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  • November 2007
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United States Foreign Policy (Pt. 3)

by Ezra Taft Benson, Friday, June 21, 1968, Preston Idaho

Many well-intentioned people are now convinced that we are living in a period of history which makes it both possible and necessary to abandon our national sovereignty, to merge our nation militarily, economically, and politically with other nations, and to form, at last a world government which, supposedly, would put an end to war. We are told that this is merely doing between nations what we did so successfully with our thirteen colonies. This plea for world federalism is based on the idea that the mere act of joining separate political units together into a larger federal entity will somehow prevent those units from waging war with each other. The success of our own federal system is most often cited as proof that this theory is valid. But such an evaluation is a shallow one.

First of all, the American Civil War, one of the most bloody in all history, illustrates that the mere federation of governments, even those culturally similar, as in America, does not automatically prevent war between them. Secondly, we find that true peace quite easily exists between nations which are not federated. As a matter of fact, members of the British Commonwealth of Nations seemed to get along far more peacefully after the political bonds between them had been relaxed. In other words, true peace has absolutely nothing to do with whether separate political units are joined together–except, perhaps, that such a union may create a common military defense sufficiently impressive to deter an aggressive attack. But that is peace between the union and outside powers; it has little effect on peace between the units, themselves, which is the substance of the argument for world government.

Peace is the natural result of relationships between groups and cultures which are mutually satisfactory to both sides. These relationships are found with equal ease within or across federal lines. As a matter of fact, they are the relationships that promote peaceful conditions within the community and think for a moment; if you were marooned on an island with two other people, what relationships between you would be mutually satisfactory enough to prevent you from resorting to violence in your relationship? Or, to put it the other way around, what would cause you to break the peace and raise your hand against your partners?

Obviously, if one or both of the partners attempted to seize your food and shelter, you would fight. Their reaction to similar efforts on your part would be the same. If they attempted to take away your freedom, to dictate how you would conduct your affairs, or tell you what moral and ethical standards you must follow, likewise, you would fight. And if they constantly ridiculed your attire, your manners and your speech, in time you might be sparked into a brawl. The best way to keep the peace on that island is for each one to mind his own business, to respect each other’s right to be different (even to act in a way that seems foolish or improper, if he wishes), and to have compassion for each other’s troubles and hardships–but not to force each other to do something! And, to make sure that the others hold to their end of the bargain, each should keep physically strong enough to make any violation of this code unprofitable.(5)

Now, suppose these three got together and decided to form a political union, to “federate” as it were. Would this really change anything? Suppose they declared themselves to be the United Persons, and wrote a charter, and held daily meetings and passed resolutions. What then? These superficial ceremonies might be fun for awhile, but the minute two of them out-voted the other, and started “legally” to take his food and shelter, limit his freedom or force him to accept an unwanted standard of moral conduct, they would be right back where they all began. Federation or no federation, they would fight.

Is it really different between nations? Not at all. The same simple code of conduct applies in all human relationships, large or small. Regardless of the size, be it international or three men on an island, the basic unit is still the human personality. Ignore this fact, and any plan is doomed to failure.(6)

It might be worthwhile at this point to mention that Washington’s policy of neutrality and non-interference was adhered to by those who followed him. For instance, President John Adams, in his Inaugural Address, resolved “to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world.” He later said, in a special message to Congress:
It is my sincere desire, and in this I presume I concur with you and with our constituents, to preserve peace and friendship with all nations. . .

To which the Senate, presided over by Thomas Jefferson, replied:

Peace and harmony with all nations is our sincere wish; but such being the lot of humanity that nations will not always reciprocate peaceable dispositions, it is our firm belief that effectual measures of defense will tend to inspire that national self-respect and confidence at home which is the unfailing source of respectability abroad, to check aggression and prevent war. (Quoted by Clarence B. Carson, The American Tradition, p. 210)

When the thirteen colonies formed our Federal Union, they had two very important factors in their favor, neither of which are present in the world at large today. First, the colonists themselves were all of a similar cultural background. They enjoyed similar legal systems, they spoke the same language, and they shared similar religious beliefs. They had much in common. The second advantage, and the most important of the two, was that they formed their union under a constitution which was designed to prevent any of them, or a majority of them, from forcefully intervening in the affairs of the others. The original federal government was authorized to provide mutual defense, run a post office, and that was about all. As previously mentioned, however, even though we had these powerful forces working in our favor, full scale war did break out at one tragic point in our history.

The peace that followed, of course, was no peace at all, but was only the smoldering resentment and hatred that follows in the wake of any armed conflict. Fortunately, the common ties between North and South, the cultural similarities and the common heritage, have proved through the intervening years to over-balance the differences. And with the gradual passing away of the generation that carried the battle scars, the Union has healed.

Among the nations of the world today, there are precious few common bonds that could help overcome the clash of cross-purposes that inevitably must arise between groups with such divergent ethnic, linguistic, legal, religious, cultural, and political environments. To add fuel to the fire, the concept woven into all of the present-day proposals for world government (The U.N. foremost among these) is one of unlimited governmental power to impose by force a monolithic set of values and conduct on all groups and individuals whether they like it or not. Far from insuring peace, such conditions can only enhance the chances of war.(7)

In this connection it is interesting to point out that the late J. Reuben Clark, who was recently described as “probably the greatest authority on [the Constitution] during the past fifty years” (American Opinion, April 1966, p. 113), in 1945–the year the United Nations charter was adopted–made this prediction in his devastating and prophetic “cursory analysis” of the United Nations Charter:
There seems no reason to doubt that such real approval as the Charter has among the people is based upon the belief that if the Charter is put into effect, wars will end. . . The Charter will not certainly end war. Some will ask – why not? In the first place, there is no provision in the Charter itself that contemplates ending war. It is true the Charter provides for force to bring peace, but such use of force is itself war. . . It is true the Charter is built to prepare for war, not to promote peace. . . The Charter is a war document, not a peace document.

Not only does the Charter Organization not prevent future wars, but it makes it practically certain that we will have future wars, and as to such wars it takes from us the power to declare them, to choose the side on which we shall fight, to determine what forces and military equipment we shall use in the war, and to control and command our sons who do the fighting. (Unpublished Manuscript; quoted in P.P.N.S., p. 458)

Everyone is for peace and against war–particularly the horrors of nuclear war. And what are the horrors of war? Why, death, destruction and human suffering, of course! But, wait a minute. Since the big “peace” began at the end of World War II, isn’t it a fact that, behind the iron and bamboo curtains, there has been more death, destruction and human suffering than in most of the big wars of history combined? Yes, it is a fact–a horrible fact–which Martin Dies, the former long-time Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, described in these words:

In Russia, a minimum of 25,000,000 people have been starved to death and murdered in 45 years. In Red China, the figure is probably at least 35,000,000 in a short 12 years. These ruthless, inhuman atrocities have been investigated, documented and reported in print, by numerous committees of the Congress. Yet only a relative handful of Americans know where to look for the facts, or even know the reports exist; and still fewer have read them. (The Martin Dies Story, p. 20)

A consideration of these facts means that we have to redefine our terms when we talk about “peace.” There are two kinds of peace. If we define peace as merely the absence of war, then we could be talking about the peace that reigns in a communist slave labor camp. The wretched souls in prison there are not at war, but do you think they would call it peace?

The only real peace–the one most of us think about when we use the term–is a peace with freedom. A Nation that is not willing, if necessary, to face the rigors of war to defend its real peace-in-freedom is doomed to lose both its freedom and its peace! These are the hard facts of life. We may not like them, but until we live in a far better world than exists today, we must face up to them squarely and courageously.(8)

In a discussion of war and its effects these wise words of James Madison should always be remembered:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . . .(April 20, 1795; Works 4:491-2; P.P.N.S., p. 468)

Shortly after this, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison issued another warning which should never be forgotten:
The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse, of all the trusts committed to a Government, because they can be concealed or disclosed, or disclosed in such parts & at such times as will best suit particular views; and because the body of the people are less capable of judging & are more under the influence of prejudices, on that branch of their affairs, than of any other. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad. (May 13, 1798; Works 2:140-1; P.P.N.S., p. 431)

Until all nations follow the concept of limited government, it is unlikely that universal peace will ever be realized on this planet. Unlimited, power-grasping governments will always resort to force if they think they can get away with it.(9) But there can be peace for America. As long as our leaders faithfully discharge their duty to preserve and strengthen the military, economic and political independence of our Republic, the world’s petty despots will leave us alone. What more could we ask of U.S. foreign policy?

From these primary policy pronouncements some general principles emerge. They can be reduced to a few heads and stated as imperatives in the following manner:
The United States should:

Establish and maintain a position of independence with regard to other countries
Avoid political connection, involvement or intervention in the affairs of other countries
Make no permanent or entangling alliances
Treat all nations impartially, neither granting nor accepting special privileges from any
Promote commerce with all free peoples and countries
Cooperate with other countries to develop civilized rules of intercourse
Act always in accordance with the “laws of Nations”
Remedy all just claims of injury to other nations and require just treatment from other nations, standing ready, if necessary to punish offenders
Maintain a defensive force of sufficient magnitude to deter aggressors.(10) (See The American Tradition, p. 212)

For the first hundred years and more of the existence of the Republic, Americans developed and maintained a tradition that was in keeping with the above principles. We can say with confidence that the United States established a tradition of foreign relations in keeping with the principles laid down by the founding fathers.

In the words of Senator Taft:

I do not believe it a selfish goal for us to insist that the over-riding purpose of all American foreign policy should be the maintenance of the liberty and the peace of the people of the United States, so that they may achieve that intellectual and material improvement which is their genius and in which they can do an even greater service to mankind than we can by billions of material assistance–and more than we can ever do by war. (A Foreign Policy For Americans, p. 14)

It seems fitting in conclusion to refer you again to the inspired words of the wise father of our country. He said:

My ardent desire is, and my aim has been. . . to keep the United States free from political connections with every other country, to see them independent of all and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves, and not for others. This, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home. (October 9, 1795; Writings 13:119)

[Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899–May 30, 1994) was United States Secretary of Agriculture for both of the administrations of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.(1953-1961) and later became the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985 until his death.]

<Back to Pt. 1


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