This John Quincy Adams quote about it being better for America not to seek out “monsters to destroy” in the world has been making the viral rounds after having been quoted in a Forbes article written by a general critical of Obama foreign policy.
The link I’ve provided here contains the broader quote, but the core of the quote is contained herein: “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
The general response to the quote from many Americans is that John Quincy Adams understood somehow in 1821 what sad Barack Obama doesn’t understand now. I beg to differ.
This quote is a defence of American selfishness. This quote is a defence of the idea that America has high ideals but will only defend them within its borders, and empty “well-wishing” is all America has for people in the rest of the world. This quote says to those who believe in freedom and independence elsewhere in the world a cynical “Good luck with that.”
This quote conveniently forgets that Americans have their freedom and independence today precisely because of the meddling interventionism of France. I guess France should have wished Americans well. I guess France should have told colonial Americans “Good luck with that.”
This quote ignores the striking similarity of attitude between a nation that cares only about its own freedom and independence, while casually “well-wishing” everyone else struggling to survive and the attitude of those who possess sufficient wealth to support themselves, while casually “well-wishing” everyone else struggling to survive. Down and out? Gosh, we feel for you. “Good luck with that.”
No one in America need search for monsters to destroy abroad. There are plenty here at home. We just can’t tell because they clothe themselves in empty displays of wishing people well.