Warmongering Defined

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More than a few pundits on the Right — who profess to defend "mainstream" beliefs and ideals — are far too ready to call for other men to go to their deaths, and for unnamed, unknown foreigners to be killed.

I have friends and relatives in the military.

For example, my sister’s fiancee — who is also my daughter’s godfather — was on the USS Cole. He’s a great guy.

When I read articles by empty-headed blowhards crying out for blood, I think of my future brother-in-law. I thought of him a great deal after his ship was attacked by two guys in a rubber raft packed with explosives.

We didn’t hear from him for three days. Thankfully, he survived unharmed.

The survivors of the attack on the Cole spent days in a crippled ship in hostile waters. Essentially, they were sitting ducks. A ship full of water, a 40 by 40 foot hole blown in the side, electricity going on and off. Sleeping on the deck in 100 degree weather, unsure if another suicide bomber is coming your way. Unsure if you will live to see friends and family. Struggling to reach those still alive, or nearly alive. No food or shower for three days. Cutting steel, avoiding electrocution, in short, Hell on Earth.

It has been reported that the Cole would very likely have sunk had the blast been slightly deeper below the waterline, and had one of the turbine engines ignited (the blast was very near the engine room).The men and women on the Cole were very lucky.

The Cole, however, was not attacked in Norfolk harbor. It was attacked in Yemen. The reason the Cole was attacked is that the United States has taken on itself the role of global policeman, bullying sovereign nations into doing things the US demands or else. Predictably, those nations that America bullies don’t seem to like it much. Neither would America, if the roles were reversed.

And yet there are those who call themselves "traditionalists" and "conservatives" who argue, in effect, that this sort of thing should happen more often, to more American men and women.

"It’s worth it," they say. You can put such charlatans in the same class as Bill Clinton, who dutifully bit his lower lip and looked as if he’d been caught doing something naughty when instead he was presiding at a service meant to honor those killed on board the Cole.

I confess that I do not understand what brings men to cheer for war.

My views in this area were developed long before the attack on the USS Cole. The chief factors in bringing me around to an anti-war state of mind were the study of economics and the birth of my daughter.

Studying economics caused me to appreciate just how difficult it is for the material conditions of human life to be advanced. For there to be material improvement in human life, as Ludwig von Mises and others have demonstrated, there must be not only savings, but investment, such that new devices can be created and their use become widespread.

If you own a home, think for a moment how hard you must work to keep your home in good repair. Roofs wear out, windows wear out, floors and counter-tops wear out. When things don’t wear out, they can go out of style. In short, we must work very hard to preserve what we have.

The same is true of cars. A neglected automobile will not last long.

On a more personal level, if you are a parent, consider the long hours required simply to nurture a child to one year of age. The time commitment of responsible parenting is enormous.

There are also great films, old and new, which show the face of war.

All Quiet on the Western Front, for example, is a tremendous anti-war film. Not the Ernest Borgnine and Richard Thomas version (nothing against Borgnine and Thomas), but the original black and white version from 1930 (54th on the list of the Top 100 films of all time). To see the film is to see the horrors of war as close as most people should ever want to get.

As the film opens, a teacher incites his male students to war. Another notable scene features the film’s protagonist home on leave. After months at the front lines, seeing his friends die around him, being wounded several times himself, and struggling merely to eat, he is nauseated by the men in his town who argue over a map of the war, speaking of the need for yet more attacks, and yet more death, as casually as ordering another beer. It is a powerful scene.

Of more recent vintage is Mel Gibson’s masterpiece The Patriot. Early in the film, Gibson’s character — a South Carolina legislator — is called to Charleston for a vote on whether South Carolina should support the Continental Army of George Washington. Despite the overwhelming public sympathy for rebellion, Gibson’s character — who was a hero of the French and Indian War — refused to support the rebellion.

Even when his own family becomes involved in the war, Gibson’s character is extremely reluctant to become involved. The reason for his reluctance is that he knows the nature of war.

Of course, no current discussion of the nature of war would be complete without mention of Saving Private Ryan. Anyone who beats the drums for war ought to sit down and watch the opening scenes of Private Ryan a few times.

You know the scenes — on the beaches at Normandy, where young American men are cut down like so many cattle in their landing crafts by machine-gun fire. Where men run around with their severed arms in their hands, men are shot in the head as they take off their helmets to marvel at near misses, men drown from the weight of their equipment, and men are burned alive as their flamethrowers are hit with machine-gun and rifle fire.

And yet some American citizens, politicians, and pundits — in their zeal to "make the world a better place" by any means possible, and in their desire to get their way right now — are eager to destroy the homes, lives, and property of people living thousands of miles away, as well as the lives of an "acceptable" number of American pawns.

Often, pundits call for war for no other reason than the fact that the United States today has the mentality of a vigilante. When Serbs and Albanians were embroiled in civil war — wait, they still are, despite Clinton’s claims to have "solved" their differences — there was little analysis of whether the United States had any moral or constitutional grounds for intervening. So we intervened anyway. We blew up houses and Orthodox churches in our zeal to make Serbs and Albanians "get along."

At some point, one has to question whether such wanton destruction is really the solution to any nation’s problems.

What the"traditionalists" who clamor for war, death and killing ought to consider is precisely how strong a moral justification is required to condemn people to such fates. It is incompatible to believe both that human life is sacred and that human life may be thrown away as casually as a chewing gum wrapper.

And yet that is what "neoconservatives" and other alleged believers in "family values" would have us do.

When a nation is invaded, it is right to defend one’s life, family, and property. It is a wholly different endeavor — morally speaking — to wage war when one has not been attacked, even if one fights in the name of "imposing order" or "guaranteeing peace."

My own family was blessed by the idiotic pipe dreams of "well-meaning" politicians long before the attack on the USS Cole. One of my uncles fought in Korea, while two uncles and my father-in-law fought in Vietnam. None of them wish to discuss their experiences.

One might argue that persons who join the military know what they are getting into, and that what they are getting into is a uniform with a perpetual target on it.

Although it is true that the role of the soldier is to risk death and dismemberment in defense of home and country, it is an abuse of a soldier’s life to send him around the globe to settle every spat which might arise between persons having nothing to do with the national interests of the United States.

Rather than strictly decide whether a given conflict was in the interests of the United States, Bush the First and Clinton — in the Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans — embarked upon missions based upon public outcry over pictures of suffering on television. Murray Rothbard has investigated yet other reasons for the American war against Iraq.

I am sympathetic to pictures of people suffering on television. It is a terrible thing to see men, women, and children, bombed out of their homes, dependent upon the charity of others for their survival. Despite this fact, Americans must come to realize that there is frequently little which can be done to alleviate the troubles of the globe short of simply conquering the globe.

Generally, American intervention buys peace, if at all, so long as, and only so long as, American troops are stationed in the war zone in question. In the case of Somalia, the American presence did not appear to achieve any benefits at all.

Such casual invasions run the risk of turning the locals against the United States for a very long time. Such invasions also risk American lives not in defense of America, but in defense of moral goals which are a) undefined or b) inconsistent. If the United States invaded the Balkans because of tensions between Albanians and Serbs, perhaps the United States should occupy London until the British settle the Troubles in the north of Ireland.

What does America have to show for its role as a global policeman such that we must rush to war again and again? Broken lives and little else. The Korean peninsula remains divided and unstable, Vietnam is a socialist nation, and the US government is an aggressor against individual liberty and property at home and abroad. As has been ably demonstrated by Robert Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan, and by numerous authors in The Costs of War, much of the growth of the United States government has come as the result of wars. The government expands to fight a war, but, in peacetime, does not return to pre-war levels.

This is why those who beat the drums for war are rightly referred to as warmongers. Rather than demonstrate the appropriate caution toward the evil and destructive reality of warfare, there are those pundits and politicians who appear to regard combat as merely another instrument of public policy. Shame on them.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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