Interventionism: Courageous and Cowardly

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few days ago, former President Bill Clinton gave a speech to a Canadian
Jewish group in my home town of Toronto. Before the audience, he
declared that “The Israelis know that if the Iraqi or the Iranian
Army came across the Jordan River, I would personally grab a rifle,
get in a ditch and fight and die.”

surprisingly, this evinced reactions ranging from appaluse, to disbelief,
to embarrassment, to cynicism. The statist chorus was given by war
veterans, such as Earl Murray, first vice commander of the American
Legion Post in Harlem, who declared it a “slap in the face” and
resurrected Clinton's draft dodger past as a criticism, “He had
his chance to serve his country, and he avoided it.” One New York
Democratic Congressman, Anthony Weiner, however, expressed his belief
in Clinton's sincerity, and predicted that “when Israel has had
its wars there have always been thousands of Americans that have
made alliyah to go participate in that war. Maybe Bill Clinton will
be one of them.” And an unnamed Republican Congressional aide added,
“He just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong?”

the Congressman pointed out there is a long history of foreigners
voluntarily joining other countries’ armed forces. Just a few examples
are, for instance, the nearly 3000 Americans who volunteered as
Stalinist pawns in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as well as hundreds
of Canadians in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, to fight alongside
rapists and murderers in defense of the brutal second Spanish Republic.
Thousands of Canadians joined the Union invasion of the South, and
Canadians also joined the US invasion of Vietnam. Germans and other
Europeans fought in the American secession from Britain. And, of
course, a certain young American volunteered to fight for the Taliban.

not in all the hysteria over Clinton's newfound love affair with
personal combat has there been mention that his statement, like
his youthful draft dodging refusal to go off and murder innocent
Vietnamese civilians, was, at least, a moral and principled position.
Here he is, declaring to the world, his intention to voluntarily
commit his own property to a cause he deems just and right, even
though many conservatives ridiculed this as just another piece of
Clinton pandering and deception. If he is sincere, and Clinton may
not know himself, even know for sure, his statement raises the key
issue of our time, namely the coercive nature of statism, militarism,
and foreign intervention, and their denial of the citizen's self-determination
over his own life.

an individual decides he wants to leave his country and join the
armed forces of another, and he is accepted, by what right can anyone
restrain this person from acting? He has expressed his free will
to dispose of his property – his own life – in the way
he has decided he wants to. If he wants to fight and die for what
might or might not be a foolish cause, and no arguments can change
his mind once he has made it, it's his choice and his alone. This
type of foreign “interventionism” can at least be morally defended,
as it is based on the voluntary principle. And it is this same commitment
to voluntary means that defines the libertarian society against
the militaristic and totalitarian one.

contrast to the libertarian credo, are those conservatives who in
the wake of 9/11, instead of calling for renewed freedom, called
for Americans to surrender their rights and liberties and advocated
the totalitarian measures of conscription and economic stimulus
through inflation and increased military spending? In the face of
terrorism, many conservatives expressed sentiments that denied individual
self-determination and conflated the people and the country with
the state. 9/11 resurrected calls by the Buckleyites for their all-purpose
solution to every social problem: conscription (or what they call
“national service”).

moral character of the up-and-coming generation is deemed by them
to be less than those of the past? Conscription is the answer. Race
relations are bad? Conscription is the answer. High unemployment?
Conscription is the answer. Its not a little bit strange that those
who advocate conscription always argue that it's necessary in order
to train the younger generations to value freedom and be willing
to die to protect it. But conscription, militarism, and the general
statism that accompany them deny individual self-determination and
individual freedom, while at the same time providing a method for
more domestic looting of taxpayers and a means to intervene by force
around the world. Instead of as their fellow citizens, the statists
see Americans as the fodder and resources for their war machine,
and interpreted 9/11 to serve a new burst of domestic looting and
foreign meddling by the state.

contrast to the courageous form of voluntary intervening where the
individual volunteers to fight and die for a cause he believes in,
there is the cowardly example of the advocacy of war by many commentators
who will never see combat themselves, but who are content to see
others sent off to die by force. The looming invasion of Iraq, which
seems to barrel down the tracks without reason or debate, is yet
another example of cowardice at work. Those who never would voluntarily
fight their war themselves call for American men and women, with
the looted property of the American taxpayer to fund the enterprise,
to have no choice in the matter of war and peace. The war party,
as Justin Raimondo calls them, believe they can bomb foreigners
into freedom, while at the same time restricting American freedoms
and property rights. In the spirit of this subordination of the
individual to the state was all the talk of the “traitor” John Lindh,
who did nothing more than emigrate to another land and wound up
fighting in its government's army. But when Bill Clinton expressed
a desire to do the exact same thing in Israel, his statement was
met with rapturous applause, rather than accusations of treason.

since 9/11, the neoconservative mantra has been that everything
has changed. But have things changed so much that the conservatives
we libertarians thought of as our allies would take such statist
positions that they make Bill Clinton look like a defender of individual
liberties and common sense?

9, 2002

Young [send him mail]
is studying computer science in Ontario, Canada. His
articles have appeared in Ideas on Liberty,,,
and The Free Market.

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