BOOK REVIEW

Staring into the Abyss

The objective of war is – or should be – peace states Professor Angelo Codevilla in his latest book: To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. According to this logic, the ending of war between belligerents would bring the ending of the conflict and usher in peace between the warring parties.

Not only does this produce tranquility between the belligerents, but it also enhances peace within the previously warring societies. Peace within these prior hostiles would enable the residents of both to resume their normal activities – raising families, engaging in productive labor, starting businesses, engaging in trade, to name just a few, without the fear of war’s deadly hand threatening those normal activities. In short, the people would be largely free to do what they choose.

Codevilla skillfully traces this theme from ancient times to the present day. He focuses on the founding of the United States by way of our revolution: “The people’s inalienable sovereignty over themselves was the American Revolution’s intellectual point of departure . . . But at the time of the founding, their reasoning was America’s mainstream.”

The early years of the American Republic hued closely to this precept that endured to the end of the nineteenth century. Codevilla traces this theme from our founding in a panoramic sweep of American history that encountered bumps along the way such as slavery and secession questions that culminated in our Civil War. Restoring peace was President Abraham Lincoln’s ultimate goal on ending the Civil War. In his second inaugural address Lincoln laid out his peace agenda with words American school children used to be taught to remember: “. . .with malice toward none; with charity for all; …to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Those words, majestic as they seemed, were not achieved as Reconstruction in the former Confederate States turned into the 19th century version of nation-building. Between the end of the Civil War and the Spanish American War, the nation was at peace – except for subduing the Indians in the West and Southwest. Those actions, however, scarcely elicited concern as the U.S. economy took off and grew while the American people prospered.  But dark intellectual clouds were brewing that would affect American change and contentment, especially in our conduct of foreign affairs. Some influential intellectuals were advocating imperialism, such as Woodrow Wilson who identified the United States’ interests with mankind’s within the realm of peace – although these arrogant intellectuals were ready to use force to compel their ‘mission of peace,’ if necessary.

Here enters a person most American’s have never heard of – Elihu Root. A lawyer and statesman, he was President Teddy Roosevelt’s secretary of war and later secretary of state. He was the guiding light of the American foreign policy elites during the 20th century and into the current era. His thesis was that the U.S. must be the leader on transforming international relations leading to a better world. This, he believed, would enable reason and progressivism to replace force in affairs between nations.

Leading academics such as Columbia University’s Nicholas Murray Butler, Stanford’s David Starr Jordan and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson quickly picked up Root’s ideas and ran with them. Wilson used the bully pulpit, when he became president, to push for implementing his ideas and we’ve been saddled by his progressivism ever since, as it became orthodoxy in varying degrees for both political parties. Wilson’s presidency and ideas also, points out Codevilla, “. . .gave birth to a more or less united ruling class intoxicated with  its own virtue and ideology, increasingly divorced from public opinion, which struggled to maintain a grasp on common sense.”

Codevilla traces the corrosive effects of the progressive ideology through President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Johnson administration and into the present era. The aftermath of Korea – we are technically still in a state of war with North Korea and are only operating within an armistice with them – Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan has not seen an era of true peace. These wars, or absence of peace, had effects on the home front as well. Codevilla points out that our ruling elite: “. . .  so long and insofar as any ruling class is possessed of this Wilsonian sense of intellectual-moral political entitlement to nation-build, it must be a disturber of the peace – especially where it has the greatest power to do it. At home.”

The Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, NSA collecting everyone’s phone calls and emails, pat-downs at airport terminals, PC police running amuck, are just a few examples of disturbing the peace of American citizens by the logic of Wilsonian progressivism.  The feeling of moral superiority has led to branding one’s political enemies as “enemies of democracy,” as President Obama labeled Tea Party groups the IRS was investigating. Vice President Joe Biden also labeled some of them as “terrorists.”  Yet, this look down their noses at the citizens of the U.S. is the current tenor of progressives in today’s America.

Codevilla sums up the current situation in the United States in this way: “No act of terrorism has hurt America so much as has the theory and practice of homeland security, and none threatens to undo America’s foundations so much as the ruling class’s increasing tendency to deem their domestic opponents ‘terrorists,’ and the clear and present prospect of them acting accordingly. Homeland security’s practice of agnosticism as to who America’s enemies might be has augmented the ruling class’s power. That fueled its sense of moral-political-intellectual entitlement to nation-build fellow Americans, and has given civil strife’s deadly spiral its first deadly turns among us. Each turn is less resistible than the previous. No one has explained why any American should accept to live without the prospect of peace with foreigners and as a suspect in his own land.”

Remember, President Obama is a progressive-socialist to his core and said he has a “pen” and a “phone” and is prepared to use them to “nation-build” in a progressive-socialist manner in the fading American Republic.

However, there is a fly in the ointment of Codevilla’s book.

War should have an end point, but some forms of peace do not. A “peace” in which you are constantly at war, such as the Israeli-Palestine involvement can go on and on and on. So, it seems, can our war on terrorism, or better termed our war with Islam. (The Jihadis are always claiming they are at war with us, and they base it on the tenets of their religion – Islam.  Maybe it is time to take them at their word.)

Yes, as Codevilla says, peace is the ultimate goal of the end of war. Yet, what kind of a “peace” awaits the end of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, or the end of Islamic Jihadism? The peace of the grave? Or will it be the submission to the will of Allah, which in the case of Israel means its total destruction?  Neither the Palestinians nor the Jihadis are going to stop trying to destroy Israel or the United States. Keep in mind both have spent many years teaching their children – their long lines of cannon fodder – to hate and change in that process is nowhere in sight. Islam’s hatred of the Jews is enshrined in passages of the Koran.

In spite of this, Codevilla’s book is a somber reflection on some very dark clouds gathering over America’s future.


Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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