Swords into Plowshares: A Life in Wartime and a Future of Peace and Prosperity, by Ron Paul, Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, 2015, 237 pages, paperback.
Former Republican member of Congress and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul needs no introduction. A medical doctor by training, Dr. Paul was known in Congress as “Dr. No” for his steadfast opposition to unconstitutional legislation. He was regularly labeled the “taxpayer’s best friend.” But he is perhaps best known around the world as an advocate for a U.S. foreign policy of peace, neutrality, and non-intervention.
Having read, I believe, all of Ron Paul’s books, I can say without any hesitation that Swords into Plowshares is undoubtedly his most important and most personal book. Swords into Plowshares Best Price: $3.00 Buy New $11.98 (as of 06:15 EDT - Details)
The book has no preface or introduction, but the first chapter serves as one. There are 21 chapters, each opening with an excerpt from a song that relates to war or peace. The chapters vary greatly in size (Three are 20 or more pages, three are four or fewer pages, and the rest range from six to 15 pages.) and scope (war, peace, foreign policy, economics, dictators, empire, trade, veterans, government, nonintervention). The book is very easy to read and digest, as the majority of the chapters are divided into between two and 10 sections, depending on the chapter’s length. There is no index, but all of the chapter sections are listed in the very detailed table of contents. Swords into Plowshares closes with a list of the songs excerpted in the book, a list of other songs of interest, and a list of books mentioned in the book. Because of the nature of the book, there are no footnotes. Each chapter reads like Paul giving one of his many impromptu, but informative and passionate, speeches. The title of the book is taken from Isaiah 2:4.
It is in the first and third chapters that we see at last why it is that Paul is so adamantly opposed to war and interventionism and in favor of peace and a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Born before World War II, Paul remembers the government rationing, the black markets (which he terms the “free markets”), the constant news about the war, and several of his uncles, cousins, and members of his church being drafted — and some of whom were killed in action. His family was “mainly of German descent,” and some relatives still lived in Germany during the war. Paul observes that as a child he was taught to pray for their safety, “yet it was the US military that was trying to kill them.” Even at a young age, “families fighting and killing each other made no sense” to him. When World War II ended, the 10-year-old Paul “was quite certain that war should be avoided if at all possible.” He “dreaded the possibility of taking up arms and killing people.”
While in college, because he assumed that he would one day be drafted, Paul decided to go to medical school so that he could be in a position to save lives instead of take lives. While in college, he “never heard any discussion of the pros and cons of going to war” or heard addressed “the subject of noninterventionist foreign policy that the Founders had advocated.” While serving as an Air Force flight surgeon during the 1960s, Paul “had strong suspicions at the time that the war was wrong,” but “did not yet fully understand the great evil of our policy of endless, undeclared wars.” Yet, he now asks about his time in the Air Force: “Why was I so complacent, and why did I so rarely seriously question the wisdom of the Vietnam War?” It was knowledge of people who died in the Vietnam War “in combination with a growing understanding of how and why most wars are fought” that played a significant role in building Paul’s “determination to advocate for a noninterventionist foreign policy.”
Paul was elected to Congress for the first time in 1976. Although he was “strongly opposed to intervention in the affairs of other nations,” foreign policy was not on the “front burner.” It was economic and monetary policy that prompted him to run for Congress. Over the years he “became much more firmly convinced that the policies of foreign intervention, endorsed by both political parties, would always cause a great deal of harm to us” and “continued to strengthen his belief that a noninterventionist foreign policy is a necessity for a free society to exist and thrive.” Each year his conviction “grew that most of our wars throughout our history should have been avoided.” Paul spoke out against President Reagan after 241 U.S. servicemen were killed in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. Reagan’s interventions “stirred” his “interest in foreign affairs.” Over the years his “abhorrence of our involvement in foreign militarism” grew as he “continued to read and study many both liberal and libertarian authors” who convinced him “of the antiwar cause and the benefits of minding our own business.” It was “experience and exposure to pro-peace journalists and authors” that helped strengthen his “opposition to the status quo foreign policy of the Democrats and Republicans.”
Paul modestly tells the reader that Swords into Plowshares “is about the needlessness of war and whose interests are served by war.” This is quite an understatement. The book is a tour de force regarding all things related to war, militarism, the warfare state, and U.S. foreign policy.
“War is unholy and makes no sense,” maintains Paul. “The bad results of war are endless.” One of the most significant reasons wars erupt is because “war-prone individuals, bent on evil” are allowed to gain power in government. War is the “health of the state” and “always an economic negative.” War “distracts from wealth creation, consumes wealth, and undermines liberty.”
Yet, “the arguments against warfare fall on deaf ears with most conservatives.”
This, of course, does not mean that Paul is a pacifist. He does not oppose truly defensive war. The trouble is that “war is rarely justified, i.e., defensive in nature.” Although most wars “are justified through deceptions,” only a country responding to an attack by another nation is engaging in a just war. And in the United States, “engaging in war should require a congressional declaration.”