'Doing God's Work'
by Murray N. Rothbard
so to every sailor, soldier, airman, and marine who is involved
in this mission, let me say you're doing God's work.
President George Bush December 1992
his scintillating article on the Somalian incursion, Harper's
editor Lewis Lapham, one of the few left-liberals who remains
staunchly anti-foreign intervention, quotes the above words from
our recent president. (Lewis H. Lapham, "God's Gunboats," Harpers
Magazine, February) Lapham notes that Bush issued his "prelate's
benediction" to the troops even though lacking "both the miter
and the shepherd's staff." He also notes in a timely reminder
to those conservatives who have not yet re-examined their devotion
to the preceding president that on that very same December
day Ronnie Reagan, speaking at Oxford University, urged the United
Nations to develop "an army of conscience" to confront the "evil
(that) still stalks the planet" even after the death of the Soviet
Union. Since it is difficult to imagine evil stamped out from
the world very quickly, this presumably implies a permanent standing
world army to vanquish and keep down evil and sin in whatever
quarter of the globe they might raise their ugly heads. In short,
a permanent global Crusade.
real evil this crusading spirit itself first
swept over America in the late 1820s in the form of what is technically
called "post-millennial pietism" (PMP). In the dominant "evangelical"
form that PMP assumed in the "Yankee" communities of the North
(New Englanders and their transplanted kin in upstate New York,
northern Ohio, northern Indiana, etc.), this meant that every
man had the bounden and overriding duty to maximize the salvation
of his fellowmen, by stamping out sin and the temptations thereto.
In short, he was bound to work his darndest to establish a Christian
Commonwealth, a Kingdom of God on Earth. It very quickly became
clear that sin was not going to be stamped out very quickly by
purely voluntary means, and so the PMPers rapidly turned to government
to do the stamping out and the creating and the uplifting. In
short, as one historian perceptively put it, for the PMPers, "government
became God's major instrument of salvation."
turn to government was facilitated by the "pietist" part of the
PMP doctrine, for this meant that the old Puritan emphasis on
creed and God's Law, much less the Catholic or Lutheran emphasis
on liturgy or the sacramental Church, was swept aside. Christianity
became totally focused in a vaguely pietist, "born again," mood
on the part of each basically creedless and Church-less individual
soul. Shorn of Church or creed, the individual PMPer was necessarily
forced to lean upon government as his staff and shield.
but surely over the decades since 1830, this mainstream Yankee
Protestantism became secularized into an only vaguely Christian
but passionately held Social Gospel. After all, with this sort
of mindset, it was easy for God to gradually drop from sight,
and for government to assume a quasi-divine role. It was left
to the monster Woodrow Wilson, a PMPer to his very bones and a
Ph.D. as well, to take this domestic creed and extend it to foreign
policy. It was essentially a "today the U.S., tomorrow the world"
credo. Once the PMPers took over the U.S. government and imposed
a Kingdom of God at home, their religious duty got raised to the
planetary level. As the historian James Timberlake put it, once
the Kingdom of God was being established in the United States,
it became "America's mission to spread these ideals and institutions
abroad so that the Kingdom could be established throughout the
world. American Protestants were accordingly not content merely
to work for the kingdom of God in America, but felt compelled
to assist in the reformation of the rest of the world." (James
and the Progressive Movement, 19001920, New York,
Atheneum, 1970, pp. 3738)
Woodrow Wilson, every American president has followed faithfully
in the footsteps of the Wilsonian creed. The content of the Kingdom
of God to be imposed on other nations may have changed slightly
(from alcohol prohibition and coerced global "democracy" in Wilson's
day to smoking prohibition, free condoms, and global democracy
in our own) but the form and the spirit remain all too much the
the February Triple R, we blasted the Somalian invasion
and cited Isabel Paterson's perceptive and prophetic denunciation
of the "Humanitarian with the Guillotine." Now, in an uncanny,
unconscious echo of Paterson, Michael Maren writes a chilling
and significant article in the leftist Village Voice ("Manna
from Heaven: Somalia Pays the Price for Years of Aid," Jan. 19)
about his own experiences as an American aid worker in Somalia
in the early 1980s. Before that, Maren had spent four years as
a leading relief worker in Kenya. From his African experience,
Maren learned a crucial fact about the African polity: that the
urban technocratic and bureaucratic ruling class in the African
countries (generally educated in Marxism in the imperial motherland)
has nothing but total contempt for the productive peasant classes
off whom this ruling elite battens. To the ruling elite, which
taxes, controls, and coerces the peasantry, the peasantry are
scum to be "modernized"; particularly scorned are the often prosperous
tribal, cattle-raising nomads, whose nomadic way of life seems
to be a constant reproach to Marxoid technocrats intent on emulating
Stalin and forcing their rural populace into the "twentieth century."
Maren had seen thousands of the nomadic Turkana tribe starve in
Kenya, largely due to the policies of the Kenyan officialdom,
who would "exploit the starving (Turkanas) by offering to trade
small amounts of donated relief food for the hides of their animals,
the last remaining things of value the refugees owned...Ultimately
it dawned on me that the suit-wearing, tea-sipping, Europhile
politicians in Nairobi didn't really give a s__t about the 'primitive'
nomadic people in the north."
who shifted from Kenyan to Somalian relief in early 1981, then
gives us a good, concise history of the Somalian polity. Somalia
became an independent state in 1960, as the British and the Italians
pulled out of their respective Somalian colonies and the two joined
into one nation. From the beginning, the Somalian government was
obsessed with fulfilling the promise of the five-pointed star
of the new Somali flag: to incorporate a Greater Somalia uniting
all five groups of ethnic Somalis. Two of those points: Italian
Somaliland in the east and British Somaliland in the north, had
already been achieved, but there were (and still are) three remaining:
little Djibouti in the northwest, formerly French Somaliland and
still a client state of France and containing 5,000 French troops;
northeastern Kenya, to the southwest of Somalia, which is 60 percent
Somali; and the Ogaden desert, to the west of Somalia, which is
called Western Somalia by the Somalis but happens to be groaning
under Ethiopian tyranny.
much could be done about combating French imperialism in Djibouti,
but the other two goals were considered achievable. Kenya attained
independence a bit later than Somalia, in December 1963, and Somalia
had hoped to lop off northeastern Kenya for its own (called in
Kenya the Northern Frontier District (NFD)). When the Kenyan government
insisted on keeping the NFD, the Kenyan Somalis, egged on by Somalia,
began a long guerrilla war against Kenya, an as yet futile war
that still continues, out of sight and out of mind of the United
explosive was the Ogaden, where Somalia and Ogaden Somalis launched
a guerrilla war against Ethiopia, but stood no chance against
the superior American-trained Ethiopian army under the "freedom-loving,
pro-Western" yet slave-holding Emperor, Haile Selassie, the Lion
of Judah. In 1967, the Somalian government, led by Prime Minister
Mohammed Egal, decided to succumb to reality, and to make peace
with their more powerful neighbors. Egal's peace process had the
merit of facing reality, but it angered the Somali military, who
accused Egal of selling out Greater Somalia and betraying the
five-pointed star; a military coup, led by Major General Mohammed
Siad Barre, ousted Egal and established a dictatorship in October
promptly threw in his lot with "scientific socialism," and he
and his Supreme Revolutionary Council established an alliance
with the Soviet Union, happy to welcome another "Marxist-Leninist"
state and to ship arms to a useful enemy of the "pro-American"
Haile Selassie. A massive Soviet arms buildup, and thousands of
Soviet military advisers training the Somali army, led Ethiopians
and Kenyans to become even more ardent in their "pro-American"
years later, however, came the great sea-change in the Horn of
Africa: a military coup of Marxist-Leninist army officers overthrew
the Lion of Judah in 1974 and established a Marxist-Leninist military
dictatorship under the junta, the Dergue, led by Colonel Meriam.
The Soviets embraced the new military junta, and amidst the turmoil,
General Barre took advantage of the Ethiopian crisis and invaded
and conquered the Ogaden in 1977. Another point in that star!
Soviets, however, poured arms and the Cubans sent troops to aid
Ethiopia, at which point Barre turned to the United States, playing
down his Marxism-Leninism and undoubtedly discovering a new commitment
to "freedom" and "democracy." But the Carter administration was
slow in delivering aid, and the Soviet-aided Ethiopian army drove
the Somalian army out of Ogaden in the spring of 1978.
popularity was plummeting in Somalia; the hero of the Ogaden had
become the loser. And so Barre stepped up his dictatorship in
Somalia, increasingly narrowing the ruling clique to his own Marehan
tribesmen and within that to his own relatives. Impervious to
any of this development, the new Reagan administration sent none
other than Dr. Henry Kissinger to Mogadishu in early 1982 to assure
the despot Barre of our eternal support for this "scientific socialist"
dictator, all of course in the name of anti-Communism and the
Cold War. As Maren puts it, "From Washington, the barren wastes
of Somalia suddenly looked like downtown Berlin."
Michael Maren into Somalia as a food monitor for the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID). Maren was in charge of
tracking the relief food from Mogadishu to the Hiran desert district
in the north, which contained nine refugee camps near the Ethiopian
border. Maren quickly found that fully two-thirds of the U.S.
food to the refugees was being stolen, most of the theft being
conducted by the refugee camp commanders, Somali army officers
who sold the food, or else it was just taken by the soldiers,
or by the Somali-supported Ogaden guerrillas of the Western Somali
Liberation Front (WSLF). The WSLF also systematically raided the
refugee camps for able-bodied young men, whom they would conscript
into their continuing guerrilla warfare against Ethiopia in the
about the refugees in the nine camps? Why were they there, and
were they really starving? Maren discovered the truth: in the
first place, the refugees were there because they were nomads
fleeing the Ogaden, where they had been caught between the Ethiopian
army and WSLF. Second, the number of refugees was deliberately
highly inflated by the Somali government, in order to sucker Americans
into sending aid. Barre was claiming two million refugees when
there were far less (he had originally claimed half a million).
Thus, Maren found that one camp, Amalow, which was supposed to
have 18,503 refugees, and had food allotted for that many, really
had only about 3,500. As a result, far too much food was
being shipped into Somalia and into the camps by the bamboozled
only that: just as occurred eleven years later, the American excess
of food was inspired by duplicitous journalists, "who took pictures
of the sick and the hungry, and the relief agencies arrived on
the scene with food. And the food was being stolen."
Maren reveals, despite the massive theft, "no one was starving
to death in the refugee camps." Oh, there was plenty of death
all right, but the death was caused by disease: malaria, measles,
dysentery, diphtheria, pneumonia, river blindness. But food, though
not the problem, kept pouring in and being stolen.
was more method to this madness than simply providing free American
food for Barre's army and for the Ogaden guerrillas. As Maren
perceptively points out, the Somalian government, like the Kenyan
government, hates nomads. Even though the nomadic Somali refugees
weren't starving, they were attracted to settling in the refugee
camps by the promise of free food. After all, it's easier to sit
in a camp and receive food for free than to have to hunt and work
for it. As Maren puts it:
are nomads who spend most of their time looking for food. If you
put a pile of food in the desert they will come and get it...The
famine camps were set up and they came."
so the American food unwittingly played into the hands of Barre
and later Somali rulers: helping to build a modern socialist state
by settling nomads. Maren puts the point trenchantly:
leaders like to settle nomads. Nomads make it hard to build
a modern state, and even harder to build a socialist state.
Nomads can't be taxed, they can't be drafted, and they can't
be controlled. They also can't be used to attract foreign aid,
unless you can get them to stay in one place.
many African leaders, trying hard to be modern, view nomads
as an embarrassment and a nuisance. Anything 'primitive' is
an embarrassment and a nuisance. From Bamko to Nairobi I've
listened to Africa's elite discuss nomads as if they were vermin."
then concludes about the American relief program of the early
not only was the refugee relief program feeding Barre's army,
it was settling his population of nomads...And all this was happening
with the assistance of energetic young foreigners who were helping
to build the infrastructure of those new, refugee-populated towns,
setting up clinics, drilling wells, trying to teach the former
nomads how to settle down and grow food."
had happened to the cattle of the nomad refugees? Some was lost
to drought; the rest was left behind with family members. Traditionally,
nomads who had lost their cattle to drought got assistance from
relatives and other clan members; but now, in 1981, they had another
option: free food in the refugee camps.
as Maren points out, the Ogaden desert is sparsely settled: one
family would have eight to ten square miles of desert for grazing
their camels and goats. But the refugee camps played hob with,
you should excuse the expression, the nomad's eco-system. Now
each family was packed into a few square yards. There is no need
to learn about sanitation when you've always got ten square miles
of desert to roam around in. But sanitation became a big problem
in the refugee camps: hence, rampant disease and death.
monitoring the relief situation in the Hiran district, Maren and
his colleague Doug Grice, who was performing the same task in
the Bardera region and near the Kenyan border, sat down and wrote
reports to their bosses in the USAID program. The reports concluded
that the relief program was killing at least as many people as
it was saving, and that the net result was to ship food to Somali
soldiers who added to their income by selling food, and to enable
the WSLF to use the food as rations to conduct the guerrilla war
in the Ogaden. Their boss rejected the report, saying: "You guys
know you can't write this stuff. Stick to the facts," i.e., to
the amount of food missing and stolen. And, too, keep the reports
technical and boring, so that no critics of the program might
figure out what's going on.
his final report to his bosses before quitting the program, Michael
Maren pointed out an economic absurdity created by the program:
people in the towns wanted to know why they were not entitled
to the food and health care handed out free to those refugees
who had settled in the camps. A man in the town of Belet Huen
the headquarters town in the Hiran region working
for the very high salary of 800 shillings a month, could not supply
his family with the amount of food the refugees in the camp received
concluded his report with a prophetic insight into the future:
he noted that the American Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs)
were submitting hundreds of proposals to improve services to the
refugees. But Maren warned:
services to the refugees will only aggravate the problem by
encouraging them to stay, and more refugees to arrive. It will
spread more thinly the resource base leaving the door open for
a real emergency situation in the future. The future for refugees
in the camps holds only years of relief."
Maren declared, the efforts of the international community should
be to get the refugees out of the camps, not to attract more.
study of the Somali economy at the time discovered that the relief
industry constituted no less than two-thirds of the Somalian
economy. No way that the Somali government would give that up.
And now, twelve years later, the 1981 camps are still there, "the
residents of those camps are still dependent on relief food and
still have no way to earn a living on their own."
the question is: how could Somalia, a land that used to be self-sufficient
in food, have gotten to the point where virtually everyone seems
to be dependent on U.S. and other outside relief? Michael Maren
was succeeded in Somalia by one Chris Cassidy, who spent seven
years there with USAID, Save the Children, and FAO. Cassidy told
of the things that got Barre and his henchmen p__d off was when
you wrote reports saying that Somalia was self-sufficient in food.
That was because free food is what controls the place. The mentality
is, 'Why should we let people produce their own food and control
their own lives when we can keep them under our thumbs and under
the gun? We claim famine, flood, and refugees and get the food
shipped in here for free. Now we'll tell you when to eat and when
you can't eat!'"
short, the food "crisis" has been deliberately created by the
Somalian government by Barre and his successors
in order to exert control over the Somali population, to tell
them when and who shall or shall not eat. The humanitarian, said
Isabel Paterson, is only happy when a country is filled with breadlines
and hospitals. The humanitarian with the guillotine!
the Reagan and Bush administrations, and until 1988, the Barre
regime received the phenomenal sum of $100 million a year in military
and economic aid from the United States. Finally, in May 1988,
the major opposition to Barre, the Somali National Movement of
the Issaq tribe in northern Somalia, seized a few towns; the Barre
regime replied hysterically, bombing, shelling, and gassing their
opposition, killing at least 50,000 people. The regime proceeded
to search for, and execute, unarmed Issaqs, and the result was
a civil war that raged until Barre was finally toppled in the
fall of 1990. By the fall of 1989, Barre's massacres could no
longer be overlooked, and the U.S. cut off its aid to his regime.
analysis of the current situation is that this is simply more
of the same ills that have created the problem. The U.S. marines
are handing everything over to the PVOs, the relief people, who
aggravate the problem still more by pouring in more free food.
And what do the PVOs get out of it? Fat government contracts,
as well as fat donations by deluded humanitarians who think that
these reliefers are doing good and helping to solve the problem.
Journalists help the PVOs by getting their information from them
and featuring these heads of CARE, Catholic Relief Services, and
World Vision on television. The press assumes "that these are
humanitarian agencies whose only goal is to help people." In fact,
warns Maren, "they are organizations that stand to reap huge benefits
in the form of lucrative contracts to deliver food."
are the do-good relief organizations that have only made all the
problems worse: "These are the same organizations that have failed
for the past 10 years in Somalia and all over Africa. (Hundreds
of billions of dollars of aid in Africa over the last thirty years
have left the continent more famine-prone and dependent on outside
relief than ever.) They had thousands of refugees in camps in
1981, and they failed to get them out of the camps. They didn't
get them their cattle back. They didn't teach them to grow food
and to be independent. They just delivered food and collected
grants for development projects." These relief agencies, Maren
declares, want to fail, for "failure means a chance to
try again with new grants, new film footage for fundraising campaigns,
and fresh new volunteers who haven't learned yet that aid kills."
the real objective of these agencies, Maren has concluded, is
to raise money. These outfits are essentially rackets. Even though
sending food hasn't really helped, what these agencies can do
best is to raise money. "Aid," Maren declares, "is a business.
It is a business in which people make careers, earn a good living,
get to see interesting places, and have great stories to tell
when they get stateside. It's a business that has to earn money
to pay its executives, pay for retreats and for officials to attend
conferences in Rome, buy four-wheel drive vehicles, buy advertising
time on television. It's a business that makes money by attracting
clients, i.e., starving, needy people."
declares that he has among his friends several dozen long-time
workers for these African relief agencies. All of them "thought
they could do some good while enjoying the adventure." And not
one of them thinks that the years of work and millions of dollars
have helped, have done more good than harm. "All of them are convinced
that whatever the original intentions of an aid agency, inevitably
raising money becomes the primary objective." That money consists
of funds raised among the American public, but primarily from
U.S. government contracts. Cooking up more projects means getting
more funds, which also means expanding the relief agency. Expanding
the agency means more power for the top executives, and the more
money it gets the more people the agency can claim to be helping.
crucial point, Maren concludes, is that "reckless use of food
aid causes famine. It depresses local market prices and provides
disincentive for farmers to grow crops." All this makes the food
shortage worse, and causes greater calls for food relief; and
so the well-meaning foreign intervention grows and cumulates,
fueled by agency venality, and causes the spiral of famine-aid-famine
to get worse and worse. Until finally the marines land to try
to solve the problem. The humanitarian with the guillotine.
only way to solve the problem, Maren declares, "is a way that
may seem cruel": it is to stop the food to "wean
Somalia from dependence on donated food." And then, Maren states,
"all of them the marines and the relief agencies
should get out as soon as possible." All in all, Maren concludes,
"in the fragile political and environmental ecosystem of Somalia
it is much easier to screw things up than it is to set them straight...the
longer they (the marines), stay, the worse it will get." No paleolibertarian
could have put it better.
some rationality seems to have burst into the pages of the New
York Times, not usually a place receptive to paleolibertarian
concerns. "Does Free Food Hurt?" cries a headline (Jan. 13), and
it turns out that there is a "paradox" of famine relief: food
charity has just about ruined the previously prosperous farm population
of Somalia. For who will buy food from local farmers when they
can get food free from international suckers?
"paradox" that so confused the Times correspondents is
actually natural law economic law at work. It is
a law that decrees: government intervention, out! In Somalia,
or, for that matter, anywhere else.
© 2005 Ludwig von Mises Institute
All rights reserved.