9 May, 2006
Why Study History, It Will Repeat Itself Anyway:
The Reflection of International Affairs, Historical Patterns, and Political Effect
Although we continue to elect leaders with the faith they are able to make cognizant decisions concerning national security
with auspicious connections to financial budgeting, we continue to miss vital elements to keeping peace between out country and others. Since the First World War, actions of the Presidents have
been the chief source of blame for negative outcomes. We treat them as though they suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. The country’s rapid and frightening shifts between adversaries in short
time spans. The decades of exposure our armed forces face when executing incursive measures so that an unjustifiable loss of lives results. This is in addition to the superfluous national debt due
to defense funding, and the influential information circulated equivocally to the United States populace. Though, the changing mind and incapability to commit is one handicap which can be very
detrimental to both the president and the citizens of our county alike. Americans who vote for the President, and those who don’t as well, are the cause of equal blame for confrontations, wars, and
terrorist acts in addition to any beneficial governmental actions that occur during their time span as registered citizens.
Many Americans keep themselves in the dark to both foreign and domestic affairs intentionally. There have been countless
examples of this since the country formed. There were many “Tory” individuals living in New England at the start of the Revolutionary War. Residing within the eastern colonies, they chose
non-action over action. But as the doctrine the founding fathers created states, there is freedom to defy the government. The Civil was had Americans on both sides of the front, as the front was in
various locations within the states. When America entered World War One, there was so much ambivalence amongst American citizens and their positions held, it paved the way for all of our moments of
tragedy in this war to occur.
Finally ending in 1917, America’s fluctuation over their decision to become involved in World War 1, they eventually entered
troops into combat. Until the involvement, the United States was the world’s largest leading creditor. New York was the financial capital of the world, as opposed to most people’s presumptive
prospect, London. Then the United Sates became concerned about Germany continuing aggressive action after the Lusitanian sea rampage. America’s growing lucrative trade in war material with the
Allies would threaten to be curtailed. The United Sates remained reticent to engage themselves in the German war, which was already going on for three years, and was fought across the sea from
them. The United States still refused involvement unless they were struck at, including small occurrences of having been stricken twice thus far. Considering that, we the people of the United
States maintained our power over branches of government capable of supporting involvement. In 1917, President Wilson asked for a declaration of war from Congress against Germany. He declared the
submarine attacks previously going on to be unwarranted rampages against humankind, and that armed neutrality was needed to protect American’s interests and lives. Wilson argued to the House of
Congress and the American population that they should “accept the status of belligerency which Imperial Germany and associates’ actions have thrust upon them [America].” Congress agreed with
overwhelming unanimity. However, even at that time, Wilson reflected that he realized it was a message of death he sent for the young men in our country. The war ended up costing the United States
a loss of somewhere between 110,000 and 126,000 lives (Shermer 239).
In World War II, the events in Europe and the Far East were not entire unknown by Americans. Disturbing events occurring
were whispered from mouth to ear. We did not approve of the Japanes aggression in Manchuria and China. Remilitarization of Germany, the Third Reich, was upsetting to see as the Czech crisis was
resolved in Munich. Reported in Wars of the 20th Century, Heiferman states that, “thinking Americans agreed that these and other incidents in the interwar period boded ill for the
future, but there was less agreement over the appropriate response to such a crisis.” The majority of the population in America believed in strict neutrality in the affairs of our nation as the
best course for our government to pursue. The throes of the Depression caught most minds into their own problems that they could not be bothered with events abroad.
Americans had, and still have, the power to hold—no pun intended—the president in check, and to uphold such strong beliefs
as staying out of harm’s way. When Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1933, Congress responded with a Neutrality Act, calling upon the President to hold back any action that could offend either of the
belligerent opponents. When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, our neutrality commitment forbade us from shipping arms to the government of Madrid and its fascist rivals. We took the more
intelligent path, and continued to stay out of the altercation. Roosevelt, as president, held the legal power to engage in actions he felt appropriate, but delayed such inclination due to popular
opinion. Since the mood of the American people, and Congress being the majority, Roosevelt had to accept legislative limitations imposed on him by Constitutional Act II Section 2. Unfortunately,
tensions growing made him more impatient. We, as citizens of the US, were responsible for allowing him to end the neutrality and step in militarily, which wasted both money and the lives of our
citizens. Many of both those commodities were needlessly eliminated.
We are responsible for our involvement by simply observing events towards the conclusion of the Second World War. The fall
of France ended in complacency, and an isolationist attitude over war prevailed. Had Hitler moved into England, a more frightening threat would have been presented, and this is why we compromised
our beliefs of noninvolvement. Had Hitler accomplished this much, we would no longer have the aide of Britain, and would be forced to stand alone. This idea of confrontation with the Germans was
disquieting to say the least. With that in mind, we became receptive to following the president’s lead, complacently, as he decided what to do next. “In our American unity we will pursue two
obvious and simultaneous courses; we will extend to the opponents of force the material resources of this nation, and, at the same time, we will harness and speed up the use of those resource sin
order that we ourselves in the Americas may have equipment and training equal to the task of any emergency and every defense,” Roosevelt told the country (306). The following tragedies were due to
our enabling Congress to support Roosevelt’s desire to enter into the war. In the end, in Iwo Jima alone, officials report that we lost over 50,000 men. Casualties which could have been prevented
had we chosen to take actions which may have led us back to the noninvolvement policy we conformed to previously. This is death count is omitting the statistical losses included, when compounded
with data from all fronts of World War II that American fought within, and the lives that were spared when Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb rather than sit idly by as his infantry was picked
of one by one.
The next altercation that America engaged itself in was publicized more as n impulsive ad citizen-opposed conflict. As a
principle in general, Americans were willing to fight for the independence of Korea if there were a chance at winning the war. Come the time that that was apparently not going to happen, the
American people lost interest in the war, and left the county with a sense of frustration, agitation, and finally apathy. Irritability derived in part by people’s judicial actions (the results of
the votes they cast) eventually caused an emotional disquiet perpetuated by their own doing.
The propaganda surrounding the Korean repercussions would have portrayed accurately the responsibility of President Truman
and his action, if it was so, but it was not. We Americans couldn’t keep a war going and obtain civilian recruitment willingly while we lived in a democracy, one which for a very long time had a
goal that was strait forward and in congruency with the ideals and goals of democracy in it. The feeling that America was fighting a war with one hand tied between our back, was a feeling the
apathy amongst the voters who both individually and collectively manifested on their own. Consequently, the nation was let to deal with the rankle emotions from a war known nationwide as a futile
one. Heightened angst surrounding the death of each soldier overseas, civilians sadly turned attention towards the myth of impunity they themselves held. The true mishandle that was being
attributed Truman himself. Regrettably, the president then made a good spokesman as a scapegoat in this particular Limited War, even perhaps setting the stage for the presidents who followed to be
subjected to similar stereotypes as quickly as conceivably. Ironically, in 1950, Truman made a valorous move by ordering armed forces who already stationed in the Pacific to counter, not engage,
North Korea while North Korean invaded the south. Communism was a horrifying concept in this time periods and decades more in the future. Inexplicably, Senator Joseph McCarthy bewitched the county
into a man-hunt later in the 50s. Now he is known with negative undertones. However, Truman, as well, is mostly remembered for dropping the atomic bomb. Not much attention is paid to the acts of
presidency that Truman faced, with diplomacy, every day, all the while keeping the best interest of his fellow citizens in mind.
A Limited War is designed to stop an aggressor rather than defeat an entire nation. The American public was not accustomed
to fighting wars on a limited scale. From the start, Korea was a different and confusing undertaking. At first, the president refused to use the word “war” in connection with Korea. Finally, one
reporter asked President Truman if the Korean intervention was a “police action under the UN?” to which Truman answered, “Yes, that is exactly what it amounts to” (Truman 35). The Korean War was a
police action. Considering that this was allowed to progress as far as it did, and as confusedly executed as it was, it is no wonder all we have seen since the defeat of the Axis powers in the late
1940s has been either “limited wars” or “police actions.”
The war in Korea sneaked its way into America, pressuring involvement and presidential support. This did not eradicate the
possibility of citizen intervention, nor did it hinder any right to oppose involvement in an international conflict, as we exercised previously. The UN demanded North Korea to cease-fire and
retreat to the border at the 38th parallel. This enabled the words of the UN to be distorted to Truman’s ideas. Truman declared himself able to assume UN authority, sending American
troops to Korea it he North Koreans refused to withdraw. As Stein declares, reports from the front indicated that the North Koreans were marching aggressively southward, showing no sign of pulling
back to the 38th parallel. This is when Truman ordered the United States military to go to Korea and stop the aggressors. In a news conference, the president said, “The members of the
United Nations are going to the relief of the Korean republic, to suppress a bandit raid” (17).
In 1951, diplomats were discussing everything but cease-fire arrangements while soldiers were fighting a war in Korea
against uncertain enemies. Their conviction of cause was devoid in their minds while in combat. The last two years were the worst. More casualties accumulated on both sides while the peace talks
were commencing. When both sides were on the 38th parallel, the negotiators were forced to temporarily suspend their talks on August 23rd, due to the inability of either side
to keep the volume of their voices at an appropriate level. Even though seventeen UN countries contributed troops, Americans made up 90% of the non-Korean allied soldiers, with Britain on our
Despite the fact that the UN was reticent to enter into hostilities in Korea from the beginning, once engaged, the United
States still played the largest part by putting the most lives and energy into the war. It was not until December 2, 1952, reports Brzezinski that presidential-elect, Dwight Eisenhower, went to
visit troops where his son was serving in the Army. Eisenhower regretted that he had no words of hope to offer them (64). The duration of the war let America with a general unease regarding foreign
policy and defense. That was nothing compared to the future events that occurred during the 1960s in Vietnam.
The upheaval in popular support from citizens was a magnification of the displeasure expressed during Korea. This time
things were at full unrest when the soldier, unwillingly enlisted to fight and die needlessly for their country, were awaiting a hero’s welcome home, and were met with adverted eyes and disgusted
appraisals of their actions while abroad. Countrymen who were too busy exercising their rights by the first amendment did not realize that the judicial branch was available to be utilized to work
towards ending the war. Most ended up protesting, and much less else. It was not until 1964 that United States forces were committed to full combat engagement. In August of 1964, Filardo writes, “a
U.S. destroyer and three North Vietnamese PT boats fired on one another in International waters along the Gulf of Tonkin. The State Department sent a warning to the North Vietnamese government, and
two days passed before they fired upon each other once again.” President Johnson approved the United States forces to carry out immediate retaliation against several enemy targets. To fight back is
often an instinctual decision more than an intellectual one.
Following this, by election of the people, members of Congress drafted and approved the Southeast Asia Resolution, blaming
North Vietnam entirely for the incidents, and giving formal license to the president to take necessary measure—regardless of boundaries—to suppress Northern Vietnamese military aggression. The
fight against the aggression lasted from 1964 until 1973, and had United States forces constantly being harassed by low-level guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam. U.S. planes steadily bombed North
Vietnam in an attempt to subdue the attacks. (Rotter). These events supplied a corpulent amount of interesting matter to be used in films decades later. Deriving from the atrocities which occurred
while soldiers were immured in Vietnam, these movies attempt to illustrate the severity and inane multiple levels of emotional, mental, and physical pain these soldiers suffered.
There was a “significant lack of popular support from the Vietnamese people, coupled with growing popular resentment within
the United States [which] significantly hampered the American war effort. The United States finally recalled its troops but left behind its advisers in 1973. Early in 1975, North Vietnam overran
South Vietnam and formed the single Communistic country of Vietnam” (Filardo). The resentment felt arose from what can be labeled “unidentifiable currents of guilt.” The casualty toll alone cried
out what Americans now should expect from any type of involvement with any country in a position that even resembles Vietnam’s in the future. At best, it carried a dire warning against
Despite all knowledge of the past, we have since had multiple similar occurrences. Similar events following these past
conflicts outrage our citizens, but are actively alterable by the very denizens who express their displeasure, though the judicial system of our government provides means to “do something” about
them. The judicial branch is merely one branch of the government our country feels so desperate to impress upon the countries we have entered in the past and present. The only exception was the
beginning of the interaction with the Middle East. In November of 1979, the Iranian uprising lead to the start of the historic hostage crisis in Iran where American citizens, stationed at the U.S.
Embassy were held against their will for over a year. Americans watched the beginning events of the Iraq-Iran war. With James Carter as president, and his decision to bring the king of Iran into
the United States for medical care, the Iranians saw his choice as an insult and in response belligerently took sixty-six Americans hostage. The crisis waged for far too long, and Cater
courageously took the stand to refuse to give into terrorists, though his reputation as a president would suffer later for this decision. The situation culminated during Regan’s election in 1980.
Negotiators released $7.9 billion dollars to Iran in exchange for the hostages. They realized that the Iranians were in need of money—money which Cater had strategically frozen—for their war
against Iraq. At home, during this time, United States citizens felt swells of rage towards the Iranians and sympathy for the hostages. They displayed this sentiment with yellow ribbons, symbolic
of a nation keeping faith for the welfare of the captives, were seen hugging trees and phone and light poles amongst seas of flags. As declared by Stein, the final day of the hostage’s release was
January 20, 1981. They had spent 444 days as prisoners (28). Carter never did escape his repute, but his actions brought the country together again for the first time in many years, showing how the
government can work together in an exemplary fashion to deal with a national crisis. Stein notes, “Carter maintained some good which emerged from the nightmare. He told the freed captives of the
yellow ribbons and the millions of letters he received form ordinary Americans not to worry about their fate” (31). It was an ordeal unlike prior or yet to be future events, one that strengthened
the nation as a family. In commiseration, Americans saw how an injury to one is felt as an injury to all. Stein explains that the former president professed this sentiment in his quote: “This
crisis has unified out nation and our people like nothing in my lifetime since World War II” (31). Carter would never see anything like it again. The conflicts that America has engaged in
afterwards have been erratic and fruitless due to the absence of such compassion and empathy for our own.
Following this event, have been nothing but disturbing displays of our isolationistic attitude towards our own lives;
“Limited Wars,” “Peace keeping Deployments,” have riddled the latest part of the past century, and the start of this one. There is a prevailing sense of sporadic, if not nonexistent, concern for
international affairs, especially military ones, amongst Americans today. In 1998, we were part of the allied group consisting of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, who agreed on imposing
penalties upon Kosovo’s dictator Milosevic and his government due to its extreme violence. On June 12 of that year, the allies threatened military action, on the 16th NATO jets hovered
near Serbia’s borders, demonstrative of the Allie’s serious stance (Andryszewski, 30). In early 1999, NATO threatened to bomb Serbia if Milosevic continued to resist moving towards peace. Although
the United States, along with other NATO officials, insisted that ground soldiers would be deployed into Kosovo’s borders unless the peace between the Serbians and Albanians was of notice. On March
24th, bombing began and chaos within the two hostile Middle Eastern countries ensued. The United States was subjected to a hostage situation once again when a stealth fighter went down
inside Serbian borders on the 27th. Three servicemen were captured and beaten by the Serbian forces along the Macedonian border (Andryszewski, 39). There was great discord between Serbia
and America over Prisoner of War policies, but the men were eventually released in early May of that same year. There was far less an uproar over this entrapment then the one only a few decades
before. It certainly directs the mind to the belief of apathy creating both national and moral weakness within a country. This is something that America may never be able to deal with, just as
Carter was forced to suffer the criticism for his decisions.
Many components in recent events disconcert peace of mind, as they reflect a repetition of the past, only far worse in
fashion. Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and our current war on terrorism are all reservoirs of distress. The war on terrorism originally was initiated as a retaliatory act against the
9/11 carnage, inflicted by controversial sects of disapproving anti-American Iraqis. The subject of whether a declaration of war was made has been tossed around by word of mouth more than a tennis
ball during a pro-tournament. This displays just how fully informed any one random citizen is on the topic.
The striking resemblance between Truman’s “itchy feet” and George W. Bush’s eager and youthful zeal intimidate any thinking
and opinionated individual by its strength. President Bush announced that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were “part of an ‘axis of evil,’” according to Miller. Millar also reports that the president
“believed they threatened the peace of the world and that since Iraq supported terror, they posed a grave danger when seeking weapons of mass destruction, because they could supply them to
terrorists and blackmail the United States, or worse, attack our allies” (31). It baffles the mind that in 2002, merely four years ago, the people of the United States debated whether to attack
Iraq and depose Hussein or not. It is beyond the comprehension of most how a cycle of events can repeat itself so many times unnoticed by governmental officials who were bread to identify said
trends and avoid reoccurrences. If nothing can be done about it immediately, surely something could be said.
The war on Terrorism alone is costing us an estimated $400 billion the last time figures were reported to Time magazine.
That the war on terrorism originated with Osama bin Laden, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the Hamas institution of a political seat of power, are disquieting. Fretful links between mistakes
made in the past, the power of the president when unchecked, and the indifference of many citizens revealed by the responses to the disaster and destruction our country is allowing itself to be
privy to, are all cause for immense concern. These haunting omens are inflicted upon all involved, and the focus of this paper, serve as an attempt at calling attention to the importance of every
citizen’s involvement in protecting our welfare here in America today.
It is each and everyone who claims American citizenry that is to blame for past, present, even future catastrophes and
triumphs in and by our country. Our awareness today is pertinent, because as long as we reside within these borders, we are all American citizens to one extent or another. We are all subject to the
government which was constructed to protect us, designed by men of unsurpassable intelligence in the 18th century. Under this democracy, we each possess the capacity to make even the
slightest, nevertheless significant, difference in the country we live in by simple means that the judicial branch provides—petitions—as well as the power of the other branches as well. Branches of
government controlled by the votes of the common person. With this freedom and allotted importance we hold as American citizens, any positive or negative outcomes which arise by American
involvement, is in itself a direct result of each and every citizen’s involvement with their own government. Not by the action of a single military general, foreign terrorist group, or even our
President. It is impossible to force a person to consider your position when you speak but do not act. Responsibility must be accepted by every one of us, for our part we play in the unfolding of
events throughout time. This is our only hope for the future to be anything other than yet more repeat performances from the past, differentiated merely by new players from new generations. Through
the awareness of the procedures of our own governmental design, any single person can posses the potential to start or stop a war. To assign guilt to the president at the time of struggle, crisis,
and dysfunction, for his actions and his decisions alone, is to adopt a position of helplessness. In a democracy, by the dreams of the founding fathers who meticulously shaped our laws and rights
we enjoy today, no American can ever be helpless.
© Copyright 2016 Jessa Sumner. All rights reserved.