A century has passed since the close of the “war to end all wars.”
What began as a retaliation for an act of terror snowballed into a conflagration that would affect the inhabitants of every continent, taking the lives of some sixteen million people and changing our world forever.
We know now that rather than end all wars, the First World War could be said to have been the catalyst for even deadlier and longer lasting conflict, whose effects we feel even today. It certainly led to the Second World War, as defeated Germans, full of resentment and fueled by new ideologies born out of the ashes of the Great War, sought revenge, and with it, the creation of a New World Order founded on racially based pagan worldviews.
It gave birth to Soviet Communism, as Tsarist Russia, weakened by the war, fell before the onslaught of another inhuman, totalitarian belief system, which would seek to bring the entire world into its evil grip, only to collapse under the weight of its own inequity some 70 years later (and yet, some of our young people have begun to hear its siren song again).
It led to renewed conflict in the Balkans, as the stabilizing presence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was removed, leading to tensions that broke into open warfare, not only during the 1940s, but as recently as the 1990s as well. Likewise, the collapse of the already sick Ottoman Empire, hastened by their defeat at the hands of the Allies, gave us the modern Middle East, with its artificial lines and artificial nations over which blood continues to be shed to this day (in a certain sense, the hands that flew the aircraft into the Twin Towers are linked by historical thread to the hands that shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand on that fateful summer day of 1914).
The United States came late to this war, only getting involved in 1917, a year after President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.”
Wilson, however, was disingenuous when he made that pledge, because he believed that a better future could be made if the traditional way of things in Europe was upset and convinced liberals like himself could remake the world in their own image.
Like all ideologues, he was blinded by his hopes and did not see the world as it is. Rather than send our boys abroad in defense of American interests, he committed our troops in a crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” whatever that means. Thus, as I point out in my book, “America First: Understanding the Trump Doctrine,” the United States committed itself for the very first time to a war in which American interests were not paramount.
And we are paying the price ever since.
Putting “America First” is not a narrow-minded policy that excludes the rest of the world from our consideration. Rather, it is a policy based on realism, recognizing the world for what it is rather than what we would like it to be.
As such, it is a humble foreign policy that vindicates our rights and the security and well-being of our people, where those things are threatened, but does not seek to impose our will on nations with whom we disagree.
It is the basis for cooperation — we expect other nations to defend their interests, and we let them know that we will defend our own, and on those grounds, we cooperate on matters of mutual concern.
It is the basis for cooperation — we expect other nations to defend their interests, and we let them know that we will defend our own, and on those grounds, we cooperate on matters of mutual concern. Occasionally, rarely, such tensions might lead to armed conflict, but we only reach that point where our interests are directly threatened, and no course short of war is left to defend our homeland.
Then we prosecute that conflict vigorously to remove that threat, and end our involvement when the threat no longer exists. We refrain from nation-building, democracy promotion, and other immeasurable goals that continue to bleed us for years after the initial cause for action has passed. We put the world on notice, as President Trump said to the United Nations, that we “will not tell you how to live and work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
“America First” is a formula for peace and is the traditional foreign policy stance that kept our nation secure for much of its history. It certainly has a better track record than the policies of those “selfless idealists” and global thinkers who made the last century the bloodiest in human history.
But as we try to return to the policies bequeathed to us by our forefathers, let us not forget those Americans who fell in foreign lands just over 100 years ago. Despite our late involvement in World War One, over 100,000 doughboys would pay the ultimate price in the hell that was the Western Front.
They fought bravely and valiantly and did their duty as they saw fit. We should always pay homage to those who fall for their country’s honor, who put patriotism before self, even in a questionable cause, because we as a people should come together during times of conflict and settle for nothing less than victory.
At the same time, we do not honor their sacrifice by mulishly committing ourselves to the same policies that have so often failed in the past. We must go back to defending our interests in the world — America First – and reject those on the Left and on the Right who have anointed our nation as the righter of all wrongs, anywhere and everywhere, whether the parties involved like it or not.
A century has passed since Armistice Day, 1918, but we must reflect on what is yet at stake — lest we forget.
Danny Toma is a State Department veteran and the author of “America First: Understanding the Trump Doctrine.”
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