Colonel Daniel M. Smith, USA (Ret.) is Senior Fellow, Military and Peaceful Prevention Policy with the Friends Committee on National Legislation.P!: In your bio, accessible through "Quakers Colonel" you describe a long and rich military career. Although there are some notable retired military and intelligence veterans who are very vocal about their objections to our current foreign policies and military ventures, you impress me as being unique. Could you expand on your evolution from a young soldier to a veteran officer now adding your voice to that protest?
Dan graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1966. Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry, Colonel Smith's initial assignment was as an infantry and heavy weapons platoon leader with the 3rd Armor Division in Germany. Following language training, he then served as an intelligence advisor in Vietnam before returning to the U.S. to do graduate work at Cornell University and teach philosophy and English at West Point...
Colonel Smith is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Army War College. He was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal(4).
Colonel Smith joined the Friends Committee on National Legislation in September 2002 as Senior Fellow on Military Affairs. Dan has a blog, The Quakers' Colonel, where you can read his writing. You can also find selected pieces on FCNL's web site. We are honored that Dan consented to this interview.
Dan: Before I entered West Point, I was an undergraduate at Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska in 1961-62. My putative major was Political Science - in a department that was just emerging from the History Department. The POLYSCi department head and only professor at the time was an extremely intelligent, very liberal person who probably served as an unconscious "intellectual" role model.
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That last semester at Cornell I wrote my thesis, finished with three academic courses, and read everything I could about the philosophers and their systems that would covered in the course I was to teach — a course which covered not only secular philosophies but also the main religious traditions (East and West), the philosophy of science, and aesthetics. During the second year I taught, we added Freud and Jung to the formal curriculum with their disciples mentioned in passing. Also in the second and third years, I was tasked to revise and teach an elective on 19th century American thought (probably because my thesis was on American Puritanism which underlay much of the religious revivalism and intellectual ferment in 19th century New England).
In the three years I taught, I continued to read as much as I could, branching out into the various "sub-strains" and "non-orthodox" and "heretical" interpretations. This brought me into contact with the writings of the notable 20th century Trappist monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, and later with the equally notable mythologist, Joseph Campbell.
All in all, a strange career pattern for a soldier.
P!: Although I've often described my politics as both radical and pacifist, I believe in a strong national military force. I believe, however, that this force should confine itself to defending our citizens, within our national boundaries, from direct military attack by foreign nations or true terrorists. What's your opinion of this?
Dan: According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, a nation may employ force against another nation only to preempt an imminent and substantive attack. Aggression, albeit still undefined in international law (the world missed its latest opportunity when the UN General Assembly failed to define it for the International Criminal Court statute/treaty, is forbidden. That also is the case for preventive warfare, such as that launched by Bush against Iraq in March 2003.
As long as the world cannot create and empower a supranational governing entity, regretfully the world of competing nation states is the world we inhabit. And that world requires that we maintain armed forces.
P!: The US currently has around eight hundred military bases, many of them in foreign countries. We claim that that presence is necessary to protect "US interests." What is your view?
Dan: The theory behind the world-wide base structure rests on the need for coaling stations for ships; these had to be strategically located to allow unimpaired operations of your navy - and deny the same set of conditions to any rival. With today's use of nuclear propulsion in surface and sub-surface ships and the ability of the USAF to refuel war planes around the world, combatant ships do not require bases for fueling although they do need bases nor "safe havens" to resupply and swap out crews. (However, logistics ships also require fuel as they are not nuclear powered.)
Because we have defined just about everything that happens in the world as a "US national interest," we insist on sustaining bases from which we can "attack the bad guys" at a time and place of our choosing (assuming or course that we can identify the real threat and ignore the false threat). Were an administration to really sort out what is vital from everything else, we undoubtedly could dispense with many of these foreign bases.
P!: I see no evidence that a Democratic Party controlled Legislative Branch has either the will or the courage to effectively reverse our current aggressiveness and commitment to pre-emptive military action.
If, therefore, such foreign policy continues, what do you think the result will be?
Dan: More war, more bloodshed, more destruction. We need in office real statesmen and stateswomen — not politicians.
P!: Your organization, The Friends Committee on National Legislation, is one of a number of like-minded organizations, such as The Womens International League for Peace and Freedom, Antiwar.com, the American Friends Service Committee, and many others, with sizable memberships and long-term existence. These organizations don't seem to be able to organize and unify into an effective movement that really could change educate our citizens and change our entrenched national direction. Do you have thoughts about what it will take and what we should be doing?
Dan: First, those who are the "traditional peace churches" have few members compared to other mainline and evangelical denominations. Until these larger religious congregations can impel their members to "practice Christianity," or whichever religious tradition you wish to name and then pursue with secular organizations the development of political parties with enlightened programs for educating youth, sensible and affordable health care for all, and other programs that form part of the
Essentially, I see the problem as the traditional one of the accumulation and the use of power: e.g., Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Challenging the tyranny that springs from Lord Acton's dictum — and successfully challenging it, was the true genius of the American Revolution and of the Constitution.
For a quarter century, I regarded Richard Nixon as being the most dangerous president to have been in the White House in my lifetime. I have been forced to revise that judgment over the past six years; George Bush and his theory of the unitary presidency, wedded to the extreme secrecy practiced by the administration, represent the most direct and serious challenge to the system of governance and accountability bequeathed us.
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