In his essay "War
is the Health of the State," Randolph Bourne criticizes war as an enterprise
that increases the state's control over its subjects. During times of peace,
people think less about the state and more about living their everyday lives.
However, when war starts, the people and the state become one, and the state
expands its power over the populace, drafting them into the military and censoring
the press. Dissenters are marginalized and sometimes imprisoned. While Bourne
criticized the state for starting wars and demanding blind loyalty from its
subjects, President Theodore Roosevelt (TR) viewed war as a healthy undertaking
that increased a nation's "manliness." Not surprisingly, today's neocons
look to Roosevelt to justify their imperialistic military adventures.
One would be hard pressed to find a situation in which TR did not advocate
the use of military force. Indeed, he would probably have agreed with Bourne's
thesis that "war is the health of the state." According to historian
Robert J. Maddox in his article "Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders,"
TR thought war "could be a tonic to the nation's bloodstream." Nations
that went too long without war, in Roosevelt's view, were in danger of becoming
"unmanly." During his presidency, he said America "needed
a war," and he found one in the Philippines, a territory the US acquired
after winning the Spanish-American War. TR's "manly" war to civilize
the Filipinos (his predecessor, the imperialist William McKinley, said they
needed to be Christianized
because they were Catholic) killed 4,000 American soldiers and over 200,000
Filipinos. However, he always defended war, writing
"It is a base untruth to say that happy is the nation that has no history.
Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to
dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure,
than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer
much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
In other words, America should abandon the principles of the Founding Fathers,
who called for a non-interventionist foreign policy, and become a nation that
goes "abroad in search of monsters to destroy." The Founders, in fact,
wanted America to be a nation "that knows not victory or defeat,"
because they knew that wars endanger the liberties they fought to protect. This
was apparently lost on TR.
TR was one of the first American presidents to openly promote the pursuit of
empire. For example, in his essay "Expansion
and Peace," he praises the Roman Empire, saying:
"The Roman expanded, and he has left a memory which has profoundly
influenced the history of mankind, and he has further left as the heirs of his
body, and, above all, of his tongue and culture, the so-called Latin peoples
of Europe and America."
TR conveniently omits the Roman Empire's fate (the eventual fate of all empires):
economic and military collapse. He has similar praise for the British Empire:
"All civilization…has been the gainer by the advance of England in
both Asia and Africa, both Canada and Australia."
The victims of the Boer
War (one of the first – and bloodiest – guerrilla wars), Britain's war for
gold against Dutch descendants in South Africa, would probably not consider
It should come as no surprise that the neocons love TR. They, like TR, believe
that the only healthy state is one that is perpetually on a military footing.
For example, in 1996, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote an article
in Foreign Affairs that called for America to pursue a policy of "benevolent
global hegemony," in which most Americans should participate. They lamented
the fact that most Americans, who care little about empire and war, "have
come to take the fruits of their hegemonic power for granted." To solve
this problem, they suggest that the president "take steps to close the
growing separation of civilian and military cultures in our society." They
sadly concede that a military draft may not be "feasible," but suggest
expanding the military reserves to create a more militaristic culture. The neocons,
then, like TR, believe peace is "unmanly," and want America's youth
to undertake the "manly"
mission of global military hegemony.
Also like TR, the neocons show little respect for America's Founding principles.
Utilizing the American military to attain global hegemony certainly violates
John Quincy Adams' admonition against going "abroad in search of monsters
to destroy." For years, they advocated a monster hunt for Saddam Hussein.
Even before 9/11, they wanted
to topple Saddam and, by controlling Iraq's oil supplies, usher in a "Pax
Americana" of global military dominance. In 2003, their wish was finally
granted, and disaster has followed, just as it did when TR went to war in the
completely contradict the principles of America's founding by advocating renewed
conscription, the state's most heinous attack on liberty. To justify their proposal,
they claim that America cannot maintain its superpower status without a draft.
Anyone who understands the original intent of the Founders knows that, when
a government cannot raise enough volunteers to fight a war, the war is not worth
fighting. Neocons, of course, say that, since the Constitution gives Congress
the right to raise an army, the draft is constitutional. This argument, however,
conveniently ignores the motives of the Founders. They had just fought a war
to secede from a tyrannical central government; it would make no sense for them
to give the new federal government the power to force people into the military.
Interestingly, most neocons support Lincoln's war to "liberate" the
Southern slaves (though the war was not
about slavery) and the constitutional amendments that followed, one of which
– the thirteenth – forbids involuntary servitude. Forcing citizens into the
military obviously constitutes involuntary servitude. They dance around this
contradiction in their thinking by citing the Supreme Court's rulings that uphold
the draft because of Congress' power to raise an army. Anyone who has spent
the least amount of time studying government, however (and the neocons obviously
have), knows that all branches of government yield to the executive branch during
wartime (when those decisions were rendered). After (and, in the Ex
parte Merryman opinion, even during) the Civil War, for example, the
Supreme Court condemned many of the Lincoln administration's actions. The contradictory
neoconservative stance on conscription, then, shows that they view the Founding
principles as a nuisance to dance around, not a framework for government.
The neocons share TR's lust for empire; they are sympathetic to the Roman and
British Empires. The aforementioned term "Pax Americana," for example,
is borrowed from the Roman term "Pax Romana," which refers to a period
of "peace" under Roman dominance. The neoconservatives – like Roman
and British imperialists before them – have an exceptional view of their country's
motives and designs, which explains their belief that an American Empire will
be more "benevolent" than the Roman and British Empires. And their
belief in American Exceptionalism has – like the exceptionalism of Roman and
British imperialists – led to atrocities like those at Abu Ghraib, not peace.
TR and the neocons differ in one key respect. TR, unlike the neocons, practiced
what he preached. When the war with Spain he wanted finally arrived, he joined
a regiment of "Rough Riders" as a lieutenant-colonel. Later, when
America entered World War I (which he also supported), he asked
President Wilson to allow him to reprise his role, but Wilson refused. TR's
son, Quentin, was killed in World War I. TR, grief-stricken, died six months
his stance on war. Apparently, losing a child taught him that war is not such
a "healthy" activity for those who die. In contrast, few, if any,
of the neocons have served in uniform, nor have their children. They prefer
to be armchair generals, letting others fight and die. They would rather let
other people's children experience the healthy benefits of war.