Pundits and journalists like the melodramatic. They never miss an opportunity to point out the "loss of innocence" that some new atrocity has brought on America. There are two kinds of lost innocence, though. There is the kind that elevates government, and there is the kind that lays bare the incompetence and the capriciousness of the state.
According to the government-loving elites, events like Pearl Harbor are laudable because they allegedly make Americans aware of the crucial need for government. For example, I was recently at a conference where I heard a gang of college professors say (with a distinct air of self-satisfaction) that the events of September 11th have shown government-hating Americans the need for government after-all. Naturally, these kinds of people are the same people who bemoan the legacy of "loss of innocence" events like Watergate because they make the corruption of the federal government obvious for everyone to see.
The big question that we still have regarding the events of September 11th is whether or not those events will be a "loss of innocence" of the Pearl Harbor variety or of the Watergate variety. I had little hope for the latter kind at first, but for various reasons, the prospects seem to be improving.
First, this war is not going well. Bush started off by vowing not to send cruise missiles to hit camels in the "butt", but after weeks of bombing, the American military appears to have done just that. It has managed to kill enough civilians to upset our extremely shaky alliances in Asia, though. Not a good start.
Second, only the greatest ignorance (or wishful thinking) on the part of Americans can convince us that Airline safety has improved or that the INS has done anything that amounts to more than a drop in the bucket as far as keeping track of foreign nationals inside the United States. My mother who is a flight attendant, relies on sheer luck that she won’t end up on a hijacked plane. It is abundantly clear to all who know the business that the current "precautions" being taken by the FAA are totally for show. I am quite sure, however, that all law-abiding people have been made as defenseless as humanly possible.
Third, the American empire has been exposed as inadequate to protect the lives of Americans. With soldiers in a hundred-plus nations, and fancy-shmancy smart bombs flying around willy-nilly, the government can’t seem to keep moderately intelligent third-world nationals from flying jumbo jets into skyscrapers.
It is hoped by the court intellectuals that these events will somehow translate into a revival of love and respect for the federal government. I have no doubt that for a while, the revival of nationalism will endure. Things will look fairly peachy until Saudi Arabia kicks us off the peninsulas (as they are currently debating) and hostilities break out between Pakistan and India (as the Indians are currently debating) and more Americans civilians are killed in some terrorist plot which I won’t even pretend to anticipate. We’ll also send in American ground troops to capture a bunch of strategically unimportant towns in Afghanistan. (News Flash: This isn’t the 17th century. Capturing a capital city doesn’t end wars anymore.) Then what? Nothing except more terrorism.
Ironically, the National Review crowd appears to be unwittingly accelerating the delegitimization of government. They have encouraged everything from a newly invigorated colonialism to unilateral "screw-the-international-community" style retaliation. Colin Powell has made valiant efforts to keep the entire world from reviling the United States government, but his efforts may come up short.
If the plans of the war party and their neo-conservative allies are to declare war on all the world, they will have to do so against the will of the American people. Americans have made it clear that all they want is for the terrorism to stop. They don’t want to remake the world in America’s image. If the war on terrorism continues in its current vein, Americans will find themselves sorely disappointed as well as grief stricken for more Americans who are sure to die on and off the battlefield. In times like this, one might wonder how the British felt when their global empire failed to keep the Nazis from lobbing V-2 missiles into London on a daily basis. The question must inevitably be: what good is empire?
And certainly, this must be the question that Americans will eventually ask themselves. What good is our massive military spread thin across five continents? What good is the starvation of Iraqi children? It didn’t help us on September 11th. It doesn’t assure me that my mother’s next flight out of Newark won’t be a non-stop flight to the Empire State Building.
Murray Rothbard wrote that the proper disposition for the libertarian is one of short-term pessimism and long-term optimism. He also noted that timing is an ever important factor in a successful libertarian movement. While short-term pessimism may or may not be in order, it is certainly important that all Americans who genuinely love liberty will not resign themselves to failure, but will speak the truth. The innocence lost on September 11th can be one that affirms government or one that exposes its corruption. If we allow it to further prop up the state, only more madness can result.
If the modern philosophy of American worldwide moralism and intervention fails, American civilization must have a philosophy to replace it. Supporters of peace and freedom must have the optimism and the timing to supply such a new philosophy: the philosophy of liberty.