The New Antiwar Capitalists
Can the probusiness, antiwar voices of the '80s rally a new patriotic peace movement?
What image comes to mind when you hear the phrase "peace movement"? Bearded, intense young college profs extolling the accomplishments of the Cuban literacy campaign? Adorable little Samantha Smith (RIP) chatting amiably with pig-tailed Russian teens in the Kremlin? A line of wealthy white matrons, arms locked, bleating an off-key "We Shall Overcome"?
Unless you're older than anyone in his right mind would care to admit, it's unlikely that the term evokes midwestern industrialists and retired military officers, publishing giants and Texas oilmen, or minerals executives and Great Plains farmers. Yet these are the kinds of people who once dominated movements to keep the U.S. government out of foreign wars, an inconvenient fact that has been consigned to the memory hole by left and right alike.
Indeed, the sad irony of American politics is that custodianship of one of our long-standing and wisest principles—that the United States should enjoy "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none," in Jefferson's words—has been hijacked by Sandinista sympathizers and the granola left. The fanciful sketches of peace activists above are not caricatures, as anyone who has attended a U.S. Out of Nicaragua rally can attest.
But if today's organized peace movement is dominated by woolly-headed leftists, for whom nonintervention is just one tile in a grand mosaic of socialism, ecologism, holistic feminism, etc., the vast majority of ordinary Americans retain a patriotic, Jeffersonian view of foreign entanglements. Despite the best efforts of an immensely popular president to demonize the admittedly repressive Nicaraguan government, a CBS News/New York Times poll last April indicated public opposition to the Reagan administration's contra aid request running at a 62–25 percent margin. The Roper Organization's 1985 survey of foreign-policy opinion revealed that huge majorities would oppose sending troops to thwart an invasion of South Korea (61–23 percent), Honduras (59–21 percent), Israel (53–31 percent), or Thailand (67–16 percent). Even our NATO obligations enjoy desultory support: a full 35 percent of Americans would object to getting involved if the Soviet Union were to attack Western Europe.
The open but unspoken secret in the debate over U.S. foreign policy is that the American people are today and always have been, in the best sense of the word, isolationist. They do not wish their government to muck around in the affairs of other nations. Thomas Wolfe, relating a provincial discussion of World War I in Look Homeward, Angel, captured the national spirit with customary verisimilitude: "'It's not our fight,' said Mr. Bob Webster. 'I don't want to send my boys three thousand miles across the sea to get shot for those foreigners. If they come over here, I'll shoulder a gun with the best of them, but until they do they can fight it out among themselves.'"
Oddly, these mainstream noninterventionist sentiments go unvoiced in national political discourse. In Congress, support for an unbelligerent foreign policy comes almost entirely from liberals who would spend us into bankruptcy at home. Democratic mavericks William Proxmire (Wis.) and Ed Zorinsky (Neb.) are the only senators opposed to contra aid who rate consistently well on the annual antispending scorecards issued by the the frugal National Taxpayers Union. Clearly, leadership of this land's enormous but often-mute anti-intervention community is not about to come from the politicians.
if history is a reliable guide, the obvious candidates to lead a non-leftist peace movement are businessmen, primarily those who run small and medium-sized concerns. Many of their ancestors, desirous of a free economy and limited government and fearful that global crusades might endanger domestic liberties, took up the anti-intervention causes of their day.
The anti-interventionist tendency has always been strongest among small businessmen. Political scientist John Bunzel, in his classic study of the business mind, explains: "What particularly angers the small businessman about all of America's commitments around the world is that he can see no profitable ending for any of them." Rather than toss money down foreign ratholes, the American merchant believes that "America should devote her energies to strengthening her own free-enterprise economy at home and preserving the economic rights and liberties of Americans."
Big businesses, in contrast, have often been supportive of interventionist economic and foreign policies. Business-inspired intervention abroad has usually been designed either to open export markets or to install complaisant Third World governments. Marine Corps Commander Smedley Butler once bemoaned big business's baneful influence on foreign policy:
"I spent 33 years and four months in active service in the country's most agile military force, the Marines.…And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. Thus I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers and Co. in 1909–12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras 'right' for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."
Small and medium-sized businesses have a far more honorable record. Former Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who until he left the House in 1984 compiled its most consistent anti-interventionist record, maintains: "Smaller businessmen are much better on foreign policy.…They don't have big contracts from the government, they don't have military contracts, they're not into the military-industrial complex."
And it is from the ranks of such business people that the core of a genuine, effective peace movement, based on traditional American values like liberty, trade, and limited government, could be drawn. In the current political climate, this may sound like a pipe dream. But it happened once; the raw materials are still there, and there are hints, just hints, that it can happen again.
When the U.S. government rushed headlong into the nasty, brutish, and short Spanish-American War of 1898, and the resulting suppression of the Philippine independence movement, the most significant civilian opposition came from the forthrightly named Anti-Imperialist League. The League was not composed of the socialist professors or Third World fetishists the name suggests to us today; its membership, writes historian Robert Beisner, "subscribed to the principles of laissez-faire economics laid down by Adam Smith in the eighteenth century."
This should come as no surprise; the classical liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries generally recognized that war and preparation for war require considerable government management of the economy, with resulting high taxes, inflation, and deficits, as well as clampdowns on the rights of dissenters. In Randolph Bourne's aphorism, "War is the health of the state."
The Anti-Imperialist League's biggest bankroller was steel magnate Andrew Carnegie; its leading spokesman was insurance executive and inventor Edward Atkinson, a devout free-trader. Both men feared the deleterious effects of armaments spending on the American economy and of imperialism on the American soul. (Prophetically, much of the Anti-Imperialist fire was aimed at schemes to subjugate Latin Americans—in Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, and Uncle Sam's old favorite, Nicaragua.)
The Anti-Imperialists proposed, as an alternative to military empire, an "empire of trade"—the United States would prosper by sending goods, not troops, across borders. (Melvyn Krauss proposed a modern variation on this theme in "No More Rich Bully," REASON, Nov. 1986.) Their warnings were ignored; the Declaration of Independence, the principles of which underlay the Anti-Imperialists' objections, was dismissed, in philosopher George Santayana's words, as "a piece of literature, a salad of illusions" by those who pined for an American empire. But the Anti-Imperialists delivered, in Beisner's words, an anguished admonition to the generations to come: "Future wars and the permanent maintenance of forces strong enough to wage them would require a vast amount of money, discourage industry, impose heavy tax burdens on the American people, and distract attention from…domestic problems."
By midcentury, as the U.S. government was settling comfortably into its new role as world policeman, the most vocal and visible dissent was centered in the business community. The Marshall Plan, NATO, the Truman Doctrine—the fundaments of the new Cold War order—encountered little significant opposition outside of prairie populists and a core of heartland businessmen and politicians, derided as hick isolationists by liberal sophisticates.
"Midwestern businessmen" formed the bulk of the capitalist anti-war movement in the late '40s and early '50s, says Justus Doenecke, a leading scholar of the American isolationist tradition. Their bases of operation were generally "single businesses owned and operated by families—Ford; Sears, Roebuck; Quaker Oats."
Though the battleground had shifted from the Caribbean and the Philippines to Europe, the concerns of the new anti-imperialists echoed those of their forebears. Self-made steel man Ernest Weir, Sterling Morton of the eponymous salt company, Chicago Tribune publisher Colonel Robert McCormick, and others denounced global intervention as costly, contrary to American principles, and portending new government controls over the economy.
How strange it is for us, in the age of Reagan Republicanism, to read of Colonel McCormick's "right-wing" organization, For America, issuing an alarum that "our sons and daughters" must be "saved from compulsory military service and death in the rice paddies of Asia or the bloody plains of Europe." (One generation later, compulsory military service sent 50,000 sons to death in those prophesied rice paddies.) And how odd to read of Sterling Morton's lament that with U.S. entry into NATO, we have "embarked upon a path which can only lead to eventual bankruptcy, eventual dictatorship, and the end of that system of life known as 'the American Way.'"
The most piquant, forceful expositor of the pro-business, antiwar position was the now-forgotten publicist John T. Flynn. Fired in 1940 from his position as financial writer for the liberal New Republic because he hated FDR and foreign intervention with equal passion, Flynn later warned deaf ears: "Since 1945—nearly five years—we have been spending billions in what we are told is a 'cold war.' Unless we make an end of this it will bankrupt us. Even more appalling, it will lead us into another war at the end of which our liberties and our economic system will be ready for the scrap heap. The reason for all this is that the interests of America have been completely blotted out in this insane adventure in world salvation.…We are contributing to the destruction of everything our civilization values."
By the mid-'60s, as U.S. troops marched off to yet another faraway war, the face of the antiwar movement seemed much different. The hair was longer, the music was louder, marijuana had replaced martinis as the drug of choice. Yet, still…
A little-remembered facet of Vietnam war dissent was the dovish sentiment of many American business people. Their peace sympathies owed neither to juvenile Marxism nor to romanticization of Ho Chi Minh as an agrarian George Washington; rather, their voices echoed those of Andrew Carnegie and the Anti-Imperialist League seven decades earlier. Edward J. Hekman, president of United Biscuit Co., warned "that our efforts in Vietnam to prevent a controlled economy from being imposed by force could easily result in a controlled economy being imposed on 200 million Americans."
Even big business, which historically has ranked behind only liberal intellectuals as the group most favorably disposed toward intervention, was wary of Vietnam. A number of corporate chieftains, among them IBM's Thomas Watson, Allied Chemical's John Connor, and Bank of America's Louis Lundborg, were outspoken champions of the antiwar cause. In March 1968, Newsweek's Kenneth Crawford hyberbolized just a bit when he wrote that "Wall Street, the symbol of American capitalism, is now a focus of peace sentiment rivaling the Berkeley campus." The peaceniks' afflatus, according to Crawford, was dollars and cents: "War…threatens intensified inflation and this, in turn, puts pressure on government to impose wage-and-price controls, excess-profits taxes and other restraints onerous to free enterprise."
The organizational umbrella for the antiwar business people was Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace (BEM), founded in late 1966 by Baltimore insurance executive and Quaker convert Henry Niles. BEM eventually grew to more than 2,000 members, most of them top guns at medium sized and small companies, "unburdened by oil wells, mines, and markets in far-off lands," as Steve Weissman wrote in the New Left monthly Ramparts.
The antiwar left never knew quite what to make of its business allies. BEM advertisements emphasized the economic costs of Vietnam ("You've been spending $2.64 a day to keep the war going"), a gaucherie not endearing to sensitive doves. Weissman's Ramparts piece sounded a common theme when he scored BEM for failing to denounce "economic imperialism"—that is, trade and investment in Third World countries—along with the war. (As though selling the natives a can of 7-UP is the moral equivalent of napalming them.)
The influence that BEM specifically, and antiwar business generally, exerted on the ship of state was assessed by political scientist James Clotfelter. Writing in The Nation in 1971, he explained, like Newsweek's Crawford, that businesses actually "benefit very little from war spending, yet are surrounded by higher costs, taxes and debt." Clotfelter concluded with a reminder of the limits of flower power: "The irony [is] that if and when the war is terminated, it may be as much because of pressure from business and financial elites (its presumed beneficiaries) as from The People."
Where have all the anti-interventionists gone? What little attention has been paid today's pro-peace business community has invariably been lavished on a handful of liberal millionaires who were active in the nuclear freeze (remember?) campaign in 1982–83, such as former BEM activist Harold Willens, a Los Angeles real-estate mogul.
Willens's prescriptions for the body politic, enumerated in his 1984 manifesto The Trimtab Factor, are standard-brand liberalism. Mixed in with calls for arms control are economic nostrums guaranteed to make the doughty old boys of the Anti-Imperialist League gag. Rebuild our allegedly crumbling infrastucture (where would Democrats be without potholes?), spend hand-over-fist on schools, hospitals, and such—Willens calls it a "Marshall Plan for America." ("A good idea," humorist P.J. O'Rourke once observed of a similar scheme, "but I don't know how we're going to get Germany, France, England, and Belgium to pay for it.") Here, truly, is a businessman who never met a subsidy he didn't like.
Less celebrated than Willens—but more faithful to the original Jeffersonian vision of a free and peaceful America—is a small remnant of the Andrew Carnegie–Sterling Morton tradition. If patriotic anti-interventionism is to resurface as a potent political force, its visage will likely be a melange of the disparate faces that follow.
In Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood, a young trade association constituted solely of business people is trying to reinject a prudent, Eisenhower-like perspective into the defense debate. The organization operates under the innocuous name Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a broad rubric under whose auspices one might suspect gather anyone from George Patton groupies to the starry-eyed innocents of the Soviet-American Friendship League.
Founder and president of BENS is Stanley A. Weiss, an affable Texas minerals executive who could pass for a mature version of Mets catcher Gary Carter. Weiss is indefatigable, devoting full time to both BENS and his business. (Weiss says he was up at 5:00 in the morning to start working the Saturday of our interview. "He overslept," explained BENS vice-president Jim Morrison.)
Weiss's is a classic tale of capitalist risk and perseverance. In the early '50s, the 22-year-old Weiss went to Mexico to find gold. ("I saw The Treasure of Sierra Madre and wanted to be Humphrey Bogart," he recalls.) For the first couple years he starved. Then he found manganese. He got rich quick after that, starting a lucrative El Paso–based industrial-minerals processing company, American Minerals Inc.
Weiss became interested in politics in the late 1970s. He had a brief, disastrous fling with Barry Commoner's quasi-socialist Citizens Party in 1980—"I was against all the planks on business," he explains now, and "I was politically naive." Out of his Citizens Party experience, Weiss says he came to have "a very deep disdain for the ideological left. You'd find in the Citizens Party people who didn't really represent the idea which I consider most important, which is called liberty."
Thus chastened, Weiss set out to create a trade association to bring a "business perspective" to the defense debate. He sought a niche; he discovered a canyon. Knocking on doors, Weiss aide Jim Morrison found that "between the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Business Conference, and the National Federation of Independent Business, there is not one single full-time person working on defense issues."
Under Weiss's leadership, BENS has grown to 5,000 members, ranging from heartland small-business execs to Playboy's Christie Hefner and J. Peter Grace of shrink-the-budget fame. In addition to memberships at various levels (from $35 to $1,000), BENS relies on contributions from individuals and foundations.
"I would say if you want a profile of the typical member, it would be much more the entrepreneur than the corporate manager," asserts Weiss. Membership is panpartisan, though he maintains that "BENS reflects the views of the business community, which is largely centrist, or closet Republican."
The group takes as its bible President Eisenhower's extraordinary farewell address, in which Ike warned his countrymen against allowing the "military-industrial complex"—the military establishment and arms manufacturers—to acquire excessive influence and "endanger our liberties." (It is a measure of how far the Republican Party has traveled down the militarist road that Ike's "military-industrial complex" and the venerable word imperialism, which was freely employed by Republicans to describe postwar Democratic foreign policy, are today considered ultra-leftist locutions.)
Thus far, BENS has not exactly taken up the Anti-Imperialist League cudgel. It has concentrated on "cheap hawk" military procurement issues—trying to bring competition to the Pentagon, which Weiss describes as "the second-largest controlled economy in the world." To this end, BENS does the usual Washington lobbying bit, pushing for competitive letting of defense contracts, decrying the military's elephantine bureaucracy, and spreading the Eisenhower gospel through films and reprints. (No Ike music videos yet.)
But as BENS grows, says Weiss, it is going to "slowly and cautiously start getting into the economic aspects of the military and national security." A book on the economic effects of military spending is due later this year. And while the organization takes no position on the wisdom of our NATO defense umbrella or the various military adventures the Reagan administration is funding, BENS is at least urging a reexamination of our multitudinous alliances. "What's the strategy?" asks Weiss. "You can't have 40 treaties with countries saying you're going to simultaneously defend them. We think there should be top-to-bottom debate about those things, but we don't take a position."
Weiss sighs, slumping back into his chair. "We're four years old. Taking on a $300-billion-a-year national-security establishment with a $2-million or $2.5-million budget—it's very difficult."
Some business people opposed to the militarist drift of U.S. foreign and defense policy may find BENS too cautious; their only alternative is a Washington, D.C.-based research organization run by six retired military officers, the Center for Defense Information (CDI), generally viewed as left-liberal. More than half of CDI's ideologically eclectic 33-member Board of Advisors is made up of business people, from liberal Harold Willens to conservative Chicago venture capitalist Rudolph Rasin.
Founded in 1972, CDI and its staff of 30 supply defense and foreign-policy factoids to politicians, journalists, and the like. Staff members frequently testify before Congress and TV cameras and 10 times a year survey military issues in The Defense Monitor. And of course, this being the video age, CDI has produced several short films promoting peace causes, including one narrated by contributor and advisory board member Paul Newman. (Unlike BENS, the center is not a membership organization; most of its annual $1.5-million budget comes from foundations and individual donors.)
Founder and director of the center is Gene La Rocque, a retired rear admiral who served 32 years active duty in the navy. Combat veteran La Rocque is no sensitive wimp, as hawks sometimes like to characterize anti-interventionists; he swaps war stories with buddies who drop by the center, and he jokes about the privations of military service: "No drinking, no cars, but most serious, no girls!"
CDI's active and vocal support for arms control has overshadowed its much more provocative position on the deployment of American troops abroad. The United States, notes La Rocque, "has half a million men and women in uniform in foreign countries and over 330 military bases and facilities in foreign countries, most of which we have no business being in." The center, he says, advocates that we "bring home all of our half million people."
Just as Stanley Weiss sees the virtues of the Eisenhower Republican worldview, La Rocque invokes Robert Taft's isolationist Republican vision: "We have such a wonderful, beautiful country here of our own, that if we would tend to our own country and trade with other nations on a profitable basis, we would continue to prosper. I think Taft recognized that we had it made—we were successful. Why did we want to go around sticking our nose into everybody else's business? I don't think we have to look too far to find a great deal of satisfaction with the life that we have. The name of the game ought to be to preserve the American way of life."
Similarly, La Rocque occasionally frames his arguments in language redolent of the conservative isolationists of an earlier era: "Most people in the U.S., I find, want to return to the really simple values of the U.S. They don't see any need for us to have a half-million people in foreign countries. Why in the world do we concern ourselves with Ethiopia or Somalia? It's costing the American farmer and the American businessman and the American taxpayer a lot of money for us to maintain our military involvement in such countries."
CDI is a bete noire to many conservatives and defense analysts, who charge that it is antidefense because of its opposition to numerous weapons systems. It's a perception that clearly frustrates La Rocque. In its statement of purpose, CDI pledges to "support a strong U.S. defense program." In other words, says La Rocque under questioning, "we are for the development of a retaliatory capability to deter an attack, and we are opposed to offensive first-strike weapons."
La Rocque acknowledges that he is "opposed to war of all kinds—war is pretty stupid." But, emphasizes this veteran of Pearl Harbor, "I would support a war to defend the U.S., even if that meant going somewhere else, if it was clearly a defensive war." He adds, with an eye to 40ish hawks who spent the Vietnam years wading through the malarial swamps of grad school: "People who fought in wars see war a lot differently. A lot of [interventionists], they've never heard a man scream. If you do, war takes on a different coloration."
Chicagoan Rudolph Rasin is an active member of BENS and sits on CDI's Board of Advisors. He is also, in Elvis Costello's felicitous phrase, a man out of time.
The 55-year-old Rasin is a venture capitalist specializing in "leveraged buyouts and mergers and acquisitions." He is active in state and local Republican politics in DuPage County, Illinois ("one of the most conservative districts in the United States") and serves as an elected precinct committeeman. But he has seen his party drift from conservatism to militarism over the course of the last three decades, leaving him isolated and far, far behind.
"I consider myself a conservative Republican," explains Rasin, "but not in the Jesse Helms definition of conservative. I would call myself a classical or traditional conservative of the Robert Taft stripe. I'm opposed to big government, but I'm opposed to big government in all respects. I'm not a selective conservative."
Old-line Republican conservative Rasin is, quite understandably, perplexed by the sea change that has dislodged him from the sturdy traditionalist wing of the GOP. His apt simile: "It's almost like the spectrum shift. If you look at the old radio tuners for a shortwave station, you flip the thing and the 100 that was over here on the right is over on the left. There has been a shift in the spectrum so that what was once considered right of center is now considered liberal. A reincarnated Robert Taft would be considered a left-wing liberal."
Fiscal conservative Rasin will never be mistaken for a left-wing liberal, but listening to him patiently explain the necessity of reducing the U.S. commitment to NATO and his opposition to the Vietnam war and its messy, embryonic stepchild, Nicaragua, one confronts the numbing fact that no prominent politician in the country—Republican or Democrat—speaks for the Rudolph Rasins of this land.
"I look at it purely from an economic point of view," says Rasin in his best Republican tones. "Naturally I want a strong defense, but I don't want it to become a sacred cow and another label for more federal spending and federal waste and largesse. Just as you cannot throw money at social problems, as was proven with the Johnson administration, you can't blindly throw money at military problems.
"I'm one of the few guys that don't feel comfortable in the Democratic Party and I don't feel comfortable in the new Republican Party, because it's been taken over by the right wing," says a frustrated Rasin. Nevertheless, he shan't give up. "Politicians, they use a wet finger. If they found enough people like me, they would be changing. It's a question of leverage."
Leverage is one thing David Koch doesn't lack. The 46-year-old Koch is executive vice-president of Koch Industries, a Wichita-based, multi-billion-dollar oil concern. Koch, a contributor to BENS, is also, along with others in his family, an extremely liberal donor to a number of libertarian and free-market organizations, including the Reason Foundation.
Sprawling his 6'5″ frame across an undersized swivel chair in his midtown Manhattan office, Koch remembers the gradual evolution of his foreign-policy views. "I'm from a family that felt that the U.S. should be very aggressive in foreign affairs." (His father, company founder Fred C. Koch, was a founding father of the John Birch Society.) "But I've changed over the years," explains Koch, from an early supporter of the Vietnam war to a self-proclaimed "noninterventionist" who desires the U.S. government "to refrain from interfering with the activities of other countries, except where we are threatened in some overt, direct way."
Essential to Koch's anti-interventionism is his laissez-faire economics. War and militarism, he has concluded, are the most potent stimulants for the growth of Big Government and the concomitant erosion of economic freedoms. "Pursuing a very aggressive foreign policy," he says, "is an extremely expensive endeavor for the U.S. government. The cost of maintaining a huge military force abroad is gigantic. It's so big it puts a severe strain on the U.S. economy, creating economic hardships here at home."
Though the bulk of its operations are U.S.-based, Koch Industries has been involved in projects from West Germany to Qatar. So, not surprisingly, David Koch enthusiastically updates the Anti-Imperialist League dream of an "empire of trade." Eighty-five years after his forebears, the Carnegies and Atkinsons, went down to crushing defeat, Koch echoes yesterday's pro-peace capitalists: "I think the best foreign policy the U.S. government could follow is to encourage private, nongovernment interactions between nations. I believe in maximizing trade of all sorts: business trade, athletic exchanges, cultural exchanges, tourism. I think the best way to create peace and good will is to maximize interchange at all levels."
In practice, Koch's foreign-policy positions align him with far more socialists than capitalists. He shrugs at the seeming dilemma. "Just because I disagree with certain people on some issues doesn't mean I have to disagree with them on all issues. Just because Hitler liked flowers, do I have to dislike them?"
Businessman and publisher Martin Stone's involvement in the pro-capitalism, pro-peace movement spans the modern age, from BEM in the '60s to BENS in the '80s. (Though the latter group lacks the Vietnam protesters' anti-intervention focus, Stone praises its membership: "The business executives who make up BENS are much more free-enterprise-oriented than was true of that other group.")
The 58-year-old Stone lives in the rustic upstate New York town of Lake Placid, where he presides over an empire that includes California Business, the nation's largest regional business magazine, and World Paper, a newspaper supplement published in four languages and 21 countries. He's also negotiating with Phoenix, Arizona, to build a domed stadium in the event the lords of baseball and football ever deign to notice that Texas and California are not the only two states west of the Mississippi.
Stone, who has "always been very conservative on economic matters," traces his involvement in capitalist peace activities back to the '60s, when this self-made man owned Monogram Industries, a California aerospace manufacturer. He actively supported Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace and was California co-chairman of Eugene McCarthy's insurgent antiwar candidacy in the 1968 Democratic primaries. For having the audacity to exercise his rights in 1960s America, Stone earned two of that decade's most-coveted scarlet letters: he made Nixon's fabled enemies list, and he was audited annually by the IRS.
Today, Stone's economic views are as free-marketish as ever; he praises President Reagan for occasionally resisting the protectionist impulse but scores him for failing to slash farm subsidies and business subsidies. And Stone is no parlor marketeer, casually singing the praises of competition whilst he slops up at the federal trough. When a commuter airline he owned went belly-up in the newly deregulated climate, he cheerfully admitted, in a California Business article, that "deregulation is good, even if my airline is a casualty."
But if Stone sounds Reaganite when discussing the virtues of free enterprise, he could hardly sound less so in opposing foreign adventurism. He explains, "I started off feeling that when you attempt to be the world's policeman, it gets to be more expensive than anything you ever contemplate or anything you can really afford." But he also soon discovered, "it tends to create enemies for you around the world that you don't need."
As is the case with the other businessmen, Stone gracefully makes the economic case for disengagement from our countless commitments, particularly NATO. But it is the U.S. government's persistent interference in Nicaragua that most frustrates him. "We'll do better in preserving our relations with Central America by keeping a hands-off policy. I don't like what the Sandinistas are doing in repressing individual liberties and freedoms and the press, but frankly I think that's up to the Nicaraguans to determine how to handle."
Stone's friendly voice takes on a sharper quality—you can feel the words being underlined over the phone—as he continues: "If we were to go to war in Central America, I can see us bogging down in an extremely expensive series of campaigns that in the long run brought us nothing but enmity throughout Latin America for many decades to come. If we want to, we can militarily go in and overthrow the Sandinistas and install some government more of our choosing, but I think the cost will be great, and then it won't even stay—it's too easy to foment another revolution—and we'll be there forever."
At first glance, there would seem to be a bad moon rising for anti-interventionists. The Reagan administration steadfastly refuses to discuss the possibility of reducing the U.S. commitment to subsidizing Europe's defense, and the anti-Europe sentiments once so common among provincial politicians have disappeared. Every day brings the U.S. government closer to open war with its tiny neighbor Nicaragua. The so-called Reagan Doctrine—the administration's pledge to support anticommunist insurgents around the world—has become a pillar of the right's foreign policy.
But this all costs money, involuntarily donated by businessmen and their taxpaying consumers. Costs to the American taxpayer associated with our NATO involvement total nearly $150 billion annually, defense analyst Earl Ravenal has estimated. Our Central American policies, including economic aid, cost us more than $9 billion a year, according to Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers's Inequity and Intervention, just published by Boston's lefty South End Press. The modest sums doled out to insurgents in Nicaragua, Angola, and Afghanistan in the spirit of the Reagan Doctrine, remarks Cato Institute policy analyst Ted Carpenter, are "just a down payment. If they're serious about winning, the costs will run into the billions."
If we finally take the deep plunge and invade Nicaragua, the cost, estimates Georgetown University professor Theodore Moran, would be $11 billion and as many as 5,000 American lives over a five-year period. And as Martin Stone says (Gene La Rocque noted the same), soon we'd just have to do it all over again.
Venture capitalist Rudolph Rasin wonders whether business opinion can ever swing back solidly toward nonintervention. "I'm just curious how we can get more allies. I don't understand what it would take."
Perhaps it would take $200-billion deficits and a stiffening of the public antitax resolve. Opinion polls suggest overwhelming rank-and-file opposition to a world-police-man foreign policy destined to win for the United States, in journalist Jonathan Kwitny's formulation, endless enemies. That this unpopular meddling "is a significant part of the budget problem," as Martin Stone asserts, ought to augur a reassessment of our global role in boardrooms and living rooms across the land.
Indeed, the most fiscally conservative grass-roots activists just might be persuaded to join the Rasins, Kochs, et al. in a new patriotic peace movement. David Keating, executive vice-president of the 150,000-strong antispending group the National Taxpayers Union, notes that a majority of NTU's members support reductions in the U.S. subsidy to NATO as well as sharp cuts in that Old Right bugbear foreign aid. Keating assays his membership: "They want a strong defense, but they're sick of the ripoffs, they're sick of the fact that good procurement officers are the ones who get fired rather than promoted, they're sick of subsidizing the defense of other countries."
CDI's Gene La Rocque, for one, is optimistic that business—at least that segment of the business community not tethered to military subsidies—will see that exorbitant defense spending is contrary to its self-interest: "We don't have enough money to keep our government going a week at a time, and we're spending $150 billion to take care of NATO and more for the other countries. What is happening now is that the business community is coming to us at CDI. Their assessment is this: the federal government, with its limitations, can only spend so much money. There just isn't any more tax money that can be obtained. And they know that if the taxpayer has to pay all this money to the government, the taxpayer doesn't have any discretionary money left over to buy the things their industries produce."
Stanley Weiss of BENS concurs. "I think there is a kind of change that's going on," he says. Business people "are beginning to wonder what we're getting for all this money we're spending." And they're wondering what effect a $300-billion defense program is having on the nation's economy. "The fact that we are spending so much of our resources in things that apparently are not productive, namely the military," asserts Weiss, "probably makes us less competitive."
David Koch, though he confesses to "mixed feelings" about Nicaragua ("we're getting awful close to home here"), sees U.S. intervention, rather than spiraling defense costs, as the potential galvanizing force in the business community. "I don't see a big movement toward anti-interventionism in the business community" at this time, he notes. But "if we should get more deeply involved in Nicaragua and end up in a Vietnam-type situation there, that would cause a real reaction."
At the political level, the still-deep reservoir of American anti-interventionist sentiment remains untapped. Politicians are by nature reactive creatures. Not until the inchoate pro-peace, pro-free-enterprise movement obtrudes into the national consciousness will vote-seekers be inclined to adopt a similar constellation of values. As Ron Paul, the anti-interventionist ex-congressman, notes: "It's not going to change in Washington. The grass roots have to do a lot more before it'll happen."
The job of the Anti-Imperialist League's legatees is made all the more difficult by the crazy-quilt ideologies of the Republican and Democratic parties, neither of which betrays the slightest coherence in their attitudes toward individual liberty and the scope of government. A new Republican senator—Arizona's John McCain, a former Vietnam POW—makes sporadic pro-free-enterprise, anti-intervention noises and may be worth watching. But among prominent political figures, only Jesse Jackson, no friend of economic freedom, bangs the anti-NATO, anti-world-policeman drum. (Recall Rudolph Rasin's old radio tuner.)
The Rasins, the Weisses, the Kochs, the Stones, and millions of other Americans desire, in multifarious ways, to return to a respectful and respectable American foreign policy, one fit for a republic of freemen and consistent with the revolutionary principles on which this country was founded. Skeptics of foreign intervention, in the business community and outside of it, are this country's authentic silent majority. Whether, and how, they find a way to amplify that voice and nudge the U.S. government down a more peaceful path is among the most tantalizing political questions of our age.
Assistant Editor Bill Kauffman is based in Washington. His most recent article in REASON was "Mr. Marrou Goes to Juneau" (Oct. 1986).