by Mike Pyatt
Much of Europe and Asia lay in ashen ruins in the Fall of 1945. The Soviet hammer and sickle flag flew over most of Europe and German Reichstag. Mao’s red star rose higher over a China devastated by almost a decade of war and Japanese occupation. The world had paid an enormous price in treasure and blood to defeat maniacal Nazi and Japanese aggression. The war had unleashed political, economic, and social instability that had contributed to the rise of totalitarianism, hostile and expansionist Communist regimes, that spilled over into decades of vigilance and sacrifice in Korea and Vietnam to restrain its advance.
That the war had many complex and interrelated causes are undeniable, notwithstanding the failed statesmanship by European Allies, to the megalomania of German, Japanese and Soviet leaders. In 1948, Winston Churchill, commented on what he called the “Unnecessary War,” as he wrote, “It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented, how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous, how the structure of and habits of democratic States, unless they are welded into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humble masses, how even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued for even ten or fifteen years at a time.” He sounded a clarion warning as early as 1935, lamenting the loss of British air parity with Nazi Germany, due to costly, political unwillingness to match the scope and pace of Hitler’s rearmament. His comment was prescient.
American’s foreign policy moved from isolationism to intervention from 1931 to 1941, as we willingly provided assistance to support the defense of Great Britain. Fascist aggression began in 1931, when Japan attacked China without provocation, and converted Manchuria into a Japanese satellite. The following year Japan attacked Shanghai. The U.S. protested Japan’s action, and the League of Nations censured Japan. Japan withdrew from the League. In 1935, Hitler imposed a military draft on Germany, and began to raise an army and air force, in clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles. A war on two fronts-Southeast Asia and Europe-ultimately depended on support on “The Home Front.” The strength of the American economy, the stability of the people, and the flexibility of the American political system proved positive in the WW II victory. Our political strategy was neither as clear nor as successful as our military strategy. Most Americans were convinced they were fighting for their survival. Over 300,000 gave all.
In retrospect, many are convinced our alliance with the U.S.S.R was most troubling. In 1945, the wartime conference held in Crimea, Yalta Conference, turned out to be the military equivalent of “wartime Monopoly,” dividing the spoils of war, into American, Soviet, British, and French military zones. Criticism of the Yalta commitments came as the Soviet’s flagrant violations, as Poland became a Soviet satellite where democratic elections were never held. Churchill expressed skepticism that Soviet’s would cooperate. Soviets signed the Declaration of the United Nations, agreeing to take no new territory after the war. The Allied victory was made possible because the three great powers cooperated. At what future cost?
Our relationship with Russia is a historic, troubling trail. Days of summits; Bush-Gorbachev: Reagan-Gorbachev, Carter-Brezhnev, Nixon-Brezhnev, and Kennedy-Krushchev. The 1955 Warsaw Pact, the “Communist Alliance” was signed by Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Soviet Union. It was a military treaty, that signatories would come to the aid of others, should any of them become a victim of foreign aggression. The Pact quickly became a powerful political tool for the Soviets to hold sway over it allies. When Hungary tried to extricate itself from the agreement in 1956, Soviets moved in to crush the uprising. In 1968, they invaded Czechoslovakia, with support from five members. The Pact was dissolved in 1991. It was a rival alliance to the 1949, NATO treaty, signed by the U.S. and eleven other Western nations, with the strength of Article 5, pledging the attack on another member would constitute an attack on all.
Clare Booth Luce, former author, ambassador to Italy, and wealthy, political gadfly of yesteryear, in a visit to President John F. Kennedy, told him, “Mr. President, you must get the Soviets out of this hemisphere.” Luce understood the grave threat of Communism, and the indispensability of U.S. strength in peace, and the nightmare of unrestrained existential threats from anywhere. It’s safe to say our 44th President’s limp-wrist foreign policy, noli me tangere, to Vladimir Putin regarding cyber-hacking, “Cut it out,” was perilously weak. Can we expect a framework for strength from President-elect Trump? Will it be sufficiently robust to garner Allied confidence, and our enemies’ respect?
Will we focus solely on the Kremlin, ignoring the encroachment of China, and imminent threat of rouge North Korea? China’s vision is to displace the U.S. hegemony in Asia, and become the dominant power on earth. Taiwan is “the bone in Beijing’s throat.” That’s why Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s President drew their ire. They’ve vowed to dominate the Western Pacific, “out to the second island chain.” This would include Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines. China’s sway with North Korea’s absolute. They provide 90% of North Korea’s livelihood. Contemporary China isn’t Richard Nixon’s China. President Clinton capitulated to Beijing’s demands to marginalize Taiwan in weak U.S. diplomacy.
We must open our eyes to a brutal government that tortures Christians and dissidents, conducts cultural genocide in Tibet, forcibly perform abortions, and sterilize married women for becoming pregnant with a second child. Can we dismiss an armed Chinese military of nearly three million? We misread China in 1949. With any external threat, what they do to their own, given the power, they’ll do to us. Can we forge U.S. strength, rebuffing isolationism and hawkish interventionism? Is there a paralysis of moral will? Weakness is costly. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org