Donít Support the Troops
Brandon J. Snider
by Brandon J. Snider
have already alluded to the difference hitherto existing between
regiments of men associated for purposes of violence, and for
purposes of manufacture; in that the former appear capable of
self-sacrifice the latter, not."
Ruskin, Unto This
was the view of one of the 19th centuryís most prominent
and influential leftists. Ruskin goes on to say that "the
soldierís trade, verily and essentially, is not slaying, but being
slain." It isnít the natural danger of being killed in battle
that has Ruskin mesmerized. One can be killed doing almost anything.
It is the fact that the soldier "holds his life at the service
of the State." Service. This is Ruskinís euphemism for
being a hired killer.
the troops Ė Bring them home!" is a familiar refrain in current
libertarian antiwar dogma. The slogan assumes they want to come
home. It assumes they donít like what theyíre doing over there.
It practically assumes theyíre libertarians. But are they? If so,
why did they join the military? The fact is that American soldiers
probably reflect the attitudes on war and interventionism of the
US populace at large. Letís face an unpleasant truth: the voting
majority in the US is pro-intervention. That same majority thinks
that both World Wars were swell adventures, and that, if Vietnam
was a failure, it was at least a noble effort. This is the pool
from which the United States draws its military. Soldiers may think
theyíre defending the country, or they may believe that action,
whatever the consequences, is better than inaction. In other words,
better to do something about an atrocity than stand by and allow
it to happen. This kind of thinking needs to be debunked and it
cannot be done successfully without reasoned criticism of the troops.
Libertarians cannot say that war planners and the ideologues who
drive them are evil, but that the instruments of those plans are
a tendency in libertarian circles to think that radical criticism
of supposed sacred cows will prove to be disastrous to the future
of the movement. I look at it differently. I think the other side
should be ashamed of themselves, and we should encourage such shame
with our rhetoric. We should not apologize for our views; we should
make the statists apologize. We are libertarians, they are totalitarians;
is this not correct? When I see libertarians Supporting the Troops!
and reserving criticism for policy-makers, I see this view in practice.
Yet Supporting the Troops! is a distinctly collectivist idea. Self-sacrifice
for the state Ė is there any principal more anathema to individualism?
Why should anyone sacrifice himself for the state unless he is a
mere worker bee?
state is greater than the individual; more important than anything
else, and all must be sacrificed to protect it, even from its own
parts. Those who are willing to sacrifice themselves should be held
above all others Ė praised as though they were saints. This is what
weíre tacitly saying when we Support the Troops!
libertarians I read regularly gloss over the issue of The Troops,
and exactly what theyíre doing in their glorious adventures. When
atrocities occur, it is reported as "the US did itÖ" or
"the administration did itÖ" The terms are invariably
abstract enough so that no names are named.
US has an all-volunteer army now. These arenít the days of the draft,
where men are ordered to kill-or-be-killed (though even in the days
of the draft, it was possible to peacefully resist). Still, many
arguments abound against criticism of troops:
troops were lied to by the administration, specifically with regards
WMDs. What a revolutionary idea, that politicians lie. Strange
that we libertarians never believed those lies. Strange that we
knew from the second that they escaped Colin L. Powellís lips that
it was, as Powell himself said, "bullsh*t."
I suppose we libertarians have access to special information that
everyone else canít see or make any use of.
US military should only ever be used for defense; it says so in
the Constitution. Please. When, oh when, has the US military
ever been used as a defensive force? The US is not in danger of
invasion, has never been in danger of invasion, and does not require
a standing military. Even with these obvious truths, the US has
had a standing military of ever increasing size since before the
period. The US military is, was, and ever shall be, an offensive
force, existing at the meddlesome whims of political masters. If
GI Joe joined the military thinking he would only be used if the
US were attacked, he was suffering from an incurable form of galactic
foolishness. Letís not lionize a fool, especially one with a gun.
thing, I could live without ever hearing a libertarian talk about
again is the blasted Constitution. Lysander Spooner wrote a little
book called No
Treason: the Constitution of No Authority 135 years ago.
Allow me to summarize; the Constitution is a contract between parties
which do not exist and have not signed it. Therefore, it clearly
exists outside the law, got it? If youíre going to be a radical,
be a radical, donít talk like Republicrats. Besides, the Constitution
is a Living, Breathing Document as long as there are living, breathing
human beings in the state apparatus to interpret it. Get over your
fantastical dreams about an all-powerful document which will restrain
the power of the state. These kinds of tiresome, illogical arguments
donít seem radical, just very, very. Donít even get me started on
the Founding Fathers (Full disclosure: Iím Canadian).
naïve; they didnít understand what they were getting into when
they signed up. And yet, again, we do seem to understand. Libertarians
did not sign up, because we didnít want to kill or be killed, for
the state. What have we been doing right that they have not? Is
the information so hidden that they cannot seek out and determine
for themselves what theyíre getting themselves into? Certainly there
is no substitute for experience, which they certainly lack. But
is it not their responsibility, given what they do know about their
impending duties, to seek out and inform themselves of what awaits?
They are, after all, being asked to take a weapon and kill other
human beings. They know that much. Thatís not the sort of thing
one would do in Sunday school. How much more pathetic and contemptible
does it make them that they didnít properly investigate the situation
before they volunteered? It is also reasonable to assume that many
of them do understand and are happy to carry out their orders, and
it is reasonable to ask what we would do in their place, and why
they do not do so. If we had joined the military, gone to Iraq,
and suddenly become libertarians, what would we do? Would we not
do as Kevin
Benderman has done? Refuse to obey any future orders, and willingly
go to prison for it. Better that than continue to kill. The fact
that the troops continue to obey orders, and some no doubt enjoy
their jobs, clearly reflects their attitudes Ė and suggests what
level of sympathy they deserve.
joining, theyíre acting in their financial best interests, like
we all do. Itís not their fault, itís the system. Some equate
the military to being on a public works project. Before you continue
with this easy, lazy line of thought, be sure to draw a clear moral
demarcation point between building a road and blasting someoneís
are victims of military planners. If so, they share equal responsibility
for their victimhood. What do we call someone whoís killed by an
invading force? We usually try not to call them anything at all.
We usually ignore them and focus on our own casualties. They are,
however, clearly victims. The troops who have victimized them share
responsibility with the military planners. Troops are not mindless
machines, automatons carrying out prearranged instructions as if
without free will. At any time, they can lay down their weapons
and refuse kill.
is just one big insane disaster; blaming individual troops for what
happens is not fair. Military-worshipper Tom Hanks made a similar
comment on Charlie Roseís program a while back. He said "In
the Vietnam War, there were no bad guys." A deft maneuver
reducing thoughtful, reasoned analysis into a 2-second sound bite,
while simultaneously granting pardons all around. This is an argument
against war, not against joining the military and following orders.
If you and I know that war is an insane kill-fest, then why doesnít
GI Joe know it beforehand? And isnít it his responsibility to know?
easy for libertarians to dislike politicians, but not so easy for
them to dislike GI Joe. We hold brutal killers like John
Wesley Hardin or Charles
Manson in the lowest regard, but the difference between these
killers and military troops is semantic and symbolic. Itís time
to address the issue of the troops with the brutality it richly
deserves. Itís time to deconstruct the myth of the glorious military
adventure. Itís long past time we shame people who think about military
service. Perhaps then fewer young people will throw their lives
away. "Kill the head and the body will die" is a truism
that many libertarians no doubt use to justify their attitudes towards
the troops. But the supply of troops and the attitudes regarding
them is also a key. Shame people into refusing to join and the supply
of cannon fodder will atrophy to the point where foreign adventures
will not be possible without a draft. Will the populace accept a
draft? I have an idea that a draft at this point would be the same
as poking a sleeping grizzly bear with a stick. Try it, just try
J. Snider [send him
mail] is a blogger for Antiwar.com.
He is the webmaster of Weekendinterviewshow.com.
© 2005 LewRockwell.com