In times like these, a lot of very strange thoughts emerge and are rediscovered. Just as we are forgetting the horrors of the latest world war (the second, that is) some are arguing for the great benefits of war. As should be expected, some are arguing wars should be waged for the sake of economy. Expected? Yes. If we have forgotten all about the horrors of war, then surely we must have forgotten everything about Frédéric Bastiat’s famous essay on the “Broken Window” fallacy from 1850 (see That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen). Even some economists seem stupid enough to claim a little killing and destroying is a great plan for getting the economy going.
But the real argument at times like these is the argument of preeminent attacks for the sake of safety. Even a lot of libertarians, who supposedly advocate the non-aggression principle and oppose the State, seem to embrace the state in “times like these” and argue for war. For these people negating two fundamental principles must, just like two negatives in math, generate a positive. Rather than opposing the killing of people and the stealing from other people to finance the killings, they support and sometimes even argue for more killings. In common libertarian terminology, this would translate to supporting more looting of innocent people to finance the brutal killing of more innocents. And the State gets to increase its powers too.
I have come to realize that this issue usually isn’t something people are willing to debate. There are no real arguments involved – only feelings of fear and helplessness. However, I cannot resist doing so. To me, claiming to be libertarian or freedom-loving while advocating war is so preposterous I get physically sick just thinking about it. The contradiction should be obvious, but for some reason these people are unable to see it no matter how clearly it is spelled out for them.
One of my fellow students has these views and said something interesting the other day, which is why I once again touch on the subject liberty vs. war. He is not a libertarian and certainly not anarchist, but he seems to be very close to it even though he has accepted the myths of democratic rule as a “free” society. The reason I found his views interesting is how he commented on politics: he would love to see an “army” (no pun intended) of Ron Paul people elected for Congress, but he would absolutely hate to have one of them (maybe Ron Paul himself) in the White House.
This might seem quite strange, especially since we know that the Constitution of the United States allows only Congress to wage and declare wars – the President “only” carries out the order. However, as things are nowadays, with the enormous recent power grabs of the executive branch under the Bushian regime, it might not be strange to utter such a thought. If the executive branch of government is the one working to ensure safety of the nation and Congress is to rule the nation itself, this comment would make more sense.
The reason for this statement was that this person would like to see government radically pushed back and liberty restored, both economic and social such. But at the same time, he would like to see a strong defense and an active role of the United States government in the world in order to stop possible threats to the nation. What this boils down to is that this person, like so many people of a somewhat libertarian streak, like most of the polices of Ron Paul – but not his foreign policy.
They have no problem with cutting on spending, rolling back government, restoring liberty and literally free the people and the economy from the chains of government. But they do not wish to do it at the cost of sacrificing security – they see the world as a threat that has to be “managed,” while the management of the nation is illegitimate, immoral, offensive, inefficient, and wrong.
A nation, these people claim, has a right to rule itself and it has a inviolate right to self defense. If the threat is big enough, a preeminent strike could very well be justified. In our day and age, and with all the emerging threats from the far sides of the world, government must be both active and present in order to protect the nation and its people. At the same time, the argument for government per se is to protect the nation’s liberty, without which it loses its soul. Government is a necessary evil that has recently become a little more necessary.
Benjamin Franklin’s famous words that “[a]ny society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both,” come to mind.
Trying to learn more about this strange way of thinking, I ask further questions on what would be “okay” or “necessary.” If “America” (for some reason, the people advocating war tend to avoid using the word “government”) has the right to “protect itself” through murdering people in other countries, thereby violating other state’s “rights” to sovereignty, doesn’t this equally apply to other countries seeing “America” as a threat?
Yes, is the answer. Every nation has a right to defend itself, not only “America.” So I ask what he thinks about having other countries coming here to kill people and bomb cities as soon as they see the Bushian Empire as a threat. The answer?
“Ha! Let them try.”
Even though this comment was part joke, it strikes at the very heart of the argument: the United States government has a right to go anywhere to kill anyone simply because they can. A nation’s right to protect itself is in effect synonymous with might makes right. Other countries’ governments have the full right to cross the Atlantic or Pacific oceans to kill people on American soil, but the can’t and won’t because America is stronger. So even if the US government goes all around the world to intervene in domestic business – even killing people – for some distant and absurd interpretation of “protecting” America, and this should likely make someone somewhere consider the US government a threat, it is nothing we need to care about. Because “we’re stronger.”
This is an interesting logic that has led even many wise men astray. What it really translates to is that “we” can do what we want because no one else has the power to touch us, even though it is often mentioned in rationalizing terms like “just” or “legitimate” wars fought for the sake of “security” and to do away with threats.
As with any logical argument its validity can easily be tested. Think of yourself as a citizen of Kuwait in 1990 and apply the same logic. Could the state of Iraq in any way see Kuwait as a threat, which would then give them the right to attack and occupy it? The answer would probably be no, especially since we have learned through history that the United States government and 33 other governments, under UN flag, condemned the attack and forcefully removed Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwaiti territory. The so-called international community considered the Iraqi attack so unjust and unwarranted that they in turn occupied and enforced rules on Iraqi territory.
So obviously Iraq did not have the right to attack Kuwait. (Did you notice, by the way, how individuals suddenly disappeared from the argument? We are only talking about faceless abstractions and have totally forgotten about all the people getting hurt – and killed – while we try to establish which abstraction has a “right” and which does not.)
The question is then: what gives you the right? Weapons of mass destruction has been claimed as an argument. The housing of terrorists too. After all, both of these – even though they turned out to be lies rather than misinformation – were arguments for the US attack on Iraq and the killing of Saddam Hussein (a former ally who was trained by and gained power thanks to the CIA). Being a non-ally and mentioning nuclear weapons – like Iran – also seems sufficient argument for a preeminent attack according to some.
What we need to ask at this moment, after having rejected the idea of Iraq seeing Kuwait as a threat in 1990, is whether the Iraqi government possibly could have made up lies about Kuwait having weapons of mass destruction or housing terrorists or thinking of developing nukes only to legitimize an attack. Yes or no?
If your answer is “no” then you are saying that the government of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, really, a brute and madman trained by the CIA, couldn’t possibly have made something up and lied only to support his own views? I say you would probably be a lot better off lobotomized; your views are so absurd that you must be insane.
On the other hand, if your answer is “yes,” then we need to ask ourselves if the international community would have waged war on Iraq in 1990 even if Saddam Hussein would have claimed “but they might be thinking of building a bomb.” The answer is pretty obvious: of course they would. And the people advocating the ongoing war on Iraq and a future strike on Iran always – I yet have to find one exception – support the first Gulf War and how the UN and US acted in it. And they always claim it was right. So much for the argument that every nation has a right to protect itself. Unless it can be argued that an Iraqi attack on Kuwait was a serious threat to the US and UK and the 32 other nations (and I bet someone is willing to argue this).
What it boils down to is that “might is right,” at least when the mighty agrees with the person doing the arguing. After all, might is right when the US government goes overseas to kill people – but it is not right when the same government steals from and abuses people at home. The same entity doing the same thing is therefore both right and wrong – depending on who is the victim.
So put people like Ron Paul in Congress to keep government off our backs. We cannot trust government and we have a right to liberty, so government should be held at a tight leash. But only domestically. We need a warmongering idiot in the White House with the “right” to kill foreign people and – literally – bomb the shit out of them any time he (or she) for some reason thinks there might be, or could arise, a threat.
No wonder people advocating this aren’t willing to take part in civilized debates on the issues. I sure wouldn’t if I had these views – it would just make it obvious to everybody what a complete idiot I am.