Celebrating the Rule of Force, Not Freedom

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One often can write news stories by the calendar, and today is not an exception. This is Memorial Day, and we are going to hear the rhetoric about honoring those who "died fighting for our freedom." Indeed, Americans might be honoring the dead from U.S. wars, but in no case did any of those dead whom we memorialize today die for "our freedom." They died, instead, because our political classes pointedly understand that promoting war is good for them.

I realize this is a statement that will bring anger. Those people who have lost loved ones in one of many U.S. conflicts will be angry because my statement insinuates that these mostly-young people died for a Big Lie. Others who have not been directly touched by one of our many wars simply want to believe that the United States of America is a shining beacon of freedom, and we need to protect that freedom from those who would take it away.

One wishes it were that simple. Yes, the rhetoric is powerful, and the snapshots of Americans at the graves of the fallen present vivid images of what it means to suffer loss, and no one wants to believe that a loss was in vain. Humans yearn for purpose, and it should not surprise us that people would seek purpose in the deaths of comrades and loved ones.

No doubt, there will be speech after speech by people declaring that these losses were tragic, but necessary, as the U.S Armed Forces are the last line of defense against those who would take away our beloved freedoms. That is the biggest lie of all. Forces from outside this country do not threaten our freedom, but forces inside do.

Let us begin with the small things and work to the larger issues. Many of us will be traveling on the highways, and the Memorial Day Weekend always brings out that show of force from state troopers. We can expect to see many motorists having their weekends ruined because they drove a few miles above the speed limit, or state troopers or local police are looking for a "big score" in finding drugs inside a vehicle.

I am not sure about the readers, but I cannot say I ever have felt "protected" by the presence of state police on the highway. They do not exist to "protect" us; they are there because Memorial Day Weekend is a big revenue time for the various agencies that receive money from fines. In other words, it is a grand time for the police to be shaking down individual drivers.

In Maryland, state police are trained from the beginning to regard motorists as scum. One friend of mine, a local police officer, was recruited by the state police, and the recruiter made this statement: "Why work on the farm when you can own it." Indeed, these officers are taught that the rest of us who do not wear the uniform of the Maryland State Police are simply servants on their plantation, and they treat us as such.

We look next at the court systems. For the past year, I have been part of a fight against the State of North Carolina, which falsely accused three Duke University students of rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault. From the beginning, everyone knew the charges were lies, but agents representing the state pushed forward not because they had truth on their side, but because they could do it. Michael Nifong and the Durham police did this because they had the power to do it.

When one realizes that Nifong really is not an outlier but rather an integral part of the system, the entire picture is better focused. There is a reason that the United States of America has more than two million individuals in prison. This country is the world leader in that department, with both the highest number of prisoners and the highest per capita incarceration rate.

To put it another way, those foreigners whom we so greatly fear are not as adept at taking away the freedoms of their citizens as the various governments in this country are at taking the freedoms of people living here. That is a most sobering thought. One of the fastest growth industries in the USA is prison construction — which also is the case in American-ruled Iraq.

For travelers going through airports, one constantly is reminded that the Transportation Security Administration inspectors are to be obeyed absolutely, for even a disapproving glance can result in the charge of "Interfering with the Duties of a Federal Officer," with the penalties for such an offense being up to 20 years in federal prison. It seems that government officials are a greater threat to the freedom of air travelers than anyone from al-Qaeda.

Representatives of government regularly threaten the lives and freedoms of people whose only offense either is sitting in one’s home (the threat of no-knock raids being quite real) or doing one’s job. I have sitting on my desk the details of indictments brought by federal officials against a young man with a wife and young children for pursuing normal activities in his job as an electricity trader. The government-inflicted electricity crisis in California and the implosion of Enron made traders enticing targets by ambitious federal prosecutors, so the feds seek to destroy families and take away individual freedoms just so they can satisfy the political classes.

Then there is the military culture itself. Many military veterans receive preferential hiring treatment from "law enforcement" and other government entities. The "always obey orders" mentality means that they not trained in making moral choices, but instead are the well-trained enforcers of the political classes — and most of them relish being in a role in which they can tell others to obey — or face arrest or even death.

There also exists this knotty problem of the U.S. Government imposing the will of members of this country’s political classes upon people in other countries. The people of Iraq knew full well what that means, as do people in Serbia and elsewhere one might see U.S. soldiers in uniform. The U.S. political classes hold that U.S. law spans the globe, and anyone who harms or might even seek to harm a U.S. agent — no matter where that agent might be — is violating U.S. law and can be tried and punished in this country. One does not have to think very hard to realize the ramifications of that policy.

In the process of imposing the will of the U.S. political classes around the world, individuals die. Young people have fallen in Iraq and elsewhere, and we remember the hundreds of thousands who have died in other conflicts. It is a sad and solemn thing to see these dead memorialized, but it makes me even sadder when I realize that most, if not all, of these deaths were unnecessary to protect our own freedoms.

If anything, the aggressive U.S. foreign policy that has existed since the end of World War II threatens our freedoms more than any foreign government. As people around the world fight back, our own political classes respond by taking away our rights and freedoms one-by-one, all in the name of "protecting freedom."

I know these are harsh words, and they sting even more for the people who have lost loved ones in wars overseas. My point is neither to denigrate them nor to criticize those who memorialize them. Instead, I would ask the simple question: Which American freedoms are the soldiers protecting?

Then, I would ask one more question: What are the freedoms we have lost? Readers of this page know the answers to both questions.

Although I have pointed this column at the use of American military personnel around the globe, I also need to make another point: many of the politicians who now decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan want to make war on the rest of us. Listen to the rhetoric of people like Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, and John Edwards as they both attack the war and attack productive people in this country. The fervor is the same. Productive Americans are portrayed as being as great an enemy as Osama bin Laden.

(I add that Ron Paul is the only U.S. Presidential candidate who is campaigning for freedom. The others just want to take the same force this country uses against other people and use it against Americans who do not obey every dictum of the state.)

We hear them say we must "make war on dependence upon foreign oil," or a "war against Big Oil," or a "New War on Poverty." The rhetoric always is the same: war on someone.

So, by all means memorialize our war dead. But while we memorialize them, let us not glorify the wars that placed them in those graves, and let us not glorify the rhetoric that glories in the destruction of freedom — while at the same time claiming to be "protecting" our liberties.

May 28, 2007

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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