Archive for bush
My good friend Anthony Gregory has written a spectacular retrospective of 9-11 at the Independent Institute blog. It encapsulates how I feel about the event so much that I absolutely must share it here as well. I did not become a libertarian until later than Anthony, but the principles he describes are a large part of what ultimately convinced me of the truth of libertarian principles and the moral bankruptness of “conservative” political values. Hopefully you are coming to this same conclusion as well…
On the eve of September 10, 2001, I went to sleep a libertarian, distrustful of the state, holding both major political parties in contempt, seeing the federal government as the primary enemy of the American people, their lives and liberties. The next morning, watching the horrific news of the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I found myself on the side of the government for the first time in years. That is to say, I thought it would be appropriate for the government to find the culprits behind 9/11 and bring them to justice. I thought capturing and executing the ringleaders would be appropriate. I favored raising a bounty to catch Osama bin Laden, or maybe even sending in commandos on a pinpointed mission to apprehend him.
This is not the course the government took, nor the approach supported by most Americans. In particular, I saw almost the entire conservative movement, which I had felt a closer affinity to than the liberals and leftists surrounding me in college, becoming bloodthirsty collectivists calling for total war. The overwhelming majority of progressives joined in the cause, elevating Bush’s approval rating to about 90%.
On Fox News the night of September 11, a commentator said, “it’s time to let loose the dogs of war.” This sounded like insanity to me. How could a full blown war possibly be justified? The bad guys were a small group and the direct killers died in the attacks. Needless to say, although I went to sleep the night of September 11 believing the government should carry out its one primary function, defending life and liberty, I never embraced this collectivist ideology that allowed for the killing of foreigners who happened to live in the same part of the world as terrorists.
Indeed, the 9/11 attacks were obviously blowback for U.S. foreign policy. This seemed completely clear to me, especially when our leaders pointed the finger at Osama, seeing as how he had always made clear that his grievances were rooted in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Sanctions on Iraq, military aid for Israel, troops in Saudi Arabia, and other U.S. interventions in the area had contributed to the deaths of over a million people in the last couple generations. Anyone paying attention had to know this.
And yet, of course the attacks of 9/11 were unjustified. They were terrorism. They were evil. They were murderous. Why can we say this? Because despite what the U.S. government had done to innocent Arabs and Muslims, these crimes could never justify acts of violence that predictably hurt innocent people. Yet the corollary of the very principle that renders 9/11 attacks evil is that the response to 9/11 must also at all costs avoid killing the innocent. Arabs responding to American crimes in their part of the world by attacking innocents is terrorism. Similarly, Americans responding to Arab crimes in our part of the world by attacking innocents is also terrorism. The bombing of Kabul, Afghanistan, in October 2001 was therefore murderous, no less so than the 9/11 attacks. The Iraq war that began in 2003 was, if anything, even less defensible.
This is not moral relativism. It is moral clarity. It is applying the same moral standards to all moral actors. Pro-war Americans lambaste anyone who dares have a “pre-9/11 mentality.” But this is an untenable criticism. It actually smacks of moral relativism itself. Acts that were immoral before 9/11 continued to be afterwards. Human rights are universal and timeless. 9/11 did not change the morality of killing civilians any more than it changed the nature of government.
The nature of government, of course, is coercive and authoritarian. Even though I favored a forceful response to 9/11 to apprehend the guilty, I continued to see the government as the primary threat to liberty. This pre-9/11 mentality is informed by thousands of years of history. All those thousands of years of governments subjugating their peoples, more often exposing them to foreign threats than protecting them, should weigh at least as heavily as the emotional power of September 11, 2001. Much more happened in the world before 9/11 than after.
The week after 9/11 I remember thinking about how, even after the murderous attacks of 9/11, the U.S. government still had a far greater American death toll to answer for. It had killed many, many thousands through the FDA. It had killed hundreds of thousands in its wars, conscripting men to die for causes they might not believe in. In terms of liberty, the terrorists could never take that way. Only the government could. And it did, through airport security theater, destruction of the Fourth Amendment and habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention and torture, and trillions in taxes to pay for it all.
We have come to where perpetual war abroad, even in pursuit of bin Laden’s ghost, is accepted as a natural component of American reality. We surrender our dignity at the airports without thinking. We see the militarization of local police and figure it must be necessary and wise. We forget about the many prisoners locked up in American dungeons in Guantánamo and Afghanistan, people whose only crime could have been being in the wrong place in the wrong time, or daring to fight back against an invading force that was laying waste to their neighborhood and family. They sit there, languishing in barbaric conditions, totally neglected as unpersons, and the pure immorality of this neglect never registers in the mainline political discussions.
Before 9/11 I saw government as a necessary evil, the greatest threat to its own subjects’ life and liberty, but an essential bulwark of protection against domestic criminals and foreign aggressors. The experience shortly after 9/11 challenged this important element to this thinking. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and, via the Patriot Act, on the American people demonstrated that even at its one most celebrated function, the state is the opposite of what it pretends to be. It doesn’t stop threats; it exacerbates them. It doesn’t shield freedom; its every action, particularly in the name of protection, undermines freedom. It does not defend life; it treats human life as an expendable commodity for its own ends. I no longer saw government as necessary or effective in defending its people.
Four years ago, a new presidential candidate won the presidential election. Here we are at the end of his first term and there is no sign of the stampede toward the total state letting up any time soon. Two major wars based on lies and propaganda that have hurt more Americans than 9/11 did, to say nothing of millions of foreigners killed, maimed or displaced from their homes; myriad military operations throughout the globe; thousands rounded up without justice and dozens tortured to death; the presidency adopting the absolute power over life and death over any individual on earth, and priceless liberties shredded on the altar of power without anything to show for it. But the experience has surely disabused me of my pre-9/11 mentality. Before 9/11, I was naive enough to think that government, however clumsy and dangerous at home, might protect us from foreign threats. Now I realize that is perhaps the biggest lie in human history.
I have been asked often over the years when and how I came to be such an outspoken critic of war, the military, and the warfare state.
I have been writing about these evils since Bush invaded Iraq in 2003. My first article on the subject was "Eight Facts about Iraq." It was first published in an obscure monthly newsletter soon after the invasion of Iraq and then published by Lew Rockwell on January 2, 2004. My next piece, and first article for this website, was "Christianity and War," which appeared on October 29, 2003. Little did I know that it would turn into a book, now in its second edition, lectures, and the theme of scores of other articles. But my antiwar odyssey did not begin when Bush launched his unconstitutional, immoral, unjust invasion of Iraq. It goes back at least ten years before that dreadful event.
I grew up in sunny central Florida near Patrick Air Force Base. Although I live in central Florida now, for twenty-four years I lived in Pensacola, Florida – the home of the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron and the "Cradle of Naval Aviation." I was once a conservative Republican – albeit a very libertarian-leaning one – with the usual respect for the military. If it seems to you that I am the most unlikely person to be such a critic of the military, then I agree with you.
Until the late 1980s, I had never really given the subject of the military much thought. It was about then that I began to read – where I have no idea – about how the United States had troops in over a hundred foreign countries. I thought this rather odd, unnecessary, and ridiculous.
The next influence I can recall is Pat Buchanan in 1991 criticizing Bush Sr. for invading Iraq the first time (the Persian Gulf War). This made a notable and lasting impression on me because I was reading Buchanan’s columns and knew he was a conservative Republican. Buchanan went on to write one of the most important studies of World War II ever penned, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World (2008). I reviewed the book here.
It was sometime in 1993 or 1994 that I made the acquaintance of Lew Rockwell of the Mises Institute. I had stumbled across – where I have no idea – a reference to the Mises Institute publication called The Free Market. This was before LRC and before the Mises Institute had a website. I remember calling and requesting some copies of The Free Market, which were graciously sent to me through the mail. I went on to write for this publication, beginning in 1996. It was through articles in The Free Market that I was introduced to Murray Rothbard. This led me to the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, which I used to read at my mailbox the moment it arrived. It was then that I came to realize that I was more of a libertarian than a conservative. For me, it didn’t begin with Ayn Rand; it began with Murray Rothbard.
Some time in the mid 1990s, I came across an article – where I have no idea – critical of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For years I thought it might have been written by Doug Bandow, but he told me one time when I asked him that he can’t recall if he wrote it or not. This was my first exposure to historical revisionism. My analysis of World War II is "Rethinking the Good War."
In 2001, I began to reprint old books and articles as part of my Classic Reprints series. Two articles I came across in the late 1990s, which I reprinted in 2003 as the Classic Reprint titled Christianity and War, were from Baptist ministers writing in the Christian Review. The first article was called "Wickedness of War." It appeared, unsigned, in June of 1838. It was put online in October of 2002 here. The other article, by someone who called himself Veritatis Amans, appeared in September of 1847. Here I read things like:
War has ever been the scourge of the human race. The history of the past is little else than a chronicle of deadly feuds, irreconcilable hate, and exterminating warfare. The extension of empire, the love of glory, and thirst for fame, have been more fatal to men than famine or pestilence, or the fiercest elements of nature.
And what is more sad and painful, many of the wars whose desolating surges have deluged the earth, have been carried on in the name and under the sanction of those who profess the name of Christ.
It has not been till recently, that the disciples of Christ have been conscious of the enormous wickedness of war as it usually exists. And even now there are many who do not frown upon it with that disapprobation and abhorrence, which an evil of such magnitude as an unjust war deserves.
These articles confirmed for me that there was a conservative religious antiwar tradition that I had never been exposed to.
I have also been influenced along the way by some other individuals, organizations, and institutions, but as they would not wish to be associated with me, I will not mention them.
The immediate occasion of my first writing about the Iraq War was an e-mail that was forwarded to me in 2003 that defended U.S. foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan, and the yet-to-come war in Iraq. The bulk of the text was actually from a London newspaper editorial written in 2002.
Now, I normally ignore or at least don’t reply to e-mail that is forwarded to me. I made an exception in this case because I was so sick of the adoration that many Christians at that time had (and unfortunately still have) for George W. Bush. Here is what I wrote in reply:
Tony Blair is a jerk. George Bush is a jerk. The U.S. has no business sending one soldier to any foreign country, and especially to invade it (as is the case now). The U.S. has been meddling in every foreign country for 100 years. September 11 was a reaction to our stupid foreign policy. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Remember your physics classes?
Then I simply listed some quotes from the Founding Fathers:
Thomas Jefferson: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none."
John Quincy Adams: "America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy."
George Washington: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible."
This unexpectedly ended up being forwarded to a Bush-worshipping, military-loving individual who had also been sent the original e-mail that I had been forwarded. The emotional God-and-country screed that I personally received as a result of my negative comments prompted me to begin writing about the Iraq War. And the rest is history.
I have now written twenty-five articles about the Iraq War. A war in which of 4,484 American soldiers died, not defending our freedoms or fighting "over there" so we don’t have to fight "over here," but unnecessarily, duped, in vain, and for a lie.
Although the war in Iraq is "officially" over, by the grace of God I will continue writing about the folly of war and the idolatry of military worship, and especially by Christians. With the war in Afghanistan now in its eleventh year, with drone attacks increasing, with the U.S. empire of troops and bases still garrisoning the planet, with U.S. foreign policy still as reckless, belligerent, and meddling as ever, and with the warfare state further eroding our civil liberties, there is a greater need than ever to press on.
Review of Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Zondervan, 2010), 619 pgs., hardcover, $39.99.
I remember back in the mid 1990s when I was teaching theology and Zondervan published Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. I thought it was a good book, and now see that it has sold over 300,000 copies. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw that the author recently wrote an equally massive book on politics. It is not everyday when a theologian is found to have such a different field of interest and, in the case of Grudem, expertise.
As I have mentioned in some of my other reviews of Christian books (see here, here, here, here, and here), because one of my primary interests is the intersection of religion with politics and economics, I try to read and possibly review any books on these subjects. Although I am usually disappointed, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (hereafter just Politics – According to the Bible), although it has much to disappoint, and much I vehemently disagree with, is still an important and needful work that I can recommend to Christians interested in religion and politics, albeit with many caveats.
"Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. . . . America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." ~ George W. Bush, address to the nation, September 11, 2001
"They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." ~ George W. Bush, address to Congress, September 20, 2001
Of all the lies of the Bush administration used to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this one has proven to be the most enduring – and the most wrong.
"Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service." ~ Major General Smedley Butler
"If soldiers were to begin to think, not one of them would remain in the army." ~ Frederick the Great
"I find in existence a . . . dangerous concept that the members of the armed forces owe their primary allegiance and loyalty to those who temporarily exercise the authority of the executive branch of the Government, rather than to the country and its Constitution they are sworn to defend. No proposition could be more dangerous." ~ General Douglas MacArthur
"There is one thing in the world more wicked than the desire to command, and that is the will to obey." ~ W. K. Clifford, mathematician and philosopher
After almost ten years of fighting in Afghanistan, the deadliest day for U.S. forces was just a few weeks ago on Saturday, August 6. On that day thirty U.S. military personnel were killed when their helicopter was shot down. The majority of those killed were said to be elite Navy Seals from the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden.
The question that was never asked about this event by any major news media outlet is a question that I (and a few others) have been asking since the war in Afghanistan began: What is the U.S. military doing in Afghanistan?