Once again, the United States is on the brink of what is now called preemptive war – this time against North Korea. The term was popularized by President George W. Bush who used it as an excuse to attack Iraq. Originally, the term was preventive war, and it wasn’t popular with Republicans – who were once the anti-war party. President Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested that preventive war was the invention of Adolf Hitler, and an impossibility in the nuclear age.
Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, there seem to be increasing suggestions that we should embark on a preventive war with the Communist world, some of these suggestions by people in high places. I wonder, sir, if you would care to address yourself to that proposition.
THE PRESIDENT. All of us have heard this term “preventive war” since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, if we believe for one second that nuclear fission and fusion, that type of weapon, would be used in such a war – what is a preventive war?
I would say a preventive war, if the words mean anything, is to wage some sort of quick police action in order that you might avoid a terrific cataclysm of destruction later.
A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war.
More than sixty years later what President Dwight D. Eisenhower said about preventive war still rings true. If the United States were to preemptively attack North Korea it would result in thousands of deaths. Worse still, any military action would put the lives of millions of South Koreans on the line. Any action that the U.S. could take against North Korea would be war in all senses of the term.
(Photo of General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1943 taken by a U.S. Army soldier or employee.)