December 8, 2014

1968. In Defense of the American Superpower

Pax Americana
"Harbor tugs move USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) alongside USS Providence (CLG-6) for change of 7th Fleet flagship July 7, 1964, at Yokosuka Naval Station, Japan" (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

...Perhaps now is the time, and the 1968 presidential campaigns the place, for a national examination of where the US stands as a world power at a crucial time in her history.

The surprisingly vicious communist Tet Offensive almost guarantees that the US defense budget will go above 80 billion dollars in fiscal 1968 to 1969. And these defense dollars support a most fearsome and unprecedented array of national military force.

The country has more than 3.4 million men and women in uniform—more than a million of them overseas, with American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen on some kind of duty in virtually every spot on the globe. This includes men manning DEW Line consoles in Arctic Greenland and Alaska as well as scientific missions under Navy command near the South Pole.

There are military attaches and missions with every embassy or legation in every world capital Washington recognizes.

As you know, since the end of World War II the national security of the United States has been based on mutual defense treaties with some 40 nations throughout the globe. Because if the Rome-Berlin to Tokyo axis taught America anything in that costly war that Italy's Fascists kicked off more than 30 years ago, it was that international conflicts are epidemic, engulfing everything in their path; that all modern war tends to become global if the fighting is not carefully confined.

An example of how global US national security has become is demonstrated in the Defense Communications Agency. This Pentagon appendage lists more than 4,000 communication stations in 83 unprecedented radio and telegraph lash-up that keeps an electronic watch on the military state of the globe. And this does not include the score or so of satellites constantly orbiting the earth and supplementing these communications.

Jerry Green, veteran military correspondent for New York News, wrote recently that "no nation in the world's history—not even the British Empire at the peak of its power—ever committed its military strength so far and so deeply around the earth as has the United States."

In Vietnam, there are more than 510,000 GIs and Marines on the ground. And counting the 90,000 or so men of the US 7th Fleet with its 190 ships and some 700 Navy planes on the carriers there, plus some 55,000 Air Force types under the 7th and 13th Air Force in South Vietnam and Thailand...all told, not counting sea and air logistics personnel which keep the military pipelines to Southeast Asia filled, there are more than 650,000 Americans on military duty in the Southeast Asian battle area.

The military power of the United States is so prodigious that it would be impossible to even list its many missions in the time we have here.

. . .

If you're like me, we come to accept our vast, powerful military establishment more or less like the Americans of the West accept the Rocky Mountains. They are so immensely there that it's impossible to forget their grandeur and their power.

But now the war in Vietnam—and the necessity to limit the fighting to keep it from exploding into World War III—has raised doubts about the efficacy of America's military might. We have failed to force the Hanoi communists to stop their aggression against South Vietnam because we know, and they know, that it is a limited war with limited military and political goals. The opposition by the Viet Cong guerrillas and the regular army units from the North has been much more skilled and dedicated than intelligence reports indicated. The cost of the war in casualties rose to new heights during the Buddhist New Year offensive.

And because of the policy of military restraint, the United States cannot use its Sunday punch: the nuclear weapons which make the nation the most powerful on Earth.

Add to this the American penchant to get any job over with—plus the domestic, economic, and sociological problems with this country—and put it all into a presidential election year. Then it's easy to understand the frustrations of the people. It's even easier to fathom the frustrations of the politicians now running for office.

Some appear to have doubts about the United States' immense power and its purpose, and not only because it has failed to achieve a settlement in Vietnam. There seems to be a growing feeling that even the possession of so much defensive muscle is somehow evil.

They link everyone's aversion to war and the fearful threat of nuclear annihilation with the idea that having tremendous military might makes the United States an automatic bully. They argue that America cannot play policeman to the world, and therefore she should draw in her horns and stop getting mixed up in far away places with strange sounding names.

Some say that a new American isolationism is rooting itself in the frustrations of the US citizenry. And the people who are repeating this arguments, strangely enough, include some of the self-styled liberals; politicians who were among the leaders of economic interventionism and internationalism which made the United States the number one power and leader of the free world after World War II.

As yet, there is no way of judging just how widespread the alleged isolationist sentiment is across the country. But its first manifestations may have come in the New Hampshire primaries, where Minnesota's Senator Eugene McCarthy made such a strong showing.

However, the basic fact remains that, if the United States is going to maintain its world leadership and keep on being a major power among the nations, she is going to have to continue acting like one.

Americans should be proud of their strength and leadership; for their part in building a prosperous world out of the ruins of war; for their ideological leadership toward the goals of freedom and justice; and for the American revolutionary ideals that are still the most powerful political medicine in the world today—and the most enduring, even in the face of the communist promises of proletarian dictatorship.

There's no intent to make with a 4th of July oration here. But when people begin to lose faith in their country, as some appear to be doing in these difficult times, it begins to gall.

For those who say we are over-committed around the world and that the system of mutual defense treaties have no meaning, they should be reminded that, since the formation of NATO, the communists have not been able to take another inch of European territory.

For those who say that freedom is not the business of the United States around the world, let them imagine what the world would have been like had not American arms been ready to repulse the totalitarians over two generations.

And for those who say that the US government should renounce its mutual defense treaties with our allies and retire behind our nuclear-tipped intercontinental missile defenses to a "Fortress America," let them face the consequences of such isolationism without America asserting any leadership or influence on the destiny of the globe outside of this continent.

First, the United States would thus become the world's number one sitting duck and nuclear target.

Second, the country could save a lot of money all right—disregard most of the warships, cut back the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to continental defense size.

But at the same time, there would be plenty of work for all Americans, because the whole country would be engaged in digging, for the best hope of survival for the United States under such isolated conditions would be to move the whole shebang underground...deep underground.

It's a depressing thought, and I don't believe it will happen. But if the nation had to go into such a whole, there would be little point in ever coming up again.