JQA, Chronicles of an American Diplomat: Dispatch 1

John Quincy Adams was America’s most accomplished diplomat and effective Secretary of State. We know much of him and his times from his voluminous writings, which collectively constitute an American Classic. We offer here a day-to-day chronicle of the opening of his public career from 1794-1801, which will be posted sequentially in segments. This represents the first segment, or "dispatch."

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Chronicles of an American Diplomat: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was born into politics and war. As a small child in Boston, John Quincy lived in a town under British occupation. From the heights near the family farm in Braintree, he and his mother Abigail witnessed the distant fire and smoke of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. John Adams, while serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, sent home to the family detailed reports of the move towards independence; and of the military resistance and diplomatic steps needed to sustain the revolution. He encouraged John Quincy and his other children to contemplate these profound events and to prepare themselves, as future statesmen, to meet the challenges to the new country.

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Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Jimmy Carter, Commencement Address at Notre Dame University (May 1977)

In May 1977, the still comparably new-to-the-Presidency Jimmy Carter made his way to Notre Dame to give that spring’s commencement address.  He used the opportunity presented to him to chart before the new graduates and the American people as a whole his plan for the foreign policy of the United States during his presidency and well beyond.  The speech is best remembered for Carter’s assertion that his administration would be free of the “inordinate fear of communism” that had too long distorted American foreign policy.

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Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government

Churchill’s prescriptions, general and particular, were and are worthy of debate.  He might not have been willing to intervene in Indochina to pull French chestnuts out of the fire, but throughout his career he arguably expected the United States to support the British cause in regions that the United States might regard as peripheral. To American commanders during World War II, he seemed obsessed with fighting on the fringes rather than at the center, and by doing so he drained resources necessary to fight at the center, which defied the ultimate principle of economy. Sometimes, as during the American Civil War, slaughter is necessary to create the conditions for maneuver. But it surely can be said that Churchill’s works deserve inclusion in a list of the Classics.

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Madison’s Examination of the British Doctrine

We cite Madison’s Examination as a classic of American strategy and diplomacy because it set the stage for one of the last, and in the end unsuccessful, efforts of the Jeffersonian Republicans to realize one of the principal goals of the Revolution in international affairs.  The Founders – including Adams’ father – had hoped that entrance of the United States into the Euro-Atlantic state system would bring about a new configuration of international power, one favorable to liberty and reformist domestic politics.  This more peaceful and republican world would be underwritten by norms of international behavior that followed an increasingly liberal law of nations. 

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Colin S. Gray on Thucydides and the Definition of Future Threats

Thucydides leaves us no doubt that the principal threat to the security of Athenians flowed more from the distinctly flawed working of the empire’s democratic politics, especially its procliv­ity to promote crowd pleasing demagogues who were short of competence, high ethical standards, or both, than from vengeful Persians or strategically pedestrian Spartans. Political ruin tends to begin and end at home. Students of international relations need to remember this plain warning from the historical record.

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