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Ayn Rand on WW II

Again and again ARI compares America’s entry into World War II with invading the Middle East, and looks to FDR’s generals during World War II for inspiration in conducting war in Iraq and other countries, principally Iran.

What did Ayn Rand herself think about America’s involvement in WW II ?  And for that matter WW I – she lived through both of them.

From “The Roots of War” in The Objectivist June 1966 (the bracketed text is an exact quote from the essay):

“Just as [Woodrow] Wilson ... led the United States into World War I, ‘to make the world safe for democracy’ – so Franklin D. Roosevelt ... led it into World War II, in the name of the ‘Four Freedoms.’ ... In the case of World War II, [those overwhelmingly opposed to war ... were silenced and] smeared as ‘isolationists,’ ‘reactionaries,’ and ‘American-First’ers.’ ”
Obviously Ayn Rand was sympathetic to the American-First’ers. I’m going to tweeze this apart though, just to be sure.

The operative word here is “smear.” People with whom you agree do not smear – that is, you do not believe they do – they point out facts. Obviously Ayn Rand is criticizing those doing the smearing. She wouldn’t have used the word “smear” if she weren’t sympathetic to those “overwhelmingly opposed to war.”

“Silenced” is another key word. It disparages those doing the silencing. She did not say “properly silenced,” which would have taken the sting out of it. [footnote 1]

Note that Ayn Rand sees U.S. entry into WW II as equivalent to that of its entry into WW I. One was as bad as the other.

Ayn Rand continues:

“World War I led, not to [Wilson’s] ‘democracy,’ but to the creation of three dictatorships: Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany. World War II led, not to [Roosevelt’s] ‘Four Freedoms,’ but to the surrender of one-third of the world’s population into communist slavery.”
After saying that World War II did not lead to Roosevelt’s ‘Four Freedoms’ she mentions disaster. She contrasts Roosevelt’s promises with what we actually got. Clearly she thinks Roosevelt helped bring about the disaster.

From “The Wreckage of the Consensus” in The Objectivist, April & May 1967:

“The same groups that coined the term ‘isolationist’ in World War II – to designate anyone who held that the internal affairs of other countries are not the responsibility of the United States – these same groups are screaming that the United States has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Vietnam. 
Ayn Rand’s main point here is that these groups are inconsistent (the first time against isolationism, the second time for it), but again it is easy to infer that she was sympathetic to the isolationists regarding World War II. [footnote 2]

This is clearer in “The Lessons of Vietnam” (The Ayn Rand Letter, Aug. & Sept. 1974) where she refers to:

“The same intellectual groups ... who coined that anti-concept [“ ‘isolationism.’ ”] in World War II – and used it to denounce any patriotic opponent of America’s self-immolation – the same groups who screamed that it was our duty to save the world (when the enemy was Germany or Italy or fascism) ...”
and again goes on to say they are now against (rather than for) the Vietnam War. [footnote 3]

In “The Shanghai Gesture” (The Ayn Rand Letter  March 27, 1972), she wrote, discussing the motives of those who promote war with China:

“Russia was the only winner of and profiteer on World War II – which she won not by military might (as demonstrated by the fact that she was twice defeated by Finland), but through victory over Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta. It is obvious why Russia’s rulers would dream of and gradually seek another war:  they hope that America would deliver Asia into their power, as she helped to deliver Europe.”

In “Philosophy: Who Needs It,” a talk addressed to the 1974 West Point graduating class and reprinted in The Ayn Rand Letter (behind schedule, Dec. 31, 1973 & Jan. 14, 1974) she says of U.S. foreign policy:

“[America] has never profited from the two world wars, which she did not initiate, but entered and won.  (It was, incidentally, a foolishly overgenerous policy, which made this country waste her wealth on helping both her allies and her former enemies.)”
Her parenthetical remark is not incidental in absolute importance but rather to the theme of the paragraph from which the above is excerpted:  that the U.S. military is not a tool of imperialism (a theme one might in part disagree with, certainly today).

Ayn Rand writes about WW I in her essay “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age” (the book she quotes from is Arthur Ekirch’s The Decline of American Liberalism):

“If you have accepted the Marxist doctrine that capitalism leads to wars, read Professor Ekirch’s account of how Woodrow Wilson, the ‘liberal’ reformer, pushed the United States into World War I.  ‘ He seemed to feel that the United States had a mission to spread its institutions – which he conceived as liberal and democratic – to the more benighted areas of the world. ’  It was not the ‘selfish capitalists,’ or the ‘tycoons of big business,’ or the ‘greedy munitions-makers’ who helped Wilson to whip up a reluctant, peace-loving nation into the hysteria of a military crusade – it was the altruistic ‘liberals’ of the magazine The New Republic ...”

The New Republic has been consistent over the years: yesterday it was “liberal,’ today it is “neoconservative.” In 1914 liberals whipped up Americans for the “Great War,” today neocons, and ARI, whip up Americans for a military crusade in the Middle East.

Back to “The Roots of War.” She suggests that statism (domestic war) and militarism (foreign war) naturally go together:

“Observe the link between statism and militarism in the intellectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Just as the destruction of capitalism and the rise of the totalitarian state were not caused by business or labor or any economic interests, but by the dominant statist ideology of the intellectuals – so the resurgence of the doctrine of military conquest and armed crusades for political ‘ideals’ were the product of the same intellectuals’ belief that ‘the good’ is to be achieved by force.”
She goes on to say that the “rise of a spirit of nationalistic imperialism in the United States did not come from the right, but from the left ... .” That was true in her day, but today the resurgence of nationalistic imperialism comes from the right. (There never was much difference between left and right, and most neoconservatives are in fact former leftists; when it comes to fundamentals they still are.) After elaborating, Ayn Rand makes the same point she had made in “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age,” again quoting Prof. Ekirch’s book:
“In regard to Woodrow Wilson, Professor Ekirch writes:  ‘Wilson no doubt would have preferred the growth of United States foreign trade to come about as a result of free international competition, but he found it easy with his ideas of moralism and duty to rationalize direct American intervention as a means of safeguarding the national interest.’ ... And:  ‘He seemed to feel that the United States had a mission to spread its institutions – which he conceived as liberal and democratic – to the more benighted areas of the world.’ ... It was not the advocates of capitalism who helped Wilson to whip up a reluctant, peace-loving nation into the hysteria of a military crusade – it was the ‘liberal’ magazine The New Republic.”

From “Moral Inflation” The Ayn Rand Letter March 1974:

“There still are people in this country who lost loved ones in World War I. There are more people who carry the unhealed wounds of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam. There are the disabled, the crippled, the mangled of those wars’ battlefields. No one has ever told them why they had to fight nor what their sacrifices accomplished; it was certainly not ‘to make the world safe for democracy’ – look at that world now. The American people have borne it all, trusting their leaders, hoping that someone knew the purpose of that ghastly devastation. The United States gained nothing from those wars, except the growing burden of paying reparations to the whole world ... .”
When she writes:  “No one has ever told them why they had to fight ...”  clearly she means that the reasons politicians and intellectuals did tell them were wrong, that there was no valid reason for them to fight in those wars.

Ayn Rand was closely associated with NBI during its existence. In the early 1960s NBI Book Service sold Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, an anthology edited by Harry Elmer Barnes and published by Caxton Press, a division of Caxton Printers. Subtitled “a critical examination of the foreign policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and its aftermath,” the book argues that participation in the war was unnecessary and indeed bad for America.

Before she died Ayn Rand read the manuscript of Leonard Peikoff’s book The Ominous Parallels and thought highly of it. Near the end of chapter 14 (“America Reverses Direction”) he writes of World War II:

“Once again [the first time being the first world war], the American public, which was strongly ‘isolationist,’ was manipulated by a pro-war administration into joining an ‘idealistic’ crusade.”
Note the word “manipulated” with its connotation of deceit. Note the derogatory quotes about “idealistic.” Clearly the author is praising the isolationists and criticizing Roosevelt, saying in effect that America’s entry into WW II was an act of useless national self-sacrifice just as was its entry into WW I.

Right before the above he writes (see also the “Intellectual Ammunition Department” of The Objectivist Newsletter August 1962):

“At the end of the thirties there were still ten million people unemployed, about two-thirds of the number without jobs in 1932. The problem was not solved until the excess manpower was sent to die on foreign battlefields.”

It is abundantly clear to the sincere reader that Ayn Rand was against America entering WW II.