• Angelo M. Codevilla, To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations, Hoover Institution Press, 2014, 209 pages, $24.95.
RALEIGH — Readers have good reason to be wary of books touting “peace,” but they may now throw such caution to the wind. Indeed, To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations deserves the widest possible readership, particularly from those who aspire to national leadership.
The title derives from Abraham Lincoln, and author Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, shows how the cause of peace has suffered at the hands of America’s ruling class.
The luminaries of that class “believed that Stalin was the sine qua non of perpetual peace through the United Nations,” and that “staying on his good side was job No. 1.” But that did not make for actual peace. Affection for the Soviet Union and communism “deformed U.S. foreign policy, caused World War II to end not in peace but in Cold War, and occasioned conflict among Americans, the consequences of which are with us yet.”
Codevilla dates the problem to the era of Woodrow Wilson, the first president to criticize the American founding. The Wilsonians spawned a progressivism featuring “a pacifism as mindless as it was frenetic and provocative,” deployed by a “united ruling class intoxicated with its own virtue and ideology.” Members of this bipartisan class “see themselves as benefactors, harbingers of peace,” but “cannot imagine that others would find them insufferable.”
Codevilla makes the case against socio-economic “nation building” in which the enemies are supposedly poverty, ignorance, and disease. This default approach, as in Vietnam, “generates contempt and violence against America.” As for America’s actual enemies, the ruling class maintains a recognition problem.
For Franklin Roosevelt, the enemy remained force itself, and he maintained that stance until Dec. 29, 1940 — after the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the invasion of Poland, and the fall of France — when FDR specifically indicted “the Nazi masters of Germany.” The Rooseveltians further “debased America’s cause by identifying it with Stalin’s.” They treated the USSR’s partnership in starting the war as a nonevent, and “by using the totalitarian tactic of airbrushing to try justifying their Soviet affections, they poisoned American political life.”
Those who held the “we win, they lose” view of the Cold War, in the style of Ronald Reagan, came to be regarded as enemies of peace. By then the ruling class “had doubled down on its Wilsonian sense of intellectual-moral entitlement” and “came to regard its domestic political opponents as perhaps the principal set of persons whose backward ways must be guarded against and reformed.” In this view, a loss of peace abroad feeds domestic strife and results in a loss of peace at home.
Communism may have been surpassed as a threat, but “our culturally, historically illiterate ruling class missed the fact that a whole civilization mobilized against America.” The 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran was an act of war that drew the response of a “minor irritation.” The Islamic world quickly “learned that it was now safe to export its warfare to the West in general and America in particular.”
For Barack Obama, staying on the good side of Islamic militants appears to be job one. To Make and Keep Peace notes that, at the United Nations, Obama condemned in equal terms Americans who insult Muslims and Muslims who burn and kill Americans. And he called for imprisonment of the man who made the anti-Muslim video that Muslim leaders saw “as good cause for anti-American violence” at Benghazi.
On the home front, the ruling class directs the organs of homeland security against “all citizens equally rather than against plausible enemies.” This fateful error, says Codevilla, “gave civil strife’s deadly spiral its first deadly turn.” The “former anti-anti-Communists were now anti-anti-Muslim,” and as during the Cold War, the entitled “progressives” blamed America’s troubles on their fellow citizens.
As the author notes, Obama called “enemies of democracy” the very groups the IRS subjected to punitive audits. Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even called them “terrorists.” So it’s no surprise, Codevilla notes, that the “FBI infiltrates the Tea Party as it once did the Communist Party — agent of the Soviet Union that it was.”
Readers of To Make and Keep Peace will verify that those now in charge use every opportunity “to direct blame, distrust, and even mayhem onto those they like the least.” In these conditions Americans “must learn to trust each other less than ever, while trusting the authorities ever more, forever.”
For Angelo Codevilla, peace is the “precondition for enjoying the good things of life,” and peace must be statecraft’s objective. “Peace among ourselves and with all nations,” contends the author, “has to be won and preserved as it ever has been here and elsewhere.” Codevilla hopes for new statesmen who will secure the respect of other nations and understand that wars are to be “avoided or won quickly.”
On the other hand, he laments that “we cannot know whether America can ever live in peace again, what kind of peace we may win for ourselves, or what peace we may end up having to endure.” For their part, terrorists and tyrants seem to be getting the message that the time to act is now. So what Codevilla calls the “domestic state of siege” is unlikely to lighten up for a while, if ever.
Americans disturbed by that prospect can find further enlightenment in Codevilla’s 2010 book, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It.
Lloyd Billingsley is a contributor to Carolina Journal.