New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. gave a commencement speech at SUNY New Pfalz last week in which he lamented that the his flower child generation had not succeeded in ending war for all time. He apologized to the student body for, amongst other things, there being a war in Iraq. This epitomizes the strong desire amongst many people in the world to reach the much heralded "end of history"; the time when war is abolished once and for all. Such people exist on both the left and the right in the world. There is the globalization crowd who believe that in a free trade world instead of fighting people will be too busy making money. The pro-democracy types believe that in a democratic world people will be too busy voting for dogcatcher to fight. Then there are the socialists who claim the world will be a utopia if only they were in charge. It is manifestly mistaken to believe that the struggle against any of the evils in the world will ever end.
One of the mistakes of the last 100 years was the attempt after every major struggle to declare the "end of history" and go to sleep. After defeating the despots of the Central powers in World War I, the victors attempted to create a world without war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact was even drawn up to outlaw it. All of the allied powers dramatically reduce military expenditures in the 1920's. Despite concerns about the rise of Hitler, it was considered too drastic a response to raise military spending in the democracies during a depression. Besides, he only wanted Austria and Bohemia, not worth another world war to keep them free. Only France spent a decent amount in this period, but an inordinate share went to the Maginot Line, the navy, and the colonies. When the democracies finally realized the threat it was too late.
So what if the democracies had understood the threat and woke up? Let's say France and Britain spent moderately more on defense in the early 30's putting them in a stronger position vis-a-vis Hitler. They stand up to him in 1938 and prevent the Anschluss. Hitler does not get his hands on the Hapsburg's gold reserves and is not able to continue his economic and military policies. Let's further say this has the best possible result, Hitler is overthrown and replaced with a democratic government that cooperatively works with the rest of Europe. It is not quite the "end of history" yet as many would hope. Now the democracies would have to face down communist Russia. Russia in the 30's is the one country who spent more on her military than Germany. Stalin had over 40 million Soviet men and countless millions of supporters in fifth columns throughout Europe. World War II would have still happened, only with Russia on the side of evil.
Back in real history, after World War II we again attempted to form a just world without war. This time the UN would enforce the peace. However, it took only 5 years before we realized this was not going to happen and settled down to the Cold War. The quick reaction time was due to the recent experiences after World War I. Though it should be noted that while we quickly gave up on our plans for a world without war, we still tried them again. Indeed, many in the US would refuse to accept that there was a struggle at all. They viewed the Cold War as something created by America that could be ended if we stopped it. Fortunately their Democrat party only enjoyed 4 years of power during the Cold War.
With the conclusion of the Cold War many believed the end had finally come. It was in those halcyon days that an article was written entitled "The End of History". The peace dividend was heralded throughout the land. The Democrats were returned to power. Free trade was sweeping all into prosperity. Iraqi children flew kites and danced around candy trees in their tranquil country. Wait, that last one exists only in the imagination of the angry left. Sure, a few religious nutjobs were blowing things up. The Russians, Serbs, and Tutsis were busy killing their neighbors. But these lone holdouts would certainly get the message soon enough. Or so the belief was. 9/11 would wake up most, but not all, Americans to reality. Now we are joined in another great struggle, against terror and the dictators who support it. We are winning and, so long as American public morale holds, will eventually win.
Does this mean that we are done, that there will be no more great struggles or wars? Heavens no. While some use rhetoric that implies that this is the last great fight, there will be more to follow. There is an arms race in East Asia that is building steam. Russia is using her technical know-how and oil revenue to rebuild something of her former power. Countries throughout the third world as disparate as Iran, Venezuela, and Algeria are importing weapons like never before. When we are done with the war on terror, we will have simply earned the duty to fight the next round. After that round there will be another, and after that, another. Since evil only needs to win once, we must have in us the will and spirit to fight and win every time. Until the day that God sees fit to grace another nation with our wealth and power, nothing less is our duty.
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy