If men do not now succeed in abolishing war, civilization and mankind are doomed.
– Ludwig von Mises
One of the most profound comments on war and defense ever made was written towards the end of WW-I by Randolph Bourne: "War is the health of the State." His observation turns conventional wisdom (that government - the State - exists to protect citizens) clean on its head; he is suggesting that in wartime, the State flourishes as in no other situation, extending its power and influence in sometimes irreversible ways and even commanding deep loyalty and obedience by those citizens.
The thought is that rather than striving always to avoid war, perhaps governments often seek war so as to increase their own popularity and/or power at home. That would certainly help explain why wars take place so very often.
1. "Defense"?Since the mid-1900s in the USA the government war function has been called the "Department of Defense" rather than that of "War." Perhaps the new name makes it more palatable - but let's check some history. Please now call to mind the most recent year in which America needed "defending" from an unprovoked attack by a foreign enemy:
Those years are the most obvious times when this country was apparently in peril, and the striking thing about the answers is that there is not a single case among them when there was a clear, unambiguous, unprovoked attack or threat of one. This therefore raises the question: why is a "Defense" function needed? Was Randolph Bourne right - are the Feds in the business of initiating war, rather than preventing it?
The most popular American war was WW-II - after it had been so deceptively started, by FDR. Everyone was deceived into thinking Japan had mounted a wicked, surprise attack and desire for revenge was almost universal; Hitler obliged FDR by declaring war on the US shortly afterwards and so the stage was set for the deadly drama that ended in Berlin and Nagasaki four years later. FDR, though he did not live to see it, achieved his evident ambition to place the USA in a world-dominating position, which it still retains; history (being always written by the victor) uses the savage murders of millions of Jews as its "justification" - even though in 1941 no large-scale death camps had even been built and even though FDR had turned back a shipload of Jewish refugees in 1939 when they applied for asylum in the USA.
Popular it may have been; but it was as devastating as all other wars, and wholly needless from Americans' point of view. Had FDR not aggravated Japan in July 1941 there would have been no Pearl Harbor; absent Pearl, the 80% of Americans opposed to intervention in Europe would have prevailed; absent US intervention or the prospect of it Britain would have had to reach an accommodation with Germany such as Hitler repeatedly sought; absent that Western Front Hitler would almost certainly have prevailed over the Soviet Union and a German-dominated peace, of sorts, would have been restored in Europe. That would have been dreadful, of course, but it's quite possible that Jews would have been allowed to emigrate (as they were actually, through 1940) rather than be murdered; and it's certain that the horrendous death toll of about 65 million human beings would never have been suffered.
So much for the so-called "good war" that took over 400,000 American lives. Some of the non-defensive American wars since 1900 are as follows:
- Spanish-American War 1898-1902
- Philippine-American War 1899-1901
- Mexico Intervention, 1914-17
- Mexico Intervention again, 1918
- Soviet Union Intervention, 1918
- World War I 1917-18
- World War II 1941-45
- Korean War 1950-53
- Vietnam War 1964-75
- Iran Hostage Rescue Attempt, 1980
- Grenada Invasion, 1983
- Panama Invasion 1989
- Gulf War 1991
- Haiti Invasion 1994
- Kosovo Intervention 1999
- Afghan War 2001 -
- Iraq War 2003 -
In all these cases the Feds created an apparent "justification" for war which the population swallowed - at least for a while. Sometimes the government resorted to outright fraud to create that support, as in the case of Pearl Harbor and the Gulf of Tonkin. Usually, support evaporated when the promises of easy victory failed to materialize and as the body bags came home.
Conclusion so far:
Government involves Americans in wars large or small every few years, without any defensive need
2. Why Governments Wage WarSo it's not to defend the people, as they claim; that's clear from the foregoing. Why, then, is war waged? Take a broad view of history and see if you can guess:
A pretty sordid group of motives, right? - and a sordid bunch of murderers whom it motivates, and a sordid and revolting activity war is, once one's attention passes from the marching bands and smart uniforms and fictions about "patriotism" and "glory" and "honor". There is nothing patriotic or glorious or honorable about slaughtering people one has never met, and with whom one has no quarrel, merely because one is so ordered by government.
Nor is there anything but squalor about the inevitable outcome. In many American towns and hundreds of European ones, there are monuments to the War Dead with the Latin motto engraved: "Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori." It looks better in Latin, for readers may think it some noble sentiment, too grand to be expressed in mere, vulgar English; and so they swallow it more easily. Translation: "it is a sweet and noble thing, to die for one's country."
As any combat veteran will confirm, a comrade dying in agony with his intestines hanging out is neither sweet nor noble; this commonplace inscription must therefore rank as one of the greatest lies that governments ever tell.
Conclusion so far:
The "Garbage In" is to allow a government to guard the peace; the "Garbage Out" is an endless stream of war, destruction, misery and death.
3. Defense of a Free SocietyThat conclusion should not surprise the TOLFA student; for we have seen that humans own our own lives, and so would be (at best) extremely foolish to hand over self-defense responsibility to thugs who have no contractual obligation to protect us and who monopolize adjudication of claims against them! Government is a non-market institution, as we saw in Segment 2.
A question arises, though, now that we have seen that government is utterly unsuited to the task of defense. When government is replaced by a market and society becomes free, how will it best be defended against those who wish it ill?
The key point to grasp is (again) that a free-market society is not like a "country", ie a nation ruled by a government. It consists only of a large number of individuals, joined only by explicit, voluntary contracts among them. Therefore, there is no such thing as a "defensive need" for that non-country. Instead, there are millions of individual defensive needs - defense against foreseeable aggressors. We have already noted in Segment 6 how a free-market justice industry would rapidly develop to meet the market demand for justice services, and that those would probably include defense services such as night-watch and intruder-alarm and -response services of which many already exist - and that such might be allied with an insurance industry for the most efficient way to restore a damaged individual.
Are there other threats? - possibly; a foreign government might observe the immensely high standard of living in a neighboring free-market society, and consider invasion so as to obtain some loot. In essence according to Oppenheimer, that's how governments arose originally. The question of defense against that reduces to the question of how to deter such a government; how to de-motivate it, to turn its greedy eyes in some other direction.
It's possible that that insurance and protection industry would evolve in a way to provide the service of defense against foreign aggressors, but perhaps more likely the one-word solution would rather be a "porcupine."
Today, if one nation-state envies a neighbor, its government's calculation is: how much (territory, resource) can we gain by invasion, and for what cost? - there's a cost-benefit reckoning, just as might be done by any intelligent bunch of thieves. The calculation will count the neighbor's army, estimate its resolve, observe who rules it and what popular support he enjoys. And if he reckons he can defeat that army and quickly obtain a surrender from that leader and submit the population to his purposes he will - like Hitler did regarding France in 1940 - launch a blitzkrieg and conquer the once-proud neighbor in six weeks flat, knowing its military to be ill-prepared and unimaginative and its leaders to be deeply divided and ill-supported.
But if the neighbor has no leader, nor any organized military force but "just" 100 million households that are well-armed and determined to remain individually free of any government control, he will see it as a porcupine and stay away. How, he will ask his generals, will you suppress that many snipers for whom no leader can negotiate a surrender? - and they will not know the answer. Instead, they will wonder how to maintain morale when every night, their men are being shot in the back and every day, their vehicles are being blown up by IEDs. In fact, they may point to Iraq, as a situation into which they never want to be sent; for while the Iraqi insurgents have nothing in common with a market society they do share this: they amount to a resolute, decentralized set of people determined not to be ruled by a foreign, invading army!
An alternative way in which a free society might arrange an effective deterrent would be that of nonviolent resistance. In this scenario, well described on this "Voluntaryist" site members of the society simply let it be known that if anyone sets up in business as their "government" they will ignore its commands. What, exactly, can those commanders then do? They may round up some at random and kill them; such was done by Nazi occupiers in Europe during WW-II. Still, if such brutality had no effect and still nobody obeyed, the conqueror would have either to kill everyone or to withdraw; either way, he loses. There is no way to impose a government on a society that does not want one! It's a perceptive insight.
That being so and with such examples before them, the high probability is that no invasion will occur. And if someone miscalculates and invades anyway, out may come the shotguns and rifles and RPGs and mortars and no victory will ever be achieved and eventually, the invader will realize that costs far exceed benefits and he will find an excuse to go back home. Extra reason: there was nobody who could negotiate a surrender, a submission; and for that matter there was no machinery for collecting taxes from the productive population and handing them over to the conqueror. In short: because there was no government.
4. Segment ReviewMore perhaps than for anything else, pro-government people claim that government is needed for defense. We have seen that that claim is absolutely hollow - that in fact the presence of a government always leaves individuals exposed to harm, not protected in any degree.
At the head of this Segment is a quote from Ludwig von Mises, proposing that "If men do not now succeed in abolishing war, civilization and mankind are doomed" and now it should be clear that there's only one way to abolish war, and that's to abolish government. We've already seen an abundance of other reasons to do that; than this one, there can be none more pressing.
So once again, TOLFA has turned conventional wisdom right on its head. Before moving on, therefore, please attempt these questions to consolidate what's been learned, check any difficulties with your Mentor, and take plenty of time in the Reading List.
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5
For further reading:
Maj-Gen Smedley Butler on Interventionism
Captain Davies and Private Slovik
The War Prayer by Mark Twain
Day of Infamy: July 26th, 1941
Without Firing a Single Shot
This is a Government War
The Meaning of Nagasaki
Anyone for War?
"1984" by George Orwell
"The Prince" by Niccolo Macchiavalli (audiotape)
"The State" by Franz Oppenheimer
"Tragic Deception" by Hamilton Fish
"The New Dealers' War" by Thomas Fleming
Movies to see: Born on the Fourth of July Saving Private Ryan