The Self-Castration of the Libertarian Hawks

There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no operational connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. There was no threat to the United States. But there was oil. Lots and lots of oil. And there are closed-bidding contracts with the large American construction firms that have supplied Vice Presidents and Secretaries of Defense.

Before the war, I watched in amazement at libertarians and fellow travelers who got on board Bush’s war wagon. They were adamant: Iraq constituted a military threat to the United States. They would not consider the possibility that the CIA was wrong, that the President had resorted to deception, that the Administration’s use of data out of a decade-old term paper and faked data from Africa to bolster its case for war were all signs of the same old same old: big government gobbling up other people’s wealth wherever it can. The traditional suspicion of libertarians regarding the official pronouncements of the state simply disappeared from the hawks’ thinking.

George Bush handed them a knife, and said, “You guys know what to do!” They did, too. The soprano section of the Establishment’s choir is louder than ever before.

If you are waiting for the recent defectors to rejoin the fold, handing in their confessions, you are terminally naïve. There will be no mea culpas from the libertarian hawks. Nobody wants to admit that George Bush had invited them to the Emperor’s Clothing Emporium, where they all donned the latest fashions in camouflage evening wear.

They will not be back. I suspect that they will no longer carry libertarian placards. They have joined the ranks of the military interventionists, and, for better or worse, they will not return. To return would be a public announcement: “We always said that government surrounds the truth with a bodyguard of lies, especially in wartime, but we forgot. George Bush was just too eloquent. He has a mind like a steel trap.”

We should not expect them to display their former systematic hostility to the state in areas other than war, either. Once someone has put his trust in the lying state to the degree that he violates the principle of non-aggression that he once held dear, he will no longer hold that principle equally dear. This will affect his thinking in other areas. Like the bite of the vampire in the Dracula movies, the state’s deception in wartime creates mirror-avoiding drones out of libertarian war hawks.

I watched in amazement as a former revisionist historian, who once wrote a book exposing the lies of the Roosevelt Administration’s foreign policy, abandoned his position. Why? Because of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. He accepted the lies of George Bush and then publicly recanted his position that had demonstrated the lies of Franklin Roosevelt.

There were no new footnotes. There was no new evidence that Roosevelt had not deceived the public. What, then? Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The public fantasy that was spun by the latest foreign policy interventionist regime retroactively transformed the fantasy of Roosevelt’s amazement at Pearl Harbor into the truth — textbook trust. The visibly tattered tapestry of lies of the latest President made a truth-teller retroactively out of America’s all-time master of deceit.

How does this happen? How can Presidents lie us into war, generation after generation, and subsequently avoid condemnation, either at the polls or in the textbooks, when their lies are documented by historians who dig up the evidence? How is it that every American war is justified at the time by means of noble reasons that are found later to be contrived?

These wars are always found to be in the self-interest of the military complex and its domestic allies, but not in the interest of the public. Yet the public forgets, or chooses not to remember, when these lies are exposed after the war. The next war is greeted with the same enthusiasm as the previous war, and once the troops are mobilized, no criticism is allowed — not even after the troops come home, if they come home, which is not often. (There are 50,000 American troops in Korea, 1,000 for every year since the cease-fire.)

Janette Rankin, America’s first Congresswoman, voted against World War I and World War II. In the second case, she was the only person in Congress who did. Yet the truth is that Roosevelt lured the Japanese into the attack, and he knew it was coming before the bombs fell. But who remembers Janette Rankin? And among those few who do, who say in print that she was right? To admit that she was right would mean admitting that Presidents can lie this nation into war nearly risk-free. They can, of course, and do.

The only exception has been Lyndon Johnson. The war’s protestors — the sons of the ruling class who took to the streets — finally overcame the pro-war sympathies of the best and the brightest in 1964—66. So, Johnson is today fair game. Volume by volume, Robert Caro has documented Johnson’s career, a career built on lies and criminal behavior. Johnson was a thief in every sense.

But no one in the historical guild, in published praise of Caro’s books, ever mentions a very inconvenient fact: the whole story had been told in succinct form by one of the greatest historians of the American West, J. Evetts Haley, in his 1964 paperback, A Texan Looks at Lyndon, a book panned at the time by professional historians when it was reviewed at all. Yet Haley’s critics at the time rarely matched the professional career that Haley possessed when he wrote that little book. The reviewers showed little awareness of Haley’s distinguished career. He paid a heavy price, though this was not the first time in his academic career that his conservative politics had cost him. All of this has been dumped down the academic memory hole. No one today gives credit where credit is obviously due. The revisionists get no thanks for a job well done.

Neither do anti-war critics whose warnings turn out to be correct — sometimes within weeks of the cease-fire.

But there is one benefit, nonetheless. The castrati won’t come back.

June 6, 2003

Gary North is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

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