the Democrats!”
That school-yard taunt introduced me to the world of American politics. It was 1956, I was in the third grade, and unfamiliar names — Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson — inexplicably entered our school day conversations.
I was bewildered. “Who do we support for president?” I asked my father.
“General Eisenhower,” he replied.
“Because the Democrats get us into wars.”
Through my school years and into college, I tested my father’s words. Sure enough, Democrat Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected in 1916 on a promise to keep America out of the European war, only to betray that promise soon after winning the vote. Republicans including Robert A. Taft, Gerald Nye and Arthur Vandenberg led the opposition to Democrat FDR’s long preparation for entry into World War II. Republican Dwight Eisenhower ended the misguided and futile war in Korea into which Democrat Harry Truman had taken our country.
When at last I could vote for president, I adopted my father’s frame of reference and voted for a former bomber pilot named George McGovern. He was the candidate most likely to end the war in Vietnam.
Yes, he was a Democrat, the exception who proved the rule. But in 1980, my father’s wisdom took me to John Anderson, a Republican who ran as an independent and whose biggest regret was his vote for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. And, in 1996, it took me to Bob Dole, even though there appeared to be little difference between Dole and Bill Clinton in regard to their support for U.S. interventionism.
My father would be shocked by the roster of Republican candidates for 2016. Rand Paul may have attracted his attention (as he has mine), but Paul’s credibility as a noninterventionist evaporated when he joined the Israel-first lobby’s call for continued hostility toward Iran. The other candidates show much enthusiasm for U.S. intervention in other countries’ affairs, the very trait my father scorned in the Democrats of his lifetime.
Today’s Democrats, meanwhile, are like the proverbial leopard that can’t change its spots. Bernie Sanders doesn’t revel in his party’s warring tradition like Hillary Rodham Clinton does, but he expresses no intention to change it. Neither Sanders nor Clinton will reverse the Bush-Obama trajectory of endless war. So if Green Party candidate Jill Stein is on the ticket, I expect to vote for her, just as I did in 2012.
I’m well aware that most educated people hold the view that a stance of noninterventionism is ignorant and uncomprehending of modern global realities. That view was already strong in the 1950s; it came along with the U.S. ascension to imperial power at the end of World War II. Today, the necessity of an interventionist foreign policy is dogma. Even most down-to-earth people quickly conclude that “America has no choice” but to intervene and “do something.”
We see this sense of privilege most pretentiously displayed by the columnists of the leading national newspapers. They write regretfully about the intractable ethnic and sectarian divisions of troubled societies, the corruption and cruelty of their leaders, the extremism of their disaffected, the irrationality of their violence. As any dolt is supposed to understand, U.S. interventionism (i.e., endless war) is an inescapable responsibility, a moral duty, an honorable response to the tragedy of life. The world is dreadfully difficult to manage, but for grown-ups, what other choice is there?
Thankfully, my father resisted this virus of imperial condescension. He knew the “necessity” of war is the desire for wealth and power. He also knew war entails the breaking of all the rules, whether having to do with the Bible, the Constitution or simple human decency.
His wisdom, so widely shared only 75 to 100 years ago, can be simply summarized: Military intervention in the affairs of other nations almost always makes matters worse. A few will find great profit in such interventions, and those few will dominate national electoral politics. But their ambitions will be legitimized only by our support, and because we aren’t fools, we won’t give it to them.
Berry Friesen lives in Manheim Township. His work has included high school teaching, the practice of law, nonprofit management and anti-hunger advocacy. He blogs at bible-and-empire.net.