The subject of war is a topic I’ve wanted to write about in length for a while. Out of all the pillars of libertarianism, war may be, and probably is, the most important one
Not too long ago, I wouldn’t have agreed. I once believed you could believe in liberty and still support war, or at least wars that are justified.
For me, so much has changed in so little time. Only a short time ago, I would have defended war. In college classes, I openly justified disgusting crimes committed by the U.S. government during war, because to think otherwise was unconscionable. It violated the unspoken concept of one side good one side bad that we are taught as children.
I finally decided to write this after reading about Obama’s decision to send military “advisers” to Iraq as the country teeters on the brink of collapse and sectarian violence. I also came across this editorial by the conservative Patriot Post, where the editor still defends President Bush, the Iraq War, and the proposal by John McCain to keep troops there for 100 years.
History may not repeat itself, but it sings the same tune.
So why are libertarians anti-war?
Perhaps the more important matter to address, for those who are not libertarians, is why we are not against war, because it is here that libertarians are falsely accused of holding views that are far removed from what we believe.
We are not anti-war because we are pacifists, though many libertarians are. We subscribe to the Non-Aggression Principle, which permits violence and coercion only to defend one’s property and one’s self.
We are not anti-war because we are cowards and do not wish to fight. As one character put it in the 1930 Howard Hughes film Hell’s Angels, “I’ve got guts to say what I think. You’re afraid to say it! So afraid to be called yellow you’d rather be killed first!” Men who agree to fight in wars or accept their draft notice are either remembered after they die or receive medals and praise and holidays when they return, even though none of it assuages the turmoil that rages within them. Meanwhile, those “cowardly” enough to resist fighting are thrown in prison and ridiculed and ostracized. They are not remembered in the history books, nor are there any monuments or films testifying to their steadfast moral conviction. It takes just as much courage to stare down a long-term prison sentence for refusing to fight as it is to stare down a machine gun while storming a beachhead.
We are not anti-war because we think our nation is evil and the other is comprised of saints. As libertarians, we do not believe in the legitimacy of the State in any country, including those that stand opposed to ours. We are simply not naïve enough to think that just because a man runs our government they care about our interests any more than someone in another country.
We are not anti-war due to a lack of love for our country or out of the belief that it is not worth dying for. If another government sent its military to invade my city, I would be among the first to fight it off or die in the process. What we do is differentiate between “country” and “government.”
We are not anti-war because we think that “violence doesn’t solve anything.”
We are not anti-war because we don’t support the troops or we hate them. Only those who hate them want to send them off to die in horrific ways, have their innocence robbed, their moral compass shattered, and their joy in life ruined by the horrors they must endure that they must carry with them for the rest of their life. The German novel All Quiet on the Western Front may have been set in World War I, but it is the story of any soldier in any war anywhere at any time in history who, “though they survived, were destroyed by the war.”
We are not anti-war because we hate God, or the Republic, or wish to see its downfall. Most libertarians see the extent to which our government has destroyed the principles of the 1776 Revolution and grieve the loss of civil liberties and freedom despite the loss of so many who died, many times with the sincere belief they were protecting it by their sacrifice.
We are not anti-war because we are selfish and self-centered. The selfish and self-centered are those who force others through conscription to fight and die for reasons the conscripted don’t comprehend – and too often even those who force them to fight don’t know why, either.
We are not anti-war because we only care about ourselves. Only those who care about themselves send others to die so they can benefit.
We are not anti-war because we think there is no circumstances under which men should fight. When they are attacked, men have the right to defend themselves through violence. In no way does this violate the NAP.
We are not anti-war because we think all wars are unnecessary. When nations are invaded, the people have the moral right to use violence to fight back. Whether it be the Vikings, the Hun, the Mongolians, the Nazis, imperialists, unionists, or the Communists, violence against aggressors and invaders is justified by those seeking to defend their homes and families.
So why are we anti-war?
We are anti-war because war is the inevitable creation of the State. Mankind has been and always will be violent. But it is through the State that violence is not only perfected in terms of brutality and scope, but also in profit.
We are anti-war because we believe that those who wage war stand to gain, while those who actually do the fighting gain nothing.
We are anti-war because we believe that the causes for the war and the justification for war are never the same.
We are anti-war because as an extension of the State, it is used as a tool through which the State commits atrocities against its enemies both at home and on foreign land. Internment and concentration camps. Suspension of habeus corpus. Censorship. Food rationing. Conscription.
We are anti-war because it is during war that the State is able to commit its worst acts and engage in the most blatant violation of civil liberties than during peacetime. The Armenian genocide. The Holocaust. The Rape of Nanking. Sherman’s March to the Sea. The French and German invasions of Russia.
We are anti-war because through war crony capitalism is able to thrive under the military industrial complex, which profits from the destruction of private property and the deaths of soldiers and noncombatants alike.
We are anti-war because when those who lead the war make terrible military decisions, it is the common foot soldier and infantrymen who die in the thousands. The Battle of the Crater. The Battle of the Somme. The Charge of the Light Brigade. The Gallipoli Campaign.
We are anti-war because it pits men against one another for reasons they do not know or understand. They commit appalling acts against their fellow men who, during peacetime, they might have regarded as a good friend. In 1914 during World War I, French, British and German troops celebrated Christmas together and played football.
We are anti-war because in every war since the beginning of time innocent men, women and children have been killed. In ancient times, it was merely accepted without question. Now, in our “civilized culture,” those same deaths are written off as “collateral damage.”
We are anti-war because the war often exacerbates the very injustices that it seeks to remedy.
We are anti-war because we believe that without the State men would have an incentive to seek peaceful solutions rather than bring violence and destruction down upon themselves. Only with the State does war become profitable for a few at the expense of many.
We are anti-war because we do not consider war a just course of actions, in which many suffer due to the actions of a select few.
We are anti-war because we consider it inane to send men away from their homes to fight other men in foreign lands when they have no reason to do so outside of obeying orders.
We are anti-war because when soldiers die they leave behind a devastated family, their spouse windowed and children without a parent. I have seen personally what such a loss does to a family. For them, the greatest source of grief is not knowing why their loved one died, or worse, the realization that they died for nothing.
We are anti-war because even when soldiers survive, they return home to endure a living Hell as they grapple with the terrible things they have seen and perhaps done. Even though they are appreciated and honored and applauded, deep in their hearts they know their actions were either immoral or their sacrifice accomplished nothing.
We are anti-war because war brings out the worst in a man. Murder. Theft. Looting. Rape. Prostitution and military camps have long been close twins.
We are anti-war because throughout the history of warfare men have died by the thousands, sometimes by the millions, in blind obedience to those who are unwilling to make the same sacrifices. Despite what Tennyson wrote, it is always ours to question why and never “do or die” merely because someone else said so.
We are anti-war because we believe the words of Smedley Darlington Butler, the most decorated U.S. Marine in history, who wrote in his book War is a Racket that “It always has been (a racket). It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
We are anti-war because we see governments and those who run them for the liars and degenerates they are, for it is only such people who have no compunction about sending the young to be maimed, injured, butchered, slaughtered, or traumatized.
We are anti-war because we see no reason to trust politicians in war when we refuse to trust them anywhere else in life.
We are anti-war because we see the effects of war on those who fight it. Physical disabilities. Emotional devastation. Psychological disorders. Flashbacks. Moral guilt. Every veteran I know suffers from at least one of these.
We are anti-war because it is the worst violation of the NAP. In war, not only is violence and aggression and coercion against innocent people and their property encouraged, it is it’s raison d’être. It is the means by which men with power send the powerless to die for their profit.
We are anti-war because “War is the Health of the State” and we want the State to die. This is why the State has always prosecuted, harassed, and jailed anti-war protesters, whether or not the protesters’ motives are ideologically correct or consistent.
The world will never be without violence. But it will be a better world without war. And as long as there is the State, there will be war.
To be anti-State is to be anti-war.