The Corner

National Security & Defense

Essentials to Peace

In Impromptus today, I have Pete Hoekstra, Charlie Dent, Emmanuel Macron, a Vietnamese refugee, Hog Jowl Road (in Chickamauga, Ga.) — many things. I begin with Jim Mattis and the importance of military preparedness. (I also talked about this with Ash Carter, Mattis’s immediate predecessor, in a recent Q&A.) I’ll say a bit more here on the Corner.

Mattis was talking to troops the other day, and, as he so often does, he recommended T. R. Fehrenbach’s book from 1963: This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. It’s about Korea. War is brewing once more on that peninsula.

I think of George C. Marshall and, in particular, the Nobel lecture he gave in December 1953. (He was the peace laureate that year.) Presenting him with the award was C. J. Hambro, an excellent Norwegian statesman. Hambro spoke of the coming of World War II: “The United States had no military strength that could prevent war or even an attack on America. And Marshall, who saw the total war approaching and his own country powerless, clearly realized the truth of Alfred Nobel’s words: ‘Good intentions alone can never secure peace.’”

Marshall’s lecture had a simple and perfect title: “Essentials to Peace.” He said, “In my country, my military associates frequently tell me that we Americans have learned our lesson” — their lesson about preparedness. Marshall went on,

I completely disagree with this contention and point to the rapid disintegration between 1945 and 1950 of our once vast power for maintaining the peace. As a direct consequence, in my opinion, there resulted the brutal invasion of South Korea, which for a time threatened the complete defeat of our hastily arranged forces in that field. I speak of this with deep feeling because in 1939 and again in the early fall of 1950 it suddenly became my duty, my responsibility, to rebuild our national military strength in the very face of the gravest emergencies.

If you would like to know more about all this, try my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace, They Say.

In today’s Impromptus, I also touch on the current storm over the FBI:

On Twitter, some people have been circulating a tweet from November 3, 2016 — five days before the presidential election. It was written by Sarah Sanders, who is now President Trump’s press secretary. She said, “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.”

Remember the circumstances: James Comey, then the director of the FBI, dropped a bomb on Hillary Clinton eleven days before the election. In a letter, he said that the investigation into her e-mails was being renewed. (Two days before the election, he said there was nothing to it.)

These days, of course, Trump & Co. are attacking the FBI vigorously. (Trump & Co. are under investigation.)

The older you get, the more you realize that principle plays just a small role in politics. Ethics are strictly situational. They depend on what jersey you’re wearing. They depend on which way the wind is blowing.

Yes. I guess I always knew that. It’s just that I know it a little better now. There is an old expression: “sadder but wiser.”

When major legislation you like is rushed through, you cheer. When major legislation you hate is rushed through, you cry foul. When women make sexual allegations against a president you like, you attack the women and say “move on.” When women make sexual allegations against a president you hate, the matter is of gravest concern. When a president you like plays a lot of golf, you say, “So?” When a president you hate plays a lot of golf, it’s a problem.


In our “post-Weinstein” environment, men are being “called out” for sexual abuse in all sorts of arenas, including classical music. This leads me to tell a story, in my Impromptus. I once asked Beverly Sills, the American soprano, about Georg Solti, the Hungarian-born conductor. She said, “You’re looking at the girl who broke his hand!” What? Sills explained: He had chased her around a piano. She had slammed the lid on his hand. That night, he did not conduct.


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