David R. Henderson  

The Fatal Conceit in Foreign Policy

PRINT
Signaling in K-12... Both Men and Women Overstate S...

A fellow free-market-oriented economics blogger, whom I respect but whom I won't name because I also respect Facebook privacy, wrote the following on Facebook:

I guess I disagree with standard libertarian view on this [ISIS]. Libertarians, like progressives, do not think that there are evil people in the world. So the theory of terrorism is that it is "blowback" caused by previous actions of the victims. A couple of counterexamples come to mind. First, we fought a brutal war against Germany in the 1940s, but we did not suffer "blowback" terrorism from them. Second Denmark was not a colonial power in the Middle East, but they suffered the most recent terrorist attack. This is an issue where one cannot rule out the possibility that the problem is a barbaric ideology, not blowback.

There's actually a lot of wisdom in his comment above. Although I think the 9/11 attacks, the ones that Americans still care most about, were "blowback"--that is, unintended consequences of previous U.S. government interventions abroad--it would be absurd to reflexively blame every terrorist attack on intervention by the government of the country whose people suffered the attack. This blogger gives two good instances in his comment above.

My criticism is of his first sentence above. I don't know of any libertarians who think there are no evil people in the world. And I've been a libertarian since 1968 and have interacted with, and read, literally hundreds and possibly over a thousand libertarians. So it would be hard to maintain that that is the standard libertarian view.

In fact, the argument against U.S. intervention in lands far from our own does not require that one think it will lead to blowback. It doesn't even require that one think there are no evil people in the world. It requires only one of the following two things: (1) that one think it is not the responsibility of the U.S. government to go, in John Quincy Adams' words, "abroad in search of monsters to destroy", or (2) that one think the government does not have information to do it well.

Those who deny (2) typically have what Hayek called, in the discussion of central planning, a "fatal conceit." They think the U.S. government knows way more than it does. I have detailed this, specifically in the case of ISIS, in my rebuttal of my Hoover interventionist colleague Richard Epstein.

In an earlier piece, I wrote about the fatal conceit in foreign policy.


Comments and Sharing






COMMENTS (41 to date)
Richard writes:
A couple of counterexamples come to mind. First, we fought a brutal war against Germany in the 1940s, but we did not suffer "blowback" terrorism from them

"Blowback" only comes when you start to care about the civilian casualties on the other side. There was no reason to worry about "blowback" from Japan and Germany because we didn't care how many civilians we killed on the other side. We'd kill them, and then keep on killing them until they were all dead or realized there was no hope.

That's probably not possible today, barring something like another 9/11. And even then, I'm pretty doubtful (we'd probably kill them for a while, and then go back to our left-right divisions after 5-10 years, like we did after the first 9/11). So there would be blowback of course, because we'd do enough to anger the other side but not enough to destroy them. Islamists know that of course.

Eric Hanneken writes:

I actually think people who perpetrate blowback terrorism are evil, and the victims are usually not the ones whose actions inspired it. So that's two more ways in which your anonymous Facebook friend fails to describe my views.

Charles writes:

It is no accident that the Libertarian party is the most misunderstood, misquoted, misinterpreted party in the US. If people were allowed to understand, without being misguided by the media or other political parties, most would agree with their stances on both foreign and domestic policy.

Ryan Murphy writes:

Not that I am a hawk or anything, but why do you think Hayek was such a cold warrior?

E. Harding writes:

David, do you at least agree with Assad? That the U.S. should put pressure on Turkey to secure its border and on the Islamic State's foreign financiers?
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/interviews/syrias-president-speaks

Capt. J Parker writes:

In and around 1941 many thought it was not the responsibility of the US to go abroad in search of the monster named Hitler to destroy. Did the US end up better off because we did so? If the answer is at the very least, yes it is possible that we were made better off, that are freedom was no longer in jeopardy, then Dr. Henderson's arguments are only reasons to be skeptical of foreign wars but, they are not solid arguments against all foreign wars. To be specific: I believe that both arguments (i.e. not our job and our kowledge is poor) are really good reasons to stay well away from Ukraine. But, the apparent nature of the threat from ISIS seems to me to render those arguments really weak even while I acknowledge my assessment of the ISIS threat may be wrong.

Andrew_FL writes:

I don't think libertarians make sufficiently clear the difference between "blowback" and "we deserve it." I get the impression libertarians think it's just obvious that's not what they mean. Well, great, so explain to people who hear "it's our own fault, we deserve it" why that's not what you're saying.

Anyway, as to points one and two:

I'm fine with it not being the American government's job to go abroad searching for monsters to destroy. But if we accept that we don't need to search for them, that is, that evil exists, who will destroy them if not the American government?

Which brings me to point two, again I agree, but coupled with point one, I think it leads to a conclusion I'm not sure most libertarians are on board with: The role of "World's Policeman" should be privatized. If there are monsters that need destroying, and we agree the government shouldn't do it, then non-government entities must rise to the task.

JJ writes:

Intervention in Foreign Policy is a classic example of Law of Unintended consequences. When we invaded Iraq, did we think that there would be a holy war that killed 100,000+ Iraqis? Did we think that the Iraq war would lead to ISIS? When people discussed arming rebels in Syria, did they think about the potential that a destabilized Syria would lead to ISIS?

E. Harding writes:

The Iraq War certainly did not lead to ISIS in its present incarnation. ISI/AQI largely conceded defeat in 2009 as a result of the surge. It made a comeback in 2013 as a result of the Syrian Civil War, which was caused by Turkish harboring of the Syrian rebels. U.S. backing of the Syrian rebels was always tepid, with the intention of creating just enough chaos to seriously wound the Shiite Banana, but not to kill any of its constituent elements (except the Bahraini opposition).

N. writes:

David --

What is your opinion of Neville Chamberlain? Do you think he has been unfairly maligned?

Michael Byrnes writes:

Dan Carlin made a point in a recent podcast that seems relevant here. He argued that ISIS wants us to attack them - their anti-US attacks are done in order to provoke a response!

They know we cannot really stamp them out completely, and they also know that when the US attacks them it wins them money and allies in the region. In a sense, our response legitimizes them and their goals.

I guess this falls under "blowback", although I typically think of blowback as a response to past actions

David R. Henderson writes:

Some very good comments and questions above. I’ll break with tradition and respond, a la Scott Sumner, to virtually all of them seriatim.
@Richard,
Good point and you’re right that the U.S. government probably wouldn’t do this now. Still, my gut feel, which I admit I can’t completely justify, is that there was no blowback from Germany or Japan because many of them saw what the U.S. government did as justified.
@Eric Hanneken,
Very good points.
@Charles,
Good point except for your verb. People are “allowed” to understand. It’s just that they face a lot of propaganda and they have limited time. But also, don’t minimize the amount of nationalism they would have to get beyond to think clearly.
@Ryan Murphy,
Great question. I don’t know the answer totally. I have two possibilities. One is that Hayek wasn’t that much of a cold warrior. I’ve probably read 60% of what he wrote and 75% of what he wrote on policy, and I don’t recall much discussion of the cold war. The second possibility is that he saw himself as part of an alliance (remember how rare free-market thinkers were in the 1940 to 1960s) and made peace, pun intended, with the cold warriors. That’s kind of what I did from the 1960s through the 1970s until Roy Childs slapped me around (metaphorically) and insisted that I read before speaking.

This is becoming too long, so I’ll close and start a new comment.


David R. Henderson writes:

@E. Harding,
No, I don’t agree with Assad. I think he underestimates the incompetence and lack of information of the U.S. government. But even if he doesn’t, go back to my "not looking for monsters to destroy” point.
@Capt. J. Parker,
I don’t think we were better off for having fought Hitler. We were never seriously threatened by Hitler and we lost a lot of our freedom, not all of which we got back, in fighting him. I think that because the U.S. entered the war, Western Europe was probably better off and Eastern Europe was worse off--the latter because of Stalin and his influence. I agree with you about the Ukraine.
@JJ,
Good points.
@E. Harding,
I don’t think you’re going back far enough. I think that without the perpetual war that the U.S., Britain, and, for a while, France had against Saddam Hussein from early 1991 to the early 2000s, Hussein would have created more stability than Iraq has had, and ISIS would not have gotten its foothold in Iraq.
@N,
Neville Chamberlain was an interventionist. He’s just one that most interventionists won’t point to as one of them because he did exactly what I’m talking about: he intervened without knowing much. He should have stayed out and not helped Hitler in Czechoslovakia. So he’s not unfairly maligned. He’s just maligned for the wrong reason.
@Michael Byrnes,
Interesting. Thanks.

Alex writes:

The only reason there wasn't a communist overtake of Western Europe after WWII, of South Korea in 1950's and of Latin America in the 1960-70s was because of US intervention.
Should the US have stayed out?
Was NATO a bad idea?

JJ writes:

Alex, there was Communist countries in Vietnam and lots of Latin America, but the world didn't end. Why should the U.S. intervene in Latin America's affairs so that guys like Pinochet can continue oppressing people like the Commies did?

Do you believe that Americans should be enslaved (Conscription and extra taxes) to fight Communists that never threatened the U.S.? Are you willing to volunteer your daughter to fight those Commies? Are you personally willing to write a check of $50,000 to fund those war efforts?

JJ writes:

David,
What are your thoughts on War taxes? To declare war, the congress must pay new taxes to fund the war efforts. If that was the case, I bet we wouldn't have gone into Iraq. The fact that taxes are sent to a general pool increases the likelihood of war. No one is willing to fund pointless wars like Iraq, but people were willing to do it for WW2 as evidenced by the higher taxes and money spent in War Bonds.

The next step in the war tax could be a voluntary war tax. The Warhawks can come up with voluntary taxes to fight the wars they want. Around 1/2 of the country was supportive of the War on Terror. It cost around $1 Trillion so thats about $25-30K per war supporting household. Its a win win. The pacifists don't fund the war effort. The warhawks get their war.

Andrew_FL writes:

@JJ-In the event of a defensive war, it shouldn't be necessary to raise taxes, or for that matter, depend on "voluntary" taxes. The government ought to accumulate a "rainy day fund."

This is probably a good reason for the Government to run a permanent long run surplus.

Radford Neal writes:

Andrew_FL:

@JJ-In the event of a defensive war, it shouldn't be necessary to raise taxes, or for that matter, depend on "voluntary" taxes. The government ought to accumulate a "rainy day fund."

This is probably a good reason for the Government to run a permanent long run surplus.

This doesn't work. When the government runs a surplus, the central bank will need to create money to avoid deflation. There may be problems doing this if the government isn't willing to run a deficit, but in any case, when the government starts spending on the war, inflation will result, effectively taxing the current population.

It's a lot clearer if you think of money collected but not spent by government as being burned, which is equivalent to stashing it in a government rainy-day fund.

Now, if the government stockpiled actual goods, for example weapons, then this wouldn't happen. But using a stockpile of by-now-obsolete weapons may not actually be a good thing in a war.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Radford Neal-"This doesn't work. When the government runs a surplus, the central bank will need to create money to avoid deflation."

The Central Bank...would need to do what it already does?

"There may be problems doing this if the government isn't willing to run a deficit, but in any case, when the government starts spending on the war, inflation will result, effectively taxing the current population."

Ah, that's a better point. But here, I think, you're being inconsistent. Why couldn't the Central Bank reduce the money supply to compensate?

"Now, if the government stockpiled actual goods, for example weapons, then this wouldn't happen. But using a stockpile of by-now-obsolete weapons may not actually be a good thing in a war."

Or, they could I suppose stockpile something that isn't weapons. Something that will still be exchangeable for a comparable but up to date stock of weapons. Hm, perhaps they should buy foreign government bonds. Of course, now the problem is not every government in the world can do this at the same time.

MikeDC writes:

@Richard

"Blowback" only comes when you start to care about the civilian casualties on the other side. There was no reason to worry about "blowback" from Japan and Germany because we didn't care how many civilians we killed on the other side.

I'd put it differently. I'd say "Blowback" is a flawed concept. What really determines if there will be terrorism is not what "we" feel about killing them, but what "they" feel about killing us.

That is, there wasn't terrorism post-WWII because German and Japanese civilians largely bought into the concept of government-run and ruled warfare. When the war was over, they were generally relieved and wanted to rebuild.

The terrorism we see in the Middle East is largely a product of civilians there. A sizeable enough proportion of the population to matter wants to fight, despite what their governments say, and the governments aren't willing to stop them.

Richard writes:
The terrorism we see in the Middle East is largely a product of civilians there. A sizeable enough proportion of the population to matter wants to fight, despite what their governments say, and the governments aren't willing to stop them
.

I agree, but would add one more element. They want to fight, and think they can win, because the West doesn't have the stomach to stop them. In Europe, even, they see the demographic winds blowing in their favor. And I think they're pretty much right.

I think many fewer people would fight without a belief that victory was possible.

Harvey Cody writes:

David, This blog has sparked some good debate about some relatively minor issues with respect to foreign policy. One can concede the generalities of your premises: (1) the US government should not abroad in search of monsters to destroy; and (2) government cannot have the knowledge or skill to do war well; and (3) attempts to slay monsters often cause blowback. Then one can legitimately ask, “So what?”

Certainly government should not go in search and destroy missions to destroy monsters because they are monsters. If, however, there are “monsters” which are truly an existential threat to the survival of Western thought and mores (e.g., the ideas of Smith, Hayek and all the rest will be put to rest), wouldn't you concede that it is in the interest of mankind (not just the people of the West) to head the monsters off (so to speak). If such a threat were known to exist, then the only relevant policy questions are when, where and how will the existential threat be stopped. Your comments ignore the possibility of such a threat.

Will government have sufficient information or skill to do that job “well?” Of course not. Will government be good at distinguishing real existential monsters from impostures? No. Will the politicians be insufferably conceited in what they can imagine they can achieve? Yes. Will there be blowback as anyone tries to stop their strengthening or expansion of territory? Yes. So what? Do we really have any good alternatives to government for these tasks?

If the US has enemies who desire the world devolve into another form of dark ages with a worldwide Caliphate, universal Sharia law and religious intolerance (and the probability of that is not zero), would you not agree the success of those enemies would be a terrible thing for mankind. Do such enemies have the ability to grow and strengthen sufficiently to be a credible threat? Some say they already know the answer to that is “yes,” others say “no.” The members of both groups are fatally conceited, but the fatalities differ between the groups. If you agree there is merit to Western civilization and thought worth defending, the real questions are: (1) How much risk of demise of the West should we run, and (2) when and if we get to the point that no more risk is acceptable, how do we go about reducing that risk?

Your blog doesn't help much with respect to the real questions.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Harvey Cody,
This blog has sparked some good debate about some relatively minor issues with respect to foreign policy.
I agree on the “good debate” part. I disagree about whether the wisdom of the U.S. being involved in wars in the 20th and early 21st centuries is “minor.”
Certainly government should not go in search and destroy missions to destroy monsters because they are monsters.
Good. We’re agreed. And, by the way, that puts you at odds with the dominant foreign policy views of both major parties.
If, however, there are “monsters” which are truly an existential threat to the survival of Western thought and mores (e.g., the ideas of Smith, Hayek and all the rest will be put to rest), wouldn't you concede that it is in the interest of mankind (not just the people of the West) to head the monsters off (so to speak).
You have to be more specific. I think I know what an existential threat looks like: it’s one that threatens our existence. I’m not sure what an existential threat to “Western thought” looks like. Please elaborate.
If the US has enemies who desire the world devolve into another form of dark ages with a worldwide Caliphate, universal Sharia law and religious intolerance (and the probability of that is not zero), would you not agree the success of those enemies would be a terrible thing for mankind.
Yes. And I think the probability of that is close to zero.
Do such enemies have the ability to grow and strengthen sufficiently to be a credible threat?
I don’t think so.
Your blog doesn't help much with respect to the real questions.
The questions I raised in the post are real questions--and I did address them.

Zeke writes:

Re: WWII and Hitler.

It is equally possible that WWII never would have needed to be fought if Wilson did not get his way in bringing the US into WWI.

Absent the US help, WWI probably plays out more to a draw. Germany probably does not agree to a terrible peace treaty. Therefore, the German economy likely does not suffer nearly as much. As a result, a fringe lunatic like Hitler does not inspire popular support (and Jews aren't scapegoated).

So, if anything, WWII demonstrates precisely the knowledge problem Prof. Henderson pointed out in his first post (and something Taleb talks about favorably as an unknown-unknown). It would have been very difficult for Wilson to imagine that by entering WWI, he would help create one of the most destructive wars in history AND help a racist empire rise out of the ashes of a broken Germany. It is something so far removed from the war calculus that one cannot possibly consider it -- it is a temporal knowledge problem. Yet, it happened.

WWII should serve as a warning -- be wary before going to war because that decision could lead to the next WWII.

BZ writes:

Reconciling Blowback and Evil can be understood using the classic broken stoplight example.

If the number of accidents at a particular stoplight increases suddenly, one should look carefully at the signals themselves, and not assume that a glut of Bad Drivers just happens to be going through there. However, that wisdom in no way negates the existence of Bad Drivers.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Zeke,
You’re absolutely right about WWI. I mention WWII because that is the hard one to argue against U.S. participation in. It’s because of WWI that I rank Wilson as the worst U.S. president ever. When I hear right-wingers say that Obama is the worst, I pretty much know that they don’t know history.

Mahesh writes:

Action and inaction has consequences, usually we pick either of these options depending on the knowledge of the particular circumstances, but the severity of the epistemological problems with regards to foreign policy makes decision making very difficult.

Employing analogies with history is simply a means to bring some clarity on how we have perceived this complex phenomenon, it's merely a representation of the mental model we have used for classifying the event.

Seems everyone uses widely different models for comprehending this reality and quite like economics everyone seems to possess a different premise. Without a coherent scientific model we all will prioritize and interpret different set of facts related to the same phenomenon and end up talking past each other.

JJ writes:

DRH,
What are your thoughts on pre-emptive warfare? I'm not talking about ones like the Iraq war. GB and France declared war against Germany before Germany attacked them in WW2. Do you believe its moral to attack someone like Hitler preemptively when you got good reason to believe that your country will likely be attacked soon? That is a gray area for morality IMO.

Alex writes:

With Isolationists there always seems to be two possibilities:

1) Religious fanatics are killing far away, so its none of our business/

2) Religious fanatics are killing here, but that is the result of our intervention in their countries. (Helping Israel, the Saudis, the iraqui war, the Sha in Iran, etc)

There is a third possibility that you always reject or ignore:

This people are full of hatred, they hate religious freedom, freedom of the press, women's rights, gays rights, etc. (What kind of mentality beheads 20 people and puts it on youtube) Also, in the globalized world, they have the ability to cause harm on us.
And its not our fault.

Unlike you, I don't totally disregard the third possibility.

Richard writes:

@Alex

I don't understand your distinction between 2 and 3. Let's say that the federal government decided to disband the police in a certain city, and they didn't replace them with any kind of authority. Some thugs start killing and beheading people.

Of course, the criminals are the ones primarily responsible for their actions. But we absolutely should blame the idiots who created the security vacuum, allowing the thugs to roam free and terrorize the citizenry.

So yes, terrorists are evil, but American policy must be held responsible for the Iraq and Libyan wars.

Andrew_FL writes:

With regard to WWI, if it had been averted entirely, there would have been no WWII in any way resembling what actually occurred. But US non involvement wouldn't have changed the outcome of the war. We really just weren't that important to the outcome.

I could see, the Central Powers winning the war, and there might be another war a generation later between a Germany that's politically threatened by Bolshevism but hasn't gone National Socialist. It may or may not be World War, depending on whether the rest of the non-Communist world wants to side with Germany, having only recently been enemies. But just the US staying out is not enough for the Central Powers to win. And if Germany loses, Germany still gets cruelly punished for "causing" the war, and still has a high probability of going National Socialist.

Wilson was a terrible President, yes, but let's no overstate the US's involvement's significance here.

Mark V Anderson writes:

I would like to ask opinions about one issue mentioned here: that is Wilson as a war president. My understanding of WWI causing WWII was mainly because of the extreme punishment that the winning powers imposed on the losers (mainly Germany). After all, WWII was won even more decisively than WWI, and yet Japan and Germany didn't rise again in revenge like Germany did after WWI. And it was my understanding that Wilson was against this punishment, or at least not a leading proponent. So I don't see how he caused WWII. I'm not so fond of Wilson, but I don't see how he is the cause of WWII.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Mark V Anderson-The punishment was the Versailles Treaty. Wilson may have wanted to be more lenient but when push came to shove, he wanted ratification.

Of course, the US never actually ratified the Versailles Treaty, in spite of Wilson's efforts. The US didn't officially make peace with the Central Powers until 1921.

It's worth noting that opinion of historians is more divided than you'd think on the question of whether the treaty actually was all that harsh. But probably more important was that the Germans perceived it to be a harsh imposition, and also (arguably correctly) an injust one.

But, Wilson isn't responsible for WWII in the sense of getting the US involved in WWI, as I said above, because we just didn't play a decisive role in the war's outcome. Wilson couldn't have been responsible for the Central Powers losing if he wanted to be, because they were already going to lose with or without his involvement.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mark V Anderson,
Wilson’s contribution to WWII was to help the British and French win WWI. Once the U.S. entered, the Germans knew they were toast. Without U.S. entry, the treaty would have been quite different.

Andrew_FL writes:

@David R. Henderson-I find that a highly suspect conclusion.

What makes you think the US's role in the war was significant enough to greatly alter the terms of peace, in particular in a way that would be more punitive towards Germany?

I have to assume you're aware of something I'm not, because everything I've heard indicates that by the time the US got into the war, the outcome was already essentially decided.

ChrisA writes:

While I agree with the main point that often interventions in other countries affairs is not a good idea as there are rarely clear bad guys/good guys. I don't think that was the case with Nazi Germany, what with the holocaust and all. To me this was a pretty clear case of "just war". WW1 and the US intervention in it was just one cause of WW2, you can go back forever determining ultimate causes. Ultimately it did not matter anyway - since it was really about the Japanese anyway and their desire to control the pacific. The Japanese were in the winning team in WW1 and paid no reparations, but still attacked the US. What were the US supposed to do at that point?

Also, WWI intervention is not quite as simple as Wilson deciding to enter just because he thought it a good idea. The main driver for the US intervention was the Zimmerman telegram, where Germany was proposing an alliance with Mexico to reconquer the South-West. Still not convinced that was worth fighting against? Of course the Mexicans decided in the end to remain neutral, probably based on their defeat from an earlier intervention by the US, the invasion of Veracruz. Was that intervention then wrong as well?

And did the Nazi's really come to power due to the reparations demanded after WW1? Their origins may have been there, but they took power during the Great Depression 20 years later which many people believe was due to overly tight monetary policy in the US.

My point in all this rambling is to point out that stuff is complicated. Yes the bias should be for non-intervention and the bar should be high. But if attacked, like in WW2, the US should defend itself.

michael pettengill writes:

More beheadings and torture and mass murder is taking place today in Latin America than in ISIS controlled territory or in Africa. Except for the Christian killing Christian spree in Rwanda in the 90s.

Based on the debate this weekend, I don't know whether to call what goes on South or our border spilling into the US:

radical capitalist extremism?

radical Catholic extremism?

How do we identify the terrorists who control vast swaths of Colombia and Mexico and other Latin nations?

And we need to recognize that US prisons are the recruiting grounds for these radical extremist "x" terrorists who join MS-13, etc.

I think they have one thing in common with ISIS: controlling commerce, and they do so with rape, murder, pillage, and plunder: radical capitalist extremism.

In present day Mexico, the blowback from striking at the radical capitalist extremist is judges and police and government officials being killed or seeing their families raped and killed.

In all respects, the Cali cartel, ISIS, Medellin cartel, Boko Haram, et al are more alike than different.

David R. Henderson writes:

@ChrisA,
This is only a partial answer, I admit, to the various questions you’ve raised, but, anyway, here’s a specific point I want to answer:
Also, WWI intervention is not quite as simple as Wilson deciding to enter just because he thought it a good idea. The main driver for the US intervention was the Zimmerman telegram, where Germany was proposing an alliance with Mexico to reconquer the South-West. Still not convinced that was worth fighting against?
It’s true that Wilson used the Zimmerman telegram as one of his reasons for getting in the war, but there was nothing particularly ominous about that telegram. The German government, feeling threatened by the U.S. government (and they were right to feel threatened, given Wilson’s consistent refusal to insist that the British respect neutrality), reached out to the Mexican government, offering a deal IN CASE the U.S. and Germany were to be at war. This practice is not that uncommon.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Andrew_FL,
I have to assume you're aware of something I'm not, because everything I've heard indicates that by the time the US got into the war, the outcome was already essentially decided.
You could be right. Please tell me 3 things you’ve read that say that, so that I may check them for myself. As you know as a regular commenter on this blog, I’m always willing to revise my views in light of information that’s new to me.

Andrew_FL writes:

@David R. Henderson-

I'd have to get back to you on specific sources. It's been a while since I read up on World War I and I'll confess it's just my recollection.

Like you, I am willing to be persuaded of the other view by new information.

Quick searches lead me to a lot of people espousing more or less your view, but nothing concrete on why, and many seem to me to just take that view because it's America, of course it's role is important, though it does leave me puzzled because, I confess, I am not sure who I read who first made me think the reverse.

You know, I think you may have been right after all. I'll have to thank you, because now I think I want to go back and re-research World War I to figured out just what I really know, and how I think I know it.

Also I should apologize if I came off dismissive. I was actually hoping you would explain exactly why I was obviously wrong! You're probably better informed about this than I am.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Andrew_FL,
Thanks. I’ve picked up my view over the years from reading various historians, but, like you, I can’t put my finger on who. That’s why I asked you. I figured that if you had some sources, I would read them and then they would tell me why they disagreed with my sources, which would them remind me of my sources. :-) Then I could re-evaluate.
But I can tell you the gist of the argument I picked up from my vaguely remembered sources. Basically, it’s that the war was at a standstill. It’s true that Churchill was trying to starve the German people and being somewhat effective. But with America not in the war, the Germans could stick to their newly amped up campaign to sink ships carrying anything to Britain without fearing retaliation from the Brits. The Germans had none of their land occupied by the Allies. The next thing is something I’m making up or half remembering: the French would be the first to cave since their losses were huge--remember that most of the war was fought on their land. Wilson’s over half million soldiers, and equipment, and food shifted the balance.
No need to apologize for being dismissive.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top