The countries which count themselves among “the west” have a very poor track record when it comes to recognizing how their present-day actions will inevitably affect the future. In the history of the United States this did not take long at all. Once the American Revolution ended in 1783, it was just a matter of time before the next outbreak of hostilities would come to its shores.
From 1783 and well into the Washington and Adams administrations, there was much talk between these presidents and the congress as to what represented a good army and a good navy. To be sure, money was short for funding more than a minimal army and navy at best, but they had a difficult time deciding among themselves what one should even look like. When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1803, he was so vehemently against the United States having any sort of standing army that he set out to entirely disband what we did have. So weakened were U.S. forces in 1812, that when the United States finally took action against British Naval ships that were impressing American sailors, it was inevitable that the U.S. would have difficulties defending itself against the vastly superior British forces yet again.
James Madison, the president during the War of 1812, had his work cut out for him but he rallied support and put together a force that finally in 1814 ended the hostilities with the Battle of New Orleans. Never again were U.S. forces so weak as to be incapable of defending our shores.
That World War 1 would happen where and when it did was apparent to all but those in complete denial of the instability that existed in the Balkan Republics. While Austria was rightfully outraged at the assassination of Franz Joseph, it could have avoided dragging western Europe into a conflict had it not taken the actions it did. But once it did, fierce Austrian and German nationalists used it as a way to united Prussia, Germany, and Austria in a fight with Russia, and then with France. Prior to World War 1 national borders were frequently in dispute, often fuzzy, and at times certain territories claimed by one country were under the government of another. It was this that thrust Austria-Germany into the fray. Prussia in particular made claim to Russian territory and that brought in the Russians.
By the time World War 1 had ended in 1918 Europe was as war-weary as it had ever been. The French felt the most wronged by the German incursions. And the British, not to be outdone, felt they had been forced to contribute an inordinate amount of financial backing to the allied forces. Each wanted its pound of flesh extracted from the German people. When the final treaty was signed in 1919, Germany was required to pay so much in financial reparations as to render it bankrupt for decades to come. The demands of the French and British were extremely unreasonable. This so embittered the German people who a very small very right-wing group of Germans known at the National Socialists used that, and other prejudices, to champion their cause. Throughout the 1920s the German economy expanded but because of its heavy debt it was felt by most Germans that they were being held down. German feared, and rightfully so, that their military had been so weakened that their natural enemy, the Russian Communists, could overrun them at will.
When a world-wide depression hit in the 1930s, it gave the German National Socialists, lead by Adolph Hitler, the perfect opportunity to take power. He rightfully pointed to the treaty signed in 1919 as the basis of the economic woes, and promised to take back German pride. Once elected chancellor, Hitler did that at least in part.
Historians today point out how World War II is but a continuation of World War I, there having been no reasonable treaty agreed to. But the end of World War II necessarily gave seed to both the Korean War and the war in Vietnam.
Until 1945, China had been led by Emperors and a conflagration of local war lords who ruled heavy handedly over the people. For as long as anyone could remember these feudal lords were waring with neighboring feudal lords over land and power. But by the end of World War II, the Chinese people were tired of monarchies and all their trappings. Enter Chang Kai-shek. Chang Kai-shek had been the visible leader of the opposition to the Japanese occupation forces, and of course at the end of World War II he was the U.S. choice to led the country. But Chang Kai-shek did little to change the culture of the government. The popular general turned into a hated governmental administrator. Mao Zedong, who had also lead opposition forces during World War II proffered the idea of a socialist state, a “people’s government.” So popular was this idea among the Chinese people who four short years after World War II, Mao Zedong was the head of the new Chinese government.
Mao Zedong quickly made friends with two neighbors each of whom was ethnically related, the North Koreans and the Vietnamese. Both countries had established a communist form of government and both had a desire for their countries to be united, north and south.
The U.S. greatly underestimated the power of the North Korean and Chinese forces that invaded in 1950 and were nearly driven off the peninsula.
Not long after the end of hostilities in North Korea things were getting unsettled in Vietnam with the withdrawal of the French in what had been Indochina. Here again a general who had opposed the Japanese during World War II, Ho Chi Mihn, was leading his communist nation. But unlike the North Koreans, Ho Chi Mihn made an offering to U.S. official to avoid hostilities. But 1954 America had become wrapped up in McCarthyism and negotiations with communists was viewed by many as unpatriotic. No talks were ever held.
When the French left Vietnam the U.S. stepped in. But U.S. officials had little understanding of Vietnam’s problem. All they saw were the hated communists who had evil in their hearts and had to be controlled if not eliminated. As early as 1954 war in Vietnam had become inevitable.
For the past 11 years we have been involved in the conflicts of the middle east. While things have at least settled down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the region is far from stable. Also in question, what are our long-range motivations with regard to that region? Where are our allegiances? What countries are most likely to drag the region back into hostilities?
One thing is certain, we cannot use our beliefs in what is right and wrong and overlay those beliefs on the people of other countries. That simply does not work and it categorically unfair to the people of those countries. What we need is a greater understanding of the needs of the gross population of these countries, their desires, and their beliefs.