Frying Pans to Fires


The history of the world, or any part thereof, at any time, is a story of war. Bloodshed, carnage, fighting, death, and destruction fill the pages of the history books. Take any such tome, and remove the words "war," "struggle," "conquest," "attack," "conflict," etc., and you’d have a slender booklet remaining.

And when we look at all this violence, what do we find? What is the common thread? Government. We find the constant wars characterized by names such as "Sino-Russian," or "Spanish-American," or World War I, or II. The implication of such names is that people in various countries, or, in the case of "World" wars, many of them, decided to fight one another, at enormous cost to themselves and their enemies. But that has almost certainly never been the case. Instead, government has fought against government, although the actual rulers themselves are much too valuable to get anywhere near the fighting. (But should you die defending their interests, they’ll give you a very moving funeral.)

All wars, it seems, are about seizing the control of a particular government. If government A is unhappy with the policies of government B, it may attack B in the hopes of replacing it with a more congenial government. Thus, when the government of Saddam Hussein was determined (by whom?) to be unacceptable (to whom?) it had to be replaced. The benefits of that policy are a bit hard to see, for all the blood and destruction, but the killing continues nonetheless. But it’s worth it: the present rulers of Iraq, whoever they may be at the moment, are Uncle’s buddies — for the time being. (Being Uncle’s buddy should make any foreign politician quake in his boots!)

Mohammad Mossadeq was unsatisfactory as ruler of Iran, and had to be replaced by Mohammad Pahlavi, the infamous Shah of Iran. Of course, the Shah wasn’t placed on the throne by Iranians, who had to suffer under him — and eventually ousted him — but never mind. The main thing was that there was a government, and it was aligned with the U.S. government. Does anything else matter?

And let’s not forget Manuel Noriega, now languishing in a Florida prison, though scheduled for release later this year. When he ruled Panama, he was, like Saddam, in happier days, the U.S.’s buddy. He even worked with the CIA. But he evidently did something to annoy his controllers, and he was seized and put in prison by the U.S. Who is presently running Panama? I’m too lazy to find out, but what difference does it make? The main thing is that Panama has a government, and it is, at least for the time being, friendly to Washington.

There are occasions when, at the instigation and urging of influential men, people fight to rid themselves of their own government. For instance, the American Revolution, which was fought to rid the erstwhile colonies of the rule of George III. But did the Americans simply want to get rid of George? No: their intention was not just to get rid of English rule, but to replace it with homegrown American rule. It seemed like a good idea at the time — especially to those leaders of the Revolution who would comprise the new government — and for several years, the improvement was marked. Today, of course, the depredations of the U.S. government far outweigh those of poor George, but that’s OK, because what we suffer is for our own good, as we’re constantly being reminded. And what’s good for Halliburton is good for all of us.

In the 18th century, the southern states sought to free themselves from the tyranny of the government of northern industrialists, and died trying. But while they wanted to be free of one government, they immediately formed another one: the Confederacy. If we look fondly upon the Confederacy today, it is because that government didn’t exist long enough to undergo transmogrification into another tyranny.

There is a lesson here, but it remains unlearned. From time to time people realize that their lives are being made intolerably difficult by the machinations of their rulers, and try to throw them off; but it never occurs to them to stop there. They replace the old bad leaders with new, good, ones. But, as I seem to recall remarking elsewhere, power corrupts. There’s no escape. The American experiment with limited government proves the impossibility of the concept. Limited government is an oxymoron.

Yet people remain so wedded to the concept of government that when their rulers tell them to go fight, and, if necessary, die, to replace some foreign rulers with more amenable ones, they do so, even singing patriotic songs as they march off, in the belief that they are doing something wonderful for their country, when in truth they are simply advancing the agenda of the rulers.

Ayn Rand called Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. She was wrong. Freedom is the unknown ideal.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.