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?