Forgive a somewhat rambling post – several recent and not-so-recent events have prompted my thoughts here….
When I started this blog, I didn’t really have it in mind that I would write much about history – and that much of that history would focus on war. Also when I started this blog, while I felt empathy with those who are victims in war – the non-combatants foremost – my further writing and reflection has brought this empathy into sharp focus.
I think the first revisionist war topic that I wrote about with some substance was the myth behind Pearl Harbor – in some ways a subject no longer controversial to even the professional supporters of FDR, although still a narrative than might result in a fist fight if questioned in the wrong crowd. Since then, the list of my work on this topic has grown rather long.
After several posts on the revisionist view of war history, I began to understand one reason I was drawn to this topic: war and the military is a god to many in the West, certainly in the United States. It is supported by myths (the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor as a complete surprise, the bombs ended the war, the US brings democracy to the world, Germany started every war, blah, blah, blah); these myths deserve to die.
In my own small way, I felt I could contribute to destroying these myths – I am satisfied if I feel I might have reached even one person with a post on this topic.
After some time, I began to put together something else: for a libertarian, war is THE issue. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that to be a libertarian this must be so; I am suggesting that in war, every violation of freedom is to be found – whether on the (so-called) winning side or losing side. Absent war, life for all would be much freer.
In war, everything about liberty and freedom hinges. To begin: the life and death of the victims. I recall reading, in the book Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, by John Finnis, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., and Germain Grisez:
If I may hark back to those charming debates of the 1950s, it has always seemed to me that red is better than dead because the red can choose to be dead but the dead cannot choose to be anything at all.
It is, of course, unarguable. Not to get into an afterlife discussion (as you are free to advance yourself toward this end whenever you like), is there any separation from liberty more complete and permanent than death? Yet, if one finds himself in a situation that he prefers “dead” to “red” (so to speak), he can always make this choice for himself. “Give me liberty or give me death.” Those alive are free to choose; those taken to death without a choice? Not so much.
I was happy to find that once again, like on so many other topics, I found myself in a square occupied by Rothbard many years before. I recall reading or hearing somewhere that Rothbard felt war was the paramount issue, the most significant issue to address by those of us who care about liberty. I can’t find the quote (although, a read of this article, sent to me by a friend, will likely lead you to this conclusion). I found another quote that at least somewhat comes to the same point:
It is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society.
While this quote does not touch on the issue of death separating the victim from liberty on this earth, I have no doubt regarding Rothbard’s view on this matter.
This sounds so simple to me now; humbly I submit it wasn’t always so for me.
Walter Block wrote in 2008 about why he would support Obama over McCain (and I won’t bother to get the exact post, it was something like this). The most important differentiator between the two was on this issue: the likelihood of war under each of the two. He has recently written something similar as regards Rand Paul – compared to any other likely presidential candidate, Block feels that Rand is the most likely to be reflective and conservative when it comes to exercising military power.
I don’t mean to introduce a discussion about they are all bad, there is no difference between democrats and republicans, why support any politician at all, libertarians shouldn’t vote, etc. On this very specific point, I conclude Block is right – what would “bombs-away” McCain have done by now with Iran? Syria? Russia? What about Hillary in 2016?
In a recent conversation in the comments of this post, it was suggested to me that those who tell Americans to convert to Islam or die are evil and should be killed before they actually commit any violent act – again, paraphrasing. At least they leave the poor Americans a choice. What about those who give no choice? What about those who give no choice to those who have nothing to do with the fighting? In other words, what about the American military?
I have grown significantly more empathetic to the victims of war – as mentioned, I have felt this way to some degree for some time even before I started this blog: I have family and friends close enough to the death of war as non-combatants to make this somewhat real to me. But as I have read and written over the years, I believe this feeling has mushroomed.
Perhaps it is for this reason that this subject at times causes my testy side to come out. The ignorance by so many about the reality of those from the military whom they worship – on Sundays in church, before every sporting event, etc. Or the simple-minded acceptance of fear-mongering. What miserable human beings.
I recently saw some discussion on the news – is the bombing of ISIS effective? The war-monger guest made Bill O’Reilly sound like Ron Paul! He felt the bombing was not effective because there wasn’t enough of it – B-52s and B-1s should carpet bomb; and don’t worry, non-combatants would not be harmed.
Setting aside the immorality of the man, I thought “is the bombing effective at what?” It is certainly something more than destroying ISIS – whatever that is and whoever invented it. ISIS isn’t the only, or last, of its type.
Kill all the radical Muslims – how many, even on the edges of the libertarian community, hold this view? Define “radical.” The only definition that I can come up with that makes any sense for this crowd is “anyone who doesn’t like America,” meaning the American government. This is the only objective that makes sense, if one is to ascribe even one scintilla of “sense” to this war on terror.
The only “effective” end to this, however, is to kill 1.5 billion Muslims. Even if one can somehow justify killing another for an act the other might do, collateral damage in this war is a certainty – ask Mr. B-52 bomber. Out of the friends and family of the victims, at least one new angry “radical” Muslim will be born. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually kill them all.
Is this the answer? Because it is the only “effective” answer to the only even remotely meaningful objective in this war on terror.
They don’t even stop to think if a few ragheads in a cave 10,000 mile away can actually put their dreams of meeting 1000 virgins in action by killing all of us infidels. The entire notion is so nonsensical; there is a children’s tale that might be helpful for these immature minds.
With all of this said, far fewer are dying from war today than has been the case in recent (meaning the last 100 years) history. It is one reason I consider that overall the human population today enjoys more liberty than during any earlier time in the last century.
Is this a reason to not write about war? After all, it is globally a much smaller problem today than at any time since perhaps the end of Vietnam. I don’t mean to diminish the deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc. For each individual victim, there is no difference. But for the human race, compared to World War II? Compared to life under Stalin or Mao?
But it isn’t eliminated. I know it won’t be as long as humans are human; but one less war is one more victory for liberty.
I enjoy writing about war – morbid, perhaps, but there it is. I enjoy learning that I know little about the things that I thought I knew. I don’t need any more reason than this. Yet, more importantly, I find it one of the more important subjects that I tackle.
If Rothbard didn’t say that war is the paramount issue for libertarians, he should have. For the libertarian, the answer to every question is war. The rest, relatively speaking, is noise.