[Marxism] Why liberals kill

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 20 07:07:06 MDT 2009

Why Liberals Kill
by Thaddeus Russell
October 17, 2009 | 6:22pm

BS Top - Russell Liberals AP Photo; Getty Images (2) The left may be 
pressuring President Obama to exit Afghanistan. But their heroes—from 
FDR to JFK—promoted U.S. involvement in more wars than all modern GOP 
presidents combined.

Should President Barack Obama continue his escalation of the wars in 
Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be the liberal thing to do.

What too few Americans realize—especially the president’s anti-war 
supporters, who accuse him of betraying liberal or "progressive" 
values—is that if he accedes to General Stanley McChrystal's request for 
more troops in Afghanistan and intensifies the drone attacks in 
Pakistan, he will follow squarely in the footsteps of the great liberal 
statesmen he has cited as his role models. Though opponents of the wars 
in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered loudly when Obama spoke reverentially in 
his campaign speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin 
Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, those heroes of the 
president promoted and oversaw U.S. involvement in wars that killed, by 
great magnitudes, more Americans and foreign civilians than all the 
modern Republican military operations combined.

Though liberals are routinely chastised for their “secular relativism,” 
as Bill O’Reilly puts it, American statesmen who waged the largest wars 
were driven by the Christian doctrine of “good works,” often enunciated 
in Obama’s speeches as the duty to be “our brother’s keeper.”

What should be even more troubling to those who call themselves 
progressives but oppose the current wars: Obama's motivations for 
pursuing them are rooted in the central tenet of progressivism, 
enunciated by his idols, that the American national government is 
responsible for the reform and uplift of those "we" deem to be living 
below "our" standards, and that "they" must be protected from their 
oppressors. Obama's role models followed the logic of that moral calling 
to the ends of the earth.

And though liberals are routinely chastised for their "secular 
relativism," as Bill O'Reilly puts it, liberal statesmen who waged the 
largest wars were driven by the Christian doctrine of "good works," 
often enunciated in Obama's speeches as the duty to be "our brother's 
keeper." Whereas the traditional conservative notion of Christian 
communal obligation is limited to one’s family or nation, Obama’s 
political ancestors extended it to the world.

Both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson declared that God had given 
American leaders—"Christ's Army," according to Wilson—the divine duty to 
"improve" the backward peoples of America and the world. Roosevelt and 
Wilson used that rationale to establish modern progressivism and 
American imperialism, both of which were part of what Roosevelt called 
"the long struggle for the uplift of humanity." They argued that greater 
government intervention, through social welfare and regulatory programs 
at home and military incursions abroad, would remake American slums and 
all the countries of the world into the Puritan ideal of a "city on a hill."

To fulfill this mission, Roosevelt championed many social-welfare 
measures, including pure-food and worker-safety regulations, but he also 
pushed the United States to attack Spain and occupy Cuba and the 
Philippines—the so-called Spanish-American War, which historians 
characterize as America's "first imperial war.” The assault and 
subsequent occupations resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 
Cubans, several hundred thousand Filipino civilians, and 4,541 American 

Wilson believed that to "Christianize the world" required the radical 
expansion of government power. Along with fellow progressives in 
Congress, Wilson established three classic progressive institutions: the 
Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the federal 
income tax. But Wilson's self-appointed obligation to rescue and 
“redeem” all the world's people compelled him, beginning in 1916, to 
push the country toward intervention in Europe with what many historians 
call a "missionary zeal." The United States, he said, "must assume the 
messianic mantle" and had "the right and duty to intervene whenever and 
wherever" its leaders thought necessary. Some 116,000 U.S. servicemen 
were killed and more than 200,000 wounded in World War I, which ended in 
a virtual stalemate.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the next president to take up the liberal 
mission. According to Robert Dallek's award-winning biography, the 
origin of FDR's commitment to social-welfare programs and international 
interventionism was "the Christian gentleman's ideal of service to the 
less fortunate: the conviction that privileged Americans should take a 
part in relieving national and international ills."

Long before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt urged intervention 
against Japan's expansion in the Pacific. And there is considerable 
evidence and substantial agreement among scholars that Roosevelt did 
everything in his power to force Japan into a conflict with the United 
States. Though Japan wished to avoid confrontation with its principal 
trading partner, in 1937 Roosevelt suggested that military action was 
needed to “quarantine the aggressor.” And beginning in 1940, he imposed 
a series of embargoes on the island nation, which was almost entirely 
dependent on U.S. imports for its industrial production. After Pearl 
Harbor, Roosevelt promised both victory against Japan and "the 
establishment of an international order in which the spirit of Christ 
shall rule the hearts of men and nations."

Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, whose Baptist evangelical 
upbringing informed his pledge “to win the world back to peace and 
Christianity,” made immense incursions across the globe. Truman rejected 
the doctrine of defensive "containment" of the Soviets in favor of a 
"rollback" policy, elaborated by the CIA in 1950, to aggressively" 
foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and 
flourish." In September 1950, Truman turned the Korean War into an 
all-out offensive mission by launching a military assault that pushed 
North Korean communists deep into their own territory. A large portion 
of the 37,000 American casualties in the war came during the offensive.

John F. Kennedy devoted his political career to realizing America's 
"mission" to seize "direct control of world destiny." He campaigned for 
the presidency in 1960 on the charges that Eisenhower had left the poor 
to languish and allowed Communists to continue their subjugation of the 
world’s innocents. In his inaugural address, Kennedy vowed to uplift 
"those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to 
break the bonds of mass misery."

To heed his calling for humankind meant making U.S. intervention in 
Vietnam into a war. Kennedy increased the number of U.S. military 
personnel there from a few hundred when he took office to 15,000 by the 
time he was assassinated, and shipped massive amounts of military 
equipment to the Vietnamese war zone.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama mentioned Lyndon Baines Johnson only 
once and only in passing. Perhaps this was because Johnson's continued 
escalation of both the Vietnam War—which resulted in the deaths of more 
than 58,000 Americans and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese soldiers and 
civilians—and programs to help the poor caused the left to oppose 
aggressive foreign policies and the right to turn militantly against 
social-welfare initiatives. This halted, for three decades, the grand 
liberal project of the 20th century.

The trinity of evangelism, large government intervention, and global 
transformative aspirations was revived, ironically, in the Republican 
administration of George W. Bush. It is well-documented that the 
so-called neoconservatives in and around the Bush administration 
identify with the very same presidents Obama admires. Indeed, their No 
Child Left Behind program mandating standardized testing in public 
schools, use of enhanced executive powers, and "regime-change" foreign 
policy were anathema to traditional, "paleo" conservatives.

During his campaign, Obama echoed neoconservatives and channeled his 
Democratic role models by declaring that the United States "must lead 
the world, by deed and by example." Thus far the president and his 
cabinet have pledged to expand and further centralize No Child Left 
Behind and initiate New Deal-style public works projects, refused to 
reduce the new powers of the presidency, expanded the military, and 
called for "state-building" and interventions on behalf of "victims" in 
Somalia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan, and, most immediately, 
in Afghanistan.

Those who call themselves liberals or progressives but are reluctant to 
project American military force are now confronted with the question of 
whether they wish to continue the renewal of the project that Obama 

Thaddeus Russell has taught history, philosophy, and American Studies at 
Columbia University, Barnard College, Eugene Lang College, and the New 
School for Social Research. He is the author of Jimmy Hoffa and the 
Remaking of the American Working Class (Knopf, 2001) and the forthcoming 
A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010).

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