We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On the proper extent of enforcing freedoms abroad

The blogger and economist Charles Steele, whom I read regularly – glad to see him back in action after a period of illness – has this to say about a US national sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for the sin of preaching the Christian gospel. Mr Steele is not happy at the mealy-mouthed approach of, among others, the New York Times:

Sometimes the apparent helplessness and lack of courage of the “progressives” is hard to fathom.  North Korea has us “in a bind?”  My first reaction at seeing how NYT is framing this was to think of the following response the U.S. could give.  Barack Obama could announce, publicly, that the United States is giving Kim Jong-un 24 hours to release Mr. Bae.  Otherwise, starting 24 hours from now, each day the North Koreans keep Bae in custody, the United States will sink a North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters.  And if the North Koreans kill or otherwise harm him, we will sink every North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters, and if they ever get a new one we’ll sink it, too.  We don’t care what Jong-un says, if he likes he can denounce Bae and the U.S. in the strongest terms and claim it is from his from magnanimity that Bae is released — but release him or else. 

A question is how far can or should a state go in dealing with such cases. Very recently, two UK nationals were jailed after being convicted for drugs offences in Dubai. They could have faced the death penalty. No doubt there are plenty of other cases, such as when foreigners fall afoul of Singapore’s tough approach to petty crime, and so on.

I take the view that it would be foolish to endanger more lives – including those of our own military – to enforce a harsh penalty on a nation such as North Korea unless – a big if – it could be shown that North Korea’s actions presented a direct and credible threat to ourselves…. which is the reason given, say, for toppling Saddam. Also, it would need to be shown that such action, given the risks, would be effective in establishing a clear principle that says governments cannot treat foreigners without regard to any norms of civilised behaviour. That doesn’t mean passively shrugging shoulders at its barbarism and if means can be found to make life even more unpleasant for the cretins who rule North Korea, well good.

It is not being weak, however, to point out that anyone who goes to this totalitarian state and who chooses to promote, say, Christianity, or classical liberalism, or anything else that is on the shit-list of the folk in North Korea, is taking an enormous risk. It is rather like a person choosing to climb Mount Everest without decent clothing and footwear.

North Korea is, judging by its behaviour in recent weeks, a country run by lunatics. Anyone who goes there without understanding this is acting at great danger to himself or herself. By all means turn the screws on this vile nation as hard as possible, but bear in mind that military action poses considerable risks that need to be considered. It is not being evasive or mealy mouthed I think to point that out.

41 comments to On the proper extent of enforcing freedoms abroad

  • From the Wikipedia entry on Heinlein’s Starship Troopers

    Rico’s History and Moral Philosophy class at Officer Candidate School has a long discussion about whether it is moral to never leave a single man behind, even at the risk of starting a new war. Rico debates whether it was worth it to risk two nations’ futures over a single fellow soldier who might not even deserve to live by some standard, but concludes it “doesn’t matter whether it’s a thousand – or just one, sir. You fight.”

    … There’s much to admire in that book, but I can remember thinking on first reading this passage that the characters in it had the advantage of being fictional.

  • llamas

    Oh, FGS.

    Here is what the US State Department says about travelling to North Korea.


    Six pages of exquisitely-turned diplomatic weasel-words which can be condensed into a simple rubric – ‘Don’t be so bloody stupid.’

    If a person chooses, of their own free will, to go there, after a warning like that – I’m sorry, I find it hard to drum up much sympathy for his plight, and even harder to justify sending US service members in harm’s way to try and get him back.

    You can’t win playing this game so long as North Korea is supported by China, no matter how little or how far at-arms-length. North Korea is like a pit of vipers – you either approach it with the will to wipe it out, or you steer well clear. There is no option 3. Since we cannot do the first because we do not wish to displease China, we must do the second, and not wring our hands about the inevitable unpleasantnesses that follow.



  • steve

    Meh. Ridiculous I say. If some private citizens want to ransom him, fine by me. But the government should stay out of it. Since you say you read this blogger regularly I will assume his sentiments are sincere. But, when I read it, I just heard a neo-con making an excuse to go to war that they would just completely ignore in some other harsh country like Suadi Arabia.

    If we followed this rule consistently, we would end up sinking a quarter of the worlds merchant fleet.

  • I tend to agree with llamas. I am sympathetic to the guy and admire his bravery. But that is the extent of my willingness to do anything to help him. He took a huge risk and paid the price.

    As llamas said: you either approach it with the will to wipe it out, or you steer well clear.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Generally speaking I tend to take Chinggis Khan as a role model in foreign policy, particularly his way of dealing with the Khwarezmid Empire.

    In this case, however, I think that Jonathan has got it right as far as he goes … but he does not go far enough.
    North Korea is dependent on food aid from the US, aren’t they? Reagan made food aid to the Soviet Union conditional on respect for human rights. Why can’t Obama do the same with North Korea?
    The ultimate goal, of course, would be to undermine the regime, not just to free one US citizen, but the latter would be a significant collateral benefit: significant to the US citizen in question, and symbolically significant.

    BTW remember Mohammed the teddy bear?

  • Laird

    I also agree with llamas (and others here): Bae took the risk and he must bear the consequences.

    With regard to the Heinlein vignette, they were discussing leaving behind a soldier (who, one presumes, was there by action of his government), not a civilian there for reasons of his own. Whether Heinlein was correct on not in a military situation is irrelevant to this one.

  • John Mann

    If he was motivated by Christian faith, then it was part of his Christian faith that he was prepared to lose everything for the sake of God. The Christian martyrs of past ages were often given every opportunity to recant, and chose to die rather than do so. Taking risks goes with being a Christian.

  • JohnB

    When it comes to war (hot or cold) submarines can be allowed to sink whereon people might know too much or ‘diplomats’ abandoned when to rescue them would be embarrassing, as in Benghazi.
    I don’t think they worry too much.
    And the Kingdom of God?
    No, I don’t think it is too much of this world.
    But it is for ever.

  • RRS

    “Without the controlling principle that the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes, its commitments related to its resources and its resources adequate to its commitments, it is impossible to think at all about foreign affairs.”

    Walter Lippmann

  • Rich Rostrom

    No nation has the right to determine another nation’s restrictions on actions by persons in its jurisdiction, including foreigners.

    But that is not the ultimate issue. What is the proper response of other countries when a government denies liberty to its subjects – depriving them wantonly of life, liberty, and property?

    ISTM there are three choices.

    1) Intervene. Overthrow that government and restore liberty to the people of that country. This is expensive and messy.

    2) Ignore. What goes in a foreign country is none of our business.

    However, people in that country may want to leave to escape the loss of life, liberty, and property, and they have to go somewhere.

    This leads to a second set of alternatives for other countries, thus three choices overall.

    2a) Exclude such refugees by force. This makes other countries complicit in the crimes of the oppressive government.

    2b) Accept such refugees.

    It is possible for a large country to assimilate a fair number of immigrants successfully. Some libertarians insist that any free country can assimilate any number of immigrants. I consider this a dogmatic fantasy.

    Many free countries have experienced grave problems assimilating immigrants in large numbers from difficult backgrounds, and refugees pose special problem. Many are needy, helpless, or injured. They may come from societies whose culture is radically incompatible.

    Often they include perpetrators of oppression, fleeing their rivals or former accomplices. (Many violent jihadists have claimed political asylum in Europe on the grounds that they would be tortured or murdered in their home countries.)

    Some have lived so long under conditions of violence and corruption that they have no comprehension of the rule of law.

    So that choice is expensive and messy too.

  • Miv Tucker

    Sadly, the days of Don Pacifico, foreign secretaries with a will of iron, gunboats, and the Civis Romanus Sum are long over (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Pacifico_affair_and_case). With the best will in the world, this unfortunate individual is probably beyond the immediate reach or grasp of the US or any other western power.

  • Julie near Chicago

    There is no proper moral nor ethical prohibition against defending third parties from blatant physical abuse (physical attack or torture, forced medical experimentation, murder, etc.).

    If every participant in an action to defend others against such acts is willing, and those who pay for it are also willing, and if the action is undertaken responsibly, then there is no problem. Quoting Yrs Trly:

    If a bad guy is holding hostage the people in the bank; if he has
    killed a few already and gives no credible evidence that he intends to
    stop; if someone tries, in a responsible manner, to shoot the guy and in
    the ensuing fracas one or more of the remaining hostages are killed;
    the ‘bad guy’ is the one morally responsible, not the person who’s
    trying to save the hostages.

    “None of our business” is only a callous excuse for non-intervention, for pretending the evil is not happening, and it allows one to pretend to oneself that one’s inaction places one on the moral high ground*. But the moral issue is clear: Another country certainly is not in the wrong to do what it can do in order to save the people ruled by this kind of criminal regime; provided that it acts responsibly and with the full consent of its people–both those who will be the defenders and those who will pay for the defense.

    There is no principle of justice that requires intervention, however. And we acknowledge that none of us, neither singly nor all together, can save the whole world….

    And in justice no person or group of people is under an ethical obligation to take anybody in, unless he or it has positively acted so as to make life in the person’s former circumstances more dangerous than it would otherwise have been. (Or, of course, is properly a guardian of the person.)

    However, taking in bad guys often works out badly, whether the bad guys are refugees from a brutal Islamic or other regime, or individuals who learned to be bad in a subculture of the host’s own country. Many examples of both the former and the latter.

    There’s no blanket solution to these problems. It would be very nice to live in a world where the ideal is possible, but the fact is — You can’t get there from here.

    *Notice how Mr. Magoo (some of you may get whom I mean!) and other “non-interventionists” and “peace activists,” so-called libertarians as well as frank lefties, work hard to persuade us of the alternative narratives according to which the U.S. and also Britain were totally and completely unjustified in any actual military action you’d care to name: We “shouldn’t have been there,” we “brought it on ourselves,” we’re a nation bent on expanding our Empire militarily…in fact, we’re just No Damn Good.

  • Pardone

    You cannot impose “freedom”, to do so is a contradiction in terms. If so-called “freedom” comes from an outsider or foreigner then it is not freedom. The very act of invading a nation is totalitarian, and a dangerous and obscene expansion of the government.

    Freedom must come from within a nation, anything from foreigners is, without exception, a lie, a deceit, always laced with hidden agendas of domination and exploitation.

  • You cannot impose “freedom”, to do so is a contradiction in terms.

    Nope. By the act of using force to overturn tyranny, you can indeed ‘impose’ freedom. Indeed freedom can only exist by forcibly defending it from those who wish to abridge it.

    If so-called “freedom” comes from an outsider or foreigner then it is not freedom.

    Why? Indeed how is it even relevant where this freedom comes from? If I am more free because a new set of overlords have taken over from the old ones, then I am more free. And if they are worse, then I am less free.

    The very act of invading a nation is totalitarian, and a dangerous and obscene expansion of the government.

    You seem to be confusing “freedom” with “nation-state”. Nations are, at best, how ‘freedom’ is protected. More usually, it is how freedom is abridged. So one nation invading another nation may… or may not… end up increasing the total sum of liberty when the dust settles. But there is nothing sacred about a nation and it is demonstrably true that some nation-states are less bad than others… ergo it seem fairly self evident one nation invading another nation may, or may not, end up with things being better in the long run.

  • Julie, in this case you will be completely within your moral duties to form a personally funded rescue hit squad of former SEALS and other professional tough guys to affect the rescue of the prisoner. If successful, you will be able to glory in your goodness. If not successful, the evil northern giant will not be able to pin the attempt on 300 odd million people who were not part of it. If the government were to enact such a scheme, it would, by default, incriminate all those many millions who were not party to it.

    Being a citizen of this nation should not equate to being a valued member of the government. We are to be free people, subject to our own goals and their inherent risks. To rely on government to bail us out of the risky ventures we might entertain is to confess that without government we are nothing. The more we rely on government to provide these sort of rescue schemes is precisely why government would feel no qualms about regulating what you do. So — you pays your quarter and takes your chances or you first you ask Mom if it’s OK.

    The “Mr. Magoo” reference is really quite below the level of the field you usually play on, I think.

  • Perry,
    “…ergo it seem fairly self evident one nation invading another nation may, or may not, end up with things being better in the long run.”

    Is it a quibble to suggest that nations don’t invade each other? Governments declare war on each other and then fight the war using resources conscripted from the people and their economy.

    “The long run” seems to me to be a fairly boggy kind of argument since the potential long run was superceded by the “short run”. We don’t know what the long run would have been because we intercepted it. This particularly applies to situations in which no enemy has invaded but has made blustering threats. North Korea is a good current example.

    Many people believe it to be our duty to invade and to free the NK people from those obscene bastards, “the Family” and its generals. We’ve tried this before and the results are famous. What we should be doing is to flood them with the products of free-market capitalism. No despot has ever been able to resist that.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Allan, you noticed of course that I specified with the consent of both the actors and the funders. In fact I said so twice.

    And, of course, I specified that one has no duty (is not morally bound by the demands of justice) to rescue anybody (unless one’s own action resulted in the necessity of rescue, or one has legal guardianship).

    Of course, I wasn’t responding to the main posting, but to the issues raised by Rich Rostrom.

    As for Mr. Magoo, on some issues I agree with him; but I really don’t appreciate his constant smearing of my country, to the point of constantly repeating outright lies (“continually bombing,” “daily bombing,” “for ten years,” etc.). This really is giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy, although I imagine he has no such intention.

    If the worst I ever did was to refer to the gentleman as “Mr. Magoo,” I think I’d be in good shape.

    However, you also paid me a compliment, which I note, and thank you, sir.

  • Mr Ed

    ‘War’ n. ‘1.A situation where rival governments are vigorously seeking to rob and/or enslave you, and/or kill you or get you killed. 2. The health of the State.’.

  • Paul Marks

    An interesting discussion.

    Although there does seem to be an unspoken assumption that if we do not fight we do not die.

    Human are not imortal – life is a period of physical and metal decay ending in death.

    That is why Rico in “Starship Trooper” says you fight.

    For humans (being the short lived ageing creatures that we are) life should not be considered of primary importance – it is what principles we live by that matter.

    Although neither “Rico” or myself are thinking of this particular case.

    This man was not asked to go North Korea (so their is obligation of HONOUR to get him back).The risk of nuclear war, whilst not always a primary consideration (see above), it is not unimportant either.

    Start sinking ships and mad “Little Kim” might start throwing nukes.

    Of course mad Little Kim might start throwing nukes anyway.

    Which is why he should not have nukes.

    And, sorry, destroying those nukes is an “intervention”.

    Although not a Woodrow Wilson style one – as the purpose of the intervention is to destroy the power of an enemy (not to impose any particular political system). More like the Israeli attack on Saddam in 1980 (to destroy his nuke site) – rather that George Woodrow Wilson Bush’s attack of 2003 (to impose democracy).

    Little Kim must have his nukes destroyed.

    “But we have nukes – that is a double standard”.

    I agree – it is.

    I have a different standard for enemies.

  • Little Kim must have his nukes destroyed.

    “But we have nukes – that is a double standard”.

    I agree – it is.

    I have a different standard for enemies.


  • Is it a quibble to suggest that nations don’t invade each other?

    Not so much a quibble as a pointless distinction. Nation states are run by governments so the meaning is clear, hence “Germany” is said to have invaded “France”… both being… nations.

    “The long run” seems to me to be a fairly boggy kind of argument since the potential long run was superceded by the “short run”.

    So what? It means that war (the short run) may be followed by a preferable state of affairs after the war (the long run). Or not. All we can do it form theories based on what we know. Nazi Germany springs to mind, as does Khmer Rouge Cambodia. I look forward to your argument that Vietnam invading Cambodia did not produce a vastly better state of affairs in the long run… or that there was some even vaguely plausible scenario in which a better outcome would have resulted if only Vietnam had not “intercepted” the long run by crushing the Khmer Rouge regime.

    This particularly applies to situations in which no enemy has invaded but has made blustering threats. North Korea is a good current example.

    Actually I would turn that around and as you the same question. How do YOU know that letting the North Korean regime to survive (i.e. eventually be in the position of having deliverable nukes to back up their threats) will lead to a preferable “long term”? Sometimes doing nothing brings as many risks as doing something.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m not really a big fan of the whole Team America: World Police attitude of the United States. It seems to get them in an awful lot of bother.

    Still, I often wondered why when GW Bush talked about his Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq and N. Korea), he decided to invade the least evil of the lot. Iraq was a basket-case failed state run by a nutter – but the time in which they could be a real threat to anyone had long since passed.

    N. Korea on the other hand is not just despotic, it is actually evil. If you were going to invade one on ideological grounds, that was the best one to pick.

    People are incredulous that a country such as N. Korea can actually exist. In the media their crimes are treated as if they are just one big joke. They aren’t.

    When I read about human experimentation on political prisoners in the 21st century, I think to myself “maybe the world would be better off if we arranged a little regime change there too”, even though I’m not normally in favour of that sort of thing.

    America could do it, with a minimum of loss of America life – but the question is would China let them? The N. Koreans are too well dug in to engage in conventional warfare, but the solution is relatively simple. Fire a nuclear weapon at their nuclear launch sites, their naval and airforce bases and a few of their largest army barracks.

    Then ask for their surrender. If they refuse, level any military target still standing. Then invade.

    The problems of dealing with nation rebuilding and Nuclear decontamination would probably seem like a holiday for the N. Korean people after living under the Kims.

  • RRS

    On the proper extent of enforcing freedoms **abroad

    Strange that by now, in all these words, there is nothing said about “enforcing freedoms” at ** home.

  • Friends. There seems to me a tacit understanding here that deciding whether to or when to invade another country will be the result of some sort of national concensus, that is, a concensus of the people. In fact, that concensus will only be among the great and powerful. That we appear to have the most overreaching yet incompetent diplomatic corps in recent memory, intelligence agencies that can’t even perform intelligently at home, and a plethora of new war weapons just itching to be tested doesn’t fill me with any confidence in the long-term outcomes of any hawk-like productions by this country or any other.

    Moreover, it is an observable economic and political fact worth repeating that “war is the health of the State” so any war for any reason takes its toll on the health, wealth, and liberty of the people.

    It is worth considering, in the case of NK, that the current fat boy in charge, may not be so much in charge as it appears. There will be any number of generals and familiy relations who may be willing to play a chancey game in order to keep things the way they are but not so much as to ensure their own destruction. So for us, delaying the battle as long as possible increases the opportunity for other solutions to emerge. “Doing something” seldom works out the way it was intended.

    With regard to Cambodia and Viet Nam, the long-term view of that whole must include the whole long-term not just starting at some point in the middle, like coming into the theater at intermission then trying to analyze the plot. The US involvement in Viet Nam completely unbalanced the entire region which balance had already been disturbed much previously. In the absense of the all the foreign meddling, who can say what the outcomes would have been? We can say with some certainty, though, that the costs to us are still being paid.

    I am skeptical of the result of any kind of sophisticated selective nuking schenario. It will convince the nutters that all is lost (and for them it would be) so there will be nothing left to lose in unleashing their dogs. Millions will die and not all will be Koreans.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Allan, if the NK government have nukes, they don’t have a lot of them. Frankly I doubt they have a weaponised nuke at all. There is a very big gap between being able to cause a nuclear explosion at a test site and being able to put a nuke on a missile and fire it at things. Even the US took 20 years to move from one to the other.

    And even if they have some small nuclear launch capability, it’s not like the risks of attacking them are going to improve with time is it? Right now represents a real opportunity strategically. We’re coming off the back of a major famine, so the Juche brainwashing is relatively weak. In all probability the US would not need to fight a guerilla war with true believers post-invasion. Following the death of Jong-Il, the power structure is unstable. China also has been making exasperated noises with NK, indicating their willingness to be dragged into a second Korean war may be waning. Even the Chinese don’t believe in Maoism anymore, so Juche’s role as “Hardcore Maoism” is becoming of limited ideological utility to the Chinese.

    If their launch sites are destroyed, their ability to inflict harm numbering in the millions would be eliminated, if they even have such a capacity to begin with. We’re pretty sure they don’t have SLBM’s, so any missiles they do have should be relatively simple to find even if they try moving them around. The only way I can see them inflicting “millions” of casualties on anyone is if they give the order to start shooting their own people instead of surrendering. But 1000s, maybe 10s of thousands are already dying, of starvation, or torture.

    I think the world has been looking the other way for too long.

  • Laird

    JV, I followed your argument right up until the last paragraph. Most of it seemed to be saying that NK probably doesn’t have nukes, certainly not missile-deliverable nukes, if it does have any they are few and small, and that because of the (apparently endless) famine conditions there the regime is weak. This would suggest to me that simply ignoring them and waiting for the government to collapse under its own unsustainable weight would be a viable strategy. But instead you conclude that “the world has been looking the other way for too long”, which suggests that you favor a pre-emptive strike against them now. I rather prefer the first alternative: let the current NK government die of natural causes. Of course, we can and should help the process along by taking it off life support: eliminate all aid as well as trade, allow NK to fester in its own idiocy, and let the Chinese deal with the problem which is both on its doorstep and largely of its own making. Bluntly, NK is not an existential threat to the US, so it’s not my problem.

    Paul Marks, in your earlier comment you made reference to “George Woodrow Wilson Bush”. That is not the name of either of our former Presidents Bush. Were you making some sort of obscure (to me, anyway) point, or was that just a mistake?

  • JV, are you forgetting exactly who currently occupies the White House and all the other relevant positions? Or are you playing an “alternative history” scenario, where these positions are occupied by people who actually give a damn about their country’s interests (even forgetting for a second about the interests of the rest of the free world)?

  • Laird, I would guess that Paul Marks’ point was to say, in an manner uncomplimentary to either of them, that G W Bush, in the mould of Woodrow Wilson, had dangerously unlimited and utopian ambitions.

    I’m not sure I agree, but that’s what I think he’s saying.

    Wilson was a far nastier man than Bush (on that I am sure Paul would agree, judging from past comments), but many people whose opinion I respect say he did most harm when he was at his moral best; by trying to carve up territory according to the inherently unstable principle of “self determination of peoples”.

    Again, I’m not sure if I agree.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Laird, the problem with NK is their sole strategy has been to acquire more and more military hardware with which to blackmail the rest of the world into giving them stuff. Now that they are approaching a viable nuclear weapon, I don’t think quarantine is a viable option anymore. The regime in its death throws would level South Korea and Japan without a military intervention of some sort taking place.

    I agree Alisa, Obama will never throw the switch. I was just observing that we seem to be passing something of a Churchill “If you will not fight….” moment.

    If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

    Now I don’t for a second think N Korea will ever be in a position to force this kind of choice on Americans, but I’d bet money that they dream of being capable of forcing this kind of choice on South Koreans and Japanese. If Obama had any balls he’d lance the North Korean boil now when he had the chance. They are killing children in their Gulags.

  • JV, I’m afraid that I didn’t make myself clear: I am actually worried that Obama and Co. may indeed throw the switch – i.e. make a military move against NK. The reason that I’m worried is that even if I was convinced that this would be a correct move (which I am not), it is not the kind of move I would trust this administration to take, because I am certain that it will take it for its own ends and purposes.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Le Sith et cie. have no interest in increasing America’s power, nor status, nor wealth, except as necessary to buy themselves million-dollar junkets here and there–quite the contrary. They won’t do anything drastic about N.K. until and unless they’re quite sure that (a) it would please their various masters (including those voices they keep hearing) and (b) they won’t be risking their own tushies.

    So should they “throw the switch,” you can be sure no good would come of it. But I think it highly unlikely.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The vast majority of Americans have never had any interest whatsoever in being “the world’s policeman,” a theme that was dreamed up and touted by the Communists sometime early in the Cold War, IIRC. And it’s a smear that I’m sick of hearing.

    In fact we’ve had a great deal of trouble in the last 60 or so years because those responsible, both military and civilian, failed to take sufficiently decisive action. Paul keeps saying, “If you fight, then fight to win,” and he’s right.

    And just as a correction of the history: Our involvement in Korea and Vietnam goes back at least to the end of WWII. And that involvement had nothing to do with any desire for “Empire” or “hegemony,” at least not on the part of the American people. Even leftist historian Bruce Cummings, in Encyclopedia.com’s article on “The Korean Conflict,” writes:

    “The United States, however, did not want to become the “world’s policeman”: that was the job of the United Nations (UN). Formed in 1945, the global organization was founded with the purpose of regulating international conflict and, if need be, of bringing the forces of all the nations of the world against any aggressor. Since the end of World War II, however, two rival blocs had arisen: the West, led by the United States, the democratic and free nations of Western Europe, and Japan; and the East, composed mainly of nations with Communist governments and led by the Soviet Union. Furthermore China, a new and unpredictable player on the international scene, entered into the cold war when the Communists took over in 1949 and drove the pro-West government to the island of Formosa (Taiwan).”

    Let me suggest a couple of volumes for deeper investigation into the background of the war in Viet Nam.

    1. Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development, by Robert F. Turner. Unfortunately out of print, but there are still copies about. The book begins by disabusing us of the idea that Ho was merely a Vietnamese Nationalist, or an “agrarian reformer.” In fact he was a convinced Communist, a protegé of the Soviets trained by them in the U.S.S.R.

    2. The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, by William C. Gibbons. Four volumes, covering the period from 1945 to sometime in 1965. In particular, the first volume gives the “backstory” of the V-N War, explaining the political situation as it developed from the end of WWII.

    . . .

    I ran across this quote:

    “Liberals tell us if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. . . All who disagree with the “peace” crowd are indicted as warmongers. . . Let’s set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace — and you can have it in the next second — surrender.”

    — President Ronald Reagan, as quoted by Michael Medved

  • Mr Ed

    Lenin’s slogan ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ meant ‘War, Starvation and Collectivisation’. If socialists say that they want something, that means that they will take it from you just as soon as they can, and all three he took. The USSR was a War State, rom the Miracle on the Vistula to Kabul, Luanda to Leningrad, Murmansk to Maputo, the Kurile Islands to Cuba.

  • Julie:

    So should they “throw the switch,” you can be sure no good would come of it. But I think it highly unlikely.

    War is a very useful pretext for all kinds of emergency measures at home. I do agree that Obama does not seem to have it in him, but…Also, I’m sure Michele very much does.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I suppose the first question is do those who both enjoy and believe in the essential nature of individual liberty have a moral obligation to try and help those they see in chains. I would say yes.

    The second question is more pragamatic. Is Obama the man to champion those values, given that he does not seem to believe in them himself? That is more probematic. It is certainly possible for a bad man to a good thing for bad reasons. Why pursuing his own agenda, Obama could still impove the lot of the NK people.

    Let’s be honest, it would be hard to make things worse by changing the NK government. What could make things worse is if Obama starts a restricted Syrian-style attack, and loses his bottle and then stops before he has decapitated the beast. If he leaves the NK government alive, they will make it their mission to punish their own people for Obama;s actions.

    And frankly that kind of cowardly flip-flopping is exactly what I would expect of Obama.

  • Greg

    I very much like JVs suggested pre-emptive strike on NK, but I doubt it can be pulled off without massive NK civilian casualties. Not because the US military are bad shots–they do miss of course and nukes tend to be blunt instruments–but because the necessary buildup, even for a mostly nuclear strike, would not be able to be kept secret. At a minimum, the State Dept would tell the NYT who would immediately publish (which to me calls for a different kind of preemptive strike). And once the NK whackos knew what was afoot, they’d move civilians to their military targets. So, JV, is there a number of NK civilian casualties that would make you call off your strike? Or is my scenario unrealistic? As someone said…good discussion.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Greg I would never endorse any military attack on a civilian population. I think the only kind of attack that has a chance of liberating NK is a surprise attack of overwhelming force. So no NYT editorial would be possible.

    But Obama see’s himself as a guy who ends wars, not a guy who starts them. So I doubt very much that there is anything that would entice Obama to act, even if the NK started lining up their civilians and shooting them 10,000 at a time until the West agreed to all their demands.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I have just been listening to Act 1 of Macbeth. It seems to me that the Mrs. Obama and Lady Macbeth somewhat resemble one another. Probably just my imagination, of course.

    I don’t think the Sith is dumb enough to throw the switch on his own. It would be attacking what he stands for, insofar as he stands for anything except Obama-worship, and more to the point, I don’t think China would like it. The question is whether this crew would stand by Taiwan or Japan or even South Korea if Kim (or China, directly!) let loose on one of them. I imagine not.

    It seems to me that for Kim to do anything serious on his own–that is, not at the behest and with the blessing of China–would be the tail wagging the dog. I suppose China might let him go ahead with some relatively minor action (not directly against the U.S.) and sit back and watch to see if there’s any real, active U.S. protest.


    “What could make things worse is if Obama starts a restricted Syrian-style attack, and loses his bottle and then stops before he has decapitated the beast. ….”

    I hate to say it, but … that’s been our pattern.

    This is a very interesting discussion, lots of food for thought.

  • Paul Marks

    Elections have consequences – and the American election of November 2012 will have terrible consequences.

    Barack Obama may decide to disarm the Nork Regime – perhaps offended by their mixing of mystical elements with Marxism (it will not be the Marxist elements that offend Comrade Barack). Or perhaps (in some Star Trek type way) Barack Obama would actaully feel bad about South Korea getting nuked.

    Or Israel getting nuked by the Iranians.

    Or, perhaps, Comrade Barack could not care less – and it will all be a matter of political calculation (“how would this play with PUBLIC OPINION?”).

    Who knows?

    When an enemy of the West (and Barack is an enemy of the West) is elected (and reeected) there are consequences.

    Did those “practical” people (so many years ago now) how did not care that the education system and the media (especially the entertainment media) came under the control of the left, not understand where it would lead?

    “Practical” – fools.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The Comrade couldn’t care less about the Norks, the Sorks, or the Israelis. The Norks have effectively seceded from the globe (except when China yanks the leash, I think), the Sorks are insufficiently third-world and not overburdened with either military or political clout, and the Israelis, well–Israel is an actual Enemy, of course. So if anything, for Iran to nuke Israel that would be a plus.

    I don’t think his preferred audience is the American people, anyway. He needed to play to them enough to get elected, but now he has “more flexibility.”

    I don’t know whom he’s playing to now. Some combination of the Chinese, the Communists, the certainly-no-longer-Communist ex-Soviets, the Muslim Brotherhood, and of course his Own Dear Self, I suppose.

    … “It depends upon what one wants to practice.”