How US can avoid road to ruin

By Chung-Yue Chang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-03 07:49
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During the third quarter of this year, western Pacific Ocean was far from pacific. Unusually large, complex and high profile US-led naval exercises have been held near Hawaii, Northeast Asia, and in the South China Sea.

China, partly because of its symbiotic economic relations with the US, regards these maneuvers as provocative, divisive, interventionist and counter-productive. China, as is normal for any country facing such a situation, has responded in ways consistent with its core national interests. Many outside China would view these military moves as fresh indication of what might lead the US further down the road to ruin. These views can be seen in one common reality - the destructive mindset and practices of the US military-industrial complex.

There is an anti-militarism paradigmatic story from China's Warring States Period (475-221 BC) that is widely circulated in ancient Chinese literature. A conversation between two characters later recorded in the Huai Nan Zi version is translated below:

Wei-wu-hou (the martial marquis of the state of Wei) asks Li Ke (the prime minister): "What is the reason for the state of Wu to perish?"

Li Ke answers: "Wu had frequent battles and frequent victories."

Wei-wu-hou says: "Frequent battles and frequent victories are a blessing for a state. Why Wu perished for this very reason?"

Li Ke says: "Frequent battles impoverish people. Frequent victories create false pride in leaders. When proud leaders manage impoverished people, for that state not to perish is rare indeed. The false pride in leaders leads to licentiousness, and licentiousness leads to exhaustive wastage of resources. The impoverishment of people leads to complaining, and complaining leads to exhaustive worry. When the leaders and the people both are exhausted, the self-destruction of the state of Wu is not a moment too soon."

Ancient Chinese philosophers Confucius (551-479 BC), Laozi (who lived during the 4th century BC) and Mozi (458-376 BC) all agree on one thing: Militarism is ultimately self-destructive, yet a state must be strong and ready for its defense. They understood implicitly that, in contrast to offense, effective defense is basic, efficacious and outlasts offense. More importantly, defense is one step closer to peace than offense.

Mozi was a philosopher, as well as an anti-war activist, and a theoretician and practitioner of defensive military strategy and technology. It is not accidental that all the movements of the much-loved martial arts of China are "defensive" in character. Nor is it accidental that the Chinese graphic character for military, wu, contains the character stop, zhi. This graphic combination suggests that any matter military must contain an element of restraint. Defense is the true spirit of the ancient but popular Book of Sunzi. Its current English translation as The Art of War is a misnomer. It should be known as "The Art of Peace". China today concurs with this time-tested ancient wisdom on war and peace.

Geographically, the US is not in Asia, yet it has maintained a strong military presence there, as well as in the rest of the world, for 70 years and counting. The wisdom of a global US military presence for so long has been an issue of debate. An article in the Aug 16, 2010, issue of the Newsweek, The Road to Ruin, recognizes one side of this debate in Andrew Bacevich's 2010 book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War.

For Bacevich, US militarism and its foreign policy are based on the credo that "summons the United States - and the United States alone - to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world". It was first expressed in 1941 by Henry R. Luce, the China-born creator of the Time-Life Magazine Empire, to welcome the "American Century" by exhorting Americans to "accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit".

This as-we-see-fit stance became the American blueprint, according to which every American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt would custom interpret into foreign policy in a cookie cutter way. For the world, however, this credo has become a sorry case of "transcendental pretense" in international relations.

Militarism leads to exhaustion, and exhaustion leads to self-destruction. This fact worries the Andrew Bacevichs of the world. Today, the US is showing signs of financial exhaustion (insolvency and fiscal deficits) and military exhaustion (perpetual war and military overstretch).

Any country with a strong ideology-based military stance runs the risk of making military actions the preferred, exclusive and default mode of international conflict resolution. For this military stance to work, it needs enemies. The search for enemies, real, imaginary or self-created, must then become a constant, sustaining and habitually necessitated procedure.

What are the good citizens of the world to do for the US? The short answer: Call attention to the destructiveness of the "Washington rules" mentality and work for its transformation to the "Washington cooperates and nourishes" mentality.

One might begin with the words of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Almost 50 years ago Eisenhower delivered his "Farewell Address to the Nation".

"As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war," Eisenhower spoke about the "grave implications" of militarism. He said: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Eisenhower urged the US to promote a world confederation of equals, "the weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as" the strongest. "America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect."

In this spirit of "mutual trust and respect", the economic symbiosis between China and the US must be upgraded and broadened to include the political and military symbiosis between the two great nations. Because it is possible, we all must try.

The author teaches philosophy in the United States.

(China Daily 09/03/2010 page9)