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A Dangerous Form of Altruism

Once during the Cold War, as America was defying the Soviets with little help and less gratitude from those we were defending, I muttered to a friend about our “ungrateful allies.” “What other kind are there?” he retorted.

Indeed. And speaking of ingratitude, imagine how the Mother Country must have regarded her colonial subjects circa 1778.

In the French and Indian War, she had invested British blood battling France to liberate North America. How did America show her gratitude? We refused to pay taxes for the war. We balked at quartering British troops. We cheered hotheads who threw British tea into Boston harbor. We butchered a British battalion on Concord road. We rebelled. And in 1778, we entered an alliance with the King of France, from whom the British army had rescued us.

“What a pack of ingrates!” George III must have said to Lord North, “Run these traitors down and hang every last one of them!”

But what the king saw as treason, Washington and Jefferson saw as loyalty to country. The old bonds had been dissolved in the fire of war. And in making an alliance with the mortal enemy of our Mother Country, we were putting America’s interests first.

In every foreign war of the 19th century, U.S. presidents did the same. In 1812, we declared war on Britain when she was in a death struggle with Napoleon, in the hope of seizing Canada. In 1846, we declared war on Mexico to keep Texas and seized the Southwest. In 1898, McKinley was stampeded into war over Cuba but made the best of it by annexing Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

In lives lost, these were small wars with big gains. But in 1917, Wilson took us into the Great War “to make the world safe for democracy.” What vital interest was in peril? None. What did we get out of it? Bolshevism, fascism, Nazism, and World War II.

Whether the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires defeated the British, French, and Russian empires was not worth the 116,000 Americandead and 200,000 wounded it cost. World War I was but another imperial war on a blood-soaked continent toward which our Founding Fathers had wisely turned their backs.

What calls this history to mind is the latest crisis that could drag us into war: the revelation that North Korea lied when she said she would give up developing atomic weapons if we would provide the food and fuel to keep the brutal hermit kingdom in business.

Pyongyang has been caught producing enriched uranium. And as we seek to isolate North Korea, with her 11,000 artillery tubes a few miles from 37,000 U.S. troops, who stands by us? South Korea and Japan prefer appeasement. China refuses to condemn her ally. Whatever one may think of the ingratitude of South Korea and Japan, whom we have defended for half a century, they are acting in their national interests. Isolating North Korea until she shuts down all nuclear plants is, to them, not worth the risk of provoking a war with the armed, dangerous, and unpredictable regime of Kim Jong Il.

But this raises a question: Why is a nuclear weapon on a North Korean missile a greater threat to us than to Seoul or Tokyo? Why are we confronting Pyongyang alone? Why are we risking war? It is not our homeland that is threatened here.

South Korea, with twice the population of the North and thirty times her GDP, can defend herself. Japan is even more capable. Why then are we committed in perpetuity to risk war to defend both of these nations when neither is obligated to defend us?

How do our security treaties with Japan and Korea strengthen our security? Now that the Soviet threat no longer exists, are not these “entangling alliances” a dangerous form of altruism? Would it not serve U.S. interests to inform Tokyo and Seoul that we intend to dissolve the old security treaties, remove our troops from their territory, and let them deal with Pyongyang as they deem best?

South Korea and Japan could appease North Korea or build-up their forces, conventional or even nuclear, to contain her. While that might complicate life for Beijing, let the Chinese deal with it.

America should disengage from her Asian alliances and let the nuclear powers there—China, Russia, India, Pakistan, North Korea—and the potential nuclear powers—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—establish their own balance of power. For there is nothing in all of Asia worth a nuclear war or another Vietnam. Or is there?

By playing Wyatt Earp to the world, throwing down every third-rate gun-slinger, we are one day going to get shot by a rogue state. When we do, Wyatt will turn in his badge. Let’s do it now.

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