Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

World War II Is over, America

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

World War II Is over, America

Article excerpt

The United States can no longer afford to be the world's umpire. It must share the burden of security with its allies.

Everyone talks about getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But what about Germany and Japan?

The sequester -- $85 billion this year in budget cuts, about half of which will come from the Pentagon -- gives Americans an opportunity to discuss a question we've put off too long: Why we are still fighting World War II?

Since 1947, when President Harry S. Truman set forth a policy to stop further Soviet expansion and "support free peoples" who were "resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures," America has acted as the world's policeman.

For more than a century, Britain had "held the line" against aggression in Eurasia, but by World War II it was broke. Only two years after the Allies met at Yalta to hammer out the postwar order, London gave Washington five weeks' notice: It's your turn now. The Greek government was battling partisans supplied by Communist Yugoslavia. Turkey was under pressure to allow Soviet troops to patrol its waterways. Stalin was strong-arming governments from Finland to Iran.

Some historians say Truman scared the American people into a broad, open-ended commitment to world security. But Americans were already frightened: In 1947, 73 percent told Gallup that they considered World War III likely.

From the Truman Doctrine emerged a strategy comprising multiple alliances: the Rio Pact of 1947 (Latin America), the NATO Treaty of 1949 (Canada and Northern and Western Europe), the Anzus Treaty of 1951 (Australia and New Zealand) and the Seato Treaty of 1954 (Southeast Asia). Seato ended in 1977, but the other treaties remain in force, as do collective-defense agreements with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Meanwhile, we invented the practice of foreign aid, beginning with the Marshall Plan.

It was a profound turn even from 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won a third term pledging not to plunge the United States into war. Isolationism has had a rich tradition, from Washington's 1796 warning against foreign entanglements to the 1919 debate over the Treaty of Versailles, in which Henry Cabot Lodge argued, "The less we undertake to play the part of umpire and thrust ourselves into European conflicts the better for the United States and for the world."

World War II, and the relative impotence of the United Nations, convinced successive administrations that America had to fill the breach, and we did. The world was far more secure in the second half of the 20th century than in the disastrous first half. The percentage of the globe's population killed in conflicts between states fell in each decade after the Truman Doctrine. America experienced more wars (Korea, Vietnam, the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan) but the world, as a whole, experienced fewer.

We were not so much an empire -- the empire decried by the scholar and veteran Andrew J. Bacevich and celebrated by the historian Niall Ferguson -- as an umpire, one that stood for equal access by nation-states to political and economic gains; peaceful arbitration of conflict; and transparency in trade and business.

But conditions have changed radically since the Cold War. When the United States established bases in West Germany and Japan, they were considered dangerous renegades that needed to be watched. Their reconstructed governments also desired protection, particularly from the Soviet Union and China. NATO's first secretary general, Hastings Ismay, famously said the alliance existed "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. …

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