Monday, May 26, 2014

Some Thoughts for Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, where everyone commemorates our "heroes" who "died for us" to "protect our liberty and freedom." Many believe that celebrating and commemorating the troops is a legitimate way of expressing thankfulness.

However, for many libertarians and freedom lovers out there, Memorial Day is a sad day that celebrates not only militarism, the police state and everything wrong with America's system, but also celebrates the wars that have hurt us in the long run. It is also a sad remembrance of the lives that were needlessly lost, of the lives who died for lies, and for the lives who are forever damaged for no good reason (think of the PTSD many soldiers suffer today as a result of their fighting in unjust wars).

Here are some thoughts that I have collected with regard to why Memorial Day shouldn't be celebrated conventionally.

1. The troops do not defend our freedoms. Rather, they work for the State to fight in unjust and often unconstitutional wars that result in the deaths of innocent civilians, chaos, and terror. The Iraq War resulted in al-Qaeda entering the area and chaos reigning. The Afghanistan War resulted in more deaths of non-combatants and civilians. The Vietnam War allowed for massacres from the troops and was unjust from the start. And almost none of the wars the American government has fought were just. That includes WWII, where the abominable bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and other areas by the Allies abounded. The lesson here is that contrary to what we are told, the troops don't defend our freedoms. Some in the military have that intention indeed, but by and large this is not the case with what actually happens.

2. War is the health of the state, and that's a bad thing. As the great anti-war activist Randolph Bourne once wisely stated, "War is the health of the state." it is, indeed. Without war, the state can't exactly survive and grow. It is often in war situations that the state would use propaganda and force to increase its own size, largess and power. And after the war is over, there is little to no return to the pre-war conditions in the sense that the state has already increased. Robert Higgs calls this the "ratchet effect." This was the case with WWI and WWII. With WWI, the government increased in size and stayed that way, even during the post-WWI period. And with WWII, the national-security state and the military-industrial complex were both cemented and our wars have become more and more unconstitutional since that point.

3. All American wars can thus be considered unjust themselves. Considering that most of these wars I mentioned consisted of the initiation of force—aggression—against civilians, most of these wars would thus be considered unjust. For an illustration, let's turn to Murray Rothbard's essay "War, Peace and the State":
Let us set aside the more complex problem of the State for awhile and consider simply relations between "private" individuals. Jones finds that he or his property is being invaded, aggressed against, by Smith. It is legitimate for Jones, as we have seen, to repel this invasion by defensive violence of his own. But now we come to a more knotty question: is it within the right of Jones to commit violence against innocent third parties as a corollary to his legitimate defense against Smith? To the libertarian, the answer must be clearly, no. Remember that the rule prohibiting violence against the persons or property of innocent men is absolute: it holds regardless of the subjective motives for the aggression. It is wrong and criminal to violate the property or person of another, even if one is a Robin Hood, or starving, or is doing it to save one's relatives, or is defending oneself against a third man's attack. We may understand and sympathize with the motives in many of these cases and extreme situations. We may later mitigate the guilt if the criminal comes to trial for punishment, but we cannot evade the judgment that this aggression is still a criminal act, and one which the victim has every right to repel, by violence if necessary. In short, A aggresses against B because C is threatening, or aggressing against, A. We may understand C's "higher" culpability in this whole procedure; but we must still label this aggression as a criminal act which B has the right to repel by violence. 
To be more concrete, if Jones finds that his property is being stolen by Smith, he has the right to repel him and try to catch him; but he has no right to repel him by bombing a building and murdering innocent people or to catch him by spraying machine gun fire into an innocent crowd. If he does this, he is as much (or more of) a criminal aggressor as Smith is.
Most wars, especially American wars, have violated this rule not to harm innocents, either through deliberate intention or carelessness on the part of those who took part in the war (either could be true). Notice I am not talking about the unintentional and inevitable deaths of some civilians, as sometimes that may happen accidentally. What I am talking about is the deliberate or careless bombings of areas which innocent civilians populate, involving the use of disproportionate force. This was the case with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombings of Dresden, and the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan in our era. The soldiers who participated in these wars, in their attempt to "get the bad guys," often used disproportionate force that killed non-aggressive innocents. If it's not justified for civilians to practice self-defense in such a manner, neither is it appropriate for the State to do such.

4. Sometimes even leftists can be right about war. Conservatives who read this post may assume that I am taking sides with the leftists in my condemnation of warfare statism. I will respond by conceding that sometimes leftists may be right about war. Yes, I don't agree with them when it comes to political correctness and the state, but even they can be right about the warfare state. Just because they are wrong on other areas doesn't discount when they are right, even when it is uncomfortable to admit such. In fact, some of the best anti-war work out there is done by leftists with whom I would depart company with on most other issues. Now, the leftist and the libertarian oppose war from differing vantage points, the leftist from the anti-corporate viewpoint and the libertarian from a anti-statist (or limited-government) viewpoint. And leftists can sometimes be inconsistent as to how anti-war they are; for example, many leftists who rightly opposed GWB's warfare statism either ignored or gleefully cheered on the actions of Obama that bear striking resemblance to Bush's actions. Libertarians are generally far more consistent and clear in their opposition to the anti-war views, but I find nothing bad about agreeing with the left at times.


This Memorial Day I am of the belief that the troops are not defending our freedoms, our freedom doesn't come because of the government and the military, statism is not the answer to anything, it's OK to agree with leftists on anti-war stuff, and that in the end, the warfare state is only hurting us, not helping us. If one is to celebrate Memorial Day, one should celebrate it as a call for non-interventionism, peace, and a rejection of militarism and statism in all its forms.

N.B.: The only just wars in American history were the American Revolution and the Southern secession in 1861, the former because it was a libertarian revolution against British imperialism and statism and the latter because it was a separation from a pro-tariff Northern region. Yes, there were impure motives in both "wars," and the Southern Confederacy did have slavery as a main reason for their secession. Murray Rothbard, in his speech "Just War," says of the American Revolution:
In making their revolution, then, the Americans cast their lot, permanently, with a contractual theory or justification for government. Government is not something imposed from above, by some divine act of conferring sovereignty; but contractual, from below, by "consent of the governed." That means that American polities inevitably become republics, not monarchies. What happened, in fact, is that the American Revolution resulted in something new on earth. The people of each of the 13 colonies formed new, separate, contractual, republican governments. Based on libertarian doctrines and on republican models, the people of the 13 colonies each set up independent sovereign states: with powers of each government strictly limited, with most rights and powers reserved to the people, and with checks, balances, and written constitutions severely limiting state power.

He also says on the Southern War for Independence (also called the War of Northern Aggression):

One of the central grievances of the South, too, was the tariff that Northerners imposed on Southerners whose major income came from exporting cotton abroad. The tariff at one and the same time drove up prices of manufactured goods, forced Southerners and other Americans to pay more for such goods, and threatened to cut down Southern exports. The first great constitutional crisis with the South came when South Carolina battled against the well named Tariff of Abomination of 1828. As a result of South Carolina's resistance, the North was forced to reduce the tariff, and finally, the Polk administration adopted a two-decade long policy of virtual free trade.
In both cases, the respective states that the Southern seceders and the American revolutionaries opposed were on the side of injustice here, and in the Southern case, it was the United States government that was on the unjust side (though the Confederate government did have its share of injustices). So it's fair to say that in these two "just wars," the American government didn't fight them but rather those who rebelled agianst the State. With the American revolutionaries, it was a national-liberation movement agianst British imperialism—in essence, it was a "people's war." And with the Southern secession, it was a separation from Northern/Union statism.