Alex Massie

Nothing Except World Leadership...

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More Romney, I'm afraid. But this is less about him than it concerns a general American trend. Daniel Larison has already touched on how Romney seems to share Fred Thompson's odd belief in the uniquely generous nature of American military sacrifice. This reminds me that I'd meant to comment upon this passage from Romney's speech:

"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars – no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty."

Oh please. To listen to this you might think the United States' sole concern was that the people of Europe and, for that matter, south-east asia, had a proper supply of apple pie. No war aims here! Not so much as a single strategic objective!

To say this is poppycock does not detract for a second from the heroism and sacrifice of American soldiers on Omaha Beach or the sands of Iwo Jima (or for that matter of the workers in the factories who made trucks for Uncle Joe).

America took nothing from the Second World War, unless you consider being the world's most powerful  - and richest - country nothing at all. As collateral benefits go you'd have to rank these pretty highly. 

Except of course it wasn't a collateral benefit. I know that Americans are wedded to this view of their involvement in WW2 (precipitated of course by Japan and Germany) as a selfless, reluctant act. But if this story has any truth it's only part of the matter. Right from the beginning there were other fish being fried.

The Americans were shaping their notion of the post-war environment even before they entered the conflict. The ennobling element of Britain's wartime story is not so much the defiant days when she stood alone (though those, natch, reflect well upon us) but the fact that Britain sacrificed an Empire and, consequently, much of its power to help ensure that the Americans could be persuaded into the war. Victory was impossible without America; but more than blood - or treasure for that matter - was needed to pay the price the Americans demanded. So be it.

For instance, the American view of post-war trade would be, as Cordell Hull put it, "a knife to open that oyster shell, the Empire". At their first meeting, at Placentia Bay in August 1941, Roosevelt viewed Churchill as "A real old Tory, of the old school" but predicted that there'd be plenty of talk about India "And Burma. And Java. And Indo-China. And Indonesia. And all the African colonies. And Egypt and Palestine. We'll talk about 'em all."

The destruction of the British Empire was every bit as much an American war aim as was the defeat of Hitlerism, even if, for obvious reasons, it was rarely explained as such in public.

All of which was, of course, fair enough. The United States can hardly be faulted for acting in its own interest. And its own interest was a post-war world in which it was Top Dog. If that meant doing its best to shut Britain out then so be it. As I say, the only thing wrong with this is pretending that it didn't happen.

(I should perhaps point out that in the grander scheme of things, the American view of unfettered free trade (though good for American industry) was probably preferable to the British hankering for Imperial Preference. But that's not the point really.)

Nor does it - to repeat - detract from the valiant service of American troops to point out that the United states has indeed demanded fealty and, for that matter, sovereignty. What else are US bases around the world if not the outposts of Empire?

The US military guarantee to defend western Europe was both noble and self-serving.  There isn't necessarily a contradiction between the two. In return for protection against the Soviets western Europe endorsed an American view of the world and its institutions. Still, in important respects NATO is an "alliance" in name only. Until recently Europe's low defence spending suited America (and perhaps still does): after all, if European countries lack the ability to project force then they are al the more dependent upon the US. That's a high-ranking card to have in your hand.

Still, it's not unreasonable to remember that the American guarantee of liberty was a guarantee that would only be observed on American terms. To take but one example, the Italian elections of 1948 could not be "free and fair" because they carried the risk that the Communists might do well. Now Italian politics might have been corrupted anyway, but the US-backed 40 year installation of the Christian Democrats certainly helped pollute the Italian body politic. You may argue that this was better than the alternative but that doesn't mean you need pretend that all this was perfect or that it somehow matched American rhetoric. Hypocrisy is, of course, an old imperial vice. (Or, if you prefer, virtue).

Just because th US involvement in Europe (and elsewhere) has been, overall, beneficial doesn't mean we shouldn't pretend that drawbacks and unfortunate consequences don't exist. On the risky assumption that we can be grown-up about these things there's little need for pretense or humbug.

Equally, Romney's "no fealty" line is complete hokum. Perhaps he has forgotten that much of the fury directed towards Jacques Chirac in the lead-up to the Iraq War was predicated upon the idea that, after all we did for France it's outrageous that they don't support us now that we ask them to 60 years later. That sounds like a demand for fealty to me.

So sure, America took nothing from the last century's terrible wars. Nothing, that is, except the American Century itself.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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