The path to war

The conditions that caused war with Nazi Germany will cause war with North Korea. In both cases a foreign power pursued military policies that endangered crucial American interests. Nazis threatened to create an empire challenging American domination of international commerce. North Korea (with its godfather China) threatens to drive America from the Pacific and supply nuclear weapons to terrorists for use on American cities. The U.S. can’t accept the results in either case.

But it isn’t the unacceptable result that inevitably leads to war. It’s that our political system prevents timely action when faced with a challenging dictator. As dictators, Hitler and the Kims (not to mention the Chinese supreme leaders) can pursue policies doggedly without internal dissent. Any dissenter is purged. In our system some policy makers usually see the threat years before it reaches imminent, crisis proportions. Think Churchill’s alarms about Hitler.

But action is prevented by others who benefit politically from promising they have a peaceful way to bring the dictator to heel. Citizens and most bureaucrats eschew military action or even military preparation (on the grounds it could antagonize the aggressor). The political tides therefore resist military action and preparation. Even clear evidence of imminent threat (invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia, rapid advances in nuclear, missile, and biochemical technologies) fails sufficiently to bend the curve of American action.

Accordingly, the dictator learns he is free to remain ahead of the curve vis-a-vis America. We fail to act on grounds war would be devastating until a devastating war becomes inevitable.

Maurice Emmer