Conscience On The Battlefield

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PROLOGUE

In
1951, during the Korean War, I wrote a pamphlet entitled Conscience
on the Battlefield.
War “as a means to peace among nations”
was then, and remains, a world-wide fallacy. Today, small wars go
on in various parts of the globe, and there is the possibility that
a big one is in the offing. Anyway, the mere likelihood of more
such nonsense warrants a reissue of this thesis — with some minor
changes.

Nonsense?
Congress declares war in which millions may be killed. But every
one of those legislators would be revolted by the thought of shooting
a single innocent man. The nonsense is millions times one!

For
the past 47 years, my ambition has been a better understanding and
explanation of freedom. This includes the abolishment of coercion
by individuals and/or governments and how to enlarge individual
liberty, economic and otherwise.

We,
as a people, are bent on a contrary course from which there appears
to be no possible return short of a willingness — indeed, an insistence
— honestly to examine every tenet we now hold. An analysis of liberty
that would, at this juncture, prove “popular,” would be useless.
Of course, it does not follow that an unpopular analysis would be
right merely because of its unpopularity. But it does follow that
unless it is highly controversial, and challenging to a great number
of persons, it cannot be consistent with the advancement of human
freedom. For popular ideas and liberty are now not in accord. Indeed,
they are at odds.

It
is strange that war, the most brutal of man's activities, requires
the utmost delicacy in discussion. Yet, anyone who even presumes
an interest in economic affairs cannot let the subject of war, or
the moral breakdown which underlies it, go untouched. To do so would
be as absurd — indeed, as dishonest — as a cleric to avoid the Commandment,
“Thou shalt not steal” simply because his parishioners had legalized
and were practicing theft.

War
is liberty's greatest enemy, and the deadly foe of economic progress.
If war be evil there must be a way to avoid it; there must be a
rationale, a type of thinking, patterns for living, that lead to
peace. These ways cannot be simple or we would invoke them. They
are not easily explained or we would know them. Thus, anyone who
attempts an exploration of these ways certainly will suggest unfamiliar
ideas. But such probing is the preface to understanding, and frankness
is the prelude to intelligent discussion.

Now
as to the presentation which follows: In February of 1918 some 2,500
of us were aboard the troopship Tuscania when it was sunk by a German
submarine. Many young Americans lost their lives in that disaster.

As
a 19-year old kid, I did not indulge in any deep philosophical thought
about war while that ship was sinking, or during the seemingly hopeless
hours spent in a collapsible contraption on a very cold and angry
Irish Sea. My thoughts were mostly about how to keep from freezing
and how to remain alive. But the more than 63 years that have since
passed have wrought their change.

What
would be my thoughts in a similar situation today? If, for instance,
I were wounded and awaiting death on a Korean battlefield, what
thoughts and ideas about war might I have in my last moments of
consciousness? If I could now come close to grasping what might
pass through my mind under such a circumstance, isn't it possible
that my thinking might thereby be enriched?

Therefore,
why not imagine a dialogue with myself? One character would be my
young 19-year old, warlike self; the other my present peace-loving
self, but a self elevated to a higher level by embodying those occasional
intimations of Conscience and Understanding which a man experiences.

As
suggested, I am well qualified for one part of the characterization:
the above-mentioned experience during World War I, ancestors in
the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, two sons in World War II, plus
many weaknesses of the flesh which account for wars.

Why
should I not also try to capture the loftier side of characterization?
True, I haven't lived the loftier side too well, therefore, don't
know it too well. But lurking in my mental background, in a nebulous
sort of way, are thoughts and a set of ideas in conflict with what
I and many others have done. Why not by concentration and some imagination
draw on the resources that lie hidden in the deeper recesses of
one's mind? Why not draw on the better thought of others too? Why
should it be necessary to wait until the last moment of consciousness
to find, as best one can, how one ought to have lived?

The
past cannot be undone, ’tis true. But cannot the past be drawn upon
to make a better future? Cannot the past supply the stimulus for
new understanding, for better comprehension, in order that life
may become finer in its wholeness?

The
following dialogue is imagined to have taken place as I lay
dying on a battlefield near the 38th Parallel in Korea.
And let us also imagine that the thoughts were inspired by a passage
I had read from the chaplain's Bible a few days before: “Put up
again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword
shall perish by the sword.”

The
talk is not hurried. Time, bordering on eternity, has lost all meaning.

Nor
is the talk in final form. Quite likely it never will be on any
subject requiring much penetration.

THE
DIALOGUE

Well
young man, you may think this is it. Perhaps you are wondering what
comes next.

Who
are you?

I
am you, a part of yourself with which you hardly got acquainted.
I am your Integrity, your Intelligence, your Humility, your Reason,
your Conscience. In short, I am such Harmony as you have with Ultimate
Wisdom — shall I say, with God? You have kept me in the background,
hidden away from your earthly life. You have had only dim notions
of my existence.

Why
do you appear to me now in this last moment of life?

Appear
now? You talk as though it were I who do the coming and going. I
have been here all the time. You simply haven't seen fit to embrace
me, to make me a real part of your earthly self. Frankly, this is
the first time since childhood that you have been receptive. Your
time has been occupied with other companions: approval and applause
among men, fortune, fame, power, to mention but a few. They have
now deserted you as they do everyone, at the end. You are alone
with me. I am all you have left. Thus it is that you feel I have
come to you. On the contrary, this circumstance of your earthly
departure has merely made way for me.

Strange
that I should wait until now to know you. What an about-face in
my sense of values! Fame? Always I was wooing her. Now I see her
shallowness. Concern about Immortal Judgment
takes her place,
a concern I have not known before. How, dear Conscience, will I
be judged?

Have
you not written your own credentials? Perfect justice will assuredly
be accorded you. Everlasting Life will doubtless be an accurate
mirroring of you as you have been. While in many respects you were
an excellent person, the record shows that you killed men — both
Korean and Chinese, and were also responsible for the death of many
women and children during this military campaign.

That
is correct, and I regret that it was necessary. But we were at war,
a good and a just war. We had to stop Communist aggression and the
enslavement of people by dictators. That war was in accord with
United States foreign policy.

Did
you kill these people as an act of self defense? Were they threatening
your life or your family? Were they on your shores, about to enslave
you?

No,
they were not. But you don't understand our foreign policy. It was
very clever. It sought to thwart aggression by going to war against
others before they could use aggression against us in our own homeland.
It had the advantage of using someone else's country as the battleground.
True, this foreign policy sometimes confused me. But I always imagined
I got my thinking straight by envisioning Mr. and Mrs. Jones, next
door, getting into a battle royal. The winner might feel strong
enough to attack me. So, why not take the side of the weaker party
in order to forestall such a possibility? That would put an end
to neighborhood trouble, wouldn't it? In short, our foreign policy
was represented as an act of self -defense. We merely anticipated
the acts of our enemies by taking certain positive and necessary
actions. We planned to lick them before they had a chance to become
aggressive against us. Our motto was: “Never give up the initiative.”
I hope it will turn out all right. I was dealt this blow before
the issue was settled. Conscience, what do you think?

In
the first place, please understand that I don't care to discuss
what you call your foreign policy. It is too late for that. The
judgment which now concerns you must be rendered on you as an individual
— not on parties or mobs or armies or policies or processes or governments.
While governments limited to keeping the peace and invoking a common
justice are necessary for mortal beings, before Him it is only the
quality of individuals that counts. What collective can have any
validity for you from now on? In the Temple of Judgment which you
are about to enter, Principles only are likely to be observed. It
is almost certain that you will find there no distinction between
nationalities or between races. A woman is a woman. A child is a
child, with as much a right to an opportunity for Self-realization
as you. To take a human life — at whatever age, or of any color
— is to take a human life. You imply that you feel no personal responsibility
for having killed these people. Why, then, did you personally accept
the “honors”? According to your notions, no one person is responsible
for the deaths of these people. Yet, they were destroyed. Seemingly,
you expect collective arrangements such as “the army” or “the government”
to bear your guilt. Yet you expect in Everlasting Life the bestowal
of personal honors for virtues. Are you not struck with the absurdity
of it all? Will you not stand before Judgment unadorned — just as
a spirit, a recorded memory and conscience? Is this not all that
will be dealt with there? Can there be any other trappings to consider
beyond this spirit you are — once a person who lived and had the
opportunity to choose between good and evil?

But,
my Conscience, I had no choice. I had to do what others called my
duty. Otherwise, my friends and fellow-citizens would have dubbed
me a traitor. I would have been put in jail, disgraced before man,
borne the name of a coward.

You
are doubtless right about what would have happened to you, and at
the very hands of those whose guilt is as great as yours. In my
view there can be no distinction between those who do the shooting
and those who aid the act. Moreover, the guilt would appear to be
even greater on the part of those who resorted to the coercive power
of government to get you to sacrifice your home, your fortune, your
chance of Self-realization, your life — none of which sacrifices
they themselves appear willing to make. They will face Judgment,
too, in but another moment. And they will be judged as you will
be judged. On the surface it would seem that more courage would
have been required of you to attend strictly to Principle than to
do what you did — than to take a part in tearing asunder what God
has created. Deeper reflection, however, will reveal that you and
others took on the characteristic of a herd, and by so doing surrendered
your standing as individuals. By this drifting from personal action
to mass action — a move that only alert intelligence could have
avoided — a dilemma was created for you and for all members of the
collective: the choice of shooting others or having others shoot
you for forsaking them; to do as the others demanded, or risk the
collective's penalty for nonconformance.

You
certainly put my evil in good company. According to you, nearly
every man, acknowledged as great in our history, bears a guilt not
unlike my own, as does about every American citizen of today. Isn't
that carrying condemnation a little too far?

In
attempting to answer this question, it should be clearly understood
that no single person is ever in possession of more than an infinitesimal
fraction of Truth. This condition would seem to condemn man to some
error even when he exercises his best judgment. The capacity for
self improvement affirms this point. To argue otherwise would be
to classify man as perfect — that is, as equal to God. To assert
that any mortal could be wholly free from sin would be to make the
same untenable argument.

Man,
in spite of his individuality, lives with others. And having chosen
to live with others, he cannot escape an accountability for his
part of any collective action of society in which he participates.
As part of the warp and woof of society, he is committed to some
responsibility for its collective misdeeds, either by commission
or omission. Thus, all men err. There are no exceptions.

To
take one's own life to escape the sin implicit in living, or to
surrender life as the alternative to sinning, is to indulge in a
greater sin. The first duty of man is to defend life. Otherwise,
there is no opportunity to develop God-given potential. Living man
can only aim at sinlessness; he can never achieve it. Having
any part in coercive, collectivist action is one way of insuring
sin. The best one can do, then, finding some such action inescapable,
except through death, is to mitigate his sin. While bearing his
share of society's sins he can at least refuse to be a sponsor of
them; indeed, he can use suasion to spread the truth as he sees
it. You should not, therefore, be too dismayed that you and those
you hold in high esteem have erred. It is the lot of mankind. Among
the cardinal sins, however, is the failure to make earnest attempts
at minimizing error.

Thanks
for the relief which these thoughts provide. But, one matter bothers
me very much. Why did our leaders, including many supposed moral
leaders, tell us that we could not fail in this war because God
was on our side?

It
may well be that your leaders believed what they told you. But many
of the leaders in what you call your enemy countries also claimed
God's blessings, and said the same things. I doubt, however, that
you will be judged according to these claims of any earthly leader.
Nor will a leader be judged for the acts of his willing followers.
The greatest of earthly leaders will doubtless stand alone before
God, on their own records, as you will stand.

Very
well! I am beginning to see what you mean. But I shall argue for
absolution on the grounds that I did not know that I was doing a
wrong. These points you have made never occurred to me before.

Do
not overlook the fact that you were born onto earth with God-given
mental faculties, with the power to reason. You had me with you
all the time, yet often ignored me. You should have realized from
the simplest earthly observations that there is no evidence of any
absolution of cause and consequence on the grounds of not knowing.
For example, assume that you were unaware of the law of gravitation,
and jumped from atop a high building. Would the fact of your ignorance
have made the fall any less severe? Let's say you had no suspicion
of murder as an evil and, as a consequence, you killed people. Would
they be any less dead by reason of your failure to know? Isn't the
untimely demise which you now face enough answer to these questions?
In spite of your lack of understanding of the reasons for it, you
are dying. If Conscience has any function, it must be as a guide
to the avoidance of evil acts and their inevitable consequences.
To put one's self into communion with Truth is the first of all
virtues. To do this one must live. Could you conceive of there being
no penalty for ignorance, or reward for wisdom?

No,
I could not, my Conscience. But, another question. Why do you say
it is wrong to kill, and then imply that it is proper to kill, if
necessary, to defend one's life?

The
answer becomes clear if we think in terms of who initiates
violence. It is evil for any person or set of persons to initiate
violence against another. But, if another initiates violence against
you, and if he dies in the process of your protecting your life,
does he not, in reality, suffer death at his own hand, as in suicide?
He initiates the action in the course of which he is killed. He,
not you, is the author of the equation that destroys him.

I
can plainly see that this is morally sound as relating to persons.
But isn't there a different standard for a nation?

No!
There is no new right brought into being by reason of you and another,
or you and 150 million others, acting collectively. Whatever is
immoral for you as a person is immoral for a number of persons.
Virtue is a quality solely of the individual. Multiplication of
individuals does not change virtue's definition. As it is proper
for you to protect your life against violence initiated by another,
so it is proper for a number of you to protect yourselves against
violence initiated against your number. But that is all. There is
no extension of moral rights by reason of how numerous you are.
Were moral rights to exist in relation to number, a mob's actions
would have a basis for approval. Russians would have rights not
possessed by Americans. And might would, indeed, make right.

But
what about the protection of others, beyond our number, who have
had violence initiated against them? Suppose I had observed a bully
beating a child, or a ruffian attacking my neighbor's wife? Should
I have stood idly by as a mere witness to such outrage?

Not
necessarily. It is presumed that in the case of a bully beating
a child, or a ruffian attacking your neighbor's wife, that you have
been as competent to judge initiated violence as if the violence
were initiated against your own person. You asked the question because
you think you see in it a situation analogous to the United States
protecting South Korea. The situation is not analogous. You would
not, of your own free will, give up your home, your business, even
your life, to protect the South Koreans as against the North Korean.
And for good reason. In many instances, you recognize your incompetence
to assign causation even to your own acts. It is, therefore, next
to impossible for you to determine the just from the unjust in cases
that are remote to your experience, between peoples whose habits
and thoughts and ways of life are foreign to you. Thinking only
of yourself you recognize your own scope and proper limits of your
own actions. But interference in strange areas may make you the
initiator of violence rather than the protector of rectitude. If,
however, of your own free choice, you wish to protect the South
Koreans, you have only your own judgment to account for. But there
is a far greater accounting to make if coercion is used to cause
others to do what you elect to do. Why, though, should you elect
to do any such thing? You are as unaware of the forces at work in
this Asiatic affair as you are of the causes of a quarrel between
two headhunters. Am I wrong? If so, why have you been shooting Koreans
and Chinese when the Russians are supposed to be the ones you fear?
Are you expecting the North Koreans or the Chinese to invade the
American shores?

Very
well, my Conscience, but matters of national concern such as this
cannot be left to the voluntary action of a free people. Few, if
any, would be here in Korea. I doubt if many would voluntarily give
up home, fortune, and life to protect the Philippines, or France,
or even England. National interest demands that there be an authority
to coerce us into proper action against communism.

Force!
Coercion! Violence! Forever, it seems, people proposing force as
a means to eliminate force! You do not seem to realize that the
essential characteristic of communism is coercion. Communism in
essence is the communalization of the product of all by force. Americans
now practice communism in so many ways that the doctrine — not in
name, but in substance — is rapidly becoming not only acceptable
but “respectable.” There are people, many of them, who sincerely
believe in this idea. Those who believe in it, and openly proclaim
their belief in it, you call “Communists.” But you who practice
it, and deny your belief in it, call yourselves “Liberals” and your
countries “Democracies.” And you propose to rid the world of force
by using force against those who admit they believe in force. In
reality, you endorse their position. You make the belief in force
unanimous. What, pray tell, can you do with guns to make them question
the rightness of their beliefs? Can you do more than to confirm
their belief in guns and to incite the wider use of guns?

The
belief in coercion is an idea just as much as the belief in freedom
is an idea. It is for this reason that I think you have mistaken
the nature of the conflict. It is ideological, not personal; it
is of the intellect, not of the flesh. A ferment now goes on in
the minds of men, ideas demanding violence as the means to a communal
way of life. As in every ferment a scum rises to the top, as fungus
on a muck heap. These bad ideas which rise out of the ferment are
not to be destroyed by killing the persons who voice them. The swirls
in the ferment will throw up replacements endlessly. Killing merely
agitates the process, as a poke on the jaw usually evokes a retaliatory
poke on the jaw. It's the ideas which have to be considered. The
route to better ideas is evolutionary and peaceful, a matter you
should have pondered long ago. Better ideas are not shot into persons
with guns. Can you not see that gunners, except when acting in self-defense,
have contracted the very disease they are bent on destroying?

What
you are saying is that the people of the United States do not know
their own interests; that coercion, the essence of the dictator
idea, produces better results than man in free action. You are saying
that your countrymen are ignorant if free, but that one or more
of their number, politically selected, will force them to act wisely
if given enough power. You are saying that wisdom is generated by
the mere act of giving some person or persons a monopoly of coercion.
If this be true, why do you not accept the Russian arrangement and
be done with it? Does it really matter whether an American or a
Russian has a gun in your back? I thought you were fighting for
freedom. Isn't it possible that the way to advance freedom is to
behave like free men rather than like regimented men? You, I fear,
have been spreading the very disease you claim to be trying to destroy.

It
is rather dreadful to think that I have met death in an action that
spreads communism. The demand for unity, however, has always seemed
sound to me. An early American slogan was: “In unity there is strength.”
How else could unity be achieved except by some program insuring
involuntary service?

There
are two kinds of unity. One kind makes for weakness. The other makes
for strength.

For
instance, there is that type of unity exemplified by the goose step.
It makes for a sameness in action, to be sure. However, it is nothing
but a mass obedience to a master will. It demands a disregard of
personality and individual variation. Its theme is a tortuous cadence,
mankind responding to the tick-tock of some fallible, human metronome.
In this kind of unity there is but the appearance of strength. In
substance it is a corruption and a weakness implicit in men, who,
though gifted by God with reason, permit themselves to be led like
oxen or driven like sheep. This is the kind of unity involuntary
service provides.

There
is strength only in that unity which results from like-mindedness.
This originates with an individual's actions being in unity with
his conscience. In short, the type of unity that has lasting strength
is born of integrity. Its extension depends on the consciences of
men being similar. The result is similarity in action — action dictated
by conscience instead of by Caesars. This is the kind of unity voluntary
service produces. Involuntary unity, however, will do even more
harm than that of merely making its practitioners weak. Its false
show of strength tends to create fears in other nations, developing
a like-mindedness in them as to what they should do to resist and
assuage their fears. Coercion thus generates a voluntary unity and
a real strength among the very people at whom the involuntary unity
is aimed.

In
one of the little-publicized chapters of World War II, for example,
one million Russian officers and men voluntarily joined the invading
Germans, considering them as their liberators. The German dictator,
hearing of this, ordered that these officers and men be imprisoned
or killed. This action, dictated by Hitler, caused a like-mindedness
among the Russian people. There subsequent action at Stalingrad
against the Germans became very much of a voluntary action. History
records how like-mindedness created a strength where only weakness
had existed.

The
Korean affair is in no way dissimilar. Hardly an American favored
this war if tested by his willingness voluntarily to sacrifice family,
fortune or life. This war could not have happened short of involuntary
service. And as was to be expected under these circumstances, the
result has been less security for America. Our excursion into Korea
is creating a like-mindedness, the will to voluntary service against
us on the part of the Asiatic people. These steps which are weakening
an America that was strong are strengthening an Asia that was weak.

But,
then, is it not also true that involuntary servitude and a show
of military force by the Russian people tends to cause a like-mindedness,
a will to voluntary service, on the part of the Americans?

This
would be the tendency, if let alone. But the involuntary service
that has been initiated in America destroys the tendency toward
voluntary unity in this field, just as, in the field of welfare,
involuntary police grants-in-aid destroy the will to voluntary charity.
Directed action is substituted for self-inspired action. Weakness
takes the place of strength.

Involuntary
service on the part of the Russians, if extended to the point of
interfering with American life and property, would inspire American
voluntary service.

But
Conscience, wouldn't this voluntary action on the part of the American
people come too late to save us from invasion?

This
prevalent idea overlooks the weakness from within that comes to
the aggressor by reason of his continued involuntary service. It
glosses over the fact that as the enemy extends himself and his
supply lines he is faced with ever-dwindling resources at home.
His extended position requires the opposite: progressively greater
resources at home. Overlooked, also, is the strength that would
remain with Americans by reason of the conservation of their resources
and by reason of an undeniable determination bred by the like-mindedness
of a people defending their homeland. They are as a tigress protecting
her offspring.

To
fight evil with evil is only to make evil general. To contend against
involuntary action by involuntary action is only to make involuntary
action general. Let a slave master organize millions of slaves into
industrial and military divisions, and many people will think they
observe a great strength. Let millions be free of any slave master,
let their energies be released, let them work alone, or competitively
or cooperatively as the mutuality of their interests suggests, and
many people think they observe a great chaos. These observations
are but great delusions. People confuse appearance and substance
one with the other. There is enduring strength only in free men.
When the truth of this is learned to the point of its becoming a
profound faith, then — and then only — will mass murders be removed
from the agenda of men. Man will seldom kill if acting on his individual
responsibility and under guidance of his own disciplines. But he
can be made to kill if and when he becomes an involuntary agent.
In this condition he is no longer singular and self, but part of
a mass, responding to stimuli beyond his own wisdom and conscience.

I
begin to understand. The chaos I thought I saw in men acting freely
was but the inadequacy of my own grasp of things; it was but the
reflection of my own limited comprehension. Order, strength, to
me, meant only an arrangement of men's behavior that fell within
the range of my own narrow knowledge. Men forced to goose step,
to act in simple patterns, gave the appearance of unity which I
mistook for strength.

This
chaos I thought I saw — others doing things I couldn't do or understand
— was but men in free and voluntary effort, each finding his greatest
realization and productiveness in action of his own choosing. I
had planned, after this war, to enter my chosen field, a highly
specialized one, adapted to aptitudes peculiar to me. I now see
how my own interest would have been better served by similarly having
others specializing in the fields peculiar to their aptitudes in
order that there might be an exchange among us with benefit and
profit to all.

All
sorts of things occur to me now. Human energy is expressed through
the faculties of men. The non-use of any faculty, be it a muscle
in the arm or the power to reason, brings on atrophy. Human energy
is like electrical energy; it has strength only as it is flowing,
as it is in use. These faculties of men through which their energy
finds expression are not only different in all men but they are
self-controlled. No man can control the creative faculties of another.
No man can force another to think, or to invent, or to imagine.
The only control one man can exercise over the faculties of another
is a destructive or restraining control. One man can destroy all
the faculties of another by shooting him. One man can restrain the
use of the faculties of another by inducing fear of prison or ostracism.

Involuntary
service, therefore, is the restraint of men's faculties by another,
the denial of self-control of faculties, the forced employment of
someone else's idea of one's faculties, an idea that has no possible
way to be right. This explains why, in the army, I have noted good
entertainers made into poor cooks, and skilled machinists employed
as bad buglers. Involuntary service presupposes that there is one
person or group of persons who know how to fit the peculiar faculties
of all men into some master plan of action. In reality, though,
such persons are fortunate if they even know what to do with themselves,
let alone others.

I
now see the strength in voluntary effort. I now see that no one
— least of all I — can grasp or understand more than a fraction
of the total effort of all persons. But I can see my own superiority
as a free man as against a slave. And I need only to project this
idea to all other persons to arrive at my own answer, the one you
have been trying to impress upon me: Free men are strong men!

I
wish, however, that you would elaborate even more on why most individuals
will not kill on their own responsibility, but will take a part
in mass killings. If these acts of ours which turn out to be evil,
were done in ignorance, why so wide the lack of understanding? All
people seem to be similarly at fault to some degree.

I
only wish you had called on me, your Better-self, ere this. Or that
you had called on others. Excellent answers to these questions have
been made time and time again throughout history. You merely took
no heed of them, nor of me. You repeatedly said you had no time
to contemplate, to think, to read, to study — in short, to invoke
my help. Unwittingly, you made mockery of anything really serious
that had a bearing on your Immortal Soul. You opened your ears and
mind to the frivolous, to “easier” ways, to the fallacy that you
could turn your responsibilities and problems over to government,
to answers that declared you could take a part in evil and not be
responsible for it. By your failure to reason you became a party
to an absurdity: the notion that you could gain peace by the use
of war; love by the use of violence.

The
key to your mortal confusion, I believe, has been a failure to perceive,
until now, the nature of the collective. You have admitted — and
I believe you — that you as an individual would not kill another
person. But oftentimes men personally as virtuous as yourself have
joined a mob, lynched and killed someone, and attached no personal
guilt to themselves at all. The collective — the mob — was responsible
for the deed, so they thought. But the mob, an informal collective,
is not subject to eternal damnation or Immortal Glory. It is but
a name given to an arrangement which consists only of individuals.
Can other than persons be responsible for acts, be the acts done
alone or in association?

But
I was not acting as a member of a mob. I acted in response to my
government.

Government,
also, is a collective. It differs from the mob in that it is organized,
legalized, formal force, presumably founded on deliberation rather
than on impulse. But government is no more subject to eternal damnation
or Immortal Glory than is an illegal mob. It, also, is but a name
given to an arrangement which consists only of individuals. They
— and they alone — are responsible for what they do collectively
as government. They — and they alone — are subject to Judgment.

Most
persons believe some form of government to be necessary as a means
of achieving maximum liberty. But unless they succeed in properly
limiting government, they will surrender some — or even all — of
their personal rights and responsibilities to it. Unless they understand
the nature of coercion — its power only to suppress, restrain, destroy
— they will yield to it and lose their ability to act creatively.
Government has the necessary and logical function of protecting
the property and life of all citizens equally. But if people fail
to understand the nature of coercion they will attempt to use this
force of government even for creative purposes; they will vainly
attempt to use a negating physical force — government — as a means
of accomplishing a positive good. Unless they comprehend coercion,
many of them will rob in the name of charity, plunder in the name
of prosperity, and kill in the name of God.

I
confess, I have been killing in the name of God, at least as I know
God.

There
appears to be another failure, too; the failure to grasp the idea
that whoever gives another the authority to act on his behalf, must
accept personal responsibility for the results of the delegated
authority. For example, self-discipline is exclusively the product
of the individual. It is the quality – indeed, the virtue —
in you which accounts for the fact that you would not kill another
person in your own name. But let authority for your actions be transferred
to government, a collective, without an exact accompaniment of your
personal responsibility for that authority — without an equivalent
transfer of that excellent discipline which controls your own actions
— and, ipso facto, you will act without personal discipline as a
result of the mistaken belief that there can be authority without
responsibility. In short, will you not generate irresponsible action?
And this, I submit, is the illogical process — call it foreign policy
or whatever — which leads you to kill another person without remorse
or a feeling of guilt. You label the action by another name, “the
government,” “the army”; so you thoughtlessly conclude that the
responsibility is attached to another name also. Does not the fault
inhere in your not recognizing that the consequences of your actions
are irrevocably yours, whether you personally conduct them or whether
you employ government, a collective agency, to administer them?

Unless
there be a strict awareness of the limitations that should guide
delegated authority, and an equally keen realization that even a
limited, delegated authority demands total personal responsibility,
there will of necessity result a vast amount of evil action.

Were
there none of my forebears who understood the nature of the collective?

Yes,
many of them. One of your countrymen perceived these dangers and
gave a warning that was little heeded: “That government is best
which governs least.” It is only when the agenda of government are
minor and incidental to the aggregate action of a people that the
agenda can even be understood, let alone accepted personally as
one's own. If the agenda become numerous, or if they extend beyond
the narrow confines of defending all citizens against violence and
predacity initiated against them by others, the minds of
most men will not be able to grasp what will be suffered in their
names. However, as I said before, you should have sought my services
sooner. While I, too, am finite and subject to error, I am as close
to God as you can get on this earth. It was your task to join with
me in order that together we might search for Truth—-the vital
element in your earthly purpose of Self-realization.

Thank
you, my Conscience. But what is there for me now?

Your
life is now about to end. Will you not from here on be judged for
what you were? You will no longer be in the realm of the to be.
What you have been will condition what you will be,
or so it seems to me.

What
has happened to your life is not at all uncommon. You simply elected
to act in a way pleasing to some of your earthly contemporaries.
You gave little weight or thought to Immortal Judgment. You chose
to have your honors before your fellowmen rather than before God.
You gave preference to man's medals and plaudits over and above
the reward you now seek. You were given your opportunity, and you
made a choice. As a consequence, will not your spirit and influence
go down through the ages as you elected they should? Were you not
the judge, and have you not passed judgment on yourself by your
life and the way you lived it? It seems to me that you have made
the pattern for your life in the Everlasting World, a part of which
you have made in this last moment of consciousness as a mortal being.
Let us, since you and I are now one and inseparable, be eternally
grateful that so much of it appears to have been good.

THE
EPILOGUE

Hmm!
The collective! Government and its over-extension! The process of
de-personalization! The method that divorces action from conscience!
Action and conscience together lead to justice — apart, action becomes
indiscriminate! Action and conscience together, and I would not
kill — but divorce them, and I become a party to mass killing. Why
did I not think of these ideas and their meaning? Why did I not
recognize that (1) our ambassadors to other countries are politicians
and (2) that the only ambassadors of good will and peace are free
traders, as free to trade with other nations as between our fifty
states? Why did I not think….

Leonard
E. Read (1898–1983) was the founder of FEE.

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