War And Trade

Americans hate war. I do not think that is a well-understood fact around the world. But it should be. It needs to be.

One could point to philosophy or religion as the motivating force in American’s hatred of war, but I think closer to the point is that America is the quintessential commercial republic. As Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business.” Which is another way of saying that we take the pursuit of happiness very seriously in the U.S.A., and war, well, war just takes too many weekends.

It is not that America is weak, for its people tax themselves to support a defense in a way few other democracies are willing to do.

Nor are Americans afraid. As a nation, America was born in rebellion to the greatest power of the day. The founding fathers of the United States were cautioned by Benjamin Franklin on the occasion of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, “Let us all hang together for, otherwise, we shall surely hang separately.”

Yet sign they did. The United States of America is a nation born in bravery.

But though the nation is strong and the people do not fear battle, war is the most distant of thoughts to the typical American. This is a culture obsessed with acquiring and consuming.

Yet, there is something in the American character that understands there is a price to be paid for liberty. In World War I, in World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam, now in Iraq, Americans laid down their plows and picked up their weapons because of a sense that the liberty within which all this acquiring and consuming takes place was threatened.

Try and think of another nation that so generously shed its blood in battle and then withdrew, seeking neither territory nor gold. Try and think of another nation that, after defeating giants like Germany and Japan, sought not to drain them of wealth but instead spent generously of its own treasure to revive their economies.

Why did we behave this way? Though it may sound simplistic, on a certain level, with a whole world destroyed, I think Americans did it because the world just wouldn’t have been any fun with everyone else destitute.

There is a popular American board game called Monopoly. In the game, people try to acquire various properties so they can charge high rents. The excitement of the game is the trading of properties back and forth between the players. If the other players won’t trade, then the game becomes boring. And what you have to understand about Americans is that really all they want to do with other countries is trade.

The most fervent hope of Americans is that having gotten rid of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis will build lives for themselves. That the nation will prosper. That the people should follow their own religions and live in peace and that we shall all trade and do mutually beneficial business.

The great oil wealth of Iraq is both a blessing and a curse. It makes so much possible and, yet, is so fundamentally destructive. When wealth shoots from the ground, people start to think of wealth as something preexisting. It is better to encounter nothing, like the Pilgrims who settled Massachusetts from the Mayflower. Then when you build and plant and reap, you know that you created wealth.

Religion is a tremendous problem for the world. America is, by far, the most religious of the Western nations. More people are church-goers; more people profess to believe in God. Yet the separation of Church and State fundamentally alters the status of religion in a society. For it asserts faith to be a matter of choice, of personal taste, like choosing between chocolate and vanilla. To some, this freedom diminishes religion in an unacceptable manner.

Yet, in the U.S., this freedom has served to strengthen, not weaken religion. For it means that those who affiliate do it out of choice. This reconciliation of freedom with faith came, if not easily, naturally to Christianity, for Christianity was born as an entity apart from the state. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s” is recognition of the separation of spheres between the public and the private. But the Prophet Mohammed ruled his nation, and the separation between the religious and secular is not one that comes naturally or easily.

The U.S. cannot resolve all these questions and the whole subject, frankly, gives most Americans a headache. That is why America didn’t really act after the USS Cole or the bombing of U.S. embassies. But after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the people of America knew that they had to act or their own liberty was in danger. That is what, really, Afghanistan and Iraq are about for Americans.

In the end, the food industry wants to buy and sell food. Business thrives amidst stable societies where people prosper. Think of how good that is for the world, that the most powerful interests in America want the whole world to be populated by wealthy people able to buy American products.

The food industry was not instrumental in the war effort, but it is traditional that in making peace, people sit down and break bread. They share a meal and become if not quite friends, at least better strangers.

May we all become better strangers.