T Nation

The Secret of American Foreign Affairs


Very interesting reading...

The Secret of American Foreign Affairs

By Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D.

April 29, 2003

During his administration, Bill Clinton cut the United States Army from 18 active divisions to 10 and presided over an aimless "Blackhawk Down" foreign policy. How, then, could the U.S. military remain so formidable as to conquer Iraq, a nation of 24 million people, in three weeks?

A larger question is how does our military continue to outstrip the rest of the world in every category, from soldier training to leadership to the will to win? The answer to that question is one of the great secrets of American foreign affairs.

There is one primary reason for the rise of U.S. military power over the past century and its overwhelming capability to fight and win wars: American football.

Decried by some as a simple-minded sport that "glorifies" violence and appeals to the blue-collar, beer-bellied crowd, football is a phenomenon woven into America's social fabric and into the psyche of her people.

The United States is a football nation - football players and football fans - and this sociological factor sets Americans apart from every other nation on earth.

American football is a brutal collision sport in which every player's mettle is tested on every play. At its supreme level, the mutual human violence done in football is greater than that of any other sport in the world.

The only other sport that approaches football in bone-crunching controlled mayhem is rugby, another Anglo-Saxon game played almost exclusively by the British and Australians. Coincidentally, they were the two major powers providing ground troops for the war in Iraq.

Football is violent, but it is not aimless violence. Each individual collision is a tightly circumscribed competition that measures each man's heart, drive, intellect, skill and cunning.

On both sides of the ball, strategy and counterstrategy - the multiplicity of options on a single play - contrive to create an intricate and sophisticated contest. Football is as cerebral as it is violent.

The only people who cannot comprehend football's sophistication are snobs who would like nothing better than to believe that these slashing wide receivers and great gridiron behemoths smashing into each other are dumber than they are. What a devastating ego shock to realize that the average college professor would be incapable mentally, as well as physically, to play successfully the modern game of football.

Why incapable? Because a working intellect under intense psychological pressure and physical exhaustion is an entirely different quality than a working intellect languishing in the library.

Players must execute a sophisticated battle plan swiftly, decisively and flawlessly in extreme situations, while a similarly equipped and talented group of athletes is doing its best to stop them. Play after play, there is no room for error.

In football, there is no time for still more "resolutions." The threat must be perceived and evaluated and the correct decision made now or the consequences could be ignominious defeat. The ethos of football and its prerequisite talents, attitudes and qualities are inculcated in abundance in America's military leaders.

While the football ethos is reflected in America's national spirit and her military, the Europeans draw from a distinctly different sports tradition; one developed on the playing fields of Paris and Potsdam, Boulogne and Berlin.

The ethos of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called "Old Europe" is exemplified in the game of soccer.

Soccer is a beautiful and well-powdered sport, much like "diplomacy," bringing to mind men in top hats and striped pants walking herky-jerky, as in black-and-white silent newsreels. Soccer is French jeu d'esprit , and it is the sport of the United Nations.

Soccer rules are easily understood, and the sport is imbued with a comradely egalitarian aspect. Players run about. They wave their arms. Sometimes, they fall down. Sometimes, they can even be tripped, and it is in these moments that Europeans first learn to be either bad actors or diplomats; tumbling on the turf, clutching a "bruised" shin, then bounding up unhurt to take a free kick (or a post-war oil concession.)

Soccer matches can and frequently do end in a tie. This abundance of scoreless ties leads one to suspect that for soccer players, as for U.N. diplomats, the goal is to stall until ultimately nothing is resolved, and no one can really be blamed. Tie-breaking "shootouts" in international play ought to be eliminated altogether, since an egalitarian draw of no winner, no loser, and no hurt feelings is a U.N. dream come true.

The activity, in the end, is pointless. But fans will neither despair nor rejoice at the outcome; aficionados in smoky salons, sipping espresso, can debate endlessly who played the better game.

Is it any wonder that the Old European nations shrink from decisive action, taking only tentative, mincing steps, hoping they'll never have to fight for anything and unable to decide firmly whether there is anything at all worth fighting for?

Consider also what American football is not . It is not about passing the buck, walking while others carry the load or debating until you are overcome by events. Nor is it about ennui, languor and the c'est la vie attitude.

Football is about character and courage, might and mettle, decisiveness, strength and stamina. It is about men who sacrifice, who dare great things and who are not afraid to win great victories.

Hundreds of thousands of American boys and young men play football each year, forging a distinctly American character in the fire of competition. This character is reflected in the American military and its successes.

I am not the first to claim more from sport than might be deserved. Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, supposedly credited his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo to his having been schooled on the "playing fields of Eton," his famous alma mater. So mightn't there be substance here?

Perhaps. American football might not be the great secret of American foreign affairs success of the past 100 years, but it does capture much that is true about the United States and her mettle. And surely, it is one small part of why she is great.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Stanley K. Ridgley is president of the Russian-American Institute. He served for eight years as executive director of the Collegiate Network, a national association of college newspapers, and for nine years as the editor of CAMPUS: America's Student Magazine. His articles have appeared in Heterodoxy , the University Bookman , the Charlotte Observer , the Raleigh News and Observer ,ORBIS foreign policy journal, and Charlotte Magazine , among others. In 1989, he founded the Duke Review , a conservative student newspaper at Duke University which still publishes. Dr. Ridgley holds a doctorate in political science from Duke University and a bachelor's in journalism from the University of North Carolina, and is a former military intelligence officer. He is the author of "Start the Presses - A Handbook for Student Journalists." He told me that actually he enjoys playing soccer, but, "Soccer's a 'jogging man's' sport and a sport for overprotective mothers who want to shield their young men from injury. I find soccer to be a robust metaphor for European foreign policy. "


Now that's funny stuff!!!


I prefer the softball approach to foreign affairs. No one leaves until the keg is empty. And at the end of the game no one knows the score.


Great article LA. Thanks for sharing it.


So you're saying that there's no connection between sport and the military? I can definitely see the parallels. Hell, general George C. Marshall did during WWII:

"I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player." (Note West Point was a college football powerhouse during this era)


Another thing for Vroom. Seeing as how you're Canadian, I'm guessing you never played American football or was a passionate fan like many Americans are. Something that permeates the culture of our sport is the concept of giving all you've got for victory. There are winners and losers in the game as there are in life. The sacrafices you make when nobody's looking - in the filmroom, on the field, etc. is what decides whether you win or lose as much as talent.

If you win, you shake the guy's hand and claim a well earned victory. If you lose, you damn well make sure you know in your heart that you gave it all you got and you accept defeat like a man - with respect for the winner and a burning desire to get em next time. That's football and that's America, whether you're a Democrat, Republican or 3rd Party.


I disagree with this accessment.

The fact we out spend everyone on military technology has more to do with this than anything else.

If we were such good game planners we would not be much further along in Iraq than we currently are.

i.e. more troops from the very beginning.


I disagree with your spelling of "assessment."



Gee panther, I hate to break it to you, but I basically watch the same television you do.

Guess what sports I see on TV all the time? My friend had the misfortune of cheering for the Bill's during the 90's, how fun that must have been for him.

Anyway, I suppose hockey doesn't have any of the violence in it that football does. It's not a team sport or anything. People don't have to give their all to win or anything.

Regardless, all of that it immaterial, it isn't why the article is funny. The guy posting it is a PhD and he's arguing against the cognoscenti.

He's arguing that sports, which the majority of people simply watch, is a serious factor in world affairs.

It's a feel good piece. I'm glad it makes you feel good, that is what it is supposed to do, but other than that it is completely worthless.


This is what was said in the article:
"A larger question is how does our military continue to outstrip the rest of the world in every category, from soldier training to leadership to the will to win? "

That's to say, the strategy in Iraq may not be perfect, but could any other military have done better, let alone pull off a campaign in the first place? The answer to the first part of the question is likely "no" and the second half would be "very few".



There's still hockey? I thought they all quit because a couple of million bucks a year wasn't enough money to warrant playing a game.

Just bustin' your Canadian chops Vroom......


You were never an athlete in your life, were you. And BTW, "basically watch the same" is not synonymous with "watch the same". We've got thousands of things to choose from to watch, and I'm sure they're quite different in many respects.

And it does, or maybe you've never heard of people like Muhammed Ali, Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Joe Lewis and Jackie Robinson and how they impacted not only their societies but the world through sport.


Technology superiority and fire power are the only answers.

With both every battle plan is at your disposal.

Don't think that what we did in Iraq was never thought of by other countries through the history of mankind. We were successful not because of the NFL but because of our superiority as a direct result of the money we spend.

The only question is your intellectual honesty or lack thereof.

(Thanks for fixing my mistyped words in advance. I don't have time to proof read)


I agree with your disagreement.

The first sign of a someone losing in a debate on a message board it their correction of typing or grammar.

Carry on...


The NFL, what? Bro, the author was drawing parallels between the military and Football, not saying it was the only reason our military kicks so much ass. And you are absolutely insane if you think that superior technology is the only reason our military is the best. Our soldiers are, overall, better trained than those of other countries (though I think our training can and should be improved dramatically in some situations).

Maybe you didn't know this, but for the majority of WWII, the Allied nations' military technology was inferior to those of the Axis powers - particularly the Nazis. It's about the people - Having well trained soldiers is critical to a great military, superior technology is useless without them.


Let's get a game of Football going between the liberals and the Conservatives.

I'd pay cash to get the ball and have e-hater between me and the goal line.

Or, imagine the look on lumpy's face if he saw Cream bearing down on him.

My God, that would be good.



Panther, I don't know if you could be further off base. Growing up in Canada, I had one or two channels of Canadian television and many channels of American television.

Now that cable and satellite are prevalent it is even more likely that I can choose to watch just about anything you do... especially when it comes to major sporting events.

Why am I even discussing this? You think your television shows define you, and because of them you are better than the rest of the world? Hahahaha.

Also, I don't know where you get off inventing my history, but I have certainly played my share of sports. Of course I'm not a pro athlete or anything, but not many people are.

Anyway, if you actually come up with something useful to say instead of just bashing me because I don't agree with this silly article, let me know.

Wait, I know, howabout you try to show the article has merit, instead of trying to show I don't -- they aren't the same thing you know.


But, if I was between you and the goal line, who would I be looking at... you are creamsy? or both? Any hoo, bring it on if you're ever in Co. Don't fantasize, actualize, make it happen jerffy.


But wait, I thought the first sign you were losing was that you were explaining yourself. That's what you told me... Sheesh.

Perhaps the first sign you're losing is mindlessly repetitive posts, that seem to cry out for a background of techno music. [i.e. "Go Chewy! Go Chewy!" -- I kept waiting to read: "It's your birthday."]


Jerffy, are you having violent masturbatory Internet tough guy fantasies again?

[Where else did you think the alter ego "Cream" comes from...]