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When I was a senior in college, I was enrolled in two different seminar classes taught by the same professor. He was a very wise and experienced man who fought with MacArthur in the Philippines before receiving his doctorate in history. He is the preeminent NATO historian as well as a distinguished early American history scholar. The two classes were called “NATO: A Modern History” and “Jeffersonian America,” and both of those courses have been on my mind recently.
The Jeffersonian America class began with Washington’s Farewell Address from in 1796. Washington used the address to discuss what he believed should guide American foreign policy. He expressed a desire to uphold current alliances, but also cautioned against creating more alliances, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements.” Washington feared a United States being pulled into the conflict because of rivalries that have defined much of European history. “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe,” he asked “entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”
Now let us fast forward to April 4th 1949 and the founding of NATO by twelve nations. The alliance was formed less than four years after the surrender of Germany and four months before the first successful Soviet nuclear weapons test. The free world was threatened by the Soviet Union’s expansionist foreign policy in Eastern Europe and the hardcore communist philosophy that underpinned it. My thoughts on communism are pretty much in line with those of Brigadier General Jack Ripper. The Soviet Union represented a real and present danger to the entire world because of its communist philosophy. NATO was formed to protect the United States and the other member nations from Soviet aggression and was central to the eventual collapse of the USSR.