Academic journal article Independent Review

An Economist's Case for a Noninterventionist Foreign Policy

Academic journal article Independent Review

An Economist's Case for a Noninterventionist Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

It takes great leadership and ability to settle differences through peaceful means. Any idiot can start a war.

--Charles Adams, For Good and Evil

War is the health of the state.

--Randolph Bourne, The State

Now you can't pick up a paper without reading where the Marines have landed to keep some nations from shooting each other, and if necessary we shoot them to keep them from shooting each other.... Seven thousand miles is a long way to go to shoot somebody, especially if you are not right sure they need shooting and you are not sure whether you are shooting the right side or not.

--Will Rogers, in "Will Rogers Explains It All"

The twentieth century was truly the century of total war. As many as 17 million soldiers and civilians were killed in World War I ("World War I Casualties" n.d.). (1) My great aunt Ruby, who was born in the 1890s, called it the "Great War," the name given to it before people knew there would be a World War II. I come from Canada, which lost many people, especially young ones, during that first war, and in virtually every little town in English-speaking Canada, even the towns I grew up in, which had populations of less than two thousand, you can find a monument, usually near the town hall, honoring the Canadian dead of that war. That war also led to the famous poem "In Flanders' Fields," written on a battlefield in Belgium by a Canadian named John McCrae, who died later in the war. It is recited all over Canada every November 11, which in Canada is Remembrance Day. I will never forget the haunting and powerful ending, which I first heard in second grade when my fellow student Nancy Kelly read it to the class:

   To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
   We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
   In Flanders' Fields.

One of the main things I want to address is how not to break faith with those who died. I think it is by not purposely creating more deaths.

World War I was trumped by World War II, in which at least 60 million people but probably more than 70 million people died as a direct result of the war ("World War II Casualties" n.d.). The world population in 1939 just before World War II broke out was less than 2.3 billion: this means that more than 2.6 percent of the people in the world died. If the same percentage of the world's population were to die in a war today, we would lose more than 190 million people.

World War II always seemed more real to me than World War I because I was born in 1950 and grew up hearing relatively fresh stories from the adults in my community, especially from my father. My father joined Canada's army in 1942 at age thirty-two but was discharged days after winning his stripe because he had only about 20 percent hearing in each ear--a disability he had experienced from age seventeen. He had told the recruiter this fact upon voluntarily joining, but it took a few months for the army to "hear" him. My uncle Fred and aunt Jamie were civilians early in the war, making their way to the Belgian Congo to be medical missionaries. Unfortunately, the ship they were on, the Zamzam, was sunk by the German navy. (2) Almost miraculously, given that by the German captain's count the Germans had lobbed fifty-five shells at the Zamzam, six of which had hit, only one of the passengers died as a result. My aunt was held prisoner in Berlin until June 1942, (3) and my uncle was a prisoner in what is now Poland and later in occupied France before he escaped to Switzerland. Plus, one of my favorite kinds of movies when I was growing up was war movies--although, truth be told, my favorite type was about escapes from prisoner-of-war camps.

So World War II was always in my consciousness, and I was always aware of its tremendous cost in lives. What I wasn't aware of was its full cost in liberties, some of which was permanent. …

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