Roots of Revolution &
The Road to World Leadership:
The Police Idea in U.S. Foreign Policy
excerpted from the book
Intervention and Revolution
The United States in the Third World
by Richard J. Barnet
World Publishing, 1968, paperback edition
Roots of Revolution
The United States has based its opposition to revolutions in the
postwar world on the character and allegiance of their leadership.
Most of the coups, rebellions, and civil wars that have erupted
in the last twenty years have concerned tribal, religious, or
sectional rivalries and have not elicited an American response.
Where, however, an insurgent group or a revolutionary regime has
attempted radical social change, even suggesting a communist influence,
the United States has sooner or later intervened against it on
the grounds that the revolutionaries were acting for a foreign
The Revolutionary, above all, is obsessed with the fate of a place.
While he may have the incredible patience of a Ho Chi Minh and
be prepared to fight for a generation, his eyes are firmly fixed
on the here and now. He wants to liberate his country. Why one
man makes the irrevocable commitment to radical change and leads
a revolution while another accommodates himself to a corrupt society
must be answered in terms of individual psychology rather than
economic class. Most of the communist revolutionary leaders have
come from middle-class professional families. Indeed, the leadership
of the national-liberation movements around the world is filled
with doctors, lawyers, and history teachers. Why do they do it?
For the excitement of it, Robert McNamara has suggested. Perhaps.
But the revolutionary leader is rather restricted in his future
career opportunities. It is not easy to rejoin the society from
which he has voluntarily exiled himself. Even after seizing power
he must tread the tightrope that separates the palace from the
prison. The stakes are supremely high. He must win, for the alternative
is death. There is nothing we know of the character of the modern
revolutionary leader to suggest that the decision to become one
is frivolously made. It may well be, as some American scholars
have suggested, that the underlying motives are far from heroic.
A man may become a revolutionary because of a thirst for power,
a search for personal identity, or a strong feeling of guilt.
But whatever the personal reasons, the Revolutionary is filled
with a sense of himself. To an extraordinary extent, the Titos,
Castros, and Hos are their own men.
The United States has succeeded in fulfilling its own prophecy:
All radical insurgent leaders throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin
America see the United States as the common enemy. Not only does
America support the army and the police, but United States soldiers
have been engaged in actual combat against rebels. General Robert
W. Porter, Jr., has reported to the House Foreign Affairs Committee
that United States rangers have been in battle against the forces
of Yon Sosa and Cesar Montes, the two Guatemalan guerrilla leaders.
Green Berets have also been in combat in Colombia and Thailand
as "advisers," and the c~6 has flown missions for the
Portuguese in Mozambique. The ubiquitous United States military
presence has been the stimulus to revolutionary solidarity. Although
hard to achieve in practice, a new theory of revolutionary internationalism
is growing. One of Hugo Blanco's followers in Peru explained it
this way to a Newsweek correspondent:
We wanted a quick victory. Now we know that the United States
will never allow us that luxury, so we prepare for the long slow
fight ahead.... We must coordinate our efforts, not just among
ourselves in Peru, but throughout Latin America. We are nationalists
but the only way to win for us in Latin America is to become internationalists.
The United States cannot win Vietnams in eight different countries
at the same time. We must begin to think in new terms: that the
poor of the world are at war against the rich.
The Road to World Leadership:
The Police Idea in U.S. Foreign Policy
The possession of great power has led those responsible for protecting
America to devote ever-increasing energy and resources to the
quest for physical security in a world that has less and less
of it to offer. Since 1945 the national-security bureaucracy has
assumed for the first time in over one hundred years that the
United States is vulnerable to attack. Since 1955 the Pentagon
and the State Department have carried on their daily work in the
shadow of charts which show that in a nuclear war American society
as we have known it will be destroyed along with one-third to
two-thirds of her people. Thus, the impulse to keep war as far
as possible from our shores has grown ever stronger as technology
has increasingly undermined the foundations of national security.
Presidents and generals have popularized the idea that if battles
can be fought in Asian or African villages, they will not have
to be fought over American cities.
Official explanations for the policy of opposing violent revolution
and guiding underdeveloped nations into approved paths to development
rest heavily on such strategic considerations. The outbreak of
violence among remote peoples is usually noticed only when some
economic or military interest of the United States is discerned.
In general, a small underdeveloped country has a hard time attracting
the State Department's attention unless it either is located on
the periphery of what used to be called the "Sino-Soviet
bloc," is a victim of an insurgency with communist connections,
or has become the target of Soviet or Chinese diplomacy.
Yet America has always tried to explain its relations to the
rest of the world in terms of ideological principles which transcend
parochial economic or military interests. There is a messianic
idea running through American history that this nation has something
to give the world beyond the example of the Affluent Society and
that the spread of American civilization abroad is the ultimate
vindication of the American political experiment. From the earliest
involvement of the Republic in foreign adventures, Americans have
wrapped the desire for more land, more power, more respect, more
bases, more raw materials, and more markets in an ideological
mantle. So also the postwar effort to push ever farther from our
own shores the ramparts of Fortress America.
The moving ideology of American interventionism .. shifted from
"manifest destiny" to the concepts of "international
political power" and "world leadership." Theodore
Roosevelt developed the y idea that the United States had a special
role to exercise police power in the Western Hemisphere in the
name of the community of nations-a responsibility to intervene
against "wrongdoing or impotence." The United States
had no "land hunger," only a passion for order. "Disorganization
and disorder will not be long permitted in a world grown as small
as ours," was a professorial comment around the turn of the
century. As he moved into Panama, Roosevelt compared himself to
a policeman jailing a blackmailer. The Taft administration continued
what it called a "moral protectorate" of Nicaragua,
and Wilson ordered the Marines to assume the entire functions
of government in the Dominican Republic for five years to restore
"internal order." Wilson also moved against Mexico and
Coolidge against Nicaragua, again to forestall revolutionary movements
which appeared to endanger American interests. "We are not
making war on Nicaragua," President Coolidge explained, "any
more than a policeman on the street is making war on passers-by."
Outside the Western Hemisphere, where, each President reiterated,
the United States held the only warrant to police, the rules were
different. Woodrow Wilson emphasized that manifest destiny demanded
not the dispatch of troops, which he hoped to avoid, but the exercise
of "the moral leadership that is offered us." By the
time of the armistice, the President, who in 1915 had been so
opposed to war as an instrument of politics that he had been shocked
to learn that the War Department had contingency plans for fighting
Germany, was now convinced that military power must be the ultimate
basis of collective security. Around this issue there rallied
that strange coalition of populists, humanists, pacifists, fascists,
militarists, and xenophobes who were tagged as "isolation
As the 1920s wore on, there developed a growing disillusionment
in war as a method of settling political problems. The world had
manifestly not been made safe for democracy. The allies wouldn't
pay their war debts. The Kellogg-Briand Pact to "outlaw war,"
an attempt to substitute promises for military coercion as a guarantee
of peace, reflected the growing popular mood. When the depression
struck, many Americans were quick to blame it on "the tragic
heritage that has come down to us from this so-called war to end
The findings of the revisionist historians, led by Sidney
B. Fay, that the issues surrounding the 1914 war were muddier
than Americans had been led to believe, reinforced by the more
sensational revelations of the Nye Committee about the role of
the "merchants of death" in getting the United States
into the war, helped to create a climate in which the commitment
of military power overseas was looked upon not as a moral crusade
but as a cynical expression of "power politics."
Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the White House with the backing
of isolationists like William R. Hearst, to whom FDR gave assurances
that the United States did not belong in the League. Strengthening
the forces of "international morality," as Cordell Hull
liked to talk about, and the observance of neutrality in the wearisome
quarrels of Europe was the new President's prescription for peace.
While some, like Henry Stimson, were increasingly worried about
the radical militarist regimes that had come to power in Japan,
Italy, and Germany and proposed that America "no longer draw
a circle about them" but "denounce them as lawbreakers,"
the prevailing sentiment was against assumption of police responsibilities.
Most Americans did not see how the United States could play that
role without courting war. And war was unthinkable. The early
New Dealers were in tune with the national feeling. In 1936 Jerome
Frank, the young chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission,
wrote Save America First and coined the watchword of the isolationists.
Roosevelt himself supported the Neutrality Act of 1935. In August,
1936, at Chautauqua he made it clear that American boys were "not
coming back" to Europe, that confronted with "the choice
between arms profits and war"-a reference to the Nye hearings-the
nation "will answer-must answer-'we choose peace.' "
By the next year Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland and his stepped-up
persecution of the Jews had caused some defections from the isolationist
majority. Roosevelt now took his first major step away from neutrality
in the direction of asserting world police responsibility for
the United States by calling for a "quarantine of aggressors":
It seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world
lawlessness is spreading. When an epidemic of physical disease
breaks out, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of
the patients in order to protect the health of the community against
the spread of the disease.
While the speech was opposed by both Business Week and The
New Republic, it set the tone for a series of accelerating moves
toward involvement in the war-repeal of the neutrality acts and
the arms embargo, Lend-Lease, and, finally, after Pearl Harbor,
fighting itself. Much of the pressure toward intervention came
from the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and
the more militant Fight for Freedom Committee. Increasingly Roosevelt
began to welcome their pressure to offset the strength of the
"America Firsters," a group in which liberals like Robert
M. Hutchins and Chester Bowles found themselves sharing the organization's
letterhead with old-fashioned populists like Senator Burton Wheeler,
German sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh, and fascist ideologues
like Father Coughlin.
As the United States now saw it, the principal problem of world
order was the containment of Russia not only as a "national
entity" but also as a "missionary religion." According
to the prevailing official view, the two premises that undergirded
the prewar policy of noninvolvement had been destroyed by two
crucial events. At Pearl Harbor, it became clear that indefinite
coexistence with evil was impossible. Sooner or later an enemy
who regarded "honesty," "honor," "trust,"
and "truth" as negative virtues (Churchill's description
of the Russian leaders to members of the Truman cabinet in 1946)
would strike. At Munich the world learned that conciliation and
accommodation, admirable techniques of diplomacy when dealing
with reasonable men, are used by Hitlers as weapons to crush gullible
adversaries. "Appeasement," which in the prewar dictionaries
meant "conciliation," now meant something very close
The men of the Truman administration who set the course of
national-security policy for a generation formed their basic political
judgments under the impact of these two events. They added up
to new and seemingly limitless police responsibilities to protect
the world from communism. As the postwar world opened, the United
States prepared to take the lead in demanding "international
law with teeth." As far ahead as American leaders could see
in the convulsing world of 1945, the United States would supply
both the teeth and the law.
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