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The Failure of America's Foreign Wars

Richard M. Ebeling

Dr. Hoppe is professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and co-editor of the Review of Austrian Economics and the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

History is invariably written by its victors. Because the twentieth century is uniquely the American century, with the United States emerging victorious from both world wars and ultimately rising to the rank of the world’s only military superpower, official twentieth-century world history today is above all history as seen from the perspective of the U.S. government and its intellectual bodyguards. Thus, it is in particular U.S. foreign policy, and especially the policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt and of U.S. allies such as Churchill and Stalin, which come under closer scrutiny and are subject to critical re-evaluation and revision in The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars.

The articles in this book survey critical episodes in U.S. foreign policy over the last hundred years, beginning with the Spanish-American War, centering on World War I and World War II, and continuing to the Panama Invasion and the Gulf War. The editors wish to illustrate the thesis that the replacement of the isolationist U.S. foreign policy by a globalist-interventionist foreign policy has been an utter failure. As a result of the great moral crusade to make the world safe for democracy, the twentieth century has been one of the most murderous centuries in all of history and the century par excellence of socialism: of communism, fascism, national socialism, and social democracy.

Several times in the book the question is raised: what would have happened if Wilson, in accordance with America’s isolationist foreign policy tradition and his own election campaign promise, had kept the United States out of World War I? By virtue of its counterfactual nature, the answer to a question such as this can never be empirically confirmed or falsified. This does not make the question meaningless or the answer arbitrary, however. To the contrary. Based on an understanding of the actual historical events and personalities involved, the question concerning the most likely alternative course of history can be answered in detail and with considerable confidence.

If the United States had followed a strict non-interventionist foreign policy, the intra-European conflict likely would have ended in late 1916 or early 1917 instead of late 1918. Moreover, it would have been concluded with a mutually acceptable (face-saving) compromise peace rather than the one-sided terms actually dictated. Consequently, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia would have remained traditional monarchies instead of being turned into short-lived democratic republics. With a Russian Czar and a German and Austrian Kaiser in place, it would have been practically impossible for the Bolsheviks to seize power in Russia, and in reaction to a growing communist threat in Western Europe, for the fascists and the national Socialists to come to power in Italy and Germany. The victims of communism, national socialism, and World War II—some 100 million European lives—would have been saved. The extent of government interference with and control of the private economy in the United States and Western Europe would have never reached the heights seen today. And rather than Eastern Europe (and consequently half of the globe) falling into communist hands and for more than 40 years being plundered, devastated, and forcibly insulated from Western markets, all of Europe (and the entire globe) would have remained integrated economically (as in the nineteenth century) in a world-wide system of division of labor and cooperation. Accordingly world living standards would have grown immensely higher than they actually did. In helping its reader recognize this realistically possible alternative course of history, The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars contains a sharp moral condemnation of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy and a vigorous plea for a return to a non-interventionist-isolationist foreign policy.

While the facts and the conclusions reached are largely correct and reasonable, the book is not without shortcomings. Even a professed revisionist such as Ebeling cannot free himself entirely from orthodox-leftist historical myths when he appears to liken and classify as on a par the evils of Stalin and Hitler and the socio-economic character of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. From 1929 to 1939, in peace time, Stalin and the Bolsheviks killed about 20 million Soviet citizens, for no predictable reason. Hitler and the National Socialists ruined the businesses and careers of hundreds of thousands of German citizens, but the number of people killed by them before the outbreak of the war was only a few hundred, most of them fellow Nazis and all of them for a predictable reason. Even immediately after the onset of the war, when it became known that the Nazis had begun to engage in mercy killings of the incurably insane (euthanasia), the Catholic bishops, led by Bernhard von Galen, openly protested, and German public opinion compelled the Nazis to halt the program. Bishop (later: Cardinal) von Galen survived the Nazi regime. Under Stalin and the Bolsheviks, any such opposition was impossible and Bishop von Galen would have been quickly disposed of. Also irritating is Hornberger’s inclination toward psychobabble, according to which Hitler and national socialism are somehow the outgrowth of parent alcoholism and child abuse.

More serious is a structural defect. In collecting in their book almost exclusively articles previously published in the Freedom Daily, and mostly (29 of 47) written by themselves, Ebeling and Hornberger missed the opportunity of assembling a far superior product. The quality of the articles is rather uneven, and there is quite a bit of repetitiveness. Many articles qualify as hardly more than journalistic exercises; and with only two professional historians (Ralph Raico and Robert Higgs) among the authors, the book has a somewhat amateurish flavor. Despite these shortcomings, however, the book contains a vitally important message and makes for genuinely refreshing reading. The two marvelously insightful articles contributed by Ralph Raico alone—on “The Case for an America First Foreign Policy” and “The Turning Point in American Foreign Policy”—are well worth the price of admission.

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