The Quiet Man has only recently been moved to the top bracket of director John Ford’s great films. As with so many Ford classics, this hilarious but wise story of an Irish-American former boxer (played by John Wayne) is often ignored. The film contains many highlights, but Wayne’s fight with the Irish bully (Victor McLaglen) remains this political science teacher’s favorite.
Wayne’s character went to Ireland to recover psychologically after accidentally killing another boxer in a professional match. Reluctant to fight again—“quiet”—he is forced into the ring by McLaglen. Locals insist the battle be held under formal Marquis of Queensbury rules to demonstrate their sophistication. The rascally McLaglen professes to agree and circles the area continuously shouting “Marquis of Queensbury rules.” When Wayne follows suit, the burly McLaglen lands an enormous blow to the back of Wayne’s head, knocking him down and almost out.
If only everyone followed Queensbury’s rules, even the many who profess them. That reality is the specialty of foreign policy political scientist par excellence Angelo Codevilla, who taught for many years at Boston University and is now a fellow at the Claremont Institute. His earlier classic Advice To War Presidents was aimed at the experts; but now he has written a book for all of us, To Make and Keep Peace: Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Unfortunately, most experts in the field never quite caught the Quiet Man lesson. Codevilla tries to educate them.
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None of the major foreign policy schools get it. Pacifism enables the bully and finally promotes aggression and war, neither very peaceful. Liberal internationalism denies that nations can be bullies when we understand them better and teach them to be good democrats. Realism thinks we can convince the McLaglens to see their better interest in making a deal rather than fighting. Neoconservatism has Wayne become a bully too, not only winning the fight as Wayne does but to reform McLaglen and the whole countryside of unsophisticated rubes to accept the American way, by force if necessary. Codevilla stresses that the word “peace” is foreign to them all.
Codevilla builds his theory on the radical idea that the purpose of foreign policy, especially for the U.S., is peace. This was the ideal that motivated the Founders like George Washington, who urged the nation to “cultivate peace and harmony with all” as its “only” foreign policy goal, and John Quincy Adams, who set “the first and paramount duty of the government is to maintain peace amidst all the convulsions of foreign wars, and to enter the lists as parties to no cause other than our own.” If war was required by a vital national interest, the goal was to return to peace as soon as possible. This remained U.S. national policy right up to the 20th century–and the rise of philosophical progressivism in both political parties.
Progressive leader Woodrow Wilson changed it all, synthesizing Elihu Root’s utopian faith in rational treaty-making, Nicholas Murray Butler’s belief in the obsolescence of war, and David Starr Jordan’s conviction that just men can reform the world. Wilson believed “America’s mission is to bring peace and unity to mankind.” He “had replaced the compass of concrete peace with a utopian creed,” expressed in his idealistic Fourteen Points program for the post-World War I world and a League of Nations to manage it thereafter. While his vision was frustrated by his traditionalist successors, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt progressivism has ruled the foreign policy roost ever since; and the U.S. has been in a constant state of war.
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