No more American crusades, please

When America launches crusades at home and abroad, things rarely go as planned.  That is because crusades for this or that cause usually stem from ideological motives, and ideology often blinds its proponents to uncomfortable realities.  That is why the Biden administration's depiction of the Russia-Ukraine War as a struggle between democracy and autocracy could lead to dangerous unintended consequences.

Crusades by their nature require total commitment.  And that is when things can get out of hand.

Just think back to previous American crusades.  President Woodrow Wilson told his countrymen that World War I was being fought to make the world safe for democracy and was the war to end all wars.  In truth, the war was not about democracy, but about restoring a balance of power in Europe.  Its unintended consequences included the rise of communism and fascism and another, even more destructive, global war.  At home, Wilson's crusade led to censorship and the prosecution of political dissidents who opposed the war.

Wilson's crusade for democracy and the end of war was quickly followed by the crusade against alcoholic beverages, known as Prohibition, which did nothing to solve the problem of alcoholism but had the unintended consequence of spurring the rise of organized crime in the United States.

The next crusade in America was the New Deal, which used an economic crisis to greatly expand the role of the federal government, leading to a gargantuan federal bureaucracy that has accumulated powers that would have startled the founders of our country.  That was followed by a second crusade for democracy in World War II, which, as in the First World War, was actually a struggle to restore the global balance of power in Europe and Asia.  The unintended consequences of that war included the spread of communist power to Eastern and Central Europe, China, and other parts of the globe, and the end of European colonialism (which was another crusade) that produced disastrous and undemocratic regimes in Africa and Asia.

The next domestic crusade in America was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which included the "war" on poverty and efforts to end racial discrimination and segregation. Like previous crusades, it produced some beneficial and positive results but also unintended consequences including the dramatic rise in illegitimacy, the breakdown of the family, generational dependence on welfare programs, and rising crime rates.  Like the New Deal crusade, the biggest winner of the Great Society was government bureaucracy, which expanded exponentially.

Then America had a crusade for arms control, which served almost as a religion for its proponents.  There were massive street protests, the counting down of the nuclear clock, and doomsday scenarios depicted in film and theater.  That led for a time to the loss of American nuclear superiority, which, in combination with the crusade to end the Vietnam War, led to a Soviet geopolitical offensive in the 1970s. 

More recently, President George W. Bush, in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, launched the global war on terror, which included the goal of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.  That crusade resulted in two lengthy and indecisive wars that were not worth the blood and treasure expended.  But crusades die hard — and this one lasted twenty years.

And we are still in the midst of two other crusades whose ends are not in sight.  The first is the "climate change" crusade, which, like the previous arms control crusade, has become a religion for its most enthusiastic proponents, who will do almost anything to "save the planet," including taking "scientific" advice from a European teenager.  The other crusade was brought on by the COVID-19 virus, whose crusaders shut down businesses; wrecked economies; and imposed mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and vaccine passports in the name of "following the science."

Be very wary when your leaders start talking about crusades for democracy in the context of the Russia-Ukraine War.  The unintended consequences there could lead to mushroom clouds and millions of dead Americans.  Please, no more crusades.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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