The Libertarian Project and American Military Power

On September 14th, I posted an essay on the widespread Libertarian blindness regarding the diverse violent threats this society faces:

Libertarian Military Isolationism: Forward All with Eyes Tightly Shut.”

Crackpot, a talented blogger who represents well the people I target in my essay responded on September 15th. His response appears as a Comment on this blog. Following the original posting.

Some readers may want to look at one of my old postings by way of introduction, unlimbering, warming muscles: January 5, 2011: “Peace At All Costs….”

Crackpot responds in three segments. Two segments deserve to be collapsed together into one. I can dispose of the first segment quickly and it’s not directly relevant to our discussion. Our main discussion is whether Libertarians are, in fact, dangerous pacifists.

Incidentally, it seems that Crackpot does not think there is any danger left from violent jihadist terrorism or that perhaps, there never was notwithstanding the Twin Towers.

Crackpot starts with an argument with me on imperialism in general. As I said, it’s not important but I don’t want to let politically correct inaccuracies and exaggerations slip by. So, here I go.

There was considerable popular enthusiasm for de-colonization when it happened in the sixties and seventies, it’s true. As I have affirmed repeatedly, without ever encountering serious contradiction, forty and fifty years later, it’s pretty obvious that ordinary people in many of the former colonies would be better off now had those countries remained under the colonial boot. In many of those countries, regular people are even worse off today than they were in the sixties, on the eve of decolonization. (See my “Somalia and Famine: Déjà Vu,” posted August 13 th 2011)

Do former colonial people have a right to prefer starvation under masters of their own blood to modest prosperity under blue-eyed administrators and settlers, Crackpot seems to ask of me? Certainly! However, in most cases we will never know what they would prefer because consistently blood-thirsty indigenous regimes have replaced in many places the indolently repressive colonial powers. If they, the former colonial subjects, open their mouths to answer, they are immediately slaughtered. In some cases,admittedly rare cases, they are even eaten by their overlords. This may sound hopelessly naïve but I believe with all my heart that none of the colonial masters ever ate their charges.

Thus, Crackpot, engages in a denunciation of imperial rule in general. In spite of what precedes, I don’t have a great interest in the subject. I certainly do not advocate that the US conquer the world for the hell of it. Instead, I am in favor of active, armed forward defense. Sometimes, as in Iraq, this results in Americans being forced to rule over others. I agree that this is a generally bad idea. (For one thing, we are less willing as a rule, to murder adversaries in their places of prayer than are many others. That puts us at a disadvantage.) This judgment does not prevent me from repeating the obvious: American rule sometimes, often, usually, results in social progress in the countries ruled: Ask the surviving German Jews, ask the Japanese who thrived under the thorough constitution bestowed upon them by MacArthur like they never had thrived under their own institutions. Plus, it’s now unlikely that any Sunni Iraqi leader will soon destroy most Kurdish villages with biological weapons. The reverse is just as unlikely. And, though the Taliban continue to throw acid in the eyes of little schoolgirls in Afghanistan, even National Geographic will tell you that the practice has become rare since the US and NATO invasion. So, I am not making any excuse but let’s not lose track of my argument. Here it is:

The United States must be strongly armed at all times to discourage attack. It must often project its military power forward, outside of its borders. An American military stance that does not obey these two simple imperatives is a strong obstacle to progress toward the kind of world to which libertarians (small “l”) aspire. That is true although I have no difference with the Libertarian observation that war and war preparation habitually promote government expansion.

Wishing we did not need an active defense just does not make it so.

The heart of that portion of Crackpot’s “Comment” that actually addresses my original essay I find broadly irresponsible. It can be fairly summarized as follows:

There could emerge serious and dangerous enemies in the future as there have been dangerous enemies in the past, such as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and even the Soviet Union. However, each time it was called upon to do so, the US got rid of the danger in three years or less. (My paraphrase, not his.)

I think Crackpot expresses well the secret thinking of fellow Libertarians. If I am wrong, I hope they will correct me.

Crackpot is quite right, historically, but he seems completely ignorant of, or indifferent to, the price one pays for allowing one’s enemies to initiate hostilities. Here is a summary: World War II cost about 400,000 American lives and Korea, about 50,000.

If you read anything at all about the period preceding World War II, you will soon realize that hardly any Japanese military or civilian leader believed Japan could win a drawn-out war against the US. One faction of the military (only a faction) thought that it could keep the US away from Japan’s main military aggression elsewhere by discouraging it with a sudden, unexpected and decisive blow. That was the reasoning behind Pearl Harbor. There was no other reasoning ever presented.

Had the US possessed large armed forces in 1941, Japan would have been unlikely to attack because the one-blow speculative bet would have had not value. Absent the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, Hitler , in turn, would not have made the horrendous mistake of declaring war on the US. There is a fair chance then that 300,000 young Americans or more would have been able to lead normal lives with wives and children. Had there been no Pearl Harbor, the US might still have been drawn into the war but it would have had the advantage of doing it in a time and place of its own choosing. The number of casualties would have been lower, possibly much lower.

Let me repeat what I believe in light of my historical understanding:

– The US has to hurt bad guys so they will not hurt us and also so that others will be less tempted to try it. (The Chinese are watching closely our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Want to bet?)

– We should hurt bad guys as far from home as possible. Since our military actions abroad usually result in improvements for the local populations, we should not be paralyzed by the sure prospect of collateral damage. Similarly, as I have said, the US military command was not paralyzed by such fear while large American armies were fighting in France between June 1944 and approximately February 1945. I am forced to repeat myself. I hate that!

– Constitutional democratic government in a country with a strong anti-authoritarian cultural tradition is the most likely womb for the gestation of a good approximation of a libertarian society. There is only one such country to my (considerable) knowledge. A determined attack by a small country armed to the teeth, such as North Korea, or by a large country with plenty of nuclear weapons such as Pakistan, or even by a terrorist organization, has the potential to create havoc with our society. I don’t mean through the direct military results of such an attack but, I mean, by undermining our economy.

Below, to finish, are some largely unrelated corrections I have to bring to some of Crackpot’s sometimes exotics statements.

The Soviet Union crumbled under the combined weight of its own incompetence and of the increasing burden that the arms race with us imposed on it. That’s according to retired Soviet generals.

It is not the case that there is “no end” to the US intervention in Iraq. As of this writing, it’s ending in three months. You can be sure I deplore this fact. It’s a Bush failure confirmed and re-enforced by the ineffable Obama supported by a corps de ballet of Libertarian ballerinas. If it were my decision, I would stay there forever or until such time as Iran becomes a normal country, whichever came first.

Balkanic people are not slaughtering one another wholesale anymore because we, with our allies, stopped them. That’s a kind of success, in my book. Tastes differ, of course. I never argued Kosovo would give Switzerland a run for its money as a civilized state. Neither do Illinois nor Louisiana, by the way.

Petty tyrants” can easily become dangerous if they are allowed. Look at the fat-bellied little dwarf in North Korea. I am not willing to risk Seattle, or even Anchorage, or even Vancouver, B. C. Are you, Crackpot?

About jacquesdelacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
This entry was posted in Socio-Political Essays. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Libertarian Project and American Military Power

  1. Kay Day says:

    Well, Jacques, you pretty much hit on the reason I can’t go Libertarian. I do have some Libertarian sympathies, largely on certain social and domestic fiscal issues.
    I think Libertarians–at least those I’ve talked politics with–often have an idealized view of human beings. They forget history.
    As always, I enjoyed reading this.

  2. Peter Miller says:

    Jacques, this statement is written with such clarity as to seem self-evident. No reasonable person — at least not this one — could disagree. The consequences of your advice if followed would be grim indeed, but far more horrible would be the consequences of not following it.

  3. thecrackshotcrackpot says:

    Why Dr. J! You flatter me to no avail.
    MY COMMENTS ON CRACKPOT’S COMMENTS IN CAPS. (JD)

    I only have three points to make about your (rather flat and uninspiring) rebuttal:

    1) “Forward defense” sounds an awful lot like offense to me. At least you are finally coming around to the idea that occupying a hostile state is a bad idea. It’s a start, I suppose. Terrorism, for the most part, is usually driven by foreign occupation. I have yet to see any clear rebuttals of this simple statement. THERE IS ALMOST NO EMPIRICAL SUPPORT FOR THIS SIMPLISTIC STATEMENT. AS I STATED BEFORE WHEN US TROOPS WERE REMOVED FROM S. ARABIA, AL QUAIDA INCREASED ITS ATTACKS ON AMERICANS. WHEN ISRAEL UNILATERALLY EVACUATED GAZA, ATTACKS AGAINST ITS TERRITORY INCREASED. ANTI-AMERICAN TERRORISM TODAY IS ALL ISLAMIST. ISLAMISTS DON’T CARE WHERE OUR SOLDIERS ARE. THEY WANT TO KILL US, PERIOD. I AM REPEATING MYSELF. If we get our troops out of states that are hostile to them, then there will be almost no threat to our safety by foreign terrorists. Don’t believe me? Where were all the Muslim terrorists in the United States prior to 1950? Nevertheless, I think we can agree to some extent here. Liquidate the non-elite portions of the Army, as well as the Coast Guard, and we would have a military capable of engaging in smart, defensive warfare. Large armies capable of occupying foreign states is soooooo 20th century. THE LARGE ARMIES YOU DESCRIBE WON WORLD WAR II. BEFORE THAT THE US HAD A PROFESSIONAL ARMY SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN SWITZERLAND’S AND SMALLER THAN PORTUGAL’S. THAT’S WHEN JAPAN ATTACKED US. I AM REPEATING MYSELF AGAIN.

    2) Speaking of occupations, does anybody else notice that the three states Dr. J mentions on his “to do” list of foreign enemies are all located next to a state that our military forces occupy? Pakistan. Iran. North Korea. NORTH KOREA? STRANGE I wonder why these states are pursuing (or selling and stockpiling, as in the case of Pakistan) nuclear weapons? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they all watched Ghaddafi give up his plans for a nuclear arsenal, and make nice with the West only to be physically removed from power a few years later by the very same West. Dr. J simply cannot imagine that these three states neighboring our military apparatus are perhaps more interested in acquiring nuclear weapons for deterrent, rather than launching a suicidal attack on U.S. soil. It is apparently too much for him to bear ! The belief that “rogue states” are pursuing nuclear weapons to hold the world hostage also fails to take into account the role of regional actors. China, Israel, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, and Japan are all states that are capable of handling themselves like grown-ups. I suggest we let them. GOOD FIRST TRY. FOR SOME, THERE WOULD BE NO SECOND CHANCE THOUGH. AND COST OF INTERVENING AFTER ATTACK WOULD BE VERY HIGH I AM REPEATING MYSELF AGAIN.

    3) Your musings about how World War 2 would have turned out differently had we possessed a large standing army at the beginning of hostilities strikes me as a bit fanciful. Firstly, I think that we entered the war at just the right time. The Germans and the Japanese had been fighting grueling wars against the Soviet Union and Britain in Europe and marching across mainland China, Indochina, and Indonesia for three years before the Japanese fatefully decided to bomb us. GERMANY HAD BEEN FIGHTING THE SOVIET UNION ONLY FOR FIVE AND A HALF MONTHS AND WINNING ALL THE WAY WHEN PEARL HARBOR HAPPENED, NOT A “GRUELING” WAR AT ALL AT THAT POINT AND LITTLE GERMAN BLOODSHED. That is, their military forces had already been exposed to significant bloodshed and were weakened and overextended when we arrived on the scene. YOU SOUND AS IF YOU THOUGHT THE US HAD ENTERED WWII DELIBERATELY AT A TIME OF ITS CHOOSING. OF COURSE IT DID NOT. PEARL HARBOR SHUT UP ISOLATIONIST SENTIMENTS BY YOUR OLDER BROTHERS IN THIS COUNTRY AND GERMANY DECLARED WAR, NOT THE REVERSE. I AM REPEATING MYSELF.

    Yes, casualties were heavy, but imagine what they would have been like facing Germany and Japan at full strength. If we were to have possessed a massive military apparatus at the beginning of hostilities, I see no reason why we would have simply stood by and watched the Japanese and Germans begin butchering massive amounts of people. For all intents and purposes, a large standing army would have enticed us to enter the war earlier, and as a consequence we would have had to fight two major industrial powers at full strength. Now that would have been a bloody affair. FOLLOWING YOUR LOGIC, WE SHOULD HAVE NO STANDING ARMED FORCES AT ALL BECAUSE THEIR VERY EXISTENCE INVITES EITHER ATTACK OR THE TEMPTATION TO INTERVENE. ISN’T THE SAME TUE OF LOCAL POLICE FORCES? THAT’S A REAL QUESTION. I AM CURIOUS TO KNOW HOW FAR THIS GOES.

    NO COMMENTS ON REMARKS BELOW.

    A few other this n thats: Soviet generals are tricking us into believing that the Soviet Union collapsed because of top-heavy administration and the arms race? Those scoundrels!

    I think China (GDP [PPP] per capita $4000) should heartily take up a military campaign in Afghanistan after we leave. It would hasten the demise of the Communist Party!

    You Cold Warriors are to be commended for standing firm against the evil of the 20th century, but the game is changing strategically, politically and economically. Our enemies are more fluid, less hierarchical, and few and far between. I see no reason to believe that a massive military apparatus is even necessary for statecraft and diplomacy in the 21st century.

    • thecrackshotcrackpot says:

      THERE IS ALMOST NO EMPIRICAL SUPPORT FOR THIS SIMPLISTIC STATEMENT. AS I STATED BEFORE WHEN US TROOPS WERE REMOVED FROM S. ARABIA, AL QUAIDA INCREASED ITS ATTACKS ON AMERICANS. WHEN ISRAEL UNILATERALLY EVACUATED GAZA, ATTACKS AGAINST ITS TERRITORY INCREASED. ANTI-AMERICAN TERRORISM TODAY IS ALL ISLAMIST. ISLAMISTS DON’T CARE WHERE OUR SOLDIERS ARE. THEY WANT TO KILL US, PERIOD. I AM REPEATING MYSELF.

      I think you keep repeating yourself because of a miscommunication between us (or, more likely, you are just an old fart who can’t remember your last beating very well). Here it is again (*sigh*): U.S. troops did indeed leave Saudi Arabia……so that they could occupy Iraq. There is that word ‘occupation’ again. Your assertion that Islamists just want to kill us for the hell of it seems to me to be the statement that has no empirical evidence. In fact, it’s borderline pedantic and assuredly paranoid.

      THE LARGE ARMIES YOU DESCRIBE WON WORLD WAR II. BEFORE THAT THE US HAD A PROFESSIONAL ARMY SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN SWITZERLAND’S AND SMALLER THAN PORTUGAL’S. THAT’S WHEN JAPAN ATTACKED US. I AM REPEATING MYSELF AGAIN.

      Again, I think you are repeating yourself because you are not reading my argument. So, here it is one more time: “Large armies capable of occupying foreign states is soooooo 20th century”. What century do your examples come from Dr. J?

      GOOD FIRST TRY. FOR SOME, THERE WOULD BE NO SECOND CHANCE THOUGH. AND COST OF INTERVENING AFTER ATTACK WOULD BE VERY HIGH I AM REPEATING MYSELF AGAIN

      Answer me this, Mr. Smarty Pants: why would the three little states that you fear so much launch nuclear attacks? Again (here we go), you haven’t countered my assertion that the nuclear weapons have largely been pursued in order to act as deterrents, rather than offensive weapons. Again, all three states are located right next to states that are currently being occupied by the world’s only superpower, and the superpower likes the neighboring states even less than it likes the occupied states. They would have nothing to gain from launching nuclear attacks, and everything to lose. However, with nuclear weapons, they would have a chip at the bargaining table of the big boys.

      GERMANY HAD BEEN FIGHTING THE SOVIET UNION ONLY FOR FIVE AND A HALF MONTHS AND WINNING ALL THE WAY WHEN PEARL HARBOR HAPPENED, NOT A “GRUELING” WAR AT ALL AT THAT POINT AND LITTLE GERMAN BLOODSHED

      Yes, and Germany was also in the Soviet Union!!!. That means that they also had to pass through other Slavic lands just to get there. Since you are a dinosaur, I will merely ask if you simply forgot to mention that in addition to trying to subdue the massive Soviet state, Germany was currently occupying France, the lowland states, and Scandinavia all while being engaged in hostilities with Great Britain – one of the world’s most preeminent powers at the time – through heavy air and sea battles?

      YOU SOUND AS IF YOU THOUGHT THE US HAD ENTERED WWII DELIBERATELY AT A TIME OF ITS CHOOSING. OF COURSE IT DID NOT. PEARL HARBOR SHUT UP ISOLATIONIST SENTIMENTS BY YOUR OLDER BROTHERS IN THIS COUNTRY AND GERMANY DECLARED WAR, NOT THE REVERSE. I AM REPEATING MYSELF.

      Nope. This is just you putting words into my mouth. Here is what I said (one more time!): “[…] their military forces had already been exposed to significant bloodshed and were weakened and overextended when we arrived on the scene.” Just a simple statement of fact, that’s all.

      FOLLOWING YOUR LOGIC, WE SHOULD HAVE NO STANDING ARMED FORCES AT ALL BECAUSE THEIR VERY EXISTENCE INVITES EITHER ATTACK OR THE TEMPTATION TO INTERVENE. ISN’T THE SAME TUE OF LOCAL POLICE FORCES? THAT’S A REAL QUESTION. I AM CURIOUS TO KNOW HOW FAR THIS GOES.

      You are putting words into my mouth again. Here is what I said at the beginning of my rebuttal (one more time!): “Nevertheless, I think we can agree to some extent here. Liquidate the non-elite portions of the Army, as well as the Coast Guard, and we would have a military capable of engaging in smart, defensive warfare. Large armies capable of occupying foreign states is soooooo 20th century.” Am I missing something, or is Dr. J the only one who can perceive my innermost thoughts and reveal me to be somebody who advocates for the abolition of the military. I have gone over these points before, and I just do not see how a leaner and meaner military apparatus (preceded in combat by a leaner and meaner clandestine apparatus) would somehow embolden our enemies, perceived or otherwise.

  4. Pingback: Fear and Loathing in The Wealth of Nations « Notes On Liberty

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Again, I don’t know what to do with a pingback. I am flattered, of course but is it enough?

      • I doubt it. You probably wouldn’t like it anyway. There is a civil discussion going on about the debauchery of the West’s foreign policy towards the post-colonial world, and what we can do to further freedom in a largely unfree world.

        Your beliefs are on the butt end of many of the jokes, and I don’t want to see a gown man cry.

        I suspect you are viewing your comments through your dashboard. If you want to click on the pingback, you are going to have to exit your dashboard and get on this specific thread.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        Good guess, Brandon. I am viewing as you say, through my dasboard but where else do I find the pingback link?

        I don’t know where the relevant “civil discussion” is taking place. I am interested. Please, provide a link.

        The moral bankruptcy of Ron Paul’s non-intervention policy us being highlighed right now in Syria.

  5. Pingback: Blissful Ignorance and the Conservative Worldview « Notes On Liberty

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