The Real Aggressor

Email Print


This article
originally appeared in the April 1954 issue of Faith and Freedom.

A sign of our
time is the split-personality of the conservatives. Many to the
right of center are off on a schizophrenic pursuit of both liberty
and collectivism.

In domestic
affairs this regrettable condition is gradually being recognized
for what it is. But the time is nigh for conservative foreign policy,
as well, to be psychoanalyzed in hope of a cure!

call for free trade and free enterprise, yet also clamor for absolute
embargoes on trade with Communist nations. Have they forgotten that
both parties to free exchange benefit from trade? For our government
or any others to prohibit trade is a vicious example of socialistic
policy; it injures the Communist countries to be sure; it also injures

Another example:
conservatives are calling for lower taxes and less government control,
while on the other hand they are calling for a virtual holy war
against Russia and China, with all the costliness, death, and statism
that such a war would necessarily entail. Such a holy war would
be immoral, inexpedient, and ill-conceived at best – in this
day of weapons for mass murder, such a call is near insanity.

Yet while conservatives
once preferred peace and “isolationism,” in our day they appeal
in vague terms for liberation of foreign nations and hint that “We’ve
been at war with Communism for years, so let’s get it over with.”
They bitterly denounce European “allies” for being neutralistic
and therefore “unreliable,” while they praise Chiang, Rhee, and
Franco for being anti-Communist and therefore “reliable friends
of the United States.” They denounce our having entered the Korean
War; yet denounce the Korean Truce and call for programs to carry
war ever upward and onward.

The notion
– very widespread – that we should not have entered the
Korean War, but once in it should have launched a total war against
China, flouts rules of logic. The best preventive of war is to refrain
from warring – period. If we had agreed to a cease-fire when
the Commies suggested it, or had pulled out of Korea altogether
(even better), we would have saved thousands of American and Korean

A “Blunt”

Here I think
one point should be made and made bluntly. Some people may prefer
death to Communism; and this is perfectly legitimate for them –
although death may not often be a solution to any problem. But suppose
they also try to impose their will on other people who might prefer
life under Communism to death in a “free world” cemetery. Is not
forcing them into mortal combat a pure and simple case of murder?
And is not anti-Communist murder as evil as murder committed by

Many “isolationists,”
in concerning themselves with the liberation or security of foreign
nations, have in truth become outright internationalists. Instead
of praising European neutralism – the equivalent of real American
isolationism – they now demand collective-security organizations
such as NATO.

Yet faith in
international collectivism has already dragged us into one disastrous
war after another during the present century. And now it is a faith
in world government, supposedly restricted to the enforcement of
so-called world law. This is a fantasy in which the various world
states are seen as resembling a family of policemen taking it upon
themselves to enforce a preservation of the status quo.

The result
of this international-collectivistic approach is that the United
States is rapidly going down the classic warpath. And the path has
all the signposts so unerringly pointed out by isolationist writers
in the 1930s concerning the First World War, and in the 1940s concerning
the Second World War: militarism, propaganda of hate, press distortions,
atrocity stories about the enemy (and silence about our own atrocities),
chauvinistic vainglory such as pride that “America has won all its
wars” (but with the help of strong allies badly outnumbering the
enemy), and in general, the “emotional complex of fear and vaunting”
noted by Garet Garrett, which Harry
Elmer Barnes calls the “1984 pattern.”

The tragic
part of the whole situation is that it is the erstwhile isolationists,
the ones who above all others should know better, who are leading
the war parade.

Sinking ever
deeper into a war psychosis, these conservatives have failed to
perceive that our whole problem today, broadly speaking, is ideological
rather than military! If we carefully examine the facts we will
find that the most commonly feared threat to peace – the Communist
bloc – has been fairly scrupulous about not committing military
aggression. All the Communist successes since the end of World War
II have been through internal Communist rebellions. Korea itself
was a civil war, and there is even there considerable evidence that
it was begun by the South. Russia did not intervene directly in
that war, and China intervened not only after the United States
did, but only when our troops reached her borders.

plus sponsoring of Communist parties and philosophy abroad, seems
to be the Soviet plan. In brief, the Russian military menace is
for the most part a bogey; the Commies are probably truthful in
their assertion that their arming is meant in defense. The statement
of Defense Secretary Wilson recently that Russian air production
has been concentrated on defensive jets rather than offensive
heavy bombers (such as we are building) would tend to bear out this

As a long-term
threat as well, we should have no fear of military conquest by the
Russians, or by the Chinese either. They began as backward countries
and, since we know Communism to be a relatively inefficient economic
system, we need not worry about their offensive military might –
provided we let our own industries grow without the hamperings of
a garrison state.

What we really
have to combat is all statism, and not just the Communist
brand. To take up arms against one set of socialists is not the
way to stop socialism – indeed it is bound to increase socialism
as all modern wars have done.

Realm of Battle

The battle
can only be waged in the realm of ideas and reason. Man shall only
tighten his chains – and those holding other men – if
he takes up arms simply against one foreign statist faction. Even
if Russia and China both were to be wiped out tomorrow, Communism
would continue to exist (just as it did before 1917) so long as
people continue to give credence to its collectivist tenets. To
attempt to stamp out heresy by force is the method of vindictive
children, rather than the method of rational human beings.

But some conservatives
are failing to recognize that the enemy is statism, rather than
simply Communism. And the fundamental reason, obviously, is that
there is still an inadequate understanding of the very nature of
the State.

It is a fundamental
libertarian proposition that the State only has the right to use
force to defend the person and property of individuals
against force.

Actually, among
libertarians and conservatives, there is agreement on that proposition;
but most conservatives usually commit the fatal error of stopping
there. Considering the analysis of the State closed, they conclude,
“Therefore the State should be limited to what is necessary for
defense purposes.” Ponder the grave consequences of that reasoning:

Peter is a
peaceful citizen, devoted to productive work and minding his own
affairs. By what right does any person or set of persons, in a group
called the State, come to Peter and force him to give up money for
the purpose of protecting him against possible future invasions
of his person and property? The ethical answer can only be, no right

Surely we have
all heard of and ridiculed the racketeering “protective syndicates,”
which force merchants to purchase “protection” at an exorbitant
fee. Yet the State syndicate manages to impose its own “protection,”
and to collect from Peter, with nary a single eyebrow being raised
against it.

a Self-Respecting Racketeer

What is worse,
the State gang does not even leave the scene of crime after collecting,
as any self-respecting racketeer would do. Instead it hangs around
to harass Peter and his kind, insisting on continually higher sums
of money in tribute, pressing the Peters into the State army when
competing robber bands attack, coercing the Peters to salute the
State battle flag, to acknowledge the State as their sovereign,
to regard the decrees of State as valid laws to be obeyed by all
righteous persons. What would we think of the State gang, and what
would we think of people who allowed themselves to be duped by the
rulers’ propaganda to believe that this is all well and good, natural,
and necessary?

Yet, being
duped by State officials is precisely what mankind has been putting
up with for thousands of years.

Some might
say that all this has been put to a stop in those nations which
have turned to democracy. But libertarians are surely not so enamored
of the voting process that they fail to perceive the flaws in the
democracy argument. What democracy has done is simply to increase
the number of State groups. The question becomes: Are we much better
off now, having several groups (or “parties”) of would-be plunderers,
each desiring the control of a good thing? I think the answer must
be No.

The only advantage
of a democracy is that it provides scope (strictly limited) for
peaceful change of State rulers via ballot boxes, instead of requiring
bloody revolutions, coup d’tats, etc. Instead of having bloody
civil wars over the spoils of State, the robber gangs have their
subjects vote every few years as to which gang will rule them. Never,
however, do they so much as hint that the people may have a choice
as to whether they wish to retain the State system itself.

on the Horns

Thus, conservatives
who say that the State should be limited to what is necessary for
defense purposes, are caught from the start on the horns of a great
dilemma. For the State has been conceived in original sin. Any State,
even the best intentioned, subsists by means of coercion. If Henry
Thoreau says: I don’t want your protection, so will pay no more
taxes; he goes to jail – sent there by his “representatives.”
If he attempts to argue by saying: I wish to pay for my defense
through privately financed police and judiciary companies,
which I believe will be cheaper and far better than your coercive
monopoly – the same punishment is meted out to him, or worse.

In a libertarian
society though, it is the individual, not the State, which has the
primary choice as to whether and how his defenses shall be maintained.
As an individual he has the right to fight in his own or another’s
defense; or, if he adjudges it foolhardy or disbelieves in fighting
altogether, he has the right not to fight at all. And similarly,
he has the right to subscribe voluntarily to police forces and courts
which offer defense, but also the right not to subscribe. No one
has the right to force him to fight or to pay others to fight for
him. If the State forces him to pay tax moneys for State-conceived
defense purposes, the State thereby deprives him of his individual

To sum up:
every State oppresses its subjects and pillages them; every State
functions – as A.J. Nock put it – as if having a “monopoly
(or attempted monopoly) of crime” in its territory, asserting its
sovereignty over a certain land area, and exacting compulsory levies
on the inhabitants.

Instead of
having a group of policemen, we have in actuality a group of gangster
States aggressing against their subject-citizens; forming alliances,
and from time to time fighting to increase their share of the spoils
collected from the various inhabitants of the earth. War is an attack
by one robber band against another.

Surely under
these prevailing conditions, the supposed morality of every State’s
leaping to the defense of an alleged victim State becomes highly
dubious indeed.

Yet no matter
how evil States are, we must accept the fact that they do exist,
and that there is no likely prospect of their imminent disappearance.
In a world of States and statism, then, what should the libertarian
conservatives’ attitude be with regard to international discord?

Municipal police
have one rather appealing principle: they look the other way during
a gang war. If one set of gangsters “aggresses” against another
set, the police do not participate. Why waste the taxpayers’ money
protecting one gangster against another?

Status Quo Might Not Be Moral

It is a version
of that principle, I think, that ought to be applied to foreign
affairs. For if any world police force were to be set up to punish
“aggressors,” the only result would be increased bloodshed and real
aggression all over the world in an attempt to freeze the existing
status quo, which might be a status quo no more moral, and perhaps
less just, than any other possible one.

We could hardly
blame those States that came late into the struggle for territorial
influence, if they turned a jaundiced eye on the hypocritical moralizing
of the entrenched aggressor States who would invoke world law to
forestall new depredations. States have always gained their territories
by force, and any given land area has probably been fought over
and changed hands many times. In almost every case of “aggression”
each party to the dispute, and often many parties, have some sort
of historical claim to the disputed territory. New territorial wars
are no more “aggressive” than the present continuation of old conquests.

What is more,
there always arises the difficulty of spotting the “real aggressor”
in any particular war. When both sides are armed camps, when there
are many provocations, secret treaties, deals and frontier incidents,
the question of unraveling the actual starter of war, let alone
who is the more morally wrong, becomes a matter for the careful
research of future historians.

Sad are the
few facts which do not remain for historians to reveal. These facts
are that the people who end up conquered are subjected to the
exactions and tyrannies of the master State; while the
original subjects of the conquering State are forced not only to
fight the wars but also to foot the bills. The wider a State attempts
to extend its sphere of influence, indeed, the greater becomes its
coercion against all concerned.

Once we clearly
understand the ever-coercive nature of States, and the ever-recurrent
warfare between them, we will no longer want to offer ourselves
up unthinkingly before the international-collectivist altar inscribed,
“Necessary for Defense.” Instead we will keep these three facts
in mind: that each State’s jurisdiction is limited, at any given
time, to a certain geographical area over which it has assumed
the power and responsibility of defense; that within this area the
State builds its defensive power by means of compulsory levies;
and that these levies involve immorality of conduct, because the
act of forcing people to pay taxes for military defense usurps each
individual’s right to choose how and whether he
will want it.

The basic aim
of our foreign policy then will become the greatest possible reduction
of the amount of immorality; in other words, reduction and limitation
of the State’s area of assumed defense. Upon our escutcheon will
be inscribed these words: “Let there be peace. Let not the State
interfere in the affairs of other States.”

If the people
of Korea are being oppressed, we will recognize that the oppressor
State is vicious; but we will at the same time recognize that it
would be immoral for the United States government as such to interfere
in any way. For in so interfering, the American State would commit
those of its citizens who have no wish to be committed, to battle
for Korean citizens.

moreover, would in no way insure that the foreign people thus “liberated”
would be any the better off for it. Had the North won a quick victory
in the recent Korean War, the Koreans might well have been left
less unhappy and even economically better off under Communism
than they are now under Rhee. Millions have been slaughtered by
the weapons of both sides, and those remaining have been left to
contemplate the utter destruction of their property.

If some Americans
wish to liberate the people of China or Poland, let them raise a
private expeditionary force and private finances to go over and
attempt liberation – but let them not try to commit the United
States, and as a result, myself, to any such scheme. For a second
wrong simply will not make a right; we should not add to oppression
at home in a hope to effect some sort of “liberation” elsewhere.

Down the State

The moral policy
for libertarians is to see that the scope of war is kept as localized
as possible. The State must be held to its responsibility to enter
no foreign war – and to provoke no war via rash and irresponsible
statements, official condemnations of other governments, or inordinate
armament buildups.

Even if our
nation is directly attacked by another, justice for those who look
askance upon war efforts and levies still requires that the scope
of State action be kept within responsible limits. The goal of all
State action at such times must be a negotiated peace, so that the
burden of destruction and taxes will cease. The State should do
its best to put limits and rules on the war, and to outlaw as many
weapons of destruction as possible – starting with the worst.
Furthermore, so long as the emergency endures, all efforts should
be kept voluntary – without conscription, economic controls,
or inflation.

No purpose
can be served when additional people are caused to lose their lives
anywhere because of war. The fact is, the quarrel in modern large-scale
war is not actually between the subject people, but between their
States. The interest of the subjects is always in peace – since
it is only in peace that full freedom for self-development can be
attained. War decidedly increases the dangers of losing further
individual freedom – to the “domestic” enemy, if not to the
“foreign” enemy.

In short, the
individual subject will want the State to limit its objectives,
to defend the country’s territory rather than to attack, to abstain
from a drive to victory and unconditional surrender, and to negotiate
peace at the earliest possible moment. Moreover, if full terms of
peace cannot be immediately decided upon, the most important thing
becomes negotiation of a truce to stop the mutual slaughter.

Men Are To Forge Fences

Not arms but
public opinion must be the basic weapon if men are to forge fences
between themselves and the master States. By force of public opinion
men must resist conscription; must insist on absolute nonintervention
in foreign wars; and, where warfare is in progress, must call for
immediate negotiations and an end to the bloodletting. And most
important, there must be a re-establishment of those once-revered
rules of war that prevented innocent civilians from being harmed.

As a corollary,
there must be a re-establishment of the old-fashioned, pre-1914
type of international law, as distinguished from the sort of world
law the present-day internationalists would attempt to impose. The
old-time international law, as I understand it, set up rules by
means of custom (and not by force) which carefully defined the difference
between neutrality and intervention, and which declared sharply
defined areas of neutrals’ rights and belligerents’ rights. Old-fashioned
international law facilitated the maintenance of neutrality and
served the important purpose of greatly limiting the scope of any
wars that arose.

Public opinion
could then be educated to impose this type of international law
to limit the scope of State action, just as Americans once used
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The United
Nations, unfortunately, does not afford a good breeding ground for
such constructive principles of international law and order. For
it is the seedling of a world State, a master imperialistic
power that would dominate the citizens of the entire subject world.
Furthermore, the UN is basically committed to collective-security
warfare against “aggression” and is therefore a warmongering organization
in its very essence.

Reds Are Sane

Somebody has
rightly said that the choice now is: coexistence or nonexistence.
Any sane person prefers coexistence, and I am sure that the Reds
are sane. The issue facing the world, therefore, has to do with
nurturing a will and a way to talk things over – to negotiate
– and to find lines of fruitful negotiation. Almost anything
that would ease present tensions and provocations would be welcome.

But we must
negotiate honestly and sincerely, with our foremost aim being an
agreement for a jointly planned disarmament. There must be no more
secret deals with a Yalta-Potsdam odor, which would arbitrarily
hand over territory and peoples of other countries to Russia. And
there must be no idea of simply bolstering our “allies” by making
a mere show of negotiation. On many issues, such as Korea,
Germany, etc., it would be better to just retire completely from
the fray.

Yet the nurturing
of a new era – of negotiation, of return to the pre-1914 type
of international law, and of public opinion against statism –
will all take time. Meanwhile, along what lines should our American
government take immediate action?

To begin, the
United States should pull out of the United Nations, and also out
of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.

Secondly, our
government should repudiate all other foreign commitments and agreements
and foreign aid or “security” endeavors, while withdrawing the military
from foreign bases.

As good a place
to start as any is at Trieste. American and British troops have
absolutely no business there. They are the original meddlers and
interlopers. Beginning with the mulcting of American and Triestino
citizens alike of funds for occupational expenses, these troops
have proceeded to the shooting down of inhabitants. Clearly the
withdrawal of our foreign-based troops is one of the primary orders
of business, leaving interested parties to settle things for themselves.

Thirdly, the
United States government should “recognize” Red China – on
the basis of the old-fashioned international law principles of recognition.
Prior to the interventionism of Woodrow Wilson, it was always understood
that recognition – especially by a neutralist state –
does not imply moral approval. The doctrine that it does has already
been responsible for too many wars and bloodshed (vide the Stimson
policy toward Japan). Recognition simply means recognizing the physical
existence of a state – it is an act of sanity, not an act of
praise. Whether we like it or not, Chiang is now ruler of Formosa
alone – and no mere recognition or nonrecognition will alter
that fact.

World Trade

Fourthly, there
should be reestablishment of free and unhampered trade with the
Communist countries, by our own nation and by all other nations.
Free world trade would not only help break down the iron curtain,
but would benefit anti-Communist nations as well as Communist. Nothing
could be more inane than the present program of “helping other nations
to help themselves” while at the same time coercively restricting
their opportunities to engage in profitable commerce.

Above all,
our foreign policy must not be self-defeating; it must be consistent;
it must pursue peace instead of war; and it must advance
individual American freedom.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

Rothbard Archives

Email Print