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The Road to War

In effect, the U.S. is at war with Russia now and has been since the first shipment of aid to Ukraine arrived. There is no military action between the two, no declaration of war, but effectively we are with one side in a war.

This has a number of historic precedents, and we should learn from them. The Cold War against Soviet Russia lasted nearly a century, yet there was no declaration of war, no military action (excluding the ridiculous 1918 intervention), and in World War II we were Allies. The Cold War saw thousands of nuclear weapons, two armed Blocs side-by-side inside Europe, military conflicts from distant Vietnam and Korea to neighbor Cuba, “meddling” within each other with the intent of “overthrow,” and political warfare that disrupted the entire world, from Afghanistan/the Middle East to Africa and Latin America. In spite of all these catastrophic interventions, the end came when Soviet Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev simply dropped from sight.

By the end of Reagan’s second term, the USA had become the undisputed global “superpower” through brilliant diplomatic and political maneuvers, without “a shot being fired.” The single exception was the rescue of medical students from Granada, an affair that lasted all of four days. Even assistance to Soviet ally Nicaragua tried to go through other channels (“Iran-Contra”). Ollie North took the fall for this.

Other events from history cast a more ominous shadow over how the Biden Administration has supervised Russia inside Ukraine. In 1914, the first of two “world” wars began with the Wilson Administration declaring neutrality on the same day that Britain declared war (August 4). Yet from that day forth, the U.S. was, effectively, at war with Germany.

How “neutral” was the U.S.? First, all the Cabinet members, except one, were fervently pro-British. The exception was Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who resigned in protest in 1915. Second, the moment war began, the American industrial and financial system, then in a depression, began pouring arms, munitions, and bank loans to the Allies (primarily Britain). At the same time, the British Navy began a tight blockade of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary), thus restricting any possibility of trade or aid getting through.

The blockade was so tight that trade with Germany fell to almost nothing by the middle of the war. In 1914, U.S. trade with Germany totaled 170 million dollars; by 1917, it had dropped to about one million, a 99.9% decline. Trade with the Allies in 1914 was about 825 million dollars; in 1917, it had risen to about three trillion, a 300% increase.

Beyond the blockade of the continent, Britain mined the North Sea, thus supervising all American cargo ships that needed sailing instructions. If the cargo was objectionable, the ship was seized and brought to a British port. The British Navy ruled the entire ocean. American merchant ships suspected of carrying contraband were seized, often boarded, and often brought to ports and held for periods of days or weeks.

The U.S. Ambassador, Walter Hines Page, was more pro-British than American. Historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote, “Instead of faithfully representing the United States in England, as was his duty, Page represented the British cause to the government in Washington. His bias finally became so blatant that President Wilson wrote him off as ‘really an Englishman.’”

British behavior on the high seas was flagrantly illegal. In January 1917, Germany announced a resumption of “unlimited” submarine warfare, which was also illegal. In March, German subs began sinking unarmed American merchantmen, and, in April, the U.S. declared war.  The world hasn’t been the same since.

Without U.S. entry, there would have been no Versailles Treaty, termed a “diktat” by Hitler, who used it to arouse Germany against the Weimar Republic and Wilson’s League of Nations. Both Weimar and the League became two of history’s worst creations; both collapsed and made the Second World War a near certainty. Wilson’s acquiescence to French demands for an occupation, reparations, and German acceptance of war guilt made the next war absolutely certain.

The “Second” world war, from the U.S. perspective, began in nearly the same way. Against an isolationist Congress, President Roosevelt did all he could to ensure Britain’s survival. The Lend Lease Agreement (March 1941), the Destroyers for Bases Agreement the previous year, and the Joint Atlantic Charter (August 1941) all guaranteed that not only was the U.S. “unneutral” but that it was, effectively, at war with Nazi Germany from the beginning. Hitler’s declaration of war, four days after Pearl Harbor, was an afterthought.

Conclusion: The above is not a call against the past, nor is it a call for a new “isolationism.”  But it is a reminder that history has a tendency to “repeat,” and that having embarked on a “road to war,” the U.S. has taken a serious step toward eventual war with Putin’s Russia. It took over two years in each case for the U.S. to ultimately go to war against Germany. We have sent a record nearly 100 billion (with a “B”) to Ukraine, and a similar end is approaching with every passing day.

Having entered the “road,” we can either increase speed or get off. As a “superpower,” in the Reagan tradition, it is past time for the Biden Administration to engage in enlightened and creative peaceful/diplomatic solutions to this travesty. He ignores our southern border while risking nuclear war with Ukraine’s, a country nearly 10,000 miles away, a corrupt, ancient culture somewhere between Poland and Mongolia (didn’t Hunter once “work” there?).

Otherwise, we can sit back and wait until “history” takes over…. and “repeats.”

On the “brighter” side: we’ve survived civil war, world wars, and cold war. I suppose we can do it again.