Is It To Be Isolationists vs. Militarists?

Bill Keller presents a false and vicious dichotomy. Although he’s a bit sheepish about it, he’s ultimately arguing that, if we are to be engaged with the world, it must be at the point of a gun:

But can we dial down the fears and defeatist slogans of knee-jerk isolationism and conduct a serious discussion of our interests and our alternatives in Syria and the tumultuous region around it?

The event that ultimately swept the earlier isolationists off the board was, of course, Pearl Harbor. But even before the Japanese attack the public reluctance was gradually giving way, allowing the delivery of destroyers to the British, the Lend-Lease program, a precautionary weapons buildup and the beginning of military conscription.

One factor that moved public opinion toward intervention was the brazenness of Hitler’s menace; Americans who had never given a thought to the Sudetenland were stunned to see Nazis parading into Paris.

I see barely a smidgeon of isolationism in contemporary America. There are millions of Americans living and working overseas, we import a huge proportion of our consumer goods and a lot of our food from abroad, and we have a higher proportion of immigrants presently living in the United States than at at all but a very few times in our history.

Who is he, Hideki Tojo? Is the only form of engagement with the world military engagement? That’s militarism.

He’s calling for robust dialogue about our role in the world without recognizing that nobody’s arguing for complete disengagement from it. Even if we were to completely stop bombing and killing people overseas, we would remain tremendously far from isolationist. Think about what real isolationism would imply for a while.

Branding anyone who believes that a little less military intervention wouldn’t be such a bad thing an “isolationist” doesn’t promote dialogue. It’s an attempt at stifling it.

6 comments… add one
  • CStanley Link

    I think people might be forgiven for overlooking the possibility of diplomatic engagement, since we’ve seen so little of it in recent years.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Non-interventionism is the better word. I don’t think Americans have ever been very supportive of intervening in entirely domestic concerns.

    Is Keller implying that before Germany invaded France, the U.S. should have launched targeted, but non-disruptive air strikes on German military capabilities, to send a message to Hitler about exceeding international norms in gassing Jews?

  • I don’t honestly think that Keller has a clear idea. I think he’s trying to paint those with whom he disagrees as the enemies of progress and enlightenment and those he agrees with as its defenders.

    But that’s not the question at all. The question is whether we should be more interventionist or less. Those supporting more intervention are incessantly pointing to motives for support. I think we need to look more at the intervention as such.

  • Spot on.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Harry Reid today:

    “Millions and millions of civilians and prisoners of war were murdered by gas in the Nazi death camps: Belsen, Treblinka, Auschwitz. Never again, swore the world. Never again will we permit the use of these poisonous weapons of war.”

    “As you enter the exhibits at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, you see a quote from Dante’s famous Inferno. This is what it says: ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.'”

  • I wonder if Sen. Blutarsky Reid is aware that the gas chamber is still on the books as a legal form of execution in a number of states including Arizona and California? The last execution by gas chamber in the U. S. was 30 years ago.

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