Two hundred thirty years have elapsed since Jefferson’s document was signed in Philadelphia, declaring the 13 colonies to be independent forever of the England of George III.
In his Farewell Address, Washington defined independence in a single sentence: “It is our true policy to steer clear of any permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
Jefferson echoed the father of his country, declaring America’s policy to be one of “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.”
Adams thought his greatest achievement was that he prevented a naval war with France from degenerating into all out-war with Napoleon, and had severed America’s 1778 alliance with Paris. Not for 150 years would the United States enter another permanent alliance, NATO, in the extraordinary situation that was the Cold War.
It was because America remained independent of the alliances of Europe the Triple Entente of Britain, France, and Russia, and Triple Alliance of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy that Americans did not arrive on the battlefields of the Great War of 1914-1918 until six months before the Armistice. America lost 116,000 soldiers in that bloodbath, but avoided the horrendous casualties that killed the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian, and Ottoman empires, and forever wounded the British and French.
America emerged the most powerful nation and greatest creditor on earth, as a Senate wisely rejected both the Versailles Treaty and a League of Nations set up to enforce its dishonorable terms.
World War II began Sept. 3, 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany to honor a guarantee Neville Chamberlain had given to Poland. France fell in the late spring of 1940, as the British were hurled off the Continent. Stalin’s prison house of nations was invaded in June of 1941. Untold millions in Central and Eastern Europe perished.
Free of alliances, the Americans did not even land in France until five years after the war began, only 11 months before its end in Europe.
No European empire survived these wars. No great European nation was left undiminished. These wars ended Europe’s role as shaper of world history.
Thus it was that America emerged as first nation on earth, the most self-sufficient republic in history, undisputed leader of the West. For 40 years of Cold War against a Soviet Empire, America drew a red line across Europe and told Moscow not to cross it. Nor did we cross it the other way to liberate Eastern Europe, when the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, the Prague Spring was crushed by Russian tanks in 1968, or Solidarity was smashed on Moscow’s orders in 1981.
Unlike the British and French who declared war over Poland in 1939, Americans did not think Eastern Europe worth the risk of a new world war. We waited patiently for the evil empire to collapse, and collapse it did under steady pressure from Reagan’s America. Patience paid off, for, as Reagan always believed, time was on our side, time was on the side of freedom. It still is.
Today, however, the independent foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson, the noninterventionist policy of Eisenhower and Reagan of peace through strength, of staying out of wars where U.S. interests are not imperiled, of keeping one’s powder dry unless the United States were attacked is derided as cowardly isolationism.
So, with the end of the Cold War did not come the end of the Cold War alliances, but their permanent extension, and the addition of new allies, until it is probably not possible for a major war to break out anywhere on earth today without the United States being involved from Day One.
Alliances are transmission belts of war. Temporary ones, like the French alliance of 1778 and the NATO alliance of 1949, may be necessary, but a wise republic terminates those entanglements when the crisis is ended and restores its freedom of action to decide when, where, and whether to go to war, and not have that decision made by some 50-year-old treaty.
That is what the Founding Fathers taught, and what America believed, to her benefit, for most of her history.
But if the Founding Fathers were to come back to life and to be asked, “Whom does the America of 2006 resemble more, the republic you created or the empire from which you broke away?” is there any doubt how they would have to answer?
America today is more dependent on foreign fuel, foreign goods, foreign loans, and foreign allies than she has ever been. Her worldwide commitments have never been greater, nor has her global and national debt.
Yet her leaders still seek to embed America every more deeply in global institutions from the WTO to the United Nations to the North American Union.
This is not the road on which the Founding Fathers set out, but it is a familiar road, one taken before by every empire in history.
Thoughts on Independence Day, 2006.