I listened to the Tom Woods Show interview with Kevin Gutzman today. It was an interesting interview. I have read a few books by Professor Gutzman which were excellent, and he’s clearly a much smarter person than I am.
But I need to take issue with some debate they had over the Cold War and Vietnam. Gutzman is a conservative and defends both. His argument seemed to boil down to a few points:
- If the US hadn’t “fought” the Cold War the Soviet Union would probably still be around today.
- South Vietnam would still be an independent country if it wasn’t for Watergate weakening Nixon and emboldening anti-war Democrats who abandoned them.
- South Korea and West Germany would have fallen to the Soviets if the US had abandoned them like they did Vietnam.
Although it’s impossible to know how history would have played out if American politicians had acted differently, I don’t necessarily think Gutzman is wrong about most of this. But I still have a major issue with this line of thinking.
On point one, it seems entirely plausible that Reagan’s military buildup and SDI initiative hastened the collapse of the Soviet Empire. But it’s not an argument to say that the Cold War was worth it because Russia now has a different economic and governmental system. If Vladimir Putting called himself General Secretary instead of President would that mean I’m in danger all of a sudden? Like many conservatives that came of age in that era he just takes it for granted that the USSR was automatically an existential threat to Americans and our way of life without having to actually justify it.
On point two, it’s basically a big fat who cares. I’m sure the people of South Vietnam would have been better off if they hadn’t lived under communism all these years. But they did, and nothing changed in America as a result. However, the war itself led to great upheaval and an undermining of many of the values conservatives are supposed to care about. So even if “we” had won, why would that matter to people who lived in the USA in 1964 who had never heard of Vietnam until their government invaded it? Conservatives have no problem with people living under police states or dictatorships until the governments call themselves communists or Islamic. Then all of a sudden it’s a moral issue or a threat to the world or something.
On point three, I’d have to argue that we, as Americans, would have been better off if our government hadn’t intervened to keep these half-nations “free.” If South Korea had fallen to the damn commies, they wouldn’t be as prosperous as they are today. But look what happened in Vietnam. Maybe a united Communist Korea would have evolved more like Vietnam and the North wouldn’t be the horrible police state murder factory it is today. And at any rate, from an American point of view, we wouldn’t continue to have 30,000 soldiers there acting as a human sacrifice to trigger a war should North Korea ever decide to invade South Korea.
As for West Germany, it’s basically the same argument as Korea. But I would also say I have my doubts that a United Germany could have been held in check as a Soviet Satellite for forty years. So maybe not dividing it up after WWII would have hastened the end of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe had the Soviets insisted on occupying the whole thing. And if they didn’t try to occupy the whole thing, then the US didn’t need to defend them anyway We’ll never know what would have nappened. We do know, however, that the US wouldn’t have an incredibly expensive and permanent military beaurocracy in Europe that has far outlived its intended purpose if we hadn’t created it to defend West Germany in the first place.
And as a final argument against any of this meddling, I’d like to point out the following:
- The USA didn’t have to enter WWI. There was absolutely no threat to North America as a result of the hostilities taking place in Europe in 1917
- Because the USA entered WWI, the allies didn’t have to reach a peace agreement with Germany, and Russia continued the unpopular war. This allowed the communists, with the help of Germany, to take power and create the Soviet Union in the first place.
- It also allowed France and Britain to win a decisive victory and impose a harsh peace on defeated Germany. This lead to economic chaos in Germany and a feeling of injustice that allowed the Nazis to take power.
- So US intervention in WWI lead directly to the circumstances that created WWII.
- The USA insisted on unconditional surrender in WWII so that the German government could not make peace without signing their own death warrants.
- The Soviet Union took over Eastern Europe and suddenly became a “threat” to the USA because they won an unconditional surrender from Germany in WWII (with the help of the USA).
- I’ll skip over all the bad things that happened during the cold war because I discussed some of them earlier in this post, but obviously it cost a lot of lives and money.
- To fight the evil commies the USA supported Arab terrorists in Afghanistan who were fighting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
- Those same Arabs then turned on the USA over our government’s Middle East policy, itself a relic of the Cold War power struggle for resources. They bombed the World Trade Enter in New York City.
- The Bush regime then launched the never ending Terror War that is still going on today.
No matter what motivations or reasoning anyone uses for an aggressive or militaristic foreign policy, it always leads to unintended consequences that then lead to calls for further interventions to counteract those consequences. It never ends. Don’t go to war (or fund a war) unless you are under a direct physical threat to your homeland. It’s never worth it. It never makes things better.