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Allies in arms
On Woodrow Wilson's imagination, what Dwight Eisenhower saw on the beaches, and Finland's porcupine defense
The deeply unfortunate and uncomfortable reality is that violent conflict is an inescapable flaw of human nature. We retain just enough of our lesser animal instincts that there always has been -- and always will be -- an aspect of human nature that will willingly resort to violence to get what it wants.
■ This is true both individually and at the societal level. There will always be bullies, aggressors, and might-makes-right types who will use threats, intimidation, and outright violence to try to get what they want. That perpetual threat has to be countered by the rule of law.
■ But the law is not always swift enough to appear when summoned, which is why there will forever be the need for honorable and decent people to uphold the peace by learning the arts of self-defense. In the words of Joseph Philip, a Grand Master in the practice of traditional Tae Kwon-Do, "We seek to eliminate violence by deterring the strong from oppressing the weak through developing a power that must be based on humanity, justice, morality, wisdom and faith, thus helping to build a better and more peaceful world."
■ As with individuals, so as well with societies. Woodrow Wilson dreamt in 1917 that "it is taken for granted that that peace must be followed by some definite concert of power which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again". Wilson's utopian vision may have been well-intentioned, but it assumed the possibility of an end to war through "an organized common peace".
■ But peace must always be enforced by people of goodwill. There is no option to stand down entirely; there is only the responsibility to stand firmly and persuasively in the gap between what maleficent actors want and what they can do. Only an honorable strength is sufficient to deter the strong from oppressing the weak.
■ That honorable strength depends upon both skills and resources. A soldier must have a weapon, and a weapon must have a trained soldier. Logistics and the supply of materials have always mattered in warfare; Dwight Eisenhower recalled in his memoir of World War II, "There was no sight in the war that so impressed me with the industrial might of America as the wreckage on the landing beaches. To any other nation the disaster would have been almost decisive; but so great was America's productive capacity that the great storm occasioned little more than a ripple in the development of our build-up." Democracy needs its arsenals.
■ Having reliable allies who are capable of producing materiel is a strategic imperative. For that reason, American and allied interests ought to celebrate the maturity of a meaningful defense-sector industry in South Korea. Though it may seem counterintuitive, defense industries with lots of capacity are tools of peace.
■ The Russian invasion of Ukraine illustrates plainly that nations are willing to spend billions of dollars on the vanity of aggression. And the only productive way to counter them -- with even a shred of hope of deterring the same behavior in the future -- is for those honorable peacemakers to be ready to spend billions of their own to arm the defenders.
■ Diversity of supply may well turn out in that war to be even more important than ever thought before, since other nations in Europe have to arm up as well to make themselves more resistant to the risk of invasion: Finland, for instance, needs to be a well-armed porcupine. If defending Ukraine is going to consume lots of armaments for some time to come, there will need to be adequate productive capacity throughout the free world to make sure that nobody is left under-armed.
■ Wilson imagined a peace that could be perpetually maintained by talking. Unfortunately, until the violent instincts can be removed from the reptilian parts of our brains, talking won't be enough. Justice can only be preserved if the oppressors have reasonable cause for concern about the consequences if they are caught trying to oppress the weak. When it comes to having the supplies needed to discourage aggression, there is no such thing as "just in time".