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Faust

Objectivism and World War 2/The Cold War

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What is the Objectivist stance on World War 2 and the Cold War? Do Objectivists see them as justified and noble struggles (or only one and not the other), or just a gross and violent orgy of state-directed destruction on behalf of the democratic world that was unnecessary? Personally I think World War 2 and the Cold War were some of the most clearly delineated battles between liberal-democratic Capitalist civilisation and the regressive totalitarian barbarism of Fascism and Communism. As a result of that, I believe firmly that Vietnam was a justified war, as were acts like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

I know Rand was opposed to Vietnam (why is unclear to me), but im unsure of her position on World War 2, and by extension, the entire Cold War and American foreign policy as a whole in that era. 

Edited by Faust

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I'm glad you asked that question...

If I may address the last question first, Ayn Rand opposed US foreign policy in Vietnam for two reasons: 1) The stated purpose of US involvement was altruistic. Ayn Rand advocated for each and every nation of the world embrace the social ideals she set forth, and that no nation should initiate force. Therefore, the Vietnamese needed to set matters right in their own country. 2) Ayn Rand believed that it was best for free nations to improve the internal conditions of their own nation, thereby rising above those nations retarded by their despotic and/or antiquated rulers. She was concerned at that time that the West was becoming ever more corrupted with its own integration of socialism.

Now, others may differ with that interpretation of Ayn Rand's assertions, but that is how I read them.

As for the justifications for US involvement in the European war between 1939 to 1945, speaking for myself, and as an Objectivist, the US acted on all of the criterion Ayn Rand set forth as justification for the use of force. I would be happy to expound on my opinions about the causes and stated motives, as well as the more understated motives of the Allied Leaders of that period, but I don't think writing a dissertation would be appropriate. The Cold War, a much longer and complicated epoch, was handled as well as a collective of free people could manage, while still remaining relatively free. The doctrine of gradually allowing a despotic state to expire from its own dysfunctional policies was achieved by isolating the Soviet Union, and carefully engaging that criminal state only when politically necessary. While it wasn't always handled well, the ultimate result is now a matter of historical record.

In general, Nazism and Communism have common roots in German Idealism. While I suppose the question of justification of the Vietnam War may involve extensive hypothesis, the bombing of Hiroshima could be justified. All matters of mass destruction should not be judged in short and overly-simplified explanations, and I hope you take the time to research more of the circumstances that set these major world events into motion, what were the causes, and what were the outcomes. My most sincere hope is that future generations take great measures to understand the greatest follies of the 20th Century.

 

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I would think the draft also had a lot to do with Ayn Rand opposing the Vietnam War. Can't think of anything more despicable than politicians drafting and sending young men to war.

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I think the U.S. has used the draft for most major wars: civil War, WW-1, WW-2. I remember seeing a movie about Sergeant York, a highly decorated WW-1 soldier. In that, they showed how he was conscripted. He was a pacifist and (wrapped up in his rural life on the farm) completely unconcerned about WW-1. Supposedly, a superior used some bible verse to convince him that he should fight, but he was drafted for starters.

Public opinion is a huge factor pushing young men into joining up [ref: White Feather]. If public opinion was all the pressure needed, then there would be no need for a draft. Yet there it is: every time there's a serious war and the people want to send their neighbor's kids to fight... they get the government to use force. 

The type of fascism prevalent in the U.S. is a democratic fascism rather than a dictatorial one. So, when the draft is popular and the U.S. wins the war, everything but the winning story fades from popular memory. Nothing succeeds like success, and the war-effort, including the draft, is viewed positively.

Even Vietnam began as a popular fight, but then opinion turned against it and against the draft. This, and the fact that the U.S. abandoned the fight in Vietnam as a defeated army, has kept the Vietnam draft alive as a negative in popular memory and has raised the cultural status of those who objected to it.

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Rand, according to her biographers, opposed US entry into WW2. So did most Americans. She was one of many who believed that the best available outcome that Germany and the USSR should weaken each other to the point where domestic insurrection or minimum foreign intervention could have overthrown them. Maybe she was right. Some libertarians, including Roy Childs, have maintained support for this position long after the war was more recently. The worst available outcome was that one should defeat the other decisively and gain control of (almost) all the territory they had controlled jointly during the war, and that is exactly what happened.

The obvious comeback is that the US was attacked by the Japanese and went to war purely as a defensive retaliation; going to war against Japan necessarily meant going to war against its ally Germany. I'm not a historian, but the US had been intervening in the far east at least since the takeover of the Philippines some fifty years earlier, and it had imposed an oil embargo, which is an act of war by standard accounts, before the attack, as well as conducting smaller, clandestine interventions in China since about 1937. The Pacific wasn't big enough, the reasoning goes, for two rival empires. If this is true it doesn't entail that the US should have passively, pacifistically accepted the Japanese attack, but rather that it didn't have to happen in the first place.

 

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Reidy,

I was unaware of Ayn Rand's opinion of WW2 as it reached the point of US entry. I have read her assertions on the justifications of the use of force against aggressive despots, and coming to the aid of free nations under attack by aggressors. And thank you for adding the details of US involvement in Asia during the preceding years leading up to the war. There were activities taken before the war by President Roosevelt that supported Nationalist Chinese forces as well as Great Britain, activities that would hardly qualify as neutral, and largely unnoticed by the public. It is likely that Roosevelt saw the opportunity to establish US hegemony as one more part of his personal legacy.

As for the draft, it was an option the government chose to use throughout the period between 1940 til 1970. It was one of the more obvious examples of a free nation, a nation championing individual rights, transitioning toward a nation requiring every man to serve his duty for his countrymen, i.e. an altruist social order. If it was unnecessary, we'll never know. But the legacy of public duty lingers on, and no doubt Ayn Rand would disapprove.

Edited by Repairman

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Originally the US was not going to enter WWII; they didn't have the need to do it. After the japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US decided to declare war to Japan. Still they technically weren't entering WWII, but after Hitler declared war on them they decided to join forces with the allies. Yes, many men were drafted and others decided to join, but back then, after WWI not many people were going join the armed forces because of the casualties during said war, that is why the draft had to be done. 

On the other hand we have the Cold War, which didn't not have much justification, but the US wasn't going to back down from a threat like Russia. Joseph Stalin was a smart man, so smart that when WWII was ending he saw an opportunity to implement Communism over the territories that Russia liberated. That is why most countries east and south to Russia became communist territories. At first the americans did not care much, after all they had a bigger problem which was Japan. Soon after the end of WWII came the controversies between the United States and Russia. In my opinion they didn't have to make such a big deal, they could've made a treaty letting the countries decide whether to be communist or capitalist. Then again at that time the human mind still had this sense of dominance and power, the more you had under your supervision the better. 

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Luis Enrique Colon,

Welcome to the forum.

2 hours ago, Luis Enrique Colón said:

On the other hand we have the Cold War, which didn't not have much justification, but the US wasn't going to back down from a threat like Russia. Joseph Stalin was a smart man, so smart that when WWII was ending he saw an opportunity to implement Communism over the territories that Russia liberated. That is why most countries east and south to Russia became communist territories. At first the americans did not care much, after all they had a bigger problem which was Japan. Soon after the end of WWII came the controversies between the United States and Russia. In my opinion they didn't have to make such a big deal, they could've made a treaty letting the countries decide whether to be communist or capitalist. Then again at that time the human mind still had this sense of dominance and power, the more you had under your supervision the better. 

I'm not sure where you were informed about United States policies prior to 1940, but the leadership in Washington definitely opposed the Bolshevik revolution, the Comintern and its international mission of infiltration, and the subsequent Soviet leadership. The exception to this policy came only during the Great Depression, when trade and diplomatic recognition resumed, and at the onset of the Nazi expansion (Operation Barbarosa.) These were pragmatic decisions; there were no ambiguities regarding the Soviet Union and Stalin. It was well know that the USSR was also a threat to freedom. 

At the conclusion of the European war, the nations of Eastern Europe under Soviet occupation in fact were supposed to be allowed to choose there own governments. But any government not meeting full approval with Stalin was destroyed. I guess you could say that Stalin was smart for having opposition leaders thrown out of windows, that is if one uses tyranny as the standard of smart. I refrain from using the term, "Communism" as the governing principle; Tito in Yugoslavia was a communist. Kremlin leaders turned on Tito for not falling in line as a vassal state. But unlike the nations directly on Russia's borders, Tito's nation was spared full-scale military invasion.

I would prefer to use the term, Eastern or Oriental Despotism rather than Communism. While Communism was the ideological foundation of the Iron Curtain countries, it was the Stalinism, a form of oriental despotism that dominated those unfortunate nations ceded to rule under Moscow by agreements reached at Yalta. It wasn't that Roosevelt didn't care about Russian domination; it was his sense of pragmatism that set the stage for the Cold War.

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As the opening post suggests, World War 2 might have been justified as necessary for the survival of free (i.e. Western) nations, or it might have been a colossal waste of American lives and other resources. As the numbers of those who had first-hand experience of those times dwindles, it is for our own survival that we need to remember the conditions of the major (and minor) national forces involved in this conflict. It is for our own survival that we need to understand that ideological forces were motivating national leaders. And because we see in our times the face of extremely ambitious and unethical persons rising to power, we need to get it right.

On 11/1/2016 at 5:55 PM, Luis Enrique Colón said:

Originally the US was not going to enter WWII; they didn't have the need to do it. After the japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US decided to declare war to Japan. Still they technically weren't entering WWII, but after Hitler declared war on them they decided to join forces with the allies. Yes, many men were drafted and others decided to join, but back then, after WWI not many people were going join the armed forces because of the casualties during said war, that is why the draft had to be done.

The term, "World War Two" did not come into use until after the war was near completely finished. I point this out, because the conflict was restricted to Europe mostly; it was not global until December 7th, 1941. The majority of the American public viewed it as "the war in Europe." That a war was likely to erupt in Asia seemed as remote as the Asian continent itself. Americans were more concerned with finding and holding steady employment, or Joe Dimaggio's batting average. Most of those who had experienced the Great War were sternly opposed to helping Britain or France in any way that might cost American lives. "The War," as it was often referred to up until 1938, was The Great War, 1914-1918. It is as important to study that event as it is to understand the War from 1939 to 1945. From Reidy's post, I gather that the Objectivist view, i.e. Ayn Rand's view, was in line with the popular notion that the warring nations would cause the destruction of their own despotic systems:

On 10/25/2015 at 4:52 PM, Reidy said:

Rand, according to her biographers, opposed US entry into WW2. So did most Americans. She was one of many who believed that the best available outcome that Germany and the USSR should weaken each other to the point where domestic insurrection or minimum foreign intervention could have overthrown them. Maybe she was right. Some libertarians, including Roy Childs, have maintained support for this position long after the war was more recently. The worst available outcome was that one should defeat the other decisively and gain control of (almost) all the territory they had controlled jointly during the war, and that is exactly what happened.

The obvious comeback is that the US was attacked by the Japanese and went to war purely as a defensive retaliation; going to war against Japan necessarily meant going to war against its ally Germany. I'm not a historian, but the US had been intervening in the far east at least since the takeover of the Philippines some fifty years earlier, and it had imposed an oil embargo, which is an act of war by standard accounts, before the attack, as well as conducting smaller, clandestine interventions in China since about 1937. The Pacific wasn't big enough, the reasoning goes, for two rival empires. If this is true it doesn't entail that the US should have passively, pacifistically accepted the Japanese attack, but rather that it didn't have to happen in the first place.

 

President Roosevelt was planning to enter the war. As the above post points out, the United States had ambitions in Asia long before 1941. So, to say that "the US was not going to enter WWII," is certainly an oversimplification. Roosevelt intended to go to war in 1940, while telling the voters: "I hate war."; "No American boys will be sent to war"; and other platitudes necessary for his re-election. Herein lies one of the most valuable lessons so often overlooked in public school social studies classes: Politicians will say anything in order to win. In 1940, intervention was already underway in Burma supporting the British effort, as Reidy mentioned, the Flying Tigers were a clandestine operation. Putting aside the ambiguities of the American public, Roosevelt not only wanted the US involved in the conflict, he had already authorized it, while campaigning on a promise to the contrary.

Which brings us back to this question:

On 10/24/2015 at 5:34 PM, Faust said:

What is the Objectivist stance on World War 2 and the Cold War? Do Objectivists see them as justified and noble struggles (or only one and not the other), or just a gross and violent orgy of state-directed destruction on behalf of the democratic world that was unnecessary? Personally I think World War 2 and the Cold War were some of the most clearly delineated battles between liberal-democratic Capitalist civilisation and the regressive totalitarian barbarism of Fascism and Communism. 

Was the war unnecessary? We'll never know that with any certainty. We do know that the American people had been traumatized by the Great Depression. We know that the average American thought very highly of FDR, in fact, many considered him to be the greatest president ever. Trust in the president was far higher than any of his policies could justify. Franklin Roosevelt may have been the "indispensable man" of his time. But then, that is exactly the same perception held by the German people of their leader, Adolph Hitler. Both leaders expanded the role of centralized governance over their citizens and the economy. (I will have to note that one exception is the fact that it was Roosevelt who repealed the Volstead Act, thus expanding personal liberty.) The German people had for generations accepted the ideology that made Nazism possible, an idealism of altruistic morality. In contrast, Americans had a history of only a few hundred years emphasizing the spirit of the individual. Our foundations were established in the understanding that government should always be subject to open discussion and criticism by its people. I have witnessed irrational exuberance for many American candidates, but I have never until recently seen politicians as unfit to lead as in own present times. In a democracy, the rise of such unfit leaders is only made possible by the will of the people. Fascism and Communism were easy to sell to a people with a tradition of willing subjugation to powerful leaders. If I had one overly-simplified lesson about politics to bestow upon a young person, it would be this: Be your own leader. 

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Thank you all for your contributions to this thread. I’d like to add three notes.

Firstly, I’ve gathered that in the West, the Revolution in Russia was much opposed at the time because of the communist ideology of the revolutionaries. In the post-revolutionary period, which is the setting of Rand’s We the Living, there was extremely cold winter, lack of fuel for heat, and lack of food. And of course there was the terror of imprisonment and killing by the new iron fist and its ideology. Some private assistance was sent from America. I recall reading that in this period there was also a shortage of paper in Russia, and the Rockefeller Foundation sent them paper. Also there were communists/unionists in Britain who were encouraged by the revolution; they made ties and visits in the Stalin era to report back good, progressive things the new regime was getting done, such as health facilities.

Secondly, I was born in 1948, and my awareness of the wide world and politics emerged during the Eisenhower presidency. It was Godless Communism that was the great threat to our country, from ideological currents in that direction within the country, and more urgently, from USSR and Red China, who fostered People’s guerilla warfare in countries around the world in their aim to set up communist dictatorships throughout the world. USSR possessed, by the time of my first political awareness, atomic and nuclear bombs and rocketry, and they had an enormous Red Army poised against Western Europe. In NATO we opted to outpace the Reds in weapon technology, rather than match their army and its expense. Decades later that expense would become part of the reason for the collapse of the USSR. The main thing I want to add to this thread is that it was the nuclear weapons and delivery systems above all that made the USSR a threat, a widely recognized threat, to the USA from my earliest political awareness in the ‘50’s to the end of the Soviet Union. It remains a threat from Russia in the years since then, and we can still get into games of Chicken and its relatives with Russia in potential nuclear exchange, even though Communism is now out in Russia.

Thirdly, I’d like to share some lines near the end of Rand 1943, Toohey speaking to Keating: “Look at Europe, you fool. Can’t you see past the guff and recognize the essence? One country is dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the collective is all. The individual held as evil, the mass—as God. No motive and no virtue permitted—except that of service to the proletariat. That’s one version. Here’s another. A country dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the State is all. The individual held as evil, the race—as God. No motive and no virtue permitted—except that of service to the race. Am I raving or is this the cold reality of two continents already?”

Today is much safer for America (and Europe) than those earlier times. I think that another force remains, however, pushing towards collectivism, and that force is nationalism. Then too, the human impulses to self-sacrifice and contrivance of greatest virtues as beyond oneself and one’s immediate loved ones; the chasing after things by many in the manner of Keating; and the lust for power by those akin to Toohey—these remain. “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” –Mark Twain

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Boystun,

I might take issue with your first point: That ideology was the reason Americans rejected and feared the new Soviet Union.

4 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Firstly, I’ve gathered that in the West, the Revolution in Russia was much opposed at the time because of the communist ideology of the revolutionaries.

I would argue that it was largely a matter of the fact that Communism was foreign; Americans had a sudden and strong dislike of all things international after being drawn into the Great War. While it is true that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was established originally for the purpose for "rooting out" terrorists, usually ideologically Communists or anarchists, the average working man in the industrialized North to miners in the South were becoming increasingly drawn to unions, usually supported through the International Workers of the World, aka, the Wobblies. The Wobblies were an organization unmistakably inspired by Communist ideology. Many intellectuals of this period supported this movement; some even traveled to the newly established Union of Soviet Socialists Republic. Industrialists, such as Fred C. Koch, father to Charles and George Koch, saw opportunity there. It wasn't long before even the most sympathetic Americans were appalled to learn of the atrocities committed by the new regime.

From an ideological point of view, what's not to like about a state that puts the needs of its people at the top of the priority list? A state that rations resources for the benefit of all? The unification of a brotherhood of man? (Other than the "Godless" aspect, as you well pointed out.) While the worst of the truth was withheld from the public, diplomat, George Kennan warned US officials of the horrors within the USSR, and later encouraged the isolation policy of the Cold War. The Red Scare of the 1920s was hardly noticed; ignorance and the Great Depression made the Soviet Union seem rational; the post-WW2 era witnessed the dawn of the Atomic Age, and the Red Scare was back in a way that was hard not to notice. But did the ordinary person actually understand the ideology? "Commie" and "pinko," were merely words without meaning to most, but they were derogatory words nonetheless. Trying to remove the ideological threat of socialism in a country that cherishes free-speech is neither easily done, nor even desired for those who see capitalism as the real threat. What can you expect from a nation that teaches its children that America's greatest industrialist were "robber-barrons"? Only in the past year, one politician won unexpected popularity in a major political party running as a socialist. It was only Ayn Rand who understood the threat as no one else could. Only Ayn Rand provided to ideological solution. The military invasion from Stalin and Khrushchev never happened. But Ayn Rand could see the direction of American policy and popular culture being eclipsed by the rise of the New Left--the same old Karl Marx in the emperor's new clothes.

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