This was originally a comment I left in response to another comment on Sunday’s Linkzookery. I’ve tweaked it a bit for posting on its own, but the original is still in the comments section of Linkzookery.
The original comment was in response to my “How many wars have we ever fought against France?” snarkiness when discussing how free democracies don’t make war on each other. What I said was that even though democracies can elect governments unfriendly toward the United States, we don’t fight them militarily. And I tossed out France as a non-friendly democracy that, despite glaring differences of opinion on some pretty major issues, we are in no danger of going to war with.
The original comment:
How many wars has the USA fought against France? Well, I only know of the one, World War II. The first US soldiers killed in action outside the Pacific theatre were actually killed by Vichy French in North Africa. Saying that wasn’t democratic is a no-true-Scotsman argument (google for it). The Vichy government was as democratically elected as Britain’s wartime coalition government.
More generally, unless you use such a narrow definition of democracy as to exclude everything not fitting 20th century concepts (also a no-true-Scotsman argument), there have been lots of wars between democracies, the British-American War in the early 19th century for instance, or the conflicts between Holland and Belgium.
Yes, the “No democracies have EVER fought a war against each other” isn’t as 100% waterproof as some claim, though the argument is usually made from a 20th Century-onward point of view, so the War of 1812, US Civil War, etc., are really from “an earlier era” and so on. Free, true democracy as we know it has only come into being over the past century. Before that it was so new and untried in the modern global world that it’s hard to make meaningful comparisons.
I believe that the effort to set up a free democracy in Iraq is, in and of itself, a noble goal. But not for simply altruistic reasons. It is in our national interest that the people of Iraq are free and in control of their own destinies. Now, I’m on record saying that a large part of our reason for invading Iraq is the military basing and protection of the flow of oil. And I am not wavering from that position one bit. But that doesn’t change the fact that democracy in Iraq, even a democracy that is not terribly friendly to America, is in America’s best interest and is worth the effort.
Many that I read and talk to aren’t buying the “democracies don’t fight each other” theory. The two examples from the industrialized world I always get are Nazi Germany (“Hitler was elected, you know…”) and Vichy France.
So it comes down to defining “democracy”. If someone’s going to argue that Nazi Germany was a free democratic nation, there’s not much to say. (I realize that no one here has put that argument forward, but I’m just pointing it out because I’ve heard it many times and I want to head it off now…)
That leaves Vichy France.
Yep, freely elected. Yep, Vichy troops fired on Americans in North Africa. Therefore, the argument seems to go, America fought Vichy France in World War 2 and, since WW2 was the biggest of them all, that proves that democracies sometimes do fight each other.
This, I believe, is overstating things a wee bit.
Call me simple-minded, but wasn’t Vichy France basically a power grab by anti-Republicans who then proceeded to collaborate pretty heavily with the conquerors of their nation? The Free French Forces opposed Vichy, which has been considered to be an illegal government run by traitors to France. Democracy is more than elections, and just because Saddam Hussein got 100% of the vote in 2002 didn’t make Iraq a free democratic nation.
Regardless of the legality or true authority of Vichy during WW2, the US didn’t invade North Africa to fight against Vichy France. Indeed, we were hoping for a warm welcome, not hot lead. (Not the first time we misjudged the local reaction to troops marching in, and not to be the last.)
We weren’t making war on Vichy. We were there to fight the Germans, establish a beachhead from which further operations against our enemies could be conducted, secure strategic presence in the region, and aid an ally who basically was standing alone against the foe. It wasn’t the conflict of our government with that of Vichy that resulted in the decision to invade, and the conquest or destruction of Vichy was not an American goal even after the reception we received wasn’t what we wanted.
So I don’t really buy the argument that Vichy France disproves the entire “democracies don’t war on each other” rule of thumb. And even if it does, that ain’t much of a leg to stand on for those who don’t think democracies help foster peace or that the effort to establish democracy will at least help stabilize things.
And if you look at the reasons we went into Africa in 1942 I think you’ll see many parallels with our decision to go into Iraq in 2003. Including the ally who stands alone, a subject that not many seem willing to discuss.
Of course, what happened in Vichy could very well happen in Iraq. It’s perhaps even likely to happen. It certainly will be there to an extent. Shiites sympathetic to, say, Iran, will be elected to power and then will try to sell their nation up the river to the mullahs.
I’m not arguing that democracy is the end-all answer. I’m arguing that historically it’s been a major building-block of peaceful relations between nations and that even when the peace is strained warfare isn’t a likely outcome. We don’t know what the end-all answer is, though I strongly suspect that free democracy is the foundation upon which it rests.