0:00:15.9 Marian Tupy: John Mueller, welcome to the Human Progress Podcast.
0:00:19.8 John Mueller: Thank you very much, nice to be here.
0:00:22.2 MT: I thought I would talk to you today about your new book, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency. And for those of you, our viewers and listeners who don’t know John Mueller, John is of course, a political scientist at Ohio State University. He is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So, John, what’s the book about?
0:00:55.2 JM: Well, it’s basically you can say the biography of an idea, and the idea is that war, at least international wars, is really very stupid, and it took a long time for that to catch on. There must have been individual people who thought it previously. Before World War 1, it was extremely common, very easy to find people, not Prussian militarists, but poets, hitman, journalists writing about war as being beautiful, honorable, glorious, redemptive while peace was disgusting and filled with bovine content and materialistic and so forth. After the war, that basically goes away, in a time maybe two people have said that at all, since World War I. So there’s a major change in attitude, and my argument is basically over the ensuing century, the idea that international war should be gotten rid of, has been fairly successful.
0:01:54.2 MT: World War I obviously plays a very large role in your narrative, so how is World War I different from previous conflicts. Why so pivotal to your theory?
0:02:07.6 JM: Yeah. I can’t really… What I can do is say what I just said, namely before the war, you could find hundreds of people saying how wonderful the war was, and after the war it’s almost impossible. And so the war was probably important, but what was unique about World War I, well, it was very destructive obviously, but there are a huge number of destructive wars in the past including the ones in which where like, total annihilation took place. Whole country or city was burned to the ground and people were, everybody was killed or sold into slavery. It was obviously unromantic, but it will come as no surprise to find out that mud and leeches and dysentery were not invented in 1914. It was very stupid, but you know the Trojan War, between Greece and the Trojans was fought over the infidelities of a single woman, and it lasted 10 years and ended up with the total destruction of Troy. There are plenty, if you wanna find stupid wars, it’s not difficult.
0:03:09.2 JM: The thing that seems to be, and there’s a certain amount of economic development, of course, as you’re well aware, European miracles are starting to take place in the 19th century, but it didn’t seem to have any impact on war enthusiasm. It may have primed people somewhat for a change, but I don’t think it was conclusive in any sense. What was unusual, was before World War I, there was an active anti-war movement starting about 1889, and it was a growing movement, it was a gadfly movement, it was ridiculed by the war supporters and so forth. But it was there. So my thinking is that, World War I may have been necessary, because it played into the hands of the peace movement at any rate, whatever, whether that’s true or not. At the end of the war, the peace movement now suddenly became universal, everyone wanted to get rid of that kind of war, international war, and they say colonial war or tribal wars or something, but international war meaning wars among states, particularly in Europe. And they set about with the League of Nations, all kinds of things to try to do that.
0:04:19.2 JM: The World War II came, of course, Japan was not a part of this consensus, and I think the war in Europe probably would not have happened had Hitler been run over by a truck, or poisoned by his cook or something. Regardless what you think about that anyway, after World War II they came together again, and this time it stuck. So that we are now basically in a long, incredible long period, 75 years in which there’s been no wars among developed states, particularly those in Europe, Europe and the developed world, you might call it. The Europe has now been freed from substantial international war for the longest period of time since the word ‘Europe’ was invented, and I think that’s really very significant. In addition, what has happened, is that the numbers of international, obviously that’s the developed world I’ve been talking about, it’s basically, I know in human progress, you wanna talk about progress, but what I wanna talk about is the progress in terms of the most memorable non-event in history, which is World War 3, it never happened.
0:05:31.1 JM: But there were other international wars, but most of them had clustered in the first half like before 1975. A war, an international war, between Israel and the Arab states, or between Indian and Pakistan. And so now for the last 30 years … international wars, which is an amazingly small number, in a big, big, blank, huge with numbers of years in which there weren’t any wars at all, any international wars at all. One was the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea at the end of the last century. The other two are the 9/11 wars in which the United States took out the Taliban and took out the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Both of those wars, international wars were very brief, of course, and they ended up with long-term civil wars or wars of insurgency. So it just seems to me that basically, this has been an enormous change, and I think probably the bottomline on this, and this of course is speculative, but I think you make a good case for it, and I try to do in my book at least, is that an international war has basically become…
0:06:39.1 JM: Basically it doesn’t happen very much at all as a way for states to solve their differences. In other words, it has become to seem stupid. There’s still plenty of problems, there’s still economic sanctions, there’s still …. civil wars. There’s shots across bows. There’s efforts to get fishing rights. There’s pushing around. There’s lobbying cyber balloons, and various sorts of espionage continues as ever. But the idea of using war to settle international disputes, differences, has basically becomes substantially obsolete, I think. Disputes between countries.
0:07:17.3 MT: The Eritrea-Ethiopia war is very interesting. I know a little bit about it just because I have a friend, Michela Wrong, and a London-based journalist who has written extensively about Ethiopia and Eritrea. And this particular conflict may well be one of the more stupid wars over a tiny little village of Badme, and I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of people died on each side over a tiny piece of territory in the middle of a desert or something like that, so that’s a very strange. Let me ask…
0:07:46.8 JM: Well, what’s different is that used to be the standard thing. Europe was the most war-like of continents ….
0:08:00.6 MT: In your research, did you find any interesting nascent anti-war sentiment in Britain and in the British Empire during the Boer War? I ask that because I spent part of my childhood in South Africa, and I seem to recall reading in South African history that there was a large chunk of the British population in 1899-1900 that really became quite vociferously anti-imperial, anti-war, partly as a result of the surprise that the English received in South Africa at the hands of the Boers. The Boers were able to purchase sophisticated military machinery from Germany, Maxim guns and so forth, and were able to inflict very heavy losses on the British troops. And I think this may have been the first time that the Brits have found a near-equal in their fight for territory. And as a result of the massive casualties, war became slightly less sexy as early as 1900. Is there something to it?
0:09:15.8 JM: Yes, definitely. When I mentioned the anti-war movement, which is really fascinating and is really much under-discussed, it was started with a novel by a novelist named Bertha von Suttner, a noblewoman from Austria, called Lay Down Your Arms, in 1899. And she had become an anti-war… She read around and become more and more discontented with war, and that’s part of the novel. But then she wrote this book and it suddenly, it went viral. And she was flabbergasted. She calls it an accident. She wrote the book, obviously, in good faith and hoping people would buy it, obviously, but she never expected this. And it really started an anti-war movement throughout Europe and also in the United States and Canada. And so you had peace societies, you had prominent industrialist joining the fray like Andrew Carnegie and Alfred Nobel. And so, there was sort of a ground swell of… This became sort of the thing one would talk about. But it was much, much drowned out by the pro-war types who said, “War is inevitable. God wants people to have war.” You can read… For example, let me just read you a passage from a journal in the 19th century called, 19th Century. It’s sort of an intellectual Hudson review type thing. And it’s written by… And then I came across it, it’s called, God’s Purpose by War. It’s written by Reverend Father H.I.D. Ryder.
0:10:50.6 JM: Is says … This is the theologian. “War evokes the best qualities of human nature giving the spirit a predominance over the flesh.” So it’s very common. There’s a British historian in 1910 or so, talking about, “A world at peace would never happen, It’ll be horrible. It’ll be the world sunk into bovine content.” So it’s always there. There’s also, in Britain, shortly after what you’re talking about, in the end of 1910s and 1900s, that there was a non-fiction book written by Norman Angell. And he called, The Grand Illusion. He couldn’t get a publisher for it. He went around and talked to people and the publishers and they said, “No, find a Quaker publisher.” But he finally published it, and then it went viral, too. And its argument was economic. His argument was that war may or may not have been a good idea in the bad days, but in the old days, but it’s lost its meaning now. Now, we can trade. It’s very, very, very 21st century in a lot of ways. People would say, “Well, we have to stop the Germans, ’cause otherwise they’ll take over Canada.” And he’d ask them, “Why would they wanna take over Canada?” And they said, “Well, they wanna get the Canadian Wheat.”
0:12:07.3 JM: And he’d say, “Well, if they want the Canadian wheat now, what do they do? They can go to Canada and buy the wheat, right?” And they said, “Yeah, well, yeah.” So his argument was basically… War was economically futile. He had also a fair amount of following. So there was this growing movement. It was attracting fairly prominent people, business people, some politicians, and so forth, but it was still basically derided. And Angell’s argument said, “What are you talking about? We don’t fight wars for booty, we fight wars for a grand, glorious, honor, etcetera, whatever.” It’s disgusting, he even talk about booty. And there was also an idea that this is a woman’s movement. The women were very prominent, like Bertha von Suttner, who eventually won the Nobel Peace Price shortly after 1900. And that men who joined it were aunts of both elderly, aunt’s of both sexes are in this. Men, in other words, they didn’t, they lacked masculinity. So the movement was definitely there, and you’re quite right, there are various things that triggered it. There are fair number of economists and…
0:13:31.3 JM: Other intellectuals joining the fray at various points, but it’s still very… So what you couldn’t do is escape the argument. The argument is out there. You could ridicule it, and they ridiculed it big time, but what happened was, after the war, it changed.
0:13:45.2 MT: Okay, so essentially, your argument could be… It’s analogous to what happens in late 18th century with the Declaration of Independence and assertion that all men are created equal. Once the idea is born, it starts mushrooming, it starts expanding, and ultimately it triumphs, and the analogous argument that you are making would be that once the idea of “war is stupid, peace is better” is born, then it creates its own momentum in a way.
0:14:19.6 JM: Yeah, it did, but wars have always been stupid. [chuckle]
0:14:23.4 MT: But… Right, but somebody…
0:14:26.2 JM: Why didn’t the Greeks and the Trojans say, “Boy, that was really stupid”? Why didn’t they do it after the Napoleonic Wars, or after the Thirty Years War? I spend a lot of my career trying to figure out why ideas change, and it’s really hard. In Shakespeare’s day, they would close the theaters because they correctly thought that human contact somehow was invisibly spreading the disease. Well, why didn’t somebody say, “That could be the same in water”? It took three centuries before someone looked into drinking water, and the huge improvements of health that took place at the end of the 19th century came from that. But why didn’t it happen earlier? All men are created equal. Why didn’t somebody talk about that 200, 2000 years earlier? They knew what democracy was. Greeks had it, so it was not a new idea, but it was still known when the Americans did it as The American Experiment to show that democracy can work.
0:15:26.8 MT: The other arguments I’ve come across for the decline in international conflicts would be things like, “We are so rich now, at least in the Western developed world, that war has become unthinkable because the losses to the material standard of living that we have become accustomed to would be so great that we best not go down that route.” And another argument that I have encountered is that since in the developed world, so few babies are being born… Korea right now, the total fertility rate per woman is one, in Central and Eastern Europe, it’s like 1.3, 1.2… That children have now become so precious that we don’t want to expose them to the horrors of war. Do any of these two arguments jive with you, or not really?
0:16:19.7 JM: Yeah, not very much. The decline, the reduction in women having children is a fairly recent thing, and the opposition to war goes back a century before and it was over a short period of time that suddenly people said, “Let’s not do that anymore.” So I don’t think it’s that they valued human life that much more. And the economic thing is really tricky because when you get bigger economies, they can tolerate wars better.
0:16:51.7 MT: I see.
0:16:53.7 JM: There’s a study, for example, of a city during the Thirty Years War in Prussia, Germany and its economic status, and it took 100 years for that the city to get back to where it was before the Thirty Years War. After World War I, Germany was back in action… Back to 1913 standards… By about 1920, ’28, about 10 years. And after World War II, Germany and this time the war was of course fought on German turf, was pretty much back to 1938 standards by 1948, 1949, 1950.
0:17:27.6 MT: Extraordinary.
0:17:29.0 JM: So the recovery is actually very fast economically. It’s not that we have more to lose. We do have more to lose, but we also are incredibly good at… Because of the strength of modern economies, we are able to recover very quickly as we may see now with Covid fading away.
0:17:44.5 MT: Okay, so we have this change. And again, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re really talking about cultural, psychological and ethical changes, you are not talking about human nature changing and becoming more peaceful. So, did we get it wrong all along that humans are by nature violent and conflictual? When Hobbes talks about life being short, brutish and whatever…
0:18:17.7 JM: Nasty. Don’t forget nasty.
0:18:19.8 MT: Yeah, nasty, brutish and short. So obviously genes change at a much slower pace than culture, than ethics. So we are working essentially with the same human, but now, for whatever reason… Well, you explain in your book… That human is able to submerge that natural impulse towards violence, but that could also flip, right?
0:18:54.0 JM: Yeah. Well, it’s… The way I put it is war is natural, but it’s not necessary. Sex is necessary, eating is necessary, defecating is necessary, but war is not. It’s interesting that you can do war, you can actually get people to go into these disastrous situations and waving flags and dying for their buddies. And actually really interesting, I’m very interested in… Once I work up my courage, I may try to write an article about Shakespeare and war ’cause I think he really was an anti-war type, and his most pro-war play is Henry V. And as Henry V is going into battle, he prays to God to take away the reason from his soldiers. In other words, if they have reason they’ll realize, “This is really stupid, I shouldn’t be doing this.” They’d be running in the opposite direction, and that’s really quite profound. So essentially what you can do is you can actually mass people so they get killed as we saw in World War I or in the American Civil War or many other wars by the hundreds of thousands, and they still keep going but it’s not necessary, you don’t need it.
0:20:00.5 JM: If you wanna use an analogy, we have dueling. ‘Cause people would say that about dueling. “Well, young men of a certain social set have testosterone and all that kind of stuff, and one, they have to take it out by fighting duels from time to time.” Well, dueling has died out. Young men, I don’t think have changed their human nature, they’re as self-centered and belligerent as they ever were, but they don’t duel anymore. It never occurs to them in fact to fight a duel to solve… You might hit the guy in the face, you might talk behind his back and so forth, you might sue him if it’s a libel type thing or something, and you still get ticked off when your honor is besmirched, when you’re disrespected, but men of that social class don’t even think about it anymore, so it’s hard to imagine the genes would change. Also the change was very brief, quick. Like four years, from 1914 to 1920, you can’t have a lot of gene change over that period of time, since…
0:21:00.0 MT: No, you cannot. Okay, so upshot is that humanity can be socialized into being more peaceful in a relatively short period of time. But the opposite is also true that if you do have a military fanatic somewhere, he can brainwash his people into more war-like disposition, right. Which brings us, of course, to Hitler…
0:21:29.1 JM: What we haven’t lost is the ability to do wars.
0:21:31.8 MT: Right. So that brings us really to Hitler and to irrational leaders. I’m not… Hitler may have been rational in his own particular way, but there are plenty of irrational leaders out there. How do you deal with the problem of Hitler and the second World War? That’s question number one, and question number two, how do you deal with irrational individuals at the heads of government?
0:22:05.0 JM: Yeah, I don’t see Hitler as being particularly irrational, he knew what he wanted. He correctly doped out that they could fight for a while, so he could fight blitzkriegs. He invented the idea of blitzkrieg, fighting quick, successful wars, it would minimize casualties basically and be successful, and he was successful until finally the Soviet invasion. And his attack on France in 1940 was an astounding success, astounding. I guess it sounds like sacrilege or something, but if you go around, “What was the most successful military venture in all of human history?” That might be in the top list and that was Hitler doing it. But what I can’t find is there’s anybody else with that opinion. For example, John Keegan, I can give you 20 historians who basically say this. But John Keegan, a great military historian says that in the 1930s or after World War I, there was no European except Hitler who wanted another war. And I think that’s basically true ’cause I’ve looked. I tried to find somebody on a soapbox saying, “Let’s do another war,” and so forth.
0:23:12.7 JM: Hitler didn’t talk about it. Every single foreign policy speech he made was how much he hated war. And in fact I’ve got a website in which I’ve taken all of the passages from every… Like two or three sentences in every foreign policy speech in which he says, “I hate war.” And he would have convinced me that he hated war because he uses racial theory to justify it. In other words he said, “Look at me, I’m a racist. Why would I wanna take over Poland? I’d have a bunch of Poles and a lot of Germans would be killed in the process, and then I’d have this thing, this cesspool of Poles. Why would I wanna do that? The French could do that ’cause they’re misogynistic. They even let Africans into Paris, but not me. I’m a racist, so my racial theory.” And of course that was the biggest lie, obviously.
0:24:04.2 JM: But basically, there’s two books in particular dealing with German public opinion, and they both conclude that there was no drive for war, there was nobody else around that shared his view, except possibly a few top sycophants, and none of them had much leadership ability, nor did the people in the military. So that’s why basically the question is… You keep seeing things like, “It is questionable that anybody could have led Germany to war except Adolf Hitler.” And he was in a bad automobile crash in 1930 and he almost got killed, and in the Beer Hall Putsch in the 1920s, the guy next to him was killed by a police bullet but not him, so just a minor change like that could have made a huge difference. So he was really essential, it’s a great tragedy of all time, obviously.
0:25:00.2 MT: So he’s a rational leader. Do you have any idea about or can you identify irrational leaders that cannot be reasoned with in the last half a century, for example, and what our response to them should be?
0:25:16.5 JM: No, it’s really hard, I don’t find it a very helpful concept, basically. Irrational, it sort of means crazy or something. They make mistakes, big mistakes. Anybody that starts a war and then loses it, obviously made a mistake, assuming he wanted to win the war, but they’re fairly… Well, calculating, they may be… I think I was totally opposed to the Iraq war that the United States went into, in print, and basically I could see that the reasons justifying it were crazy… Were not crazy, but basically highly dubious, like he was gonna somehow, with a screwball army dominate the Middle East. Basically the argument was, “We can easily take Saddam Hussein out because he has such a rotten army. If we don’t take him out, with that same rotten army, he’s gonna dominate the Middle East.” Come on. After the fighting in Kuwait, the Iraqi army mainly showed how impressive it could be at doing bug outs, and that was the same case also when the United States invaded in 2003. So the idea that he could dominate the Middle East was loopy, it seems to me, but I don’t think it was irrational.
0:26:27.2 JM: I talked to a lot of people at that time who said, “No, he can’t. He’s gonna be… Just can’t trust him, he’s gonna do something daffy.” And I keep coming back as other people have, saying, “No, he was quite rational in many cases.” For example, he invaded Iran in the early ’80s and then realized it was a bad idea and he tried to get out of the war, tried to… But the Khomeini on the other side wouldn’t agree. So as far as I can see, he’s a reasoning individual, that doesn’t mean the reasoning is sound, however.
0:27:00.9 MT: One could almost go as far as saying is that people who maintain themselves at the heads of these dictatorial governments, with all the things that could go wrong around them, have to have a very attuned sense of cost benefits of their actions if the ultimate goal is self-preservation.
0:27:20.9 JM: Yeah. It’s a very tricky business, but it’s certainly surely gonna be their main motivation, including …
0:27:28.2 MT: Now, in your book you advise two specific courses of action, one is complacency and the one is appeasement. So let’s… We’ll leave appeasement for the second. [chuckle] I was born in Czechoslovakia so I’m going to tease you with that one later, but let’s start with complacency. And you had a wonderful quote from Calvin Coolidge, one of my favorite presidents. What’s complacency all about and how does it fit in American foreign policy?
0:28:00.0 JM: Well, he was sort of the guru of complacency in some respect, because he [said] “If you see 10 problems coming down the road at you, chances are that nine of them will go into the ditch before they ever get to you.” And it seems to me that if we had been complacent about terrorism, what we would have done was go after it in a much more… After 9/11, complacency would not have been appropriate, totally after 9/11, but going at it with a warlike stamp trying to take out the Taliban and so forth, was not the way to do it. It could have been done with the support of the Taliban probably and also the support of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, who were very much on the American side, so that complacency would have been there. In the case of Saddam Hussein, complacency would have obviously been much better than this disastrous war that has ensued, the initial war and of course, this long war of occupancy. The number of people who have died because of the American intervention in Iraq is now more than 100 times higher than the number who died on 9/11, and that should be kept in mind. It’s just been a… Much better would have been complacency.
0:29:14.5 JM: Another way of putting it is if the United States had been complacent, they wouldn’t have gone in Vietnam and another two million people wouldn’t have died. If it had been complacent after 9/11, it would have used different methods, much milder methods to go after Al-Qaeda, and all those people wouldn’t have died and the country would not have been destroyed through the occupation, and the same in the case of Iraq, they wouldn’t have done it at all. And I’ve also implied basically, more in this section, of course, current threats, and one of the arguments that goes through the book repeatedly is that we’ve exaggerated threat. We exaggerated how big the Soviets were as a military threat during the Cold War. We exaggerated Al-Qaeda massively after 9/11. And I think we’re doing it again, for example, with both Russia and China. They do present problems, they are something we have to worry about in some respects, but they don’t suggest a security threat. If they lob cyber balloons, if they steal information, if they throw their weight around, it’s not really war. And it may be a pain in the neck and you may want to not deal with them, but they don’t really present a strategic military threat, it seems to me.
0:30:36.6 JM: And another place where complacency would make some sense is in terms of worrying about nuclear proliferation. Since 1945 no one has been killed by a nuclear weapon, but hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by war and sanctions efforts to try to prevent nuclear proliferation, particularly in Iraq, North Korea, Iran. And so complacency, in that case, would have been much better because they haven’t done anything with the weapons. It doesn’t really matter that much whether they get these stupid things anyway, and it’s certainly better to deal with them in different ways than starting wars or economic sanctions, which kill large numbers of people. More people have died from economic sanctions than died from Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
0:31:27.5 MT: One argument that I’m sure you have encountered many, many times is that this is all 20/20 hindsight, but in reality, when you were right in the middle of the Cold War, facing the Soviet divisions and tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, that the American response was just right to counter the Soviet threat with our own American militarization. Tell me about the historical research on the intentions of the Soviets. What do the archives show that the Soviets really intended to do? Because as a child of the Cold War, I obviously remember these things very well and I think that in Eastern Europe, certainly a lot of people are still grateful to the Americans and militarization under Reagan for really “winning” the Cold War. But if the Soviets were really contained and they didn’t have any aggressive intentions, then the US militarization and spending of so much money and interventions in Korea and Vietnam get a different gloss.
0:32:42.2 JM: The intentions were they intended to take over the world. They said it a million times in every propaganda, every bumper sticker and so forth, and they were gonna use violence if necessary, class warfare or civil war or subversion or something, but they were not going to use direct war. There’s tons of evidence that they never considered seriously a war in Europe, much less a war against the United States, much less of course starting a nuclear war. And my concern during the Cold War is that very few people saw that. Now what you say basically is we have to, particularly after the Korean War, we have to be really worried that they’re gonna start a war. Okay, well, that’s one hypothesis is that they really wanna take over the world by military force. But you could also say, “Come on, get off it, this is a limited probe in a far off area in Korea, and it doesn’t pretend anything in terms of direct military aggression.” And very few people said that, almost nobody. In fact I got a quote in the book from John Gaddis who said, in 1950, talking about the foreign policy establishment, “Nobody, nobody could imagine that we’d go for decades without a major war, including ones with nuclear weapons.”
0:34:02.7 JM: It’s on page 403. [chuckle] And I wrote Gaddis saying, in the subject line is page 403. And I said, “Do you really… Is that really… You really believe that?” And he said, “Yeah.” “I mean, nobody, nobody?” And he said, “No, there’s nobody saying that.” That in other words, there’s nobody saying the proposition that proved to be true. Now, that doesn’t mean it was true but it fit the evidence, you could say, “Well, the Soviet Union was devastated by World War II, they’ve got a plan to take over the world that doesn’t involve direct military aggression and they fought on… They fought to try to prevent World War II with Hitler.” They were attacked by Hitler, they didn’t attack the West, you could make that… Now, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true, that they’re still that way, you wanna consider the opposition but that argument was never there.
0:34:54.4 JM: And I have the one, there’s a couple of people maybe George Kennan, probably Bernard Brody among intellectuals, defense intellectuals and foreign policy intellectuals, but also, interestingly Dwight Eisenhower. And I go into this in a fair amount of depth, and I’ve looked into it pretty carefully. And he really believed what I just said, namely that we have to worry about them because of a sort of peaceful infiltration, as he put it, but they’re not gonna start wars. And he’s fairly traumatized big time or the sky burst open for him right after the war. He had been Commander in Chief of the American… The Allied forces in Europe. And once Hitler was defeated, he flew to Moscow to meet with Moscow, to meet with Stalin. And then flying back, he was flying… Either they were flying very low or there were no clouds or something, he could look down and everything was destroyed, from Moscow all the way to, I guess Berlin, where he’s flying back to. He said, “These people aren’t gonna start another war.” And then he talked to them and they’d say, “Look, my son was killed in the war, everybody’s son was killed in the war except in families where the whole family was destroyed in that war. We’re not gonna do that, again, with or without nuclear weapons.”
0:36:07.1 JM: But Eisenhower was unwilling really to say that in public. So that as he’s leaving office, he talks about, “We’ve got, we’re spending much too much money on nuclear weapons in particular, but on defense overall.” And he blamed it on the military industrial complex. But what he didn’t do was attack the premise for the military industrial complex. The reason it was so successful was people thought the Rooskies are coming over the border any time now and taking over and starting World War III and he didn’t believe that, but he never basically said it really in public overall. So my argument is not that they should not have been thinking about this and trying to deter, but they should have been looking at this other hypothesis that they didn’t have to deter and that hypothesis was not on the table. And the archives now show, and that’s what they said, they never said… They always said, “We’re not gonna attack. We’re gonna defend ourselves if you attacked us,” but not the other way around, and the archives show this to be very much the case, that that was true, basically. So the problem is that the proposition that proved to be true, was not accepted by anybody.
0:37:18.0 JM: No one was really advocating it. And the proposition was false. If you wanna use an analogy, it’d be with the word 9/11. After 9/11, the same thing, you go through discussions with the intelligence people, and they said after 9/11, we were sure, we were certain, certain, certain that there was gonna be another attack and it would be even bigger than the one in 9/11. And we’d see each other in the hallway, and we’d say, “Is this gonna be the day?” And so forth. And of course, it never happened. No one is saying, No, there was… Hardly anybody was saying. I was saying. In fact, I gave an interview to the Columbus Dispatch about the 12th of September and said, “Well, we shouldn’t… We overestimate these guys, because they happened to get lucky with a couple of horrible potshots,” and two or three other people, also academics at Ohio State said the same thing more or less. So it’s possible to come to that conclusion. That doesn’t mean it’s right. I didn’t say it was right. I just said we have to think about that. And it proved to be the hypothesis is correct, but at the top levels, it was completely not there.
0:38:25.7 MT: Let’s move on to the easy subject of appeasement. In your book you say it’s a perfectly legitimate way of conducting international relations. What do you mean by that? A Czechoslovak freaks out immediately.
0:38:46.8 JM: Well the Czech… The problem was that Hitler was unappeasable in 1938, it didn’t matter what the British or French did.
0:38:55.0 MT: In fact, I believe in fact, I believe that Western powers, Britain specifically, realized that Hitler was unappeasable after he consumed the rump, Czech state in 1934 I believe… 1939 sorry, 1939 right.
0:39:15.3 JM: 1939 right. Yeah, his basic statement at the time of the Czech appeasement issue at Munich was, “We want no Czechs.” That fits in with what I was saying before. “What do we want with the Czechs? They’re a bunch of Slavs. You know what I think about Slavs.” And so and then of course when he took over the rump Czech Republic, and turned Slovakia of course into a puppet state and so forth, that showed he was lying about that, and so that’s when they said, “This is it. You can’t… If you do Poland, we’re gonna declare war on you.” And that’s what they did.
0:39:54.5 JM: So he was unappeasable. The argument of appeasement was that he was not planning to essentially attack, but he won so handily in 1938, that encouraged him to do the attack on Poland, and I think that’s simply not true. And I’ve got two or three historians, five or six historians that’ll say that very strongly. They use the word “unappeasable.” Now what appeasement basically means is if you go into a store and you start bargaining with the dealer, you come to sort of agreement. You give in, you appease them. “Okay, I’ll give you more money than I think I really want to. I’d rather you give me the product free.” And he says, “Well, I can’t quite afford that. Can we work out a… ” So appeasement, and that kind of bargaining, is extremely common. We use it all the time. Currently, in terms of international relations, it seems to me that two of the things that both China… The things that both China and Russia want is to sort of get past what they call humiliations, and they say it all the time. The Chinese think it is a century of humiliation, going back to the Opium War. “We’re a big country, now we’re going to be taken seriously.” And it seems to me, that’s just fine. We should take them seriously.
0:41:07.7 JM: And the Russians say the same thing because they talk about being humiliated because of the end of the Cold War and the split up of the Soviet Union, which by the way was not caused by anything the Americans did. The overspending was done because of the stupid policies of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, I think. But basically, we should appease them. We should say, “Well, let’s work things out,” and bring them in to councils. For example, on Syria now, the United States should be working it seems to me with the Russians. It is over. Assad won. It’s not the best outcome I can possibly imagine, but that’s the case, and this outcome is better than continuation of that horrible, disastrous civil war. And so now something has to be done with Assad, and something has to be done with Syria, and it seems to me both the United States and Russia, who are in the right position to do it, should be working together to basically make Syria back into the plain old-fashioned, boring thing it used to be before, which is what people want to do.
0:42:06.9 JM: And on Afghanistan, I think bringing in the Chinese, bringing in the Russians, bringing in the Iranians to deal with it, Pakistan, it may not work, but it would seem to be a sensible thing. No, everybody wants a nice, old-fashioned, boring Afghanistan. They don’t want it to a hotbed of Islamic extremism. The Russians are very concerned about that. The Chinese are very concerned about that with their Xinjiang thing is basically based on that, the concern about terrorism from there. The Pakistanis would like to have a stable thing there. If you can bring in the Indians and the Pakistanis both, that would be really interesting. Probably can’t do that. But we’re not even doing that. It just seems that’d be appeasement in a good sense. “Let’s talk this over. Maybe you can help us out.” Maybe it won’t work, but it would give them sort of stature and feeling good about themselves, and maybe they could be helpful, who knows.
0:43:00.5 MT: One of the most striking things in your book I read was the notion of territorial integrity as a standard in international relations, which I totally buy is the inviolability of borders. That’s what we got used to in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that sort of thing, and I really thought that that’s where we were. Then Crimea happens, and that really breaks that standard. How do we deal with a problem of a country that goes beyond that standard, breaks that standard? How do we resolve Crimea in a way that preserves the standard, and at the same time, satisfies the Russians, the Russian pride?
0:43:54.8 JM: Basically, my complacency standard says that, “Give up, it’s hopeless.” It’s a one-off. I mean, the fear in 2014 was that they were then gonna do the same thing in Lithuania and Estonia and so forth, in places where there were substantial Russian minorities, and no one talks about that anymore. It was a bizarre one-off. It had to do with the Black Sea fleet, it had to do with the disintegration of the Ukraine in general over the election. And it just seems to me that it’s over, and we should recognize their accession. And there was a vote, which seems to have been more or less correct, except a lot of people boycotted it, and a lot of Crimeans, given the instability in Ukraine in which they saw fanatics, who seemed to be anti-Russian fanatics potentially taking over, is what the Russians say, but a lot of people believed that.
0:44:47.2 JM: Crimea basically left, voted to leave, and we should basically treat Crimea the same way the Chinese and the Russians treat Kosovo, which was not with a vote, in which secession in that sense was instituted and created by NATO and without any kind of vote. So essentially it’s a done deal. As one person has put it, Crimea will go back to Ukraine about the same time Texas goes back to Mexico. It’s over, and should work with Russia, get a non-aggression deal from Putin, which I think he has no intent of further aggression, work to try to get Ukraine so that instead of being… It’s now the poorest country, has been the poorest country in Europe, which is outrageous because it had everything going for it, advanced culture, a lot of well-educated people, some of the best farmland in the universe, and it’s basically now the poorest country in Europe per capita… To try to get its act together, get rid of the corruption and so forth, which the current president seems to be actually doing something about.
0:46:01.5 JM: So it seems to be tough love for the Ukraine. Try to work out a deal on Donbas, which I think Putin has actually said, “Well, we could have like United Nations forces between the two sides or something like that, but still keeping … his juridical control in Kiev and I think that would probably work, but basically, we lost. Actually, everybody lost. There’s a book called that, about the Ukraine, everybody lost. The Ukrainians lost, the Russians lost, the West Europeans lost and the United States lost. It was a bad thing. Probably, a very unwise thing for Putin to do. Also, relax sanctions, which are not doing any good on that. So my proposal is sort of unorthodox, but I think sound. It’s not… Will not sell well in Washington.
0:46:49.9 MT: I’d be much more comfortable with what happened in Crimea if the referendum could be rerun by, say the Norwegians or somebody like that, rather than Putin. One alternative solution is that if the Chinese can work in terms of centuries, decades and centuries, then perhaps having a long-term view, maybe sometime in the future, Russia will be in even more dire economic straits. And if Ukraine manages to produce a prosperous and democratic society, maybe at some point in the future, Crimea can come back to them under different conditions. But I’m certainly very worried about the sort of thing that Putin did in Crimea. In the last part of our talk, I would like to turn to two very interesting takes you had on the interaction between peace and economic development and peace and democracy. So we talked a lot about foreign policy, now I want to bring it back to human progress. And you say… What do you say about peace and economic development?
0:48:04.6 JM: It’s facilitating. So if you don’t… If you have the international… I’m talking about the international peace, of course. Obviously, civil wars are not exactly helpful either. But if you’re very good friends with Germany and you think the other… You’re gonna go to war with that other country sometime in the next 20 years, well, you don’t really invest a whole lot in the other side. But if you basically think it’s gonna be peaceful like this forever, you might go over there and see if they can… See if you can sell something or buy something. And so consequently, it’s facilitating international trade. Assuming people believe in trade, if obviously everybody a mercantilist, then you can have peace, but no one… They… For other reasons, what they think is for economic reasons, they won’t trade so…
0:48:55.4 MT: May I interrupt you for one second? So are you actually reversing, in your thinking, the relationship between economic development and peace? Because I’ve read many people say that it is when countries become rich, in other words, when they economically develop, that they become more peaceful. But what you’re really saying is that peace establishes the pre-conditions for economic development. Peace leads to economic development. You reverse it, correct?
0:49:24.5 JM: Right. Yeah, peace… The desire for peace is the causative independent variable. For example, no one will say, the reason people are averse to being killed by oncoming traffic is because they’re forced to drive on the right side of the street. Instead, what you’d say is the reason they’re forced to drive on the right hand side of the street, and they agree to do so, is because they don’t wanna be killed by oncoming traffic. If you have peace, then trade becomes facilitated and maybe democracy or and development does too. You don’t necessarily need a strong man to protect you from an outsider. So let me give you an example. I think the most famous example would be the coal and steel community set up by a Frenchman with a German name, Schuman, in 1950.
0:50:20.4 JM: Now, he said in that the reason for the coal and steel community is, sort of, to try combining the economies of France and Germany, which, of course, eventually led to the whole European Union and the common market, is because we don’t wanna go to war again. And if we integrate our economies, we won’t go to war against each other. So some people say, and if I can give the examples, that those kinds of agreements are the reason Germany and France have not gone to war again after World War II. Well, what I’d ask them is to find me… The French, France… There’s a lot of very clever people in France, a lot of really clever people in Germany. And for centuries, they used their cleverness to figure out how to get into wars with each other and they succeeded brilliantly. And this lead to war, after war, after war.
0:51:14.1 JM: Now, can you find anybody in either place standing on a soapbox saying, “You know, we used to have a lot of wars here between France and Germany. That was really wonderful. Let’s do it again.” Anybody, a politician or guys drunk on a park bench, anybody in France or Germany saying, “Let’s do that war again.” So the idea that they have not gone to war because they have a coal and steel community or more trade strikes me as being… As backwards. Now, they wouldn’t go to war if they did have trade, more trade and they wouldn’t go to war if they didn’t have trade. They didn’t don’t go to war, because they don’t wanna go to war. And that’s the… Very much a positive development overall.
0:51:57.0 MT: And you make a very similar…
0:51:58.9 JM: If you’re in favor of peace by the way. If you think peace is bad, of course, it’s a bad development.
0:52:06.5 MT: And then you make… You make a similar point about the relationship between peace and democracy. For the longest time, I heard people say that if more countries are democratic, then you are going to end up with a more peaceful world, whereas what you are saying really is that if you have a lot of peace in the world, democracies will mushroom, correct?
0:52:31.4 JM: Well, it’ll be facilitating.
0:52:32.9 MT: Facilitating.
0:52:34.2 JM: They have to be of mind to do it. Yes, you don’t see… I’ve never subscribed to the democratic peace theory, that democracy is… What happened is that democracy grew in the same era as the anti-war movement, the anti-war sentiment grew and also liberal economic thinking grew. And it started, basically, I don’t know, in Manchester, England, and started sort of to spread to the world. So they’re correlated. The idea that war is a bad idea, is correlated in time with the idea that economic freedom is a good thing and that international trade is a good thing, that democracy is a good thing, but I don’t think it necessarily causes it. You keep hearing cases that don’t have any of the pre-requisites.
0:53:19.1 JM: For example, after 1975, quite surprisingly, in many respects, almost all of Latin America became democratic. And one of the cases I’d like to point to is Paraguay. Now Paraguay had never had democracy, it had always been a Jesuit theocracy or a military dictatorship. And so there was a… The President was out of town, out of the country and the Vice President then took over. And he said, “You know, democracy is what everybody’s wearing this year, so don’t come back.” And the President didn’t. And then he went to an election and said, “Okay, vote for me and I’ll make this into a democracy like all the other, like Chile and Argentina and other countries around here, Costa Rica.” And they said, “Okay, do it.” And they did it and it’s remained… It’s had rocky moments, but it’s remained that way ever since. It didn’t have any prerequisites, it didn’t… Wasn’t democratic before. They just said, “Democracy is what people are wearing, and we should be in that game.” And they have been.
0:54:21.0 MT: This is absolutely fascinating. I think that people who buy your book, and once again, the book is The Stupidity of War by John Mueller, I think that even people who disagree with you on some things will find this novel take on the correlation between economic development and peace and democracy and peace in itself a very important novel contribution to the discussions in the International Relations discipline.
0:54:52.6 JM: I certainly hope so.
0:54:53.1 MT: [chuckle] So with that, I want to thank you very much for spending time with me today. And hopefully, I will see you at Cato at some point in the near future. 0:55:03.4 JM: Thanks for the questions, thanks for the interview, and thanks for the time.