From the Comments: Western Military Intervention and the Reductio ad Hitlerum

Dr Khawaja makes an excellent point in the threads of my post the libertarianism of ISIS:

As for the Hitler comparison, I think that issue really needs to be opened and discussed from scratch. One relatively superficial problem with the Hitler/ISIS analogy is that ISIS is not plausibly regarded as the threat to us that Nazi Germany was, or could have been. But at a deeper level: instead of regarding war with Nazi Germany as beyond question, we ought to be able to ask the question why it was necessary to go to war with them. Once we grasp that nettle, I think the Hitler comparisons really lead in one of three directions: either they show us how different the Nazi regime was from ISIS, or they cast doubt on the “need” to fight the Nazis in the first place, or they prove that we “had” to fight the Nazis only because we put ourselves on a path that made fighting inevitable. But we shouldn’t walk around with the axiom that if x resembles the Nazis, well, then we better fight x…or else we’re dishonoring our forbears. Which is about the level of neo-conservative discussion on this topic.

The reason why we went to war with Nazi Germany is that the Nazis (credibly) declared war on us after we declared war on Japan–after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor (after we challenged Japanese imperialism in East Asia…etc.). Granted, there was naval warfare in the Atlantic before December 1941, but we might have avoided that by not supporting Britain (and the USSR) against the Nazis in the first place. War with the Nazis became an inevitability because of our prior involvement in a European quarrel, not because of the unique turpitude of the Nazis (much less because of the Holocaust). I don’t mean to deny that the Nazis were uniquely evil. I mean: that’s not why we fought. The reasons we fought were highly contingent, and might, given different contingencies, have led to not fighting at all.

The preceding suggestion seems off-limits to some, but I don’t think it is. Suppose we had not supported Britain in 1940-41, not had a Lend-Lease program (“An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States”), and the Nazis had not declared war on us after Pearl Harbor. Was war with them necessary or obligatory? I don’t see why. If we could go decades without hot war with the USSR or China, why not adopt a similar policy vis-a-vis Germany? (Yes, Korea involved some hot war with China, but my point is: we could have avoided that, too.) And if there is no good case for war with the Nazis under a consistently isolationist policy, the Hitler comparisons in the ISIS case are worse than useless.

What we have in the ISIS case is just an exaggerated version of the “inevitabilities” that got us into war with Germany. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we ourselves created the path dependency that gives the illusion of requiring war against ISIS as a further “correction.” In that sense, the Hitler comparison is quite apt, but entails the opposite of what the hawks believe. We’re being led to war to correct the disasters created by the last war, themselves intended to correct the problems of the war before. Isn’t it time to stop digging? Perhaps we shouldn’t have gotten onto any of these paths. The best way to avoid traveling down the highway to hell is to take an exit ramp and get the hell off while you still can. Not that you’re disagreeing, I realize.

Indeed. Be sure to check out Dr Khawaja’s blog, too (I tacked it on to our blogroll as well). My only thoughts are additions, specifically to Irfan’s point about taking an exit ramp. I don’t think there are enough libertarians talking about exit ramps. There are plenty of reactions from libertarians to proposals put forth by interventionists, but there are precious few alternatives being forth by libertarians. Dr van de Haar’s (very good) point about alliances is one such alternative. (I wish he would blog more about this topic!) Another option is to initiate deeper political and economic ties with each other (through agreements like political federations or trading confederations). Libertarians rarely write or talk about realistic alternatives to military intervention, especially American ones.

2 thoughts on “From the Comments: Western Military Intervention and the Reductio ad Hitlerum

  1. Not to mention that our support of the allies in World War One was a direct cause of the harsh peace imposed on the Germans after that war. Without US intervention England and France would have been more willing to accept less harsh terms while Germany would have been less likely to give in without the threat of fresh US forces pouring into Germany.

    Remember, when the war ended the western front was still in a stalemate. German troops were in Belgium and France. It was not the same as during WW2 where allied forces were pouring into Berlin, far from it. They called it an armistice, “an agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce”, and not a surrender for a reason.

    The harsh peace terms bankrupted the German economy, caused their hyperinflationist economic policies, and directly led to the rise of nationalism and racism that was the bread and butter of the Nazi party.

    Finally without US support England would not have been able to hold their hunger blockade over Germany well into 1919 causing widespread death and malnutrition. When you see your friends and family sick, weak, and dying throughout your childhood is it any wonder the idea of an Ubermensch will grip you in the way it did so many German boys in the 30’s?

    • All great points General.

      I only wish to complement them. It is typical for Westerners to view the World Wars from our point of view, but I have become convinced that the best way to view the World Wars is from the vantage point of the Germans.

      The World Wars were partly (mostly?) a product of the piecemeal creation of the German state out of scores of independent or semi-autonomous political units throughout the German-speaking realm.

      Because the West (UK and its colonies/US, France, and the Low Countries) was well-established politically and geographically, Germany did not really look upon it with as much suspicion as it did central and eastern Europe (and especially the cosmopolitan empires governed from Moscow, Istanbul, and Vienna/Budapest). There was, of course, a growing economic rivalry with the UK (despite the fact that the two countries were deeply intertwined economically – but not politically) and a bitter France to deal with, but for the most part state-builders in Germany looked to the West as a role model rather than a rival.

      Woodrow Wilson’s fatal decision to drag the United States into the war was a bad one, to say the least, but there is no evidence to suggest that it ended the war or contributed any more directly to bitter German feelings about their loss. This is view most popularly espoused by Westerners like Keynes and Anglophiles like Hayek and Mises, and it’s a good one, but I don’t think it paints a complete picture. German war plans were aimed at holding the Western Front rather than making any big inroads territorially (as you so aptly point out), and the logic behind this was because policymakers in Berlin wanted to “protect” Germans living in realms not ruled by Germans (this is where comparisons between Hitler and Putin come in). There was also the annoying fact, to German nationalists (conservative, liberal, and socialist) that German-speaking Austria was not a part of Fatherland.

      Again, by dragging the US into the war, Wilson made a serious, despicable blunder and should be vilified for it (he’s not, of course), but German minds were largely focused on their eastern and southern flanks during this time period. The big story of the World Wars was not the defeat of Germany at the hands of fresh American forces but the collapse of three old, cosmopolitan empires in the East (after the first war) and the collapse of three overseas empires (English, French, and Dutch) after the second war. The violent collapse of these empires gave way to the world we know today.

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