I feel like I may have covered this topic before, but I’m not sure. I know it has come up on Facebook; hopefully this post will put the matter to rest, as far as where I, and most reasonable libertarians, come down on military service.
I don’t believe war is simply murder. A war can be justified, but only when it is fought to resist state aggression. Usually this justification is tempered by the fact that the resistance to the state action is coming from another state. Such as, if Canada were to all of a sudden march an army down south and invade us, the U.S. would actually be justified in fighting a war against Canada. In the first case, I refer to revolutions, and wars of secession.
In those cases, soldiers can enlist or fight and, as far as I’m concerned, they are not only justified, but they are heroes.
On the other hand, there are wars that are just simply naked aggression by one state against another state and its people. Or, at least thinly veiled aggression… maybe scantily clad… the point is there is some sliver of justification, like WMD’s, or the Zimmerman papers… or Firing on Ft Sumter… All terrible excuses for the sacrifice of lives on the scale to which they were lost.
In such an event, I don’t believe the war is justified, and thus the soldier is not justified in fighting it. Yes, as a matter of honor he may have to fight; I see the logic and the validity in such an argument. However, at the very least, Jason should concede that 3 or 4 or 10 years into an unjust war, you can’t rest on the honor argument when you’ve only enlisted or reenlisted since the initiation of an unjust war.
Look. The guy who was already in, a bad war breaks out, he’s obligated to serve and he should finish the last 2 years or 6 months or whatever and then not re-enlist period. We have been through this crap now for right at 200 years starting with the war of 1812. Besides the Southern States, we haven’t been invaded since then… So who thinks it’s really that great of an idea to join in the first place!?
Of course, I did. Here is where I’ll turn to my more extreme friends and remind them that not everyone has the same knowledge. It’s one of those, “What did you know and when did you know it?” deals. Man, if you enlisted in the marines after you knew what they did, and what went on over there, and WHY! and you thought that seemed like a good idea, I think the technical term for that is “F*cked Up.”
But, if a guy thought America was nothing but about freedom and democracy, and he was going to be liberating Iraqis like his grandad liberated Auschwitz, how can you find fault with that guy? He might be gullible, and he might not be all that bright, but morality necessitates knowledge. If he lacked the knowledge, he can’t be condemned on moral grounds.
Yes, there is a line somewhere where ignorance can’t work. Where a person’s ignorance is no excuse, such as when you break a law that has been published and is on the books, to not know it is not an excuse. Some might try to say we are at that point now with Iraq and Afghanistan, and would be if we got into Syria and Iran. Maybe so, but this is a gray area and it’s very difficult to get a hold of.
A stark example would be to look at the Japanese soldier and the position they were put in during WWII. The common man knew Japan wasn’t under attack at the outset of the war. They knew the Japanese started the war for the sake of expanding Japanese Imperial greatness. Those men who enlisted to invade China and the South Pacific, they are morally accountable; they knew it was wrong.
The fact that their honor, that their manhood was questioned if they didn’t go, that they were probably forced to when they didn’t volunteer, their acts were still wrong. Even if every other man he knew was going, that one guy was still wrong when he decided he would go too. Maybe if we’d been in that guys shoes we would have done the same thing. But he couldn’t use ignorance as his justification.
Now the question left to try to figure out is to what extent exactly is each individual in the army knowledgeable or in ignorance as to what is going on, and to what extent are they justified in being ignorant? Obviously a fool’s errand shows the absurdity of trying to pass moral judgements on men’s hearts.
Maybe I’m as guilty as anyone; I enlisted in 2006. It had been on for a while and I knew it would keep going on for at least another 2 years. I knew that the war was a bad one, and the way I justified it was to look at Robert E. Lee. He cut his teeth in the unjust Mexican War and then became a Hero in the last just war in which Americans fought. I reasoned that I could gain some valuable military skills that may come in handy one day. I further rationalized it by saying, “Well I’m only in the National Guard, so at least I won’t be a full time burden on the taxpayer.” Actually, it was all true, but none of it was a good enough reason to enlist in the middle of such a heinous and disgusting war.
That leads into another facet of this discussion. While I was in, I met a few honorable people who had the right amount of ignorance and the right amount of noble intentions. But, most were just ignorant and in it for the bonus, or to see the world, or because it was a job, or so they could get a skill, or go to college, or to meet men (this was before gays could serve openly so I assume this only applied to women).
So, you’re going to go through hell, and kill people so you can go to college for free? I’m not judging… or I’m trying not to, it’s just not good enough; it’s worse than my justifications!
But I also met quite a few young men who enlisted to “kill people,” to blow stuff up,” to “know what it was like to kill somebody,” and to “bomb some &%#ers!” Its hard to keep these individuals out of the “murderer column”. I don’t know, maybe the marines didn’t have anyone like that and it was just the artillery.
We need to wrap this up, so let’s move on to Jason’s brilliant counter argument. He asks, “Well what about you?! How guilty are you? You’re paying taxes, you’re paying for the bombs and the bullets, and paying for the cops and the judges and the prisons to put away men guilty of victimless crimes. You know if you think a man in uniform should go to jail rather than fight, maybe you should go to jail rather than pay taxes.”
He is so dangerously close to Étienne de La Boétie that it made the hair on my neck stand up when I heard it. One man cannot storm the bastille. Were he to try he wouldn’t be brave, or noble, or a hero, he would be a fool. And so it is with taxes and war, one soldier cannot be expected to lay down his rifle and go to jail (if he does he is a hero, but the hero is a hero because he does the unexpected) nor can a single citizen write a nasty letter to the IRS in lieu of payment. Both cases would be stupidity in the sense of self-interest. But together… If 500 men, if 1,000 men, if 5,000 men deserted in mass, what could be done? If 100,000 taxpayers refused to file and were defiant, what could the government do about it? This is what those with the moral outrage look at (not so much when it comes to taxes, but when it comes to actually killing other people). Bbecause they all don’t stop fighting, they are all immoral, because if they all stopped, they would do so with impunity. All of this seems like it would be sound were it not for a violation of a fundamental of liberty- My own- “methodological individualism.” Not that it is my own concept, I believe Menger might have first used it, but Mises really engrained it into my mind. It is to understand human action we have to look at the individual, and evaluate his actions, not the meaningless comings and goings of random people at random times through grand central station. Individuals have aims, but the society, the economy, does not.
The same is true here, and it is the reason why, as true as it is, that were all 200,000 troops in Iraq to quit the fight the war would be over. They could all desert and the government couldn’t do anything to them. But an unjust and immoral war persists because they do not, and yet it is not permissible to condemn any single individual for not deserting!
I want to get back to Étienne de La Boétie. He wrote in 16th century France and his most famous work is only a short essay, “The Politics of Obedience” as it is rendered in English, maybe 45 or 50 pages if I remember right. Given its magnitude and its brevity, it is one of those works which everyone should read. Who doesn’t have an hour to read this thing? Come on! 50 pages!
Oh but it is a challenge. He basically raises the question in a different way than what we’ve discussed above. How does the ruler beat the people except with their arms? And, how does he trample the people except with their feet? The people do not need to rise in revolution; they need to simply stop complying! Stop obeying, stop following unjust laws, and stop paying taxes to unjust rulers. This is actually what this guy said in the 1500s! Talk about being ahead of your time!
It seems to me his questions are still unanswered, why the people still comply, and why they still obey. For one man to be ruled over by another who is stronger is reasonable enough to be feasible. For one man to rule over 20 shows the cowardice of the 20 who have him outnumbered. But, how on earth “can a weak and puny little man with not enough virility to bed a common woman have at his command 10 million people?” He asked this of the French populace under the rule of the French King, but it is just as true today if not in the U.S. (which isn’t a dictatorship) but North Korea!
So get this handy little book for free, epub, audio, or hardcopy at the bookstore all at the same link Politics of Obedience.
This is by far my longest post ever, but I have to provide some more links.
It is true you can’t throw down your rifle and walk away, but once you see the wrong in what’s going on, you don’t have to keep doing what you’re doing for the next 2, 3, or 5 years. You can get out, and there is help.
First, I would encourage anyone interested to listen to this podcast, where Tom Woods talks to a fellow about how he avoided service during Vietnam and how he has helped other people get out of the military ever since. Then you can visit that guy’s website here: http://www.centeronconscience.org