Memorial Day: A Reminder of Failed Moral Principles

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Why have so many Americans fallen in battle and been wounded in battle? There are not simple answers. Many Americans will say that “They died for their country.” George C. Scott didn’t say that in his opening Patton speech, but let’s suppose that this is some sort of answer. Two moral principles are involved, and they clash. One is not killing others, and the second is killing others for one’s country. If defense were all that was involved in the killing of these others and in this nation’s wars, then the clash between these principles is ameliorated; but defense is not all that was involved.

There is another principle associated with dying for one’s country, and that is “My country, right or wrong.” This slogan has been altered and taken out of context, according to one source, but since it is a widespread American sentiment that undergirds the killing of others, let us examine it.

For that purpose, I will quote German economist Ulrich von Beckerath:

“When two important moral principles contradict each other then at least one of them is wrongly founded. The principle: “Right or wrong, my country!” presupposes:

I. That the subdivision of Earth into States is morally unobjectionable and does not infringe the rights of men and citizens,

II. That the inhabitants of a State’s territory are obliged to obey their government unconditionally,

III. That the decision and initiative in all public affairs belongs to the government (including parliament) and exclusively to it and that it is the government’s business to declare what public affairs are or are not, and

IV. That all obligations arising out of nationality take precedence before all other duties, for the head of state as well as for all subjects.”

In other words, all those who support America’s wars almost unconditionally as morally right are making at least 4 assumptions each of which is to a very high degree, and some (including me) would say altogether, questionable.

Americans who show such strong support for America’s foreign wars are living under a moral code that endorses States over rights, obedience of men to whatever States happen to control the territories they inhabit, decision-making control over war-making and indeed all public affairs by these States, and the precedence of duties to the State over other moral obligations.

The antinomy between  those Americans who believe in these ideas and those who do not cannot be resolved with one government over all. Majority rule, voting, democracy and all that these mean can’t resolve such basic and irreconcilable differences.

The only answer that I’ve been able to come up with is this: “Non-territorial government of one’s choice.” To each his own choice of government while not interfering with one’s neighbors’ choices of governments. Under this principle, there would have been no internal war (1861–1865). There would have been no military draft. Taxation for foreign wars would have fallen only on those willing to pay. Rationing and wartime controls would have been applied only on those who supported them voluntarily, under a government that a segment of the population had chosen and to which it had willingly given such control. How long could such a government last when the people under it would have beside and near them the example of others who, in freedom, would be prospering without the heavy burdens of war?

If foreign enemies had shown up on these shores or invaded these lands, the defense situation under this principle might have occasioned a federation of governments or a cooperative strategy to fend off the invaders. The same goes for a threat from abroad that threatens all of these imaginary co-existing governments. However, America’s wars have not been of this character.

The existing principle has led to the development of atomic weapons whose killing potential is nothing more than mass murder. It is possible but extremely difficult at this point in the world’s history and its organization into States to put this genie back into the bottle. Since States retain the option to produce these weapons and use them, without sanction by others, as in the case of all those States that have stockpiles of these weapons of mass destruction, the system of territorial States that embodies the moral principle of “right or wrong, my country” is now continuously perched on the edge of mass murders and threats of mass murders. We live under the logic of mutual assured destruction.

What is the alternative but that peoples all over the world renounce this principle of “right or wrong, my country” and replace it by higher moral principles embodied in a system of nonterritorial governments formed under voluntaristic choices of every person?

I do not celebrate Memorial Day. It is a reminder of failed moral principles.

I take the occasion to articulate a progressive view, if I may liberate that term for libertarian use. Progress is to be found in renouncing the system of territorial States that now governs mankind and endorsing nonterritorial governments of one’s choice.

2:21 pm on May 28, 2012