Sheldon Richman at the Libertarian Institute writes:
Horace’s declaration “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori” — “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” — is just what poet Wilfred Owen called it: “The old Lie.” Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky extended Owen’s point when he had his protagonist in The Americanization of Emily tell a war widow, “We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.”
……If we are ever to abolish America’s bloody and costly permanent war state we will have to rethink the quasi-secular faith which holds that dying — and killing — for one’s country is the greatest honor and virtue to which one one can aspire. It is time we learned that killing and dying for an ideology — even so-called liberal democracy — is as bad as doing so for a religion — even so-called radical Islam. (The distinction between ideology and religion is more apparent than real).
How many times must people fall for this ploy before they realize they have been cruelly scammed? (The American Church is sustained by a coalition of profiteers and true believers, or what economist Bruce Yandle generically dubbed “bootleggers and Baptists.”)
As I’ve remarked before, libertarians often equate society with government in the same manner as our opponents. We confuse “country” with “empire” and “nation” with “state.”
Nowhere do we see this better than when it comes to the military and “fighting for your country.”
Let us clear that matter up now. There is nothing un-libertarian, let alone ignoble or dishonorable about dying for your country during a justified conflict for the sake of loved ones. I would be hard pressed to find something disgraceful about a man arming himself and risking life and limb against someone attempting to break into his home to harm his family. A community is an extension of the family, and a country or nation is an extension of that community.
But that is not the situation Richman describes. He is describing soldiers dying for a modern state, which does not represent their country, engaging in unjust military actions overseas that have nothing to do with the safety or protection of their friends, families, or neighbors.
However, that is precisely what the United States government claims, and which libertarians take at face value.
Dying For Your Country Verus Dying For The State
Libertarians need to reframe the discussion so that we are clearly differentiating the two. Dying for your country and dying for your government are two wholly separate matters. Robert E. Lee did not join the Confederate Army because he wished to fight for the Confederate government; he fought to ward off a military invasion of his home state, Virginia. Like others who put on the grey uniform, he did so for his country, not the government ruling it.
What must change is not the instinctive desire among men to protect and defend their country. The U.S. government is not a legitimate representation of the American nation. A soldier who signs up for the military will not be fighting on behalf of that nation; they will fight for whoever benefits from the military industrial complex.
The problem is that our society has restricted nearly all means by which men can act on this normal desire to protect, defend, and preserve.
Even defending your loved ones in your own home against an intruder is fraught with legal risks, should some prosecutor decide to make a political statement.
The state has assumed practically all authority – but not responsibility – for the defense of people.
Aside from law enforcement, the military is the only available venue from which men can express their protective instincts, but tragically it is misdirected towards nefarious ends.
This needs to end.
We will never convince people there is no honor in dying for their country, because it is simply not true. Doing so only comes off as emasculating, and to the rest of Americans our movement will only appear nihilistic, effeminate, and pacifist. We must point to other ways in which men can serve and be recognized for their sacrifice in a way that reaffirms and preserves masculine tactical virtues; strength, courage, mastery, and honor.
There are things worth fighting for and dying for, and when men do pay that price, they should be honored by those for whom they sacrifice.
America may or may not be worth dying for, but the U.S. government and its foreign policy blunders are most certainly not. We should not mistake one for the other or allow others to claim so without our rebuke.
Photo: “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” used with permission by Wiki Commons.