Peace through strength is an ancient concept. It was the Roman modus operandi as Rome expanded her influence across the known world. It was also the policy pursued by our very own George Washington. In our modern world of appeasement and surrender to the forces of tyranny, maintaining peace through strength has become a uniquely American custom. It is not only the national policy followed by great American presidents, but that which is followed by American gun owners every day. Peace through strength, then, is part of the true American heritage.
In his first annual message to Congress, President George Washington stated: “To be prepared for War is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” In the very next breath, he continued: “A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined” (George Washington, First Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790). When you examine the annals of history, whether you look in ancient Israel, manly Sparta, gallant Rome, or in the American Republic, you find that free people have always been armed. Indeed, arms in the hands of freemen distinguishes them from serfs and slaves.
The philosophy “peace through strength” derives from common sense and practical experience. All human experience shows that unscrupulous men, criminals, and tyrants, prey upon the defenseless and weak. Evil people are frequently cowards and their victims are usually targets of opportunity. And no one is more defenseless and presents an easier target than the unarmed and weak. This is the reason why lunatics choose to shoot people in gun-free zones rather than in locations where free men and women are armed and able to defend themselves.
The same is true of nations. An Evil Empire like the Soviet Union preys upon weak nations. They backpedal and try to negotiate (though they only make deals when it benefits them) when a nation presents a strong and united front against them. Instead of launching a risky frontal assault, they resort to subversion, infiltration, psychological warfare, terrorism, and guerrilla tactics in order to demoralize, weaken, corrupt, confuse, and undermine an opponent before they ever attempt conquest by force.
Communist Russia and Red China will never attempt to take down the United States through force of arms unless we have been sufficiently degraded on the inside first. Unfortunately, that horrific day is swift approaching as cultural Marxism (i.e. feminism, LGBT, radical environmentalism, “civil rights” movements, political correctness, etc.) rips through our vital institutions. We are becoming a weak nation because we have been too politically correct to stand up to the Reds and to call a spade a spade. We are so afraid of offending someone, hurting their feelings, or causing a stir that we suffer abuses and reductions in our personal rights and national influence rather than boldly confront the enemy.
When necessary, a free society must use its arms and strength to defend itself. This should be a last resort to preserve peace, but it must be an option. A nation that is not prepared to defend itself presents a soft target to an aggressor. The Red Chinese commonly refer to the United States as a “paper tiger” that doesn’t have the stomach for a long struggle. They think we are weak and will eventually crumble because they have yet to see us stand up and confront them in a meaningful way. Islamic terrorists (which are primarily trained and funded by Soviet Russia) hold this same philosophy. America’s enemies cannot be appeased or bought off – appeasement only emboldens them.
We learned through our experiences with Barbary pirates at the beginning of our Republic that buying peace with tribute makes our enemies insatiable and actually increases the problem. Because of a lack of naval power at the time, President Washington was forced to pay the Islamic pirates who were raiding our ships rather than face them in battle. President John Adams did the same while creating a navy that could eventually contend with overseas opponents.
President Thomas Jefferson was the first president to use our newly minted Navy and Marines to punish the pirates and defend America’s vital international trade. After the War of 1812, President Madison sent the U.S. Navy to the Mediterranean to finish what President Jefferson had started. Our Navy devastated the pirates, ensuring peace between the United States and the Barbary States for generations. We learned from this episode that peaceful relations can only be established with hostile states by standing up to them or crushing them with overwhelming strength. Evil people and regimes only bow to power.
Because of his experience as a colonel during the French-Indian War and as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolution, President George Washington understood this principle perhaps better than anyone. It infuriated him that the United States did not have the means to deal with enemies who ruthlessly attacked peaceful trading vessels and harmed Americans and America’s interests. In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, he raged:
“[H]ow is it possible the great maritime powers of Europe should submit to pay an annual tribute to the little piratical States of Barbary. Would to Heaven we had a navy able to reform those enimies to mankind, or crush them into nonexistence” (George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, August 15, 1786).
Washington understood that only an armed society – both on a personal and a national level – could retain their Freedom against the multitude of adversaries and tyrants that abound in the world. He knew that freemen could only remain so if they were strong and projected their strength. Part of this was to always be ready for war so that a potential aggressor would think twice before attacking – and so that he would severely regret it if he did.
At the beginning of our War for Independence, General Washington encouraged his troops to stand firm against British tyrants. He said:
“[T]he hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessings of Liberty—that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men . . . every one for himself resolving to conquer, or die, and trusting to the smiles of heaven upon so just a cause, will behave with Bravery and Resolution” (George Washington, General Orders, August 23, 1776).
The “smiles of heaven” only rain down upon those who take the pains to defend themselves and increase their own human strength. Only the vigorous and valiant are worthy of divine intervention and blessings. Only by “fighting for the blessings of Liberty,” and remaining virtuous, can Americans remain freemen. And all real freemen are soldiers – warriors for justice, truth, and Liberty.
All true freemen are armed and prepared for battle at a moment’s notice – whether against a domestic enemy or against an invader. This is precisely why Samuel Adams envisioned America as a “Christian Sparta” (Samuel Adams to John Scollay, December 30, 1780). Like the Spartans, “molon labe,” or “come and take it,” would be our war cry. It was strict adherence to this principle of preparing for war and being ready to defend the peace, coupled with faithful obedience to God’s laws, that made America great. And the same course can make America great again.
Similar to Washington and Adams, Thomas Jefferson believed that strength was a means of preventing war. He wished every American freeman to be a soldier. He stated:
“[T]he Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. the Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression, as a standing army. their system was to make every man a soldier, & oblige him to repair to the standard of his country, whenever that was reared. this made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so” (Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, September 10, 1814).
This remedy – namely, to arm and discipline our citizens in the art of war – would make America “invincible” to foreign threats so long as we also remain virtuous. A free nation that expects to remain free must be prepared for war. We prepare for war but pray for peace. As Thomas Paine expressed it: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it” (Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 4, September 12, 1777).
The phrase “peace through strength,” in its modern context, was popularized by Ronald Reagan during his 1980 campaign against socialist appeaser Jimmy Carter. For eight years, President Reagan preached peace through strength and tried to get America back to her roots. While President Reagan was only marginally successful in his gigantic task, reminding ourselves of some of his inspiring thoughts seems appropriate.
During one of the presidential debates with then President Jimmy Carter, candidate Reagan said:
“Now, I believe, also that this meeting, this mission, this responsibility for preserving the peace, which I believe is a responsibility peculiar to our country, that we cannot shirk our responsibility as the leader of the Free World, because we’re the only one that can do it. And therefore, the burden of maintaining the peace falls on us. And to maintain that peace requires strength. America has never gotten in a war because we were too strong” (Reagan/Carter presidential debate, October 28, 1980).
In a speech to the American People regarding national security, President Reagan explained the need for strength to combat the Red menace – the exact same menace we face today at home and abroad. He rightly observed:
“We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations. . . .
“. . . American strength is . . . a sheltering arm for freedom in a dangerous world. Strength is the most persuasive argument we have to convince our adversaries to negotiate seriously and to cease bullying other nations.
“. . . American power is the indispensable element of a peaceful world. . . .
“But it is not just the immense Soviet arsenal that puts us on our guard. The record of Soviet behavior – the long history of Soviet brutality toward those who are weaker – reminds us that the only guarantee of peace and freedom is our military strength and our national will. The peoples of Afghanistan and Poland, of Czechoslavakia and Cuba, and so many other captive countries – they understand this.
“Some argue that our dialogue with the Soviets means we can treat defense more casually. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was our seriousness about defense that created the climate in which serious talks could finally begin. . . .
“Our job is to provide for our security by using the strengths of our free society” (Ronald Reagan, speech, February 26, 1986).
Think about it, who is more likely to persuade a thug to put down his gun – an unarmed negotiator with no leverage or a seasoned police officer with a raised rifle? The answer is obvious. Though the Soviets have broken literally every treaty they ever signed with the United States, they were wary of President Reagan because they knew that he would not hesitate, if necessary, to launch nuclear missiles and a full-scale war against the communists in defense of America and the West.
One of my favorite Ronald Reagan moments demonstrates President Reagan’s willingness to stand up to the communist threat. It occurred on August 11, 1984, when President Reagan told a joke. Though clearly a joke, it contained a large kernel of truth. During a microphone sound check prior to his speech, President Reagan mused: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
I can’t listen to the audio recording of this classic moment without laughing. Yet, the Soviets weren’t laughing – and not because Russians don’t have much of a sense of humor. Rather, these communists – who consider themselves in a permanent state of war with the West – understood that in Ronald Reagan they had a man who would not cower in fear, kow-tow to Moscow, or back down to Soviet advances. Evil regimes like the Soviet Union only gain momentum unless forcibly stopped in their tracks and resisted manfully by one of equal or greater strength.
President Reagan’s views were inspired by his belief that God founded this country and that we are not only exceptional, but that we have a mission to lead the world by our shining example:
“I’ve always believed that this land was set aside in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent between the oceans to be found by a people from every corner of the earth who had a special love of faith, freedom and peace. Let us reaffirm America’s destiny of goodness and goodwill” (Ronald Reagan, Thanksgiving message, 1982).
Part of being the world leader is helping to preserve peace when it is within our sphere of influence and duty. President Reagan rightly affirmed:
“We’re not a warlike people. Quite the opposite. We always seek to live in peace. We resort to force infrequently and with great reluctance, and only after we’ve determined that it’s absolutely necessary. We are awed – and rightly so – by the forces of destruction at loose in the world in this nuclear era. But neither can we be naive or foolish. Four times in my lifetime America has gone to war, bleeding the lives of its young men into the sands of island beachheads, the fields of Europe, and the jungles and rice paddies of Asia. We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong; it is when they are weak that tyrants are tempted. . . .
“Of all the objectives we seek, first and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace. We must always stand ready to negotiate in good faith, ready to pursue any reasonable avenue that holds forth the promise of lessening tensions and furthering the prospects of peace. But let our friends and those who may wish us ill take note: the United States has an obligation to its citizens and to the people of the world never to let those who would destroy freedom dictate the future course of life on this planet” (Ronald Reagan, Republican National Convention acceptance speech, July 17, 1980).
Is America today up to the task of being great and exceptional? Are we prepared to increase our unique national strength by fortifying our Faith, Families, and Freedom? And are we prepared to defend these fundamental institutions, and this Promised Land with her unsurpassed resources and beauty and potential, with the strength of arms and military might if necessary? Are we truly prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the blessings of Liberty we take for granted will extend to our posterity? If today we are not prepared for war to safeguard our peace, our rights, and our homes, we are not worthy of the title American.
General George Washington’s wise words of encouragement to his fighting men should pound once more in our ears. Two days before America formally declared Independence from British tyranny, General Washington wrote to his patriot soldiers to embolden them in their fight. He reminded them what was at stake – slavery or Freedom. He explained that all eyes were fixed on them and that they would decide whether tyranny or Freedom was to reign in America. And he explained the eternal truth that freemen motivated by the just cause of Liberty and aided by the God of Heaven are more fearsome than any conquering army ever can be. General Washington declared:
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army—Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; this is all we can expect—We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions—The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for LIBERTY on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth” (George Washington, General Orders, July 2, 1776).
Today, the eyes of the weary world are upon America. For years we have let them down. Our example has been less than exceptional, not particularly notable, and, in recent times, not worthy of duplication. We have allowed the communist cancer to eat away at our vitals until now we stand on the brink of civil war, mobocracy, economic collapse, open persecution of Christians and constitutionalists, and full-scale societal breakdown.
Notwithstanding how far we’ve fallen through our own neglect and rejection of God’s eternal laws, we have it within our power to step forward, do our duty, and restore our Republic. There will be sacrifices to make – and some patriots will lose their lives because Freedom is never won except at the price of blood – but we must make them for our sake, the sake of our posterity, and the sake of a beleaguered world that desperately needs us to lead.
I close with the rousing words of Ronald Reagan. Each syllable is true. Every vowel applies to me and to you in our present situation. The burden for the future rests squarely on our shoulders. If we shirk our duty now when it matters most, history will hold us in contempt. Let us be real men and real Americans. Let us honor the American tradition of preserving peace through strength and in always being prepared for war in order to secure an honorable peace. Let us be freemen worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as General Washington and his patriot army. God bless us and God bless America!
“If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth. . . .
“Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” Let’s set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace — and you can have it in the next second — surrender.
“Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face — that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender . . . And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. . . .
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.” (Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” October 27, 1964).
August 28, 2019.