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The differences among these figures do not transcend their common assumption that all nations are basically the same in what each considers the most fundamental aspect. The bulk of them, Liberal Internationalists, believe that all peoples are alike in the predominant desire for secular material progress, and that they themselves are the masters thereof. Beginning in the 1950s a new generation, of which Henry Kissinger became the avatar, styled themselves “realists”, believing that all are alike in rationally (and hence moderately) pursuing maximum power as the balance of power permits — and that they themselves are the balance wheel. By the 1970s a new variant arose known as neoconservatism that, while largely sharing the others’ assumptions, holds that, above all, all are alike in their fundamental affection for democracy.

Interwoven with and increasingly influential among all these, a strand of thought has grown since the 1960s that accuses the American people of being the main obstacle to humanity’s progress. The prototype, William Appleman Williams’s The Tragedy of America Diplomacy (1959), argued that America was on the wrong side of the Cold War. The most publicised manifestations have been President Jimmy Carter’s speech celebrating the US defeat in Vietnam for having led Americans “back to our own principles and values”,  and President Barack Obama’s apologies to foreign audiences for America’s sins.

So interwoven are these currents of thought among the individuals and within the individuals who compose the US foreign policy establishment, that trying to attribute any given US action in the past hundred years to any one current makes no sense. Besides, the American people have paid less attention to the establishment’s words than to the results.

Since 1917, every war, every major undertaking, has drawn upon and  diminished the American people’s  reservoir of patriotism, because the words by which the establishment made claims on their blood and treasure turned out to have been false, the objectives chimerical, the execution incompetent, and the results disappointing.

In 1917 Woodrow Wilson told Americans that the enemy was something called “autocracy”, that it resided in Germany, and that the war to defeat it would ensure universal peace and democracy. But the way Wilson fought the Great War brought depression, communism and Nazism. In 1921 Charles Evans Hughes assured Americans that armaments cause war and that the Washington Treaties’ limits on navies would ensure peace in the Pacific. Instead, they secured Japan’s supremacy, Pearl Harbour, Corregidor, etc. Herbert Hoover guaranteed that the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact had outlawed war, and Franklin Roosevelt spent the first seven years of his presidency lecturing America and the world about the need to act as if it had. His lasting legacy was to fight World War II to eradicate “ancient evils, ancient ills”, while trying to persuade the American people that Stalin understood good and evil as Americans do. None of that being true, Americans got the Cold War and the nuclear sword of Damocles. Dean Acheson and Harry Truman told Americans that the United Nations had brought law and order to international affairs.

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Lawrence James
July 2nd, 2018
9:07 AM
Americans have always desired 'to live peacefully' with their neighbours. If this urge ever existed, why did it express itself in the invasion of Mexico and the subsequent annexations. Was the war against Spain in 1898 another manifestation of this same wish for harmony with its neighbours ? And there were the wars against the native Americans and, more pertinently, the little wars waged by General Smedley Butler in various parts of the Caribbean between the wars. Aggression which he rightly denounced as undertaken in the interests of the big corporations.The Cold War and its aftermath have seen a cluster of similar coercive wars. Such selective omissions suggest that this just another Trump propaganda excercise. Fair enough but next time find someone with some knowledge of history.

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