Wicked Deeds of Honorable Men. Are Soldiers Heroes or Villains? March 3, 2016

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

John Locke said What!? March 1, 2016

Wow! Impressive to see some citation of one of the great and foundational thinkers of Classical Liberal/ Libertarian thought.  This blog post draws nearly exclusively from Jason’s show on March 1st, so I’ll link to that show here.  Of course I’d encourage you to listen to the entire show as always, but the relevant part comes about 15 minutes in and peters out about 26 or 27 minutes into the program.

It is true that Locke gave argumentation for a state, not where Jason quoted. Let’s deal  with Locke first.

“Liberty is freedom from restraint and violence by others; and this can’t be had where there is no law. This freedom is not—as some say it is—a freedom for every man to do whatever he wants to do (for who could be free if every other man’s whims might dominate him?); rather, it is a freedom to dispose in any way he wants of his person, his actions, his possessions, and his whole property—not to be subject in any of this to the arbitrary will of anyone else but freely to follow his own will, all within whatever limits are set by the laws that he is under.”  (page 20 online pdf)

If I am free from restraint, and from violence by others, nor am I allowed to restrain or do violence to others, then what laws might be set over us? If it is a law not to steal, or kill, that’s fine, but… If it is a law to pay taxes under penalty of prison, and to show papers when leaving the country or else you can’t leave, isn’t this violence and restraint?

Locke laid out a lot of the groundwork for later thinkers, but I don’t think Locke was so oblivious to where his own thoughts would lead him. Strictly speaking, his treatise does support a state, but when you start to look between the lines and consider the context of his times, nearly 100 years before the American Colonies gained independence from Great Britain, a republican or democratic government was crazy enough. Locke didn’t want his writing burned? What if he had followed his thoughts out to their logical conclusion?

If I can’t aggress against others, they can’t aggress against me, and others cannot aggress against others, then how are taxes to be levied? How are regulations supposed to be imposed? How can morality be dictated? Who will force parents to feed their children?

Locke drops this question pretty quickly and Jason drops it even quicker, though he has no royal court that might put him in the tower for treasonous papers, or crazy clerics who would burn his books were he to get too far off the 3×5 card.

Jason paraphrases Locke, saying, “How do we enforce these laws? With force.”  YES! Very true.  Anarchists are not pacifists. We are just non-aggressors. The bad guy does the aggressing, and we meet that aggression with force to repel it, and to see justice done. This needs its own article, but it’s enough to say here that the first principle of justice, which is all but forgotten today, is to make the victim whole as much as possible.

Back to Jason and Locke. The Law, we need law… And Locke just articulated the natural law. It can be enforced by any and all able bodied men.

It is as if someone had realized that man needs to eat, and then asked, “Who will bake the bread?” “Can the baker bake without the consent of the fed?”   Of course we can all bake bread, at least a little bread, but there will be professionals in bread making just as there would be in enforcing the law. The market would see to it that any agency that is so unpopular would not survive indefinitely.

We can all agree that we have a (natural) Law that we live under and that we should all follow, but it is a non sequitur to draw from this fact the conclusion that only the king, the senate, the emperor, the high council, the sovereign- in other words the government should have a monopoly in determining exactly what the natural law consists of, determining who is guilty of violating the Law, and has a monopoly in apprehending law breakers and punishing them.

My whole deal with Locke is that he was a radical thinker for his own time, but that his times set a boundary line which he dared not cross. I can’t say this definitively, but his arguments for rights, for self-ownership, and for property are argued with such zeal and force and determination. The wimpy little arguments put up for the establishment of states is just not impressive at all, and they are given such little effort.  My bet is that John Locke today would be a Rothbardian in the same way Isaac Newton would be an Einsteinian.  For both men, their era and the advance of the field of their sciences only allowed them to go so far and no further.

Libertarian Candidates

I’ve been wanting to say something about message, and maybe I have, but I appreciate Perry being in the debate. Perry is the most radical of those on stage, the one who said he didn’t know if he could even take the oath of office. He’s the one that wants to dissolve the union and usher in the stateless society.  Jason is right, his views are too far out there for most people;  I hope he doesn’t get the nomination. But, it’s great that he’s running, because there are people that need to hear it. The person who would consider Johnson needs to hear Perry explain the fundamentals of a stateless society, so that he can be challenged.

Maybe I have this wrong or maybe I’m just in a different place than most people. I live in SW Oklahoma, not much happens outside of Football Season, and life just passes by.  Half the time I’m not trying to get a person to change their mind, I think they can do that well enough. I’m just trying to get the person to use his mind, to think, to explore new ideas and give those ideas a fair hearing.

Whether or not they do all that, they are definitely exposed to some new ideas from Perry.

I haven’t even picked up John Locke in 12 years or so, so that was a lot of fun. It seems I remember someone giving a talk about Locke, and how much more radical he was than what he let on. If I can I’ll look it up and put up a link to it when I find it.