Sunday 10 September 2023

American jihad

Lewis Lapham, editor of the American monthly Harper's Magazine, said in 2002, “The makers of America’s foreign policy over the course of the previous fifty years have embraced a dream of power almost as vainglorious as the one that rallied the disciples of Osama bin Laden to the banner of jihad.”

This is true.

America expected to withdraw from Europe at the end of the second world war, remained because Stalin seemed a second Hitler, remained after the end of the cold war and now see themselves as fighting a long cold war against Russia and China.

Democrats are idealists in foreign policy which means they are warlike. Republicans' default setting was isolationist but as conservatives they opposed and feared godless Communism. Communism ceased to be an enemy long ago and some Republicans (whom others call extremists or populists) are returning to their tradition. Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan were the pioneers. Later came Donald Trump.

In the 1950s, because America feared Communism taking over much of the world, she therefore supported Taiwan (Formosa) against the reds. It is not obvious why Taiwan is still important to America, except that America is an empire and human rights are the reason for the holy wars she wages.

I quoted Paul Gottfried to a senior US State Department friend, who is not a neo-con but backed the invasion of Iraq: "For neo-cons it is always 1938". His reply was "That’s because it always is."

The American jihad goes back before 1952 and maybe before even 1941.

Some writers, including Herbert Hoover in his posthumous memoir, think Franklin Roosevelt wanted France and Britain to go to war with Germany before they did and provoked Japan to attack Pearl Harbor and Britain. 

There are strong arguments for the latter charge. AJP Taylor made them seem conclusive back in the 1970s.

The official US Senate historian Professor Charles Tansill, who was an isolationist before Pearl Harbor, came to the same conclusion.

According to him, US diplomacy in the 1930s was focussed on forcing  the Japanese Empire into "firing the first shot," and doing its best to create a war fever in England. 

The American Ambassador to London Joe Kennedy said that Neville Chamberlain told him that he thought the Americans were responsible for the war.

On the other hand, Roosevelt confided in Kennedy his fears lest foreign nations dragged America into war with Germany. To others in 1938 he said war was coming and America should take part in it.

I don't know if Roosevelt wanted war with Germany from 1938 but if he did he would have considered that he was acting in America's economic interests. But the world war quickly led to what he feared, a Europe ruled by Germany and Italy. 

In the medium term, though, it led to the eclipse of America's rivals, the Japanese, British and French empires, and allowed America to asset strip them (think of the Korean and Vietnamese wars).


  1. The US ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1941 was Joseph P Kennedy, who vocally declared that Great Britain had little to no chance against Hitler. Hardly responsible for “war fever.”

  2. Asset stripping? Yes, who can forget the US Army besieging and ultimately overrunning Dien Bien Phu? (Actually, the Vietnamese rather ended up asset-stripping the US: for some time after the end of the war, Vietnam was offering American weapons and parts at prices below those of American manufacturers.)

    1. I wrote rather glibly there but the Americans were very happy to see the British and French empires dissolve while theirs flourished. The desire for empire is understandable and the British empire did huge good. The French and American records are mixed.

  3. An interesting item from Time, Monday, April 8, 1940.
    Ambassador Kennedy's eldest boy, to whom the President listened more than to his father, was of course John F Kennedy.
    FOREIGN RELATIONS: Nazi White Book
    Monday, Apr. 08, 1940

    When Foreign Minister Josef Beck and other leaders of a beaten Poland fled from Warsaw last September, they left in a hurry. According to the German Foreign Office, they left behind them some very interesting documents. Last week the Germans published these documents—day after Sumner Welles, just back from Europe, made his undivulged report to the President.

    Published in a White Book, entitled "Polish Documents Bearing on Events That Led Up to the War," they purported to be memoranda from Polish diplomats (Count Jerzy Potocki, Ambassador to the U. S.; Jules Lukasiewicz, Ambassador to France; Count Edward Raczynski. Ambassador in London; Trade Councilor Jan Wszelaki) to their chief, Mr. Beck. They reported conversations held with U. S. Ambassador to France William Bullitt, U. S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's Joseph Kennedy. Of the conversations the documents reported:

    > That Mr. Bullitt nursed a "strong hatred about Germany and Chancellor Hitler"; that Mr. Bullitt believed the U. S., France and England "must heavily arm in order to be able to oppose German power," that the U. S. would "undoubtedly" participate in a war to force the capitulation of Germany ("but only after England and France had first stirred themselves"), and was (in November 1938) already "in a psychosis similar to that existing before America's declaration of war on Germany in 1917."

  4. > That President Roosevelt's foreign policy would be to: 1) denounce the totalitarian States; 2) accelerate war preparations in the U. S.; 3) tolerate no compromise with the totalitarian States on the part of Britain and France; 4) advance moral assurance that the U. S. would in the event of war "participate ac tively on the side of France and Britain."

    > That President Roosevelt "was the first who gave expression to this hatred of Fascism," with a twofold object: "First, he wanted to divert the attention of the American people from difficult and involved inner political problems. . . . Second, by the creation of war opinion and through rumors about the danger threatening Europe, he wanted to get the Amer ican people to accept an enormous arma ment program. . . ."

    > That "the President certainly said he would sell airplanes to France since the French Army is the first line of defense for the U. S."

    > That Ambassador Kennedy would "insist on the necessity of [Great Britain] aiding Poland immediately with cash."

    > That Mr. Kennedy had told Mr. Wszelaki: "You have no idea to what extent my oldest boy, who was in Poland a short time ago, has the President's ear. I might say that the President believes him more than me."

    At the White House, the White Book was described as sheer propaganda, to be taken not with one or two, but with three grains of salt. "With even more salt," echoed Mr. Bullitt, before leaving by Clipper for France. Said Count Potocki in Washington: "I have never had any conversations with Ambassador Bullitt on America's participation in the war." Said Secretary of State Hull: "I may say most emphatically that neither I nor any of my associates in the Department of State have ever heard of any such conversations as those alleged, nor do we give them the slightest credence." From Harvard Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. denied that he had Mr. Roosevelt's ear. Said he: "A lot of bunk." In Berlin, some of the foreign correspondents who were shown the documents, written on scratch paper, reported that they looked genuine, were covered with marginal notes, apparently by Polish officials.

    Neither the President nor Secretary Hull said in so many words that they were a fraud. They echoed familiar and fre quent public utterances of Francophile Bill Bullitt. On the sore point, the declaration that the U. S. would eventually go to war, they did not indicate that Mr. Bullitt had said much if anything more than most U. S. citizens were saying a few months ago.

    If the documents proved anything it was that U. S. diplomats sometimes talk with an unprofessional lack of reticence.But the German Foreign Office tried to draw the nonsensical conclusion that U. S.officials had conspired to foment the war. Evidently indulging in false hope that the publication would set up dissension in the U. S., it hinted at the publication of more documents showing the ugly wiles of U. S. diplomats.