Invincible to Irrelevant

The single most important function of a national government is the safety and security of its citizens, its territory and its values. Is anyone ready to argue this point? Thought not.

Since the 1913 inauguration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson as President, America has been corrupted by the cancer of concentrated power by liberal-progressivism in the great cities of this country – in the financial capital of New York City; in the commodities capitol of Chicago; in the intellectual capital of Boston; in the pop-culture & entertainment capital of Los Angeles and in the political capital of Washington, DC. There they have managed, time and again, to maneuver America into a position of weakness both at home and, most significantly, abroad. How did this happen?

“In January 1918, two years after seizing control of the public debate through intimidation and coercion by the Propaganda Board, President Woodrow Wilson emphasized disarmament in Point Four of his Fourteen Points (a statement of the Allies’ war aims) and in his endorsement of it as Article Eight of the League of Nations Covenant. Point Four called for “adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.”

Wilson did not consider arms reduction a high priority, but he clearly saw it as in the U.S. interest. To him, a commitment to general disarmament, no matter how ambiguous, would justify the imposition of arms restrictions on Germany and its allies – as if any justification was necessary for a defeated and exhausted Germany. We don’t know what other Americans thought because there was no free flowing public debate.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson reduced his emphasis on arms reductions because of considerations of national sovereignty [international inspection teams], the threat of Bolshevism and demands of economic nationalism. He even threatened a new naval arms race by a disingenuous urging of Congress to fund the construction of 156 warships, including ten super-dreadnoughts and six high-speed battle cruisers, called for in the Naval Appropriation Act of 1916, in order to obtain political concessions from our allies. 

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George loathed to accept U.S. naval parity, nor did he agree with Wilson’s desire to append the Monroe Doctrine [Europe shall not challenge American interests in the Western Hemisphere] to the League Covenant. Unwilling to undertake a costly naval race, Lloyd George relented on the latter point and agreed to future negotiations on the former.

Wilson tried the same strategy during the Senate’s League ratification hearings (May 1919 – March 1920), insisting there were only two alternatives: The League of Nations and disarmament, or increased naval construction and higher taxes. The Senate rejected league membership on the grounds it impinged upon the nation’s sovereignty and left the naval problems for the Harding administration.

In the spring of 1921, the incompetent, compromise Republican nominee for President, now elected, Warren G. Harding and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes (a former Justice on the United States Supreme Court and Governor of New York) confronted a burgeoning naval race – before the year was out more than 200 warships were under construction. Hughes invited the other major naval powers – Great Britain, Japan, France, and Italy – to meet at Washington, D.C.,on November 12, 1921.

Over-ruling his admirals, Hughes developed a detailed plan grounded on two themes: an immediate halt of all capital ship construction and the defining of national strategies in terms of “relative security.” [Of course, at that time there was no way to predict that relative security would lead to absolute insecurity less than twenty years later – a lesson lost on the post-World War II generation when the United States actually possessed the means for absolute security. All that was lacking was the will.] By presenting his proposal for capital ship reductions and limitations in his opening speech, Hughes seized the diplomatic initiative and gained widespread public support.

The Washington Conference produced seven treaties and twelve resolutions, two of which contained arms control provisions. The most significant was the Five Power Naval Treaty of February 6, 1922, which established a reduction in battleships, quantitative limits (or ratios—United States 5: Britain 5: Japan 3) on capital ships and aircraft carriers, qualitative restrictions on future naval construction, and restrictions on fortifications and naval bases in the central Pacific.

The ratios established battleship parity between the United States and Britain and acknowledged Japan’s de facto preeminence in the western Pacific. Naval limitation was realized because the United States, Britain, and Japan had temporarily resolved their political differences, especially regarding China, and desired to reduce naval expenditures. Attempts to abolish or restrict submarines failed, and the agreement to prohibit the “use in war of asphyxiations, poisonous or other gases” was not ratified, but the two concepts did reappear – the former in the London Naval Treaty of 1930, and the latter in the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

Since a formula for limiting smaller warships was not found, a new naval race appeared as admirals rushed to build cruisers that would fall just below the 10,000-ton limit that defined capital ships. Facing an expensive naval building program, Congress urged accidental Republican President Calvin Coolidge (Harding had died, unexpectedly on August 2, 1923) to negotiate limits on cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. At the Geneva Naval Conference (1927), the administration wanted to extend the Washington Treaty’s Big Three capital ship ratios (5:5:3) to auxiliary categories.

With Japanese negotiators on the sidelines, American and British naval experts agreed on the idea of parity, but could not define it because the British and U.S. fleets were structured quite differently. Whereas the British sought strategic equality that acknowledged commercial and imperial obligations, the Americans demanded mathematical parity. The U.S. insistence on fewer large cruisers with eight-inch guns and Britain’s determination to have more, smaller cruisers with six-inch guns deadlocked negotiations.

The failed Geneva effort paved the way for the London Naval Conference of 1930. Republican Herbert Hoover’s election in 1928 coincided with that of British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who, like Hoover, believed that the reduction of armaments could contribute to world peace. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson indicated that he and the president, employing naval experts as advisers, would seek a “yardstick” to bridge the difficulties that had plagued the 1927 Geneva Conference – but no yardstick was forthcoming.

The yardstick episode emphasized a recurring dilemma that plagued U.S. arms control efforts well into the Cold War era: arms control requires a perspective beyond technical considerations, for by concentrating on mathematical or other engineering factors, U.S. policymakers often tended to obscure or avoid basic political problems. Since political issues are unique to each nation-state, the prescription to negotiate for a common, practical and feasible political solution among sovereign, competing nations is, in reality, quite impossible.

The 1930 London Naval Treaty refined the Washington naval system by applying a 10:10:7 ratio to capital ships and aircraft carriers. All five powers agreed not to build their authorized capital ship replacements between 1931 and 1936, and to scrap a total of nine capital ships. By 1936 the United States would have eighteen battleships (462,400 tons), Britain eighteen battleships (474,750 tons), and Japan nine battleships (266,070 tons). Aircraft carrier tonnage remained unchanged, despite attempts to lower it.

While the United States and Britain ultimately reached an agreement on naval “equality,” many senior Japanese naval officers believed that applying the “battleship ratio” to all classes of warships would be disastrous for their nation’s long-term strategic security [which would require expansion onto the Asian mainland]. Reluctantly, however, the Japanese government accepted negotiated ratios for cruisers, destroyers, and submarines – but not for battleships or carriers.

Having been barely touched by World War I, Japanese industry and trade had expanded dramatically during that war to fill the gap left by Europe’s devastated industries. However, most of the raw materials needed to supply Japanese manufacturing industries had to be imported because Japan possessed inadequate natural resources. This problem was compounded by a substantial population increase. Between 1918 and 1930, Japan’s population had expanded dramatically and outstripped the capacity of the nation’s resources to support it. 

With China torn by revolution in the 1920s [creating a political power vacuum], Japan’s militarists viewed China, and in particular, its resource-rich northern region of Manchuria, as an obvious area for Japan to expand its territory by military force and thereby solve its raw material and population problems.  

On September 18, 1931 [less than thirteen years after the end of World War I, Japanese Army] Lt. Suemori Kawamoto detonated a small quantity of dynamite close to a railway line owned by Japan’s South Manchurian RailwayJ near Mukden (now Shenyang), China. The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the track and a train passed over it minutes later, but the Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the act and responded with a full invasion that led to the occupation of Manchuria, in which Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo six months later.

The ruse of war was soon exposed to the international community, leading Japan to diplomatic isolation and, most importantly, its March 1933 withdrawal from the League of Nations. Post-war investigations confirmed that the original bomb planted by the Japanese failed to explode, and a replacement had to be planted. The resulting explosion enabled the Japanese Kwantung Army to accomplish their goal of triggering a conflict with Chinese troops stationed in Manchuria and the subsequent establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo.

Debate has also focused on how the incident was handled by the League of Nations and the subsequent Lytton Report. A.J.P Taylor wrote that “In the face of its first serious challenge,” the League buckled and capitulated.” The Washington Naval Conference (1921) guaranteed a certain degree of Japanese hegemony in the Far East. Any intervention on the part of America [even if it was militarily capable of intervention – which it was not] would be a breach of the already mentioned agreement. Furthermore, Britain was in crisis, having been recently forced off the gold standard. Although a power in the Far East, Britain was incapable of decisive action. The only response from these [impotent] powers was “moral condemnation”.

Japanese armies then invaded areas of northern China adjoining the former Chinese Manchuria. World War II had [effectively] begun. Japanese troops occupied China’s northern Jehol province and stopped short of the former Chinese capital Peking when a truce was arranged. Under the terms of the truce, Chinese troops were barred from the areas of northern China occupied by Japanese armies.

In 1933, Japan formally incorporated China’s Jehol province into its puppet state Manchukuo. With two hostile armies facing each other on Chinese territory, the Japanese militarists had set the stage for further conflict with China when a suitable pretext occurred.

On 26 February 1936, fanatical army officers assassinated two of Emperor Hirohito’s key advisers, and army mutineers surrounded the Japanese Foreign Office and held much of Tokyo City for three days. The imperial government then formulated the following major foreign policy objectives for Japan: Russian pressure on Japan’s empire from the north needed to be resisted; the military conquest of the whole of China should be undertaken; and further territorial expansion to the south should be undertaken to seize for Japan the wealth and raw materials available in the South-East Asian colonies of Britain, France and Holland.

In 1936, Japan’s imperial government viewed the Soviet Union (formerly Tsarist Russia, and now Russia) as the main threat to Japan’s conquests on the mainland of Asia, and, in particular, Japan’s puppet state of Manchukuo. With further territorial expansion on the Asian mainland in mind, and with China as the primary target, Japan began looking for allies who would be comfortable with military aggression and likely to support Japan in the event of a military confrontation with Russia. German dictator Adolf Hitler was pleased to accommodate Japan, and on November 25, 1936, Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Having acquired new allies in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Japan withdrew from the naval limitation treaty in 1937. Japan then began to expand its navy, with particular emphasis on building aircraft carriers and huge battleships, such as the Yamato and Musashi, which were twice the tonnage of the largest British and American battleships.

In July 1937, tensions between Chinese troops and Japanese troops engaged in military exercises on occupied Chinese territory, produced an exchange of fire near Peking (now Beijing). The Japanese used this incident as an excuse to wage all-out war against China. Japanese armies invaded China’s Northern provinces and quickly captured the former Chinese capital at Peking. 

While fighting was continuing in northern China, the Japanese launched a second front at the city of Shanghai on the eastern coast of China. Despite determined resistance by Chinese nationalist troops, the Japanese captured Shanghai in November, 1937. The Japanese were then able to move up the Yangtze River and lay siege to the Nationalist capital of Nanking.

The Japanese were infuriated by the strength of Chinese resistance to their invasion, and when China’s Nationalist capital Nanking fell in December 1937, Japanese troops summarily executed thousands of Chinese soldiers who had surrendered to them. Japanese troops were then encouraged by their officers to loot the city, assault the women and slaughter Chinese civilians. This atrocity is known to history as the “Rape of Nanking”.

Japan’s undeclared, but savage war against China was still in progress when World War II officially began in Europe with Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

Naval arms control pleased most American politicians and their [elite] constituents, and President Herbert Hoover estimated that the United States saved $1 billion. However, the limits outraged professional naval officers in all three countries. The Japanese lamented that they must stop cruiser construction; the British complained that fifty cruisers did not provide protection for long sea-lanes; and the Americans felt that Japan’s higher cruiser ratio reduced the chance of a U.S. victory in a Western Pacific war. Everyone were correct.

The years following the signing of the London Naval Treaty saw increased political tensions in the Mediterranean and undeclared wars in Ethiopia (by Fascist Italy) and Asia. Japan demanded naval parity, but Britain and the United States refused. Subsequently, as we have seen, Japan withdrew from the Second London Naval Conference (1935) and abrogated the Washington naval system. On December 31, 1936, the quantitative and qualitative limitations on naval armaments ended.

Naval arms control had rested on the assumption that Japan was satisfied with its world position. However, Japanese expansionists, both military and civilian, who dominated policy by 1934 believed that the United States and Britain were hindering Japan’s economic expansion, and thus keeping that nation’s industries depressed. Consequently, Japan’s admirals argued that, if freed from treaty restrictions, they could build a strong fleet, dominate China and Southeast Asia, and become the leading power in Asia. They were correct.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the Pact of Paris for the Renunciation of War (1928), renounced offensive war as “an instrument” of national policy. It called on nations to settle their differences by pacific means. The idea originated with a Chicago lawyer, Salmon O. Levinson, who argued that international law should declare war a criminal act. While this idea appeared to be utopian, many opponents to the League of Nation’s concept of collective security saw an alternative in the movement to outlaw war.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact emerged as an attempt by the Coolidge administration to induce Paris authorities to alter their position that France’s security needed to be enhanced by British or U.S. political-military commitments before they agreed to arms limitations. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg’s offer to French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand acknowledged the virtue of a world tribunal to enforce the outlawry of war, but he was realistic enough to know that the Senate and the American people (and those of most other nations) were not ready for such a commitment.

Most historians have criticized the pact for its failure to provide for enforcement. Only a few believe it influenced international law, even though after World War II major war criminals were found guilty of violating the treaty. Any reappraisal of the Kellogg-Briand Pact should take into consideration that it did not abolish “defensive” war and that the United States and other nations made various reservations upon signing.

(The concept of war as a criminal act, somehow amenable to legislative fiat, rather than the political act that it is – and that was explained so well by Napoleonic War veteran, Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal work, On War, in 1832 – has formed the core of progressive/liberal thought ever since and dominated the Obama administration’s approach to worldwide radical Islamic terrorism – with disastrous results.)

After several early committees failed to come up with a disarmament proposal, the League of Nations created an “independent” preparatory commission in 1926 to prepare a draft treaty. President Calvin Coolidge accepted the league’s invitation to send a representative. In a message to Congress on January 26, 1926, he declared that “the general policy of this Government in favor of disarmament and limitation of armaments cannot be emphasized too frequently or too strongly. In accordance with that policy, any measure having a reasonable tendency to bring about these results should receive our sympathy and support.”

The American delegation, headed by Hugh Gibson, U.S. minister to Switzerland, maintained a fairly consistent policy between 1926 and 1930. He emphasized that the U.S. Army had been unilaterally reduced after World War I from some 4 million men to 118,000, which he acknowledged America’s geographical situation made possible. Gibson also emphasized – pointing to the Washington naval system – that his government favored the limitation of naval forces by categories and approved qualitative restrictions only when accompanied by quantitative limitations. Still, the United States opposed budgetary limitations and any regulation that might restrict industrial potential.

The Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments – also known as the World Disarmament Conference – convened in Geneva on February 2, 1932 and began negotiations on the preparatory commission’s draft convention. Secretary of State Stimson declared that President Hoover would not authorize discussions involving political arrangements to facilitate arms control measures [an issue of sovereignty]. Nevertheless, on February 9, 1932, Gibson assured the gathered diplomats that the United States wished to cooperate with them to achieve arms limitations.

As the disarmament conference bogged down, President Hoover and, later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to stimulate negotiations. Citing the Kellogg-Briand Pact’s outlawing of aggressive war, Hoover on June 22, 1932 proposed a one-third reduction in all armies and battle fleets. Additionally, he urged the abolition of tanks, large mobile guns, and chemical weapons and the prohibition of aerial bombardment.

When the French argued that his plan must be anchored to some form of verification, Hoover reversed the earlier U.S. position. President Wilson initially rejected permanent supervision of German disarmament at Versailles because this precedent might run counter to America’s future interests. “The United States,” he declared, “will not tolerate the supervision of any outside body in [disarmament], nor be subjected to inspection or supervision by foreign agencies or individuals.”

Secretary of State Frank Kellogg restated this policy in January 1926. “The United States will not be a party to any sanctions of any kind for the enforcement of a treaty for the limitation of armaments,” he asserted, “nor will it agree that such treaties to which it may be a party shall come under the supervision of any international body—whether the League of Nations or otherwise.” Arms limitation measures, he [absurdly] insisted, “so far as we are concerned, must depend upon the good faith of nations.”

On June 30, 1932, Stimson announced that the United States was prepared “to accept the right of inspection” if there was any likelihood of concluding “a treaty of real reduction.” This belated change of policy was insufficient because the French now also demanded a guarantee of military assistance in case of attack.

On May 16, 1933, with Adolf Hitler now in power in Germany, whose war intentions were made plain in his 1925-26 screed, Mein Kampf; “If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only [the taking of] Russia and her vassal border states.”, and Japan already on the march in Asia, President Roosevelt proposed abolition of modern offensive weapons – as if that idea were in any way connected to reality.

He also announced America’s willingness to consult with other states in the event of threatened conflict, but since the Senate showed little interest in abandoning neutrality for international cooperation, this initiative failed. Confronted by French intransigence and German aggressiveness, the World Disarmament Conference slowly dissolved without any accomplishments.”

History must consider that in the midst of the Great Depression, with American unemployment at 22% and rising, world disarmament in disarray, Adolph Hitler in power in Germany and Japan already at war, Roosevelt, who knew war was inevitable, could have opted to spend money on transport and capital ships (as well as tanks, planes and troops) as well as capital improvements such as militarily rugged interstate roads (later built by former General and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s), bridges, shipyards, aircraft factories and power plants, in order to signal that America was prepared to deter aggression..

He didn’t – that would have meant rewarding his rhetorical archenemies – the industrialists, so the money that may have prevented world war at a discount – perhaps an extra $50 billion on top of New Deal expenditures – totaling about $50 billion from 1933-40 – was spent a decade later to win a world war at a terrible premium – both in treasure – about $350 billion – and blood – over a quarter-million dead American servicemen and women.

What was the result of almost 20 years of international negotiations on international security? Let’s summarize: The Germans had not been involved at all and the world had allowed Adolf Hitler to gain absolute power while lying prostrate. Thus, Germany built one of the world’s most powerful militaries in less than four years. Japan left the table after they invaded Manchuria and went on to build a war machine that rivaled Hitler’s. The Western democracies were still slouching their way out of an economic depression. By September 1939, the entire world was at war and the United States had an army of less than a quarter million men training with wooden popguns.

The fundamental error made by the Western democracies – led by Roosevelt – was that they were horrified by the holocaust that had occurred on the battlefields of World War I. In their repulsion and desire to never see that happen again, they assumed that all peoples and nations felt the same. They didn’t. Like individuals, nations will almost ALWAYS act in their own self(ish) interests – knowing that others are doing the same.

The caveat “almost” applied to the term always above refers to the negotiations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran conducted by the administration of Barrack Obama – the declared purpose of which was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon’ capability. They concluded with an agreement that guaranteed that Iran would develop nuclear weapons and provided them billions of dollars with which to accomplish just that. In no way was this action in the best interest, selfish or otherwise, of the United States – or the entire free world.

Next time: World War II.

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