The Need For Missile Defense

by Victor Davis Hanson // Defining Ideas

America’s great advantage when it entered world affairs after the Civil War was that its distance from Europe and Asia ensured that it was virtually immune from large sea-borne invasions.

The Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans proved far better barriers than even the forests and mountain ranges of Europe. At twenty-eight years old, Abraham Lincoln succinctly summed up America’s natural invincibility in his famous Lyceum Address of January 27, 1838: “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

In an age before air power, missiles, and napalm, Lincoln understood that no great power had the expeditionary power to invade and hold the vast North American continent.

So Americans began to assume that while they might fight frequently abroad and send expeditionary armies and naval forces around the globe, the fight would never come to them at home. America’s security cocoon was reinforced after the mid-nineteenth century when there was no longer any danger from either a neighboring Canada or Mexico.

The rare times in our history that enemies breached our natural defenses and hit our cities caused national hysteria—and yet never approached the magnitude of a serious invasion.

The small British expeditionary army that left the West Indies to burn the White House in August 1814 was under orders not to venture inland, but to conduct raids of terror and then leave. The Japanese never managed a serious attack. Their pathetic efforts at launching armed balloons to hit the west coast or to shell shoreline facilities by submarines inflicted almost no damage. Such pinpricks only further reminded the world of innate U.S. defensive advantages.

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