Courtesy Reuters

The Frontiers of the United States

WAR is positive, peace is negative. Therefore it is natural for nations that want war to take the initiative, laying their plans far ahead and choosing the favorable moment to strike; while pacific peoples, from the very fact that they are not seeking a change, incline to rest in peace until some aggressor attacks them, and then defend themselves at a disadvantage because less well prepared beforehand. In short, the aggressive and the pacific peoples occupy the position of the wise and the foolish virgins.

Where is this train of reasoning leading us? Surely not where we want to go. Perhaps there is some error in the logic or some inaccuracy in the major premise. Maybe peace should not be negative. Maybe the policy which seeks to attain peace should not be a mere waiting for some move by a perhaps unsuspected foe, but prevision and precaution before trouble becomes acute. The danger of conceding the initiative to an opponent lies in the possibility that he will take up a position from which it will be hard for him to retire without national humiliation. We then should have to yield or fight: whereas, if we had thought the matter out beforehand, and let our attitude be known, he would not have put himself in any such position -- unless, indeed, he deliberately intended to force on us a war, which no nation now wishes or perhaps ever will wish.

As originally conceived by Canning in England, and by John Quincy Adams and President Monroe in this country, the Monroe Doctrine was an example of pacific initiative which forestalled and prevented possible war. It did not contemplate any control by the United States over the new states of Central and South America, nor did it interfere with any existing sovereignty. It merely gave notice that any future European attempt at dominion in that region would be regarded by us as an unfriendly act. Backed by the parallel statement from England -- then

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