What I Didn't Learn at VMI

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This is a non-verbatim transcript of a talk delivered at the Burton S. Blumert Conference on Gold, Freedom, and Peace.

When I entered VMI as a freshman in 1968, which was at the height of the Vietnam War, I was as innocent and naïve as 18-year-olds today serving in the U.S. military. The last thing that entered my mind was that federal officials would lie, especially about something as important as war.

Over the next two years, one of my most vivid memories at VMI was when a certain announcement would be made at dinner in the mess hall over the public address system. I don’t recall the exact words but they went something like this: "Attention to orders. 12 October 1969. Republic of South Vietnam." Immediately, a hush would sweep across the mess hall — we all knew what was coming next. "Lt. Smith, William B., VMI class of 1966, killed in action this day."

By the time I was a junior at VMI, I had discovered how wrong I had been. Federal officials do lie. They lied about the fake attack at the Gulf of Tonkin. They lied when they said that U.S. troops were defending our freedoms in Vietnam. They lied when they said that "the dominoes" would fall if South Vietnam fell. They lied when they said that the communists would end up taking over America if South Vietnam lost the war.

Today the lies are different but they’re still lying. There are little lies and big lies. There were the lies describing the Jessica Lynch ambush. There were the lies surrounding the death of Pat Tillman. There are lies saying that they didn’t use white phosphorus on the people of Fallujah. There are the "We don’t torture" lies. And there was the 9/11 lie, which claimed that while foreigners love the U.S. government for what it does to people overseas, they hate Americans for their "freedom and values."

And there’s Iraq, a war that is not only enveloped by lies but is also infected through and through with lies.

Let’s keep one important truth in mind: Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Neither the Iraqi people nor their ruler, Saddam Hussein, participated in the 9/11 attacks. That makes the United States the aggressor nation in this conflict. The U.S. government has waged a "war of aggression" against Iraq, a type of war that was punished by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

The president, vice president, and other U.S. officials marketed the war by terrifying the American people with the prospect that Saddam Hussein was about to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Let’s assume that they were acting in good faith and not out of a deliberate intent to deceive. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. At some point early in the invasion, it became clear that there were no WMD and that Saddam had been telling the truth in this regard. At that point, U.S. officials had an option. They could have apologized for their "mistake" and ordered U.S. troops to exit the country. That’s not the option they chose. Instead, they crossed a line and proceeded with the invasion, killing many more Iraqis, after discovering that there were no WMD in Iraq.

One of their rationales for doing this was that they loved the Iraqi people so much that they wanted to liberate them from their brutal dictator and share democracy with them. Yet, the circumstantial evidence leads but to one conclusion: that this is a lie. During the Persian Gulf War, for example, the Pentagon knowingly and intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage facilities, knowing that infections and disease would spread among the Iraqi people, much as they warned residents of New Orleans that dirty water there would spread infection and disease. They then imposed some 12 years of brutal sanctions, which made it difficult to repair those water and sewage plants, and which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, especially from infections and disease. There was the U.S. policy expressed by then-ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright — that those deaths were "worth it." What that meant was that the deaths of the children were worth trying to oust Saddam from power. There were the illegal no-fly zones, which caused more Iraqis to be killed. There was the bombing campaign that took place before the invasion. There was the invasion itself, which has killed and maimed tens of thousands of Iraqis. And there was the torture, sex abuse, rape, and murder of Iraqi detainees, even after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

I repeat: The circumstantial evidence leads to but one conclusion: the claim that U.S. officials invaded Iraq out of love for the Iraqi people is a lie.

President Bush and other U.S. officials say that another reason they invaded Iraq was so that Iraq would serve as a "magnet" for "the terrorists," meaning that the terrorists would attack U.S. troops in Iraq rather than Americans here at home in terrorist attacks. President Bush even taunted them to "bring it on." But where is the morality — or legality — of using Iraq for such a purpose? Remember: Neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States. What did they do to deserve to be targeted as a "magnet" country for a "war on terrorism"? What did they do to deserve suicide bombers killing them and their families as they eat dinner in some café? What did they do to deserve the violent insurgency, the deaths, destruction, and chaos that came with making their country a "magnet" in the "war on terrorism"?

President Bush said just a few days ago that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who needed to be ousted from power. He should know, given that his father undoubtedly told him about how brutal Saddam Hussein was when the Reagan-Bush administration was supporting Saddam in his war of aggression against Iran. In fact, his father might even have told President Bush that the United States was one of the places from which Saddam got his WMD.

But it’s not like there aren’t lots of brutal dictators in the world. There’s, of course, Pakistan, which is ruled by a brutal military dictator who took power in a coup and who won’t permit democratic elections to be held. Of course, he’s a friend of U.S. officials, like Saddam was. There are also brutal dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Korea, and Vietnam. Isn’t that the business of citizens in those countries, rather than the business of the U.S. government?

And speaking of dictatorial powers, how many countries in the world are there where the ruler has the power to send the entire nation into war without legislative approval? That’s the situation we have now here in the United States. Sure, the Constitution — which is the supreme law of land — the law that we the people impose on our federal officials — requires a congressional declaration of war, which makes the president’s war on Iraq illegal under our form of government. But who’s paying attention to the Constitution?

We also live in a country in which the ruler claims the power to arrest and send into military incarceration and punishment any American citizen on the president’s mere label of “terrorist.” No federal court interference, no due process, no jury trials. I’m of course, referring to the Jose Padilla case, where the president is now wielding this dictatorial power as part of his "war on terrorism."

And of course it’s the same with foreigners. We now have a military prison system that extends all over the world — including in Soviet-era communist compounds — which denies people due process of law and access to U.S courts. The Congress is making things worse by removing the power of the federal courts to even rule in such matters. Keep in mind that they’re doing this as part of the federal government’s long-established role as the world’s international policeman. But if the federal government is going to be the world’s international cop, why shouldn’t it be required to behave like a cop here at home is required to behave? People say, "Oh, you would treat terrorists as criminals"? You bet because that’s what terrorism is — a crime. That’s why they indicted and convicted Timothy McVeigh and Zacharias Moussaoui. There’s no reason why the international cop, as he goes lumbering around the world in search of "terrorists," can’t turn over his detainees to a country’s criminal justice system or bring them back to the United States for trial for terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Why do these people lie? Because they think they can get away with it. They know that people look on the federal government as their daddy — a bit violent, abusive, and dysfunctional — but their daddy nonetheless, providing them retirement, healthcare, education, housing, and employment. They know that people don’t want to believe that their daddy lies to them.

One of the things I did learn at VMI was the importance of telling the truth. And that’s why I came to this conference. When I registered for the conference, I didn’t realize I was going to be a speaker. I was coming here to pay tribute to a man who has been speaking the truth — Lew Rockwell. Lew has been speaking the truth for a long time but especially since 9/11. While it might have been tempting after 9/11 to hold one’s head down and merely talk about such things as Social Security reform or reform of other government programs, Lew Rockwell has been one of those libertarians who have stood apart and has had the courage to continue speaking the truth. He embodies the words spoken by a Civil War president whose name it would not be polite to mention at an LRC conference: "To sin by silence when one should protest makes cowards out of men."

Can we prevail in our quest to restore liberty to our land? Of course we can. And the perfect antidote to lies is truth. One person speaking the truth affects another person who speaks the truth to someone else, who then does the same. The light that comes from the truth being expressed by one person after another after another ultimately extinguishes the darkness. That’s what this conference is all about. If we continue speaking the truth and sharing it with others, we will see the triumph of our ideals — the triumph of liberty.

November 24, 2005

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Jacob Hornberger Archives

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