Journal of Individualist Thought, Summer 1966, pp. 65–76.
editor's note: "An observer for the past decade and more of
the embattled ‘left and right,’ and of official actions touted as
mighty blows in the struggle to ‘defeat communism,’ Dr. Murray N.
Rothbard originally wrote the following article before overt military
involvement of the United States in Viet Nam. Thus, it offers a
vantage point of unheated analysis of the War-Hawk mentality which
has led to political violence and war-induced emotions. Dr. Rothbard
will teach economics this year at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn,
I. The Arguments
of the War Hawks Refuted
The Cold and
Hot Warriors use a stock of arguments to support their position:
some plausible, most of them hypocritical, all specious. Here is
a refutation of the main points in their bellicose sophistry.
or war? The Communists declared war upon us fifty years ago. Therefore,
we are at war already; therefore, let us drop the bomb, etc.
would mean betrayal of the lovers of freedom in the "captive
nations," such as Hungary (or even Russia?), who long for
us to liberate them. There follows a half-hour of weeping
over our "cowardly" failure to come to the aid of the
Shake the Hands of the Bloody Butcher.
- We should
not negotiate with the Russians, or Chinese, until they show by
deeds, not words, that they favor peace.
- The Russians
have fixed a timetable for our destruction. Nothing we can do
can alter that timetable; therefore, we should be tough with the
Russians, not worry about provoking them, etc.
the great myth of the Russian "timetable," used to
the hilt some years ago by Willi Schlamn in his Germany,
East or West. All we need to do to puncture this nonsense
is to consider what would happen if we delivered an ultimatum
to Kosygin to resign and dissolve the government within twenty-four
hours, else we drop H-bombs upon Russia. Does anyone believe
that the Russians would not regard this as a war ultimatum and
act accordingly? But if we have to admit that the Russians would
be provoked into fighting after such an action, then the whole
myth of a fixed timetable comes tumbling down. For then we would
have to admit that some acts of ours would be so provocative
as to induce the Russians to make war, which means that there
is no fixed timetable, and that we had better watch where we
It is understandable
how youngish men who perhaps cannot remember the nonsense of
F.D.R.'s fantasy about Hitler's timetable to invade Iowa by
way of Dakar, Brazil, Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico, can swallow
this timetable myth, but it is hard to understand how elderly
conservatives, many members of America First and heated critics
of the Roosevelt mendacity, can now credit and support an even
more incredible and dangerous "timetable" swindle.
idea that the Communists have some Master Timetable where all
future history is writ, is sheer irrationality and diabolism.
It is based on the view that the Communists are omniscient supermen,
infallible, all-seeing, who know that on July 1, 1973,
they will take over the earth. No shred of evidence has ever
been brought forward to prove the existence of such a timetable,
our warmongers having to fall back on flagrant, and apparently
deliberate, misinterpretations of such phrases as "we will
bury you." But, of course, something as mundane and earthbound
as evidence has very little to do with the rhetoric of our War
Hawks, whose attitude can best be explained as a literal
belief that Communists are agents of the Devil.
connection, it is interesting that Willi Schlamn, after assuring
us that, because of the Master Timetable, nothing warlike that
we could do can provoke the Russians to premature attack, ends
by saying that if the Russians should perchance attack, it would
not be a refutation of his theory. For it would simply mean
that the Russians had, absolutely independently, decided to
change their timetable! This, of course, is a very convenient
way of having your theory without having to submit it to any
test of evidence whatever. It is also the kind of reasoning
engaged in by primitive savages to justify their superstitions.
It is curious,
by the way, how the pro-war Right, on this as on many other
occasions, who never tire of preening themselves as the lonely
carriers of Western Civilization, are ready to revert to the
most uncivilized modes of thought and action. It is also curious
that the very people who devote much of their energies to attacking
modern technology as being somehow demeaning to their aristocratic
tastes, should enthusiastically embrace every advanced technological
weapon of mass destruction. The air-conditioner or television
set is crass materialism; the H-bomb and the guided missile
are the arms of spiritual Righteousness.
centers upon a deceptive and disastrous equivocation on the word
"war." It uses the term "war" to mean ideological
conflict, and then cunningly switches the meaning to try to justify
U.S. military action. The libertarian should, more than anyone
else, be able to grasp the vital distinction. For the whole political
philosophy of the libertarian rests upon it: upon the particular
evil of physical violence used for aggression against others.
The libertarian believes in ideological persuasion and is opposed
to physical violence; he, above all, should stop using "war"
as a loose and deceptive coverall.
But the Communists
might stoop to violent revolution in America? Perhaps. But does
anyone in his right mind believe that America faces the clear
and present danger of overt, violent destruction by our tiny handful
of domestic Communists?
But the Communists
have behind them a military base in the Soviet Union? Right, and
that is why we should be happy that the Soviet Communists realize
the futility of nuclear war, and call for peace. Khrushchev and
his successors have, frankly and honestly, been making their position
unmistakably clear: they hope for internal adoption of communism
in the U.S. and other countries, but they renounce any international,
inter-state, war. This is what they mean by "peace,"
and this is what "peace" has always meant: absence of
inter-state conflict. Why, then, must we simply assume that the
men in the Kremlin are lying and that they don't want peace? Any
rational person should prefer peace in the nuclear age. Let the
ideological "war" with communism proceed, but let us
also conclude military peace. Why, then, should we fear and hate
the concept of "peaceful coexistence"? There is no basis
on which to oppose it unless we think that freedom and free enterprise
are ideologically inferior and could not survive an ideological
debate with communism.
Let us, then,
abandon this and all other similar equivocations, such as the
concept of "indirect aggression." There is no such
thing. If, for example, the Cairo Radio beams broadcasts to
Jordan calling upon the Jordanese to revolt, this is not aggression
in any sense; it is an attempt at ideological persuasion. Anyone
who doesn't like it should broadcast his own messages to the Jordanese,
and not try to suppress Cairo messages by force. Ditto for any
other messages or propaganda that any group or ideology may make.
There is another, better term for "indirect aggression,"
and that is "exercise of freedom of speech." There is
no point to a "freedom of speech" that only permits
people to say what you or I would like them to say. The only freedom
of speech worth talking about is one that permits the speech of
groups and ideologies that we hate.
one at least respectable argument by those who would lock
up, or kill, domestic Communists: namely, that, in advocating
communism, they are advocating crime (against persons, property,
etc.), and therefore it is legitimate to take preventive action
against them. The trouble with this argument is that it proves
far, far too much. For, if one takes this position, what do we
do with the other groups that are engaging in similar crimes:
Socialists, New Dealers, Modern Republicans, Conservatives, etc.,
all of whom advocate crimes similar to those of Communists? And
what do we do with our sturdy Rightists who advocate the crime
of enslavement known as "conscription"? I am afraid
that we could not stop at locking up only Communists: we would
have to place in jail about 95–99 per cent of the American
population — to say nothing about the rest of the world! — a program
which, at the very least, would be rather impractical.
I think that we would all have to agree that actually committing
a crime is far worse than simply advocating one; and if we
are to lock up Communists for advocating crime at some vaguely
distant date in the future, what in the world are we going to
do with all those government officials who have actually been
committing these crimes? What are we going to do with all
the old New Deal rulers, and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson,
and all the Congressmen voting for "criminal" legislation?
And what in the world are we going to do about General Hershey?
And Harry S. Truman, the mass Butcher of Hiroshima? In short,
if we are to incarcerate for a decade or more a handful of agitators
for a crime at some vague date in the future, we must do something
far worse, and much more immediately, to those who have already
committed similar political crimes. As long as we let our Trumans
and our George Marshalls remain scot free, and indeed lionize
them as heroes, it is indeed grotesque to incarcerate our Eugene
to the problem of the Communist "war," it is odd, indeed,
that our War Hawks are willing to place the credence of Revelation
(albeit a diabolic one) on any inflammatory statements made by
Soviet Communists in 1917 or 1919 or 1921, yet place no credence
whatever on any pro-peace statements made by the Communists now.
Surely, here is a grave contradiction: to place absolute reliance
on an old pronouncement of the Communists, and none whatever on
a pronouncement made amidst the realities of our nuclear age.
If, in short, the Communists have "already declared war on
us," what evidence will the War Hawks accept to prove
that the Communists are ready to call this war off? Any evidence,
short of immolating themselves on a Kremlin funeral pyre?
taking "war" in the ideological sense, "they"
have been "at war with us," not since 1917, but
since 1848 as Marxism. But our War Hawks never mention this, for
to do this would mean an embarrassing opening of the dike: it
would mean that we would have to include all Marxists as our "enemy,"
and then all Socialists, New Dealers, etc. And then we would realize
that, to uncover enemies of freedom and free enterprise, we need
not traipse off thousands of miles to launch a Holy Crusade against
Moscow or Peking. We have plenty of such enemies here at home
— enough to keep us busy for many years to come. Instead of hailing,
for example, Senator Paul Douglas as a champion of the "Committee
for the Freedom of All Peoples," we had better devote more
attention to Senator Paul Douglas as a destroyer of American
to the hypocritical weeping over Hungary.1
When the Hungarians revolted, and for a few glorious days had
overthrown the Communist regime, the great desideratum was to
keep Russian troops out of Hungary. How was this to be accomplished?
By American planes bombing the Kremlin and precipitating a nuclear
World War III? By ultimatums to Russia that would have provoked
World War III? Would this have benefited the Hungarians? Or us?
By H-bombing Budapest, perhaps, as the Russian troops were entering?
No, the Hungarians, along with the rest of the bleeding European
continent, have already suffered two great American "liberations";
they could not possibly have survived a third.
one possible way, and one alone, to keep Hungary free of Russian
troops in that tempestuous week: and that was to make an immediate
deal with the Russians, that we would pull all our troops out
of Europe if they would keep theirs out of Hungary. Would the
Russians have accepted? At least we should have made the offer,
and by the hysteria of the War Hawks at the very thought, one
suspects that the Russians would have agreed. And, from this hysteria,
we can gauge how sincere the militant mourners for Hungary really
of course, the argument that pulling troops out would leave a
"power vacuum" in Europe which someone, presumably the
Russians, would have to rush to fill. This is an example of the
mischief caused by using natural-science metaphors in the affairs
of human action, and then taking them too seriously. There is
no "power vacuum," requiring something to fill it.
indeed, something exceedingly odd about the argument that Americans
should be cremated in a nuclear holocaust, because this is necessary
to "preserve their Honor" by trying to liberate the
slaves of communism. There are, let us say, 800 million people
living behind the Iron Curtain. The very fact that all these people
are still alive testifies to the fact that they, every one, prefer
life under communism to death, with or without Honor. But if all
the 800 millions prefer life under communism to death, prefer
"slavery" to death, who are we to have the unmitigated
gall to advocate murdering millions of Americans and Russians
in order to free these slaves? If the Russian muzhik prefers
his slavery to death, this is a choice which he has the right
to make, and an anti-Communist who sends missiles to murder him
to make sure that he dies Honorably is, simply… committing murder.
And this — murder — mass murder — is what all the fancy and high
moral slogans about Death With Honor boil down to.
may each, individually, prefer death to life under communism.
And that is their privilege. But they have no right, and
as professed libertarians they have certainly no right, to murder
countless millions of people because of this choice. In short,
they have no right to cremate other people: Americans, Russians,
or what have you, who would make the opposite choice, who
would opt for survival. The War Hawks like to talk of their
noble disregard for human life, on behalf of the spiritual
ideals of honor, etc., and of their opponents' miserable atheistic
regard for life as a supreme value. But what is there noble, what
is there spiritual, what in fact is there Christian, about mass
murder of those innocents who do not share these values? Surely,
it would be both more libertarian, more courageous, and more Christian
for such conservatives quietly to commit suicide and insure their
martyrdom that way, rather than drag millions upon millions of
innocents to their death along with them.
the new crusaders are itching to liberate the slaves who look
askance at liberation, their only truly honorable course would
be to outfit themselves individually and corporately, without
involving the rest of us Americans, or Americans officially as
a nation, and go winging their way to fight the Russians on their
own. With this kind of war, Americans can only be the gainer,
whoever wins: if by some quirk the crusaders win, then those Russians
left alive will be free (if they don't die of radiation poisoning
before they can enjoy their freedom), and if the crusaders lose,
then they will have had their coveted Death With Honor, and the
rest of us will be left alone to conclude peaceful agreements
with the Russians.
failure to commit suicide, we know that the 800 millions are not
nearly as anti-Communist as their would-be saviors. And by their
utter failure to revolt against Communist rule, which has now
lasted for fifty years, we can well wonder just how anti-Communist
the Russian slaves — and now the Chinese slaves — really may be.
Mr. Eugene Lyons, for two decades now, has been trumpeting imminent
revolution in Russia; I think it is about time that Mr. Lyons
be asked to put up or shut up.
into international diplomacy all the irrelevant High Seriousness
of the code duello, or "Whom Should We Snub at Mrs.
Astorbilt's Tea Party?" Yes, yes, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev
is a Bloody Butcher. On the Day of Judgment he will answer for
his crimes, and roast a thousand years in hellfire. But there
are a lot of Bloody Butchers around; the world reeks with them,
is universally run by them, has been run by them, more or less,
for many centuries. Lord Acton, the great British libertarian
historian, once said that the Muse of the historian is not Clio,
but Rhadamanthus, the avenger of innocent blood. I agree. But,
in the meanwhile before the millennium arrives, what do we do
with these Bloody Butchers? Khrushchev is a Bloody Butcher,
but so is Churchill, and DeGaulle, and Franco, and Chiang, and
Ky, and countless other "bastions of the free world."
Why did these hypocritical moralists, who not only do not blanch
at these people but rush to Shake Their Hand, suddenly balk at
Nikita? Certainly, Winston Churchill slaughtered far more men
in his lifetime than had Nikita. So did F.D.R. Harry S. Truman,
Butcher of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is not far behind. Our task
should be: to reduce the annual quantity of butchery as much as
possible. How do we do this, we anti-Butchers? By reviling Khrushchev
or Kosygin as much as possible, and thereby making a peaceful
detente impossible, and nuclear extermination ever closer?
Or by seeing to it that peace prevails, and that therefore there
is no mass international butchery to worry about? The chief instrument
of butchery by state rulers over innocent civilians is war;
refrain from war, work for peace, and we shall have done our
part in reducing butchery in the world. But, on the other hand,
if we send H-bombs and missiles to Moscow as pique for past Muscovite
butchery, we thereby add immeasurably to the total amount
of butchery in the world.
It is, indeed,
surprising that the very same people who blanch so quickly at
a few selected Foreign Butchers, never protest against the continued
good repute of various Domestic Butchers, who are much more under
our jurisdiction. Why hurl anathema at the Butcher of the Ukraine,
while continuing to hail as Elder Statesmen the Butcher of Hiroshima
and countless others?
horror at the Butcher of the Ukraine, coupled with the warm praise
showered on the Butchers of China, Korea, Dresden, etc., leads
one to believe that the whole argument reeks with hypocrisy. Trujillo
was a Good Butcher, because he was Our Butcher, i.e., a good "anti-Communist."
Castro is a Bad Butcher, because he gives every indication of
being one of Theirs. Despite the high moral tone of the War Hawks,
it turns out that the high crime of Butchery is strictly relative,
depending on who's doing it.
the whole argument is pure hypocrisy, designed to fool the "mass
base" of the Right, and whip them into war hysteria. To demonstrate
this, let us take Brezhnev and Kosygin, younger men who have not
been implicated in any of the major butcheries of Stalin or Khrushchev.
And let us suppose that they come over here for a visit. Does
anyone believe for a single instant that they would not be equally
denounced, that their visit would not be just as staunchly opposed
as Khrushchev's was by the rightist War-Hawk organs? Let us face
it: the Butchery argument is a pure red herring, a demagogic device
to whip up opposition to peace.
This is a
typical State Department-type argument, rather than a War Hawk
one. It doesn't make any more sense, nevertheless. What deeds
are the Russians supposed to undertake, to "prove" their
peaceful intentions? A deed like disarmament? Who is for
complete and general disarmament, the Russians or us? A deed like
ending foreign bases? Who has bases, encircling the other
side, the Russians or us? A deed like finally liquidating World
War II, concluding a peace treaty with one or two Germanies, and
getting foreign troops out of Germany? Who advocates this, the
Russians or us? A deed like expanding trade and cultural interchange
between the nations? Who advocates this, the Russians or us? Who
has called for abandonment of underground nuclear tests, for outlawry
of nuclear war, etc.? Aren't these suggestions "deeds"?
can the Russians do — except voluntarily abandon communism? Is
this the only deed that we will consider as satisfactory
before agreeing on peace? Is such a demand on our part peaceful,
or is it an ultimatum? The fact is that it has consistently,
for many years now, been the Russians who have taken the
lead in moves for peace: in calling for disarmament, for withdrawing
troops, for concluding peace treaties with our former enemies,
for Summit talks to reduce tensions and make agreements, etc.
And in every case it has been the Americans who have held back
and shown the utmost reluctance. What would we be saying
now, I wonder, if the positions were reversed, if the Russians
adamantly refused to negotiate unless we voluntarily gave up free
enterprise? (Of course, we seem to be doing this anyhow, but that's
another story.) If the Russians are willing to negotiate fully
with us without asking for "deeds," why shouldn't we
As for the
Chinese, we can have nothing to say about them. How can we, when
officially they do not exist? In old-style international relations,
the only sensible kind, "recognition" means simply that:
the recognition of reality, of the existence of a government.
Just because Woodrow Wilson and Henry Stimson launched the absurd
policy of using recognition — or non-recognition — as a moral
weapon, is no reason for us to pursue it.
Such, I believe,
are the main War-Hawk arguments. We come now to Part II, where we
consider the interesting question: Why be anti-Communist? What are
the reasons that the American officialdom, press, etc., are so vehemently
anti-Communist? Let us go down the list of these common reasons,
one by one.
permits no free elections (the favorite Social-Democrat argument).
permits no freedom of speech.
is a conspiracy.
believe in lying for their cause.
do things like preventing Pasternak from accepting a Nobel Prize.
want to impose socialism on the economy.
we come to what I suspect is the main reason why the "mass
base" of the Right is anti-Communist. Yes, Communists are
atheists. (The only adjective that the man-on-the-street seems
to be able to apply to communism is "atheistic.")
May I be so bold as to say: so what? Are we then really back
in the early Seventeenth Century, and must we really slaughter
every heretic we can find? (A pro-Right War Hawk has used a
phrase that is quite revealing. He called pacifism a "Christian
heresy." Torquemada rides again!) Bertrand Russell is an
atheist; must we drop an H-bomb on London in order to rid ourselves
of his presence? There are lots of atheists, furthermore, who
are thoroughly anti-Communist. Some of my best ardently libertarian
friends are atheists. It should not be forgotten that the most
glamorous and conservative Republican leader of his generation,
Robert G. Ingersoll, was an agnostic, which would be regarded
by many of the pious Cold Warriors as even worse than atheism.
whole affair is to be turned into a mighty theological (instead
of a political-economic) struggle, how do the War Hawks account
for the plethora of Protestant bishops and ministers who are
"fellow travelers" of the Communists, or who are even
so wicked as to be for peace? How do they account for the Red
Dean of Canterbury? Or, even further, what do they do about
Metropolitan Alexei, head of the flourishing, pro-Communist
Holy Orthodox Church of Russia?
that some Cold Warriors may have at least an answer to the latter
questions: i.e., by suggesting that Protestants and the Russian
Orthodox Catholics are not really Christian.
deplorable. But: what of Chiang, and Franco, and Ky, and Trujillo,
and Rhee (who permitted elections only after jailing opponents)?
When did they ever permit free elections? Why, then, are they
our "heroic allies" while Soviet Russia and China must
be fought to the death? Obviously, this is no reason to
be for war against communism, any more than it would be to declare
war on Chiang. And, by the way, the one place in Southeast Asia
where there were partial free elections was in Laos, where
the Communists won, and where our puppets stepped in to dissolve
the legislature and jail the Communist leaders in breach of national
and international agreements. This was done at American urging
— this sabotaging of free elections, which apparently are only
good when Our Side wins.
still more deplorable. But: what of Chiang, and Franco, and Ky,
and Castillo Branco, and Rhee? Since when did these Bastions of
the Free World ever permit freedom of speech? There are surely
countless other examples. But we don't whoop it up for war crusades
against these nations; why against Russia and China? Again, a
better reason will have to be found.
the argument runs, are nice guys who are open and above-board;
Communists, on the other hand, lurk in dark corners, as conspirators.
It is about time that this nonsense be speared. How does one define
the word "conspiracy"? A conspiracy is an agreement
— any agreement — between two or more people made in private.
If Jones and Smith and Robinson meet in Jones' home to decide
to support Robinson at the next meeting for president of the local
lodge, and they do not publicize their agreement, this is "conspiracy."
And so all of us, in one way or another, are "conspirators"
about something. So what? The whole conspiracy bogy was introduced
into the common law by kings who feared opposition to their rule,
and wanted to crush all dissent. It's about time we abandon this
bogy concept, or else logically widen it until its use against
only Communists becomes nonsensical.
deplorable. But which government officials don't do the same?
What government doesn't employ propaganda bureaus in highly organized
lying for what they think is the dumb public's benefit? What government
official doesn't lie in his teeth for the supposed national welfare,
and pride himself upon his deeds? Did not Professor Thomas A.
Bailey, a leading partisan of F.D.R., admit that Clare Boothe
Luce was correct in holding that F.D.R. lied the United States
into war? And did not Bailey praise F.D.R. as a great democratic
statesman for his political mendacity? Does any sane and informed
person believe that General Marshall told the truth when he said
he could not remember where he was on the night before Pearl Harbor?
And what of the United States, bastion of the free world? We prevent
an American Leftist from getting the Lenin Peace Prize, and prevent
a Russian from traveling here to give it to him. We prevent Paul
Robeson from getting a passport to visit abroad. We revile the
editor of the National Guardian, and jail those whose crime
is only to advocate communism. This is to say nothing of the similar
actions of Chiang, Franco, and… So why go to war with Russia?
and here is the main reason why I am anti-Communist. But, here
again: who doesn't? Doesn't Chiang, or Franco, or Ky, or Trujillo,
or Rhee? America's foremost advocate of Chiang — an ardent free
enterpriser — once admitted to me that Chiang and his associates
are thoroughly socialist, and don't even have the slightest conception
of free enterprise. So, what do we do? Fight Chiang as well? And,
again, what about our home-grown Socialists, who don't belong
to the Communist sect of socialists? They are far more popular
and influential in the U.S. than are the Communist sect. What
do we do to the Walter Reuthers and Mrs. Roosevelts, Norman Thomases,
David Dubinskys, and editors of the New Leader? Do we
slaughter them? And if not, why travel thousands of miles to slaughter
In its early
years, the Soviets tried to exterminate religion in Russia. They
soon gave it up as a bad job — as they gave up egalitarianism —
and turned, instead, to sponsoring religion. Khrushchev himself
admitted the popularity of the churches in Russia today. Is the
Orthodox Church of Russia then bad because it is a state church,
run by state rulers? Of course, but let us not forget that the Russian
Church has always been a state church under the czars. And,
we might note, in passing, the state church of that mighty bastion
of the Free World, Great Britain.
And so we have
it. The purpose of this paper has not been to advocate dictatorship,
suppression of free speech, conspiracy, mendacity, socialism, or
atheism. The purpose has been to show that, in every one of the
common indictments of communism, there is nothing uniquely applicable
to Soviet Russia or China, or to communism. All of these bad qualities
adhere to a great many other social systems, including those of
our most Heroic of Allies, and including the United States itself.
There is, therefore, no reason for singling out communism or Russia
upon which to launch a Holy War.
- Let us not
forget the role of the British-French-Israeli aggression at Suez,
which the National Review supported, in making the suppression
of Hungary seem respectable.
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