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The White Man's Burden: Part I: From "Feel The Power" to "Fear The Power"

The United States never sought to be a superpower, let alone the world's only one. Once we fulfilled our "manifest destiny" and stretched coast to coast, we'd had enough. We were content, largely, up until World War II to be a largely isolationist nation, without getting too involved in world affairs. World War I left a bitter taste in our mouth, and we withdrew behind the two mighty oceans that sheltered us from the strife and bickering of Europe.

That came to a crashing halt one Sunday morning in the territory of Hawaii. Those sneaky little Nips, the slant-eyed Japs, hit the United States - hit the United States harder than we thought possible, in a place where we felt safe and secure. Our senses of invulnerability and racial superiority were shattered, and all of a sudden the foreign madness was our problem. It took almost 4 years and over 400,000 American lives (along with many times that many of casualties from other lands), but we ended that war decisively.

Then we found ourselves in a totally unfamiliar place: the undisputedly most powerful nation on the earth, yet still facing a new, implacable foe in a former ally, the Soviet Union, and tired of fighting. We had to learn a new type of warfare - a "cold war" - when we didn't openly fight our enemy, but instead fought through other means, or through other nations. It was a fight that would take over 40 years to come to a close.

At some point during that time, the very notion of power became something, for many people, to distrust - and its exercise by the United States itself became a cause for concern. Fears about abuses of that power became, over time, fear of accusations of abuse, and eventually evolved to the point to avoiding the potential for accusations, when during the Clinton administration they focused on military actions that could demonstrably be proven to not be in our own personal interests and directly connected to somehow benefiting the United States. For example, I seem to recall numerous arguments about our interventions in the Balkans and Somalia being defended as "purely humanitarian," as if acting in any sort of self-interested fashion was somehow corrupt.

Looking back, I find myself wondering if part of the reason Ronald Reagan was such a better president than Bill Clinton was because in his younger days, Reagan had been a lifeguard. One of the first things lifeguards are taught is to first protect themselves, to not needlessly endanger themselves, when attempting a rescue. A lifeguard who doesn't obey that rule not only doubles the number of people endangered, but has converted himself from an asset to a liability. Clinton didn't seem to grasp that, flailing about in the seas of international conflicts, while Reagan carefully chose his battles. And in the long run, Clinton's adventures often left us, as a nation, weaker and less respected around the world. Folks might not have liked Reagan, but they had little doubt about his resolve.

Power, Lord Acton famously said, corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. It seemed as if that truism had become ironclad law, the immovable hand of destiny, to the point where every single potential exercise of power held with it the risk of eternal damnation. At that point, any choice to act needs to be weighed and second-guessed - and the pressure to simply choose to not act becomes almost insurmountable.

I once read an analogy that compared America's military might as to a ferocious guard dog, kept on a chain. Within the range of that chain, the dog is utterly invincible and unstoppable. Outside the chain's radius, it can bark and growl, but is utterly impotent. The chain represents the self-imposed restraints America places on itself - political, social, and ethical - and right up through the turn of the millennium we kept willingly choosing to tighten that chain.

On September 11, 2001, that chain was untangled and loosened, and that dog was given the greatest freedom it had had in decades.


Comments (41)

Your idea that the US was a... (Below threshold)

Your idea that the US was an isolationist nation until World War 2 is completely counter-factual.

Please research the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt before continuing.

Lord Acton did not say that... (Below threshold)
Mixie:

Lord Acton did not say that Power corrupts.

Please get the quote correct, it is much more subtle and accurate than that:

"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord Acton.

See: http://www.bartleby.com/59/13/powertendsto.html

The implications of the actual statement is:

1. We all have power, and all have the tendency to corruption. However, we can resist it, and that is part of morality, resisting the tendency to corruption.

2. Absolute power, corrupts absolutly. No one can resist absolute power.

This is a reason we limit the power of the president of the United States, so he can still resist the tendency of the power he has (although it is very hard, it is *so* much power).

Thus for America to use its power correctly we need to:

(a) Resist the tendency of the power to corrupt.

(b) Avoid absolute power.

In this sense, it is in our best interest, to have as many strong allies as possible (RE: Japan, etc).

As distributing power among positive allies is both in our best interest, and reduces our tendency to be too powerful.

--- Mixie.

Hi Jay,Two observa... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

Hi Jay,

Two observations:

When you describe the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor you use the derogatory terms for them used at the time, but I'm not sure why...it doesn't seem to help in the overall context of the event.

On September 11, 2001, that chain was untangled and loosened, and that dog was given the greatest freedom it had had in decades.

I like this whole analogy. And I think this conclusion of it may give us some insight as to why many in the world fear us...rightfully or wrongfully; that there is a ferocious dog roaming well within biting range.

So what? Let the dog of its... (Below threshold)
muirgeo:

So what? Let the dog of its chain and change it from The Department of Defense to The Department of Offense.

I'll be waiting to hear from you why we choose to attack Iraq and not Saudi Arabia. None of the 9-11 bombers were from Iraq and many were from Saudi. Likewise for Al Queda members.


In anticipation of your reply that Saudi leaders our on our side ...then the next question becomes how are they controling all the terrorist among them?....are they bombing their own country? or are they using intel and police action to capture the bad guys.

Did we foil the plot to bomb flights out of England with bombs or with intel?

Old "mun-go" (the asskisser... (Below threshold)
jhow66:

Old "mun-go" (the asskisser) (or is it old "pucker puss"-lee lee hiding behind that name?) has to get his whining in .

For all of the work Jay put... (Below threshold)
Frenchhater:

For all of the work Jay put into this post, he chose to start off with a totally historically inaccurate premise, which if logic follows, will make all assumptions that follow false as well.

6th grade history taught us about US Imperialism as far back as the turn of the 20th century.

Sorry Jay, but you lost me at "The..."

Dropping the bombs on Japan... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

Dropping the bombs on Japan was the last time we went all out to win a war. I hope for our sake it's not the last.

The Vogon Poetry generator ... (Below threshold)
Malibu Stacy:

The Vogon Poetry generator took your post and produced this:

See, see the isolationist sky
Marvel at its big invincible depths.
Tell me, Jay Tea do you
Wonder why the dog of war ignores you?
Why its foobly stare
makes you feel implacable.
I can tell you, it is
Worried by your humanitarian facial growth
That looks like
A lifeguard.
What's more, it knows
Your insurmountable potting shed
Smells of Balkans.
Everything under the big isolationist sky
Asks why, why do you even bother?
You only charm invulnerability.

See? I told you that would be better.

Excellent so far, but I too... (Below threshold)
Jay:

Excellent so far, but I too was taken aback by the simplistically large window of isolationism you described. While the terms used for the Japanese seemed jarring, I assumed you had a reason that would fit in context, even if that reason was mainly to elicit exactly the reaction you're getting. Like me, you are generally too careful in crafting your words to have been accidentally provocative.

Before you all jump to cruc... (Below threshold)

Before you all jump to crucify Jay Tea, make sure you understand his point. I think he could have stated it better, but I'm pretty sure he was referring to the point in time between WWI and WWII as America in isolation.

Also, I think the so-called derogatory remarks towards the Japanese are not to be taken as literal representations of Jay Tea's feelings on the issue, but rather the feeling of America circia 1941. Note the next line: "Our senses of invulnerability and racial superiority were shattered" - obviously the "racial superiority" was shown in/referring to the previous sentence ("Nips" and "Japs").

On September 11, 2001, t... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

On September 11, 2001, that chain was untangled and loosened, and that dog was given the greatest freedom it had had in decades.

Unfortunately it seems the dog has been muzzled once again by impotent domestic opposition, political correctness, judicial grandstanding and an unwillingness by leaders to "win hearts and minds" rather than crush the enemy into utter submission.

Nice piece , Jay. I look forward to the others. (I literally just started reading Shelby Steele's "White Guilt" last night and I'll be curious to see how your pieces parallel some of his thoughts.)

Mixie said: As distribut... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

Mixie said: As distributing power among positive allies is both in our best interest, and reduces our tendency to be too powerful

Good point and to further Lord Acton's quote, our Constitution distributes power into three branches. Our primary electoral system limits us to two parties that are diametrically opposed to the other's 'power' while avoiding additional parties that produce that dreadful coalition crap to get things compromised.

I don't buy the 'absolute power' inference nor the 'guard dog' analogy which both suggest we are somehow utterly corrupt and overly aggressive in our actions in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. We are simply defending our nation and promoting democracy in a backward region of the world while immigrants flood into our country to benefit from our massive economy.

Woof! Woof!

SilverBubble,I see... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

SilverBubble,

I see how that makes sense. Perhaps I was previously unaware of a sense of racial superiority prior to Pearl Harbor.

Before you all jump to c... (Below threshold)

Before you all jump to crucify Jay Tea, make sure you understand his point. I think he could have stated it better, but I'm pretty sure he was referring to the point in time between WWI and WWII as America in isolation. by Silverbubble.

This is also completely wrong. The Alaska Purchase happened in 1867. Jay Tea claims that once the USA reached from ocean to ocean, the country retired from international politics. This is entirely incorrect and does not in any way refer specifically to the period between Wolrd War 1 and World War 2. The entire basis for this entry is incorrect. Furthermore, his opinions on Reagan's presidency are merely that. Jay Tea's statements that Clinton's policies left us a disrespected nation are also bunk. This entire piece is factually bankrupt.

Chuckles,"World Wa... (Below threshold)

Chuckles,

"World War I left a bitter taste in our mouth, and we withdrew behind the two mighty oceans that sheltered us from the strife and bickering of Europe."

Obviously, Jay Tea is talking about after WWI here. If you want to quote him, do it in context.

Wasn't Reagan the one who c... (Below threshold)
nihilistic_disintegration:

Wasn't Reagan the one who created Osama Bin Laden, by propping up the Mujahideen in his proxy war against the Soviets? Has that harmed us more or less than Clinton bombing Yogoslavia?

Also, Jay Tea says this: "Clinton’s adventures often left us, as a nation, weaker and less respected around the world."

I can't wait to see the part where he mentions that Bush has left us, as a nation, far far weaker and most hated around the world.

Can't wait for parts 2-5.

Vagabond: "Dropping the bom... (Below threshold)
nihilistic_disintegration:

Vagabond: "Dropping the bombs on Japan was the last time we went all out to win a war."

Dropping the bombs on Japan had nothing to do with winning WWII. Japan pleaded with us to allow them to surrender, unconditionally. We dropped the bombs to show Russia that A)we had them, and B)we were crazy enough to use them.

The bombing of Japan was not the end of WWII. It was the start of the Cold War.

muirgeo Saudi Royal ... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

muirgeo
Saudi Royal family has kill it’s own family members for having ties with terrorist. Saddam did not. Saudi Arabia does have problem with a big portion of their population having sympathies for terrorist. Then again, we in the U.S. have the same problem with a group commonly referred to as liberals.

n-c:Dropping th... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

n-c:

Dropping the bombs on Japan had nothing to do with winning WWII.

Wow, I guess all those history books and classes I took were wrong. Stupid me for paying attention.

The bombing of Japan was not the end of WWII. It was the start of the Cold War.

This makes me like the AFLAC duck who walks out of the barber shop, bewildered and dumbfounded by what Yogi Berra has just said ("and they give you cash, which is just as good as money...").

I think the word I'm looking for is "revisionist".

Thanks Peter F.I t... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

Thanks Peter F.

I thought maybe WWII was still going on and I didn't know it....

[[ At some point during tha... (Below threshold)
wolfwalker:

[[ At some point during that time, the very notion of power became something, for many people, to distrust – and its exercise by the United States itself became a cause for concern. ]]

The reason for this can be summed up in one word: postmodernism. The postmodernist philosophy developed in Europe after WW2. Perhaps I should say it developed in the ruins of Europe after WW2. Americans often fail to grasp the level of devastation wrought throughout Europe between 1939 and 1945. Very little of the prewar infrastructure survived, even in the "winning" nations. After two culture-crushing wars in forty years, after the loss of two entire generations of young men to wars that started for essentially stupid reasons, and after seeing their continent become a prospective nuclear battlefield in the Cold War, many of the survivors concluded that war was inherently wrong, that humans are naturally evil and can't be trusted with the level of power that makes large-scale war possible, and that anyone who even thought war could ever be justified was obviously insane. That's postmodernism. It's the mind-set that most European leaders have, and that's why they invariably are the first to blink in any confrontation with any aggressor nation. They'll do literally anything to avoid another war, and they consider surrender to be a more honorable solution than war.

They're wrong in this, of course. There are circumstances under which war is justified, and the current aggression by islamofascist states and terror groups is one such circumstance.

Hey, and VagaBond, the last... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

Hey, and VagaBond, the last time we went all out to win a war was Viet Nam, not WWII. JFK/LBJ, under the recommendations of McNamara, ramped it up with unprecedented B-52 bombing runs but our continued ground losses led to the saking of NcNamara and the pull out. Yes, that same McNamara who strategized the fire bombing and utter destruction of every major city in Japan during WWII. How many non-nuclear bombs does the U.S. need to drop before we're considered all out to win?

Maybe it's a little egotist... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

Maybe it's a little egotistical of me to think that if we went all out to win a war, we would.

I hear what you are saying about VietNam, Red Fog and we did do damage, but hey, don't you think if we went all out to WIN it we would have? We practiced safe war. We pulled out before the climax.

"World War I left a bitter ... (Below threshold)
Rob FIlomena:

"World War I left a bitter taste in our mouth, and we withdrew behind the two mighty oceans that sheltered us from the strife and bickering of Europe."

What about Wilsonian Idealism, the League of Nations?

Red Fog,I'm not su... (Below threshold)
Frenchhater:

Red Fog,

I'm not sure if I'm missing a joke here, but Mcnamara was not in goverment in 1945.

VagaBond,We pract... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

VagaBond,
We practiced safe war. We could have won it with nuclear bombs, true. But no one wants to ramp it up to human extinction, right? So, okay, we didn't try hard enough after just under 60k of our boys came home in bags, 14k MIA, and 128k wounded. But I'll agree with you that troop commitment was lacking and We The People wanted out.

Frenchhater,
Robert McNamara served three years in the U.S. Air Force during WWII and left as lietenant colonel. Scary smart cat, he was. As a member of an A.F think tank, he and this team produced far more efficient and devastating bombing results over Japan during that war when they realized Japan's cities were primarily constructed of wood and that they could use incindiary bombs to burn the country to the ground (much worse than the damage and death of the two atom bombs). No joke.

I won't pretend to be an au... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

I won't pretend to be an authority on VietNam, BUT....it seemed we weren't allowed across a certain parallel. When I said win it, I meant trounce INTO North VietNam and clean out the riff-raff. That was not our mission and I don't think it was ever our intent to win it.

A nation like the United States of America, with its superior military resources, could have taken a relatively small country like North VietNam. Or again, maybe its patriotic pride talking and ego talking.

The Big Bad Bear was on the... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

The Big Bad Bear was on the other side of that parallel. Same as found later in the Korean War. Now, there's no Bear (Soviet Union) but the Democrats see the rise of Islamofascism as a non-threat and want to pull out of Iraq.

Whoops, Korean War before V... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

Whoops, Korean War before Viet Nam.

Red Fog:A slight n... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Red Fog:

A slight nit, but it was Gen. Curtis LeMay who strategized and ordered the fire-bombing of Japan with incendiary bombs. True, McNamara analyzed the efficiency and effectiveness on the part of the B-29 bombing group that "Bombs Away"LeMay commanded but there were other analysts as well. Like I said, a slight nit.

No matter how devasting the firebombing—and that they were!—it did not get the Japanese to surrender, obviously.

McNamara was also a Democrat at a time when Democrats actually cared about defending the country.

"On September 11, 2001, tha... (Below threshold)

"On September 11, 2001, that chain was untangled and loosened, and that dog was given the greatest freedom it had had in decades"

So we tell the dog to attack someone who didn't break into our house? Just any old stranger on the street will do huh Jay? I guess that dog was chained too long for many people's taste. I love the life guard analogy. Your life guard friend unleashed the dog on Greneda, a country of....uh what 50,000 strangers? And now your frat boy friend unleashes the dog on another pointless foe. Now that the dog is out, other strangers are starting to lurk around the neighborhood to see whose house they can break into.

But hey, I guess if it means attacking those rag head sand monkeys to get our racial superiority back, so be it huh Jay?

I mean if you don't have your racial superiority what's left? You are stuck being just a human being like everyone else, and god forbid that ever happened!

Peter F.,I said Mc... (Below threshold)
Red Fog:

Peter F.,

I said McNamara was part of a think tank. Chain of command would order such devastating action but it was McNamara who was the focused one on efficient statistical results of these actions. Gen. LeMay was the only one who got the reputation as cut throat but he did not act alone.

McNamara illustrates how our democracy works when choices get tough. He was a Democrat and he damn near orchestrated the end of the world during the Cuban Missle Crisis.

McNamara is in stark contrast to Bubba's "purely humanitarian" strikes as so aptly defined by Mr. Tea. Why did the libs go soft? Was it McNamara's policies that left them so weak kneed?

And, my fault, but we should talk about McNamara in the present tense since he's still alive.

Red:My apologies, ... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Red:

My apologies, yes, you did indicate that much.

Field-negro:Reagan... (Below threshold)
Proud Kaffir:

Field-negro:

Reagan won the cold war without barely firing a shot. I think it is somewhat late to second guess unless you were a big fan of the former Soviet Union.

Jay Tea,
I look forward to reading the rest of your essay, but I have turned rather pessimistc on Iraq. Although I have been a supporter of the President and of the military having had family members serve in Iraq, I now believe that Bush made a large strategic error in invading Iraq.

I am certainly not in the hate America-BDS crowd, but I think a large error was made in failing to properly define the enemy after 9/11. We were/are at war with radical Islam or Isamofascism. Terrorism is a tactic; hence, the War on Terror was inevitably going to lead to mission creep. You cannot go to war against a tactic.

While every regime in the Middle East can be seen as supporting terrorism to some extent or other, we had to be careful to choose our battles in order to isolate amd weaken the Islamists. The chaotic occupation of Iraq has worked against our interests.

Hell, Kaffir, you sound exa... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Hell, Kaffir, you sound exactly like me over the past three years. Nice to see you come around. Don't let the people who'll call you unamerican get you down.

On September 11, 2001, t... (Below threshold)
Brian:

On September 11, 2001, that chain was untangled and loosened, and that dog was given the greatest freedom it had had in decades.

And, having dismissed as traitors all the other dogs who warned it that there's a swamp on the other side of the fence, immediately jumped head first into the swamp on the other side of the fence.

No, Mantis. There are impor... (Below threshold)
Proud kaffir:

No, Mantis. There are important differences.

I, for one, see the danger posed by Radical Islam which needs to be confronted and defeated. I do not see Bush as the embodiment of all evil. In fact I think his failing was a Wilsonian idealism that felt the prospect of democracy in Iraq would bring down radical Islam.

Many Muslims see democracy as antithetical to Islam and, even if they support democracy, don't want it directly associated with the West who they view with great disdain. The situation has left us with hardcore enemies and reluctant allies, a very tenuous situation to be in.

However, unlike you, who wanted failure from day one, I still very much want success, which is the formation of a stable, demcoratic Iraq, or at least an Iraq that can fight largely on its own.

I also acknowledge that Bush had a difficult decision that could have had immense consequences regardless of which way he went. It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. Many who crticize Bush for Iraq, criticize him for not taking action against Bin laden in the months before 9/11, an action they would have strongly opposed at the time.

You impulsive geeks do real... (Below threshold)
lowmal:

You impulsive geeks do realize that there are FIVE parts to this essay, don't you??

The condemnation of the author's introductory writings are pretty friggin' shallow, or laughable, at best..

But, God forbid, a shred of unbiased analysis infects your superior intellect when someone proffers up their initial point of view..

'Cause, you know, you might just shut up and listen for a change..

Peter F: I guess all tho... (Below threshold)
nihilistic_disintegration:

Peter F: I guess all those history books and classes I took were wrong.

Peter, I'm sorry. I must have made some sort of faux pas here. I didn't realize that I was supposed to stop learning once I graduated. Is that how a person becomes/remains a conservative? Arrest your intellectual growth at age 18 (it's gotta be 18, since only fancy-pants elitists go to college) and stick your fingers in your ears yelling LA LA LA LA LA whenever someone mentions something that doesn't fit the picture of the world that your schoolbooks created?

When I was in school, I learned that Columbus was a brave exploreer who gave the proverbial finger to the Flat Earth crowd and on a quest to discover new trade routes to India, discovered the New World. Hooray for him, he's a hero.

In Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, I learned that Columbus was responsible for the enslavement and subsequent slaughter of the indiginous population of the islands that he and his crew landed on. Ouch, not such a hero anymore.

Should I ignore that last part about Columbus because It doesn't jive with the glorified version of events that they taught in school? Would I be a better person if I put on blinders and only believed the history of our country that has been canonized by the establishment?

It's ironic that Conservatives rage about how our educational system is really just a Liberal Indoctrination System, and yet you're ridiculing me for pointing out a small detail that runs counter to what the Ivory Tower Eggheads say really happened.

If wanting to learn the real story about something, rather than simply sticking my head up my ass, makes me a revisionist, then so be it. I'd prefer to be upset by the facts than believe a lie.

But then, I am a liberal.

-ND-

nd:Yes and no. Yo... (Below threshold)
Proud kaffir:

nd:

Yes and no. You are free to re-anlyze history but have to present the facts to back up your claims. Simply because you say something doesn't mean others should accept it.

In analyzing history also keep in mind that a) we are not dealing with either or scenarios (Columbus may have both been a fearless explorer and someone who exploited others); b) all great men usually also have great failings; and c) it is usually unfair to judge historical figures by the standards of today rather than the standards of the time.

Kaffir,Obviously y... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Kaffir,

Obviously you think you're talking to someone else; let me disabuse you of your notions about me.

I, for one, see the danger posed by Radical Islam which needs to be confronted and defeated.

I see this danger as well. What makes you think I don't?

I do not see Bush as the embodiment of all evil.

Nor do I. What makes you think I do?

In fact I think his failing was a Wilsonian idealism that felt the prospect of democracy in Iraq would bring down radical Islam.

I've said much the same thing many times.

However, unlike you, who wanted failure from day one,

Very wrong. I was even optimistic for the first few months in Iraq, but that quickly subsided.

I still very much want success, which is the formation of a stable, demcoratic Iraq, or at least an Iraq that can fight largely on its own.

This is exactly what I want. I don't think our presence in its current form is enabling that, but it's still the ideal outcome, and one I hope for.

I also acknowledge that Bush had a difficult decision that could have had immense consequences regardless of which way he went.

Agreed.

It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. Many who crticize Bush for Iraq, criticize him for not taking action against Bin laden in the months before 9/11, an action they would have strongly opposed at the time.

I don't criticize the President for not taking action against Bin Laden prior to 9/11, nor do I blame him in any way for those attacks.

Hmm, pretty much every assumption you have about me is wrong. Not surprising, considering you thought the Iraq adventure would actually work and setting up a democracy there would help to decrease Islamism in the region, and thus terrorism. In any case, again, it's nice to see you coming around to recognizing the reality over there. Why'd it take you 3 1/2 years?

And let me ask you what I am so often asked when I talk about Iraq: What do we do now? I don't have a single good answer, but rather a number of answers, each with their serious drawbacks and consequences. In any case, now that you recognize the folly of this war, what now?

Btw when you're predictions come true, it isn't monday morning quarterbacking. Cassandra was no quarterback.




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