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With Enemies Like That Who Needs Friends

Reunion of Confederate and Federal veterans at Gettysburg, 1913
Civil War Reunion, 1913

The title quotes from the familiar notion but reverses the two expressions. The point of the article is that it doesn’t matter, especially between nation-states. Meaning: that to “label” others into either category might be a terrible mistake. In other words, in the final analysis, there is little distinction between the two, and to make that mistake, as is common, could well be fatal.

As a normal expression between normal people, the idea is repugnant to “civil” behavior, the very concepts of “love” and “friendship,” plus the main tenets of organized religion. The chief use of such an admonition is usually equated with the behavior of nations, states, governments, and peoples in their “external” or foreign policies with each other. Since they seem to be nearly always at war or preparing for the same, the expression, either way, appears appropriate.

Churchill once put it well in his reflection on British foreign policies over time, “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests.” As such, the expression makes a loud and clear distinction between the behavior of people acting on behalf of the state and those acting on their own. The idea of “interest” on behalf of a government or a people takes precedence over all else, in any form of human endeavor, public or private.

The evidence is overwhelming, since time began and regardless of circumstance or intention. Who could imagine dressing eighteen-year-olds in uniforms and sending them out to kill neighbors or “foreigners” for an “interest”? Whatever the price. Harry Truman, to cite a singular human example, was an American president with sound moral and theological instincts who presided over the end of World War II. In order to end it, he gave orders to annihilate over 100,000 innocent civilians within minutes because they represented the “enemy.” The event came and went, the war ended, and practically no one, friend or enemy, challenged Truman’s call (there were “dissenters” though).

The idea has no end and persists to this day. The suggestion, as with the Churchill quotation, as to the lack of a clear distinction between the two expressions, is near-universal. Quotations, from public and private, known and unknown, embrace time and people. As follows:

“The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.”
– Aristotle

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
– Lincoln

“A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have.”
– Lincoln

“An enemy can partly ruin a man, but it takes a good natured and injudicious friend to complete the thing and make it perfect.”
– Mark Twain

“An honest enemy is always better than a friend who lies.”
– Unknown

“Never explain yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it.”
– Elbert Hubbard

“Friends come and go but enemies accumulate.”
– Arthur Bloch

“Fake friends are worse than real enemies.”
– Unknown

“Everybody who fights you is not your enemy and everybody who helps you is not your friend.”
– Mike Tyson

“Sometimes your closest friend is your greatest enemy.”
– Unknown

“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
– Mario Puzo

“Sometimes your closest friend is your greatest enemy.”
– Unknown

“I would sooner lose my best friend than my worst enemy.”
– Oscar Wilde

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
– JK Rowling

“I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.”
– Dalai Lama

“When a man’s his own enemy it’s only because he’s too much his own friend.”
– Charles Dickens

This sample (literally from hundreds) should serve to support the notion of the intimate relationship between perhaps the two most important conditions in human affairs. The fact that they represent strict and tightly held definitions within the private and familiar realm (“personalities”) should not dissuade us from appreciating how they have come to represent domination in the “affairs of state.”

The terms “friend” and “enemy” represent the “normal” condition in world politics, i.e., allied vs. enemy states, war vs. peace. Indeed, the interaction between the two terms has become so blurred over time that it is fair to suggest that they have ceased to have any lasting definition whatsoever.

How else does one explain the relentless repetition of peaceful and wartime conditions that have thus far dominated relations between and among member countries of the “human condition”? As follows:

  • The first two American wars against Great Britain, subsequent “special relationship” between them that defined the last century;
  • The greatest two wars in human history against Germany, subsequent allied relationship for the last 75 years;
  • Pearl Harbor and the A-Bomb against Japan, subsequent close allied condition since 1945;
  • Allied with Russia (USSR) in World War II, subsequent Cold War (Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev) to allied relationship (Gorbachev, Yeltsin) to Putin (now hostile);
  • Defender and benefactor of China throughout most of history, Open Door policy 1899, defense against Japan to 1945, enemy under Mao, friend under Nixon, subsequent enemy for world domination.

These samples as well typify the precise nature of world politics; they are not “exceptions,” they are “rules.” They blend the two expressions so that they have ceased to have more than “temporal” meaning, but exist to satisfy the moment.

Despite Churchill’s deepest beliefs, quoted above, there still may be an exception to his own professed words. The day after Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941, Churchill wrote the following in his own Diary: “Now at this very moment I knew that the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in the death. So we had won after all.”

They were friends.