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settje_faith_and_warDavid E. Settje, Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars (NYU Press, 2011), xi + 233 pgs., hardcover, $36.

This informative book reminds us that the divide that has existed between Christians over the issues of war and militarism since World War II has usually been a theological one. I mean this in the sense that Christians with a more liberal theological outlook have generally disdained war and militarism even as their conservative Christian counterparts have generally supported these things. As a conservative Christian, I shake my head in amazement that so many of my brethren have been hoodwinked by the state to support its wars, its military, and its foreign policy, whether in the name of fighting communism or terrorism.

Settje is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Chicago. Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars (hereafter Faith and War) is not his only book on this subject. His first foray was the more narrowly focused Lutherans and the Longest War: Adrift on a Sea of Doubt about the Cold and Vietnam Wars (2006).

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Pray for Our Troops

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I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
(1 Timothy 2:1)

While driving recently on Maitland Boulevard in central Florida, I came upon a billboard with a simple message: “Pray for Our Troops.”

Although I am often very critical of the actions of U.S. troops, I do believe—in spite of what people may think—in prayer for our troops. This is because, as evidenced above, the Bible exhorts us to pray for all men, which includes U.S. troops.

The problem is not the idea of praying for the troops, but the usual prayers that are offered on their behalf. When the typical church-going, prayer-saying American Christian sees such a billboard or is enjoined in church to pray for our troops, he generally thinks:

  • Pray that our troops be kept out of harm’s way.
  • Pray that our troops defeat our enemies.
  • Pray that our troops defend our freedoms.
  • Pray that our troops keep us safe.
  • Pray that our troops find terrorists who want to do us harm.
  • Pray that our troops eliminate the threat of al Qaeda.
  • Pray that our troops rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Pray that our troops spread democracy and freedom.
  • Pray that our troops avenge 9/11.

Some Christians, if they were honest, would pray that our troops’ bombs, bullets, grenades, missiles, and mortars hit their targets. Or if they were really honest, a war prayer for the twenty-first century.

The problem with these prayers is that no thought is ever given to:

  • Where our troops go.
  • Why our troops go.
  • Whether our troops should go.
  • How long our troops should stay.
  • What our troops do when they are there.
  • How much it costs to keep our troops there.
  • How many innocent foreigners die because our troops went.
  • What physical and mental condition our troops will be in when they return.
  • Whether our troops are really defending our freedom.
  • Whether our troops are creating more terrorists because they went.
  • Whether our troops are actually a global force for good.
  • Whether whatever our troops accomplish is worth one drop of American blood.

None of these things matter. We are continually told to pray for the troops, thank the troops, and support the troops—and to do so unconditionally.

But because I have considered these questions about the activities of our troops, and pay attention to what really goes on in the military, I think we should instead:

  • Pray that our troops come home from overseas.
  • Pray that our troops stop fighting foreign wars.
  • Pray that our troops don’t kill foreign civilians.
  • Pray that our troops don’t rape foreign women.
  • Pray that our troops stop invading countries.
  • Pray that our troops stop occupying countries.
  • Pray that our troops get out of the military as soon as they can.
  • Pray that our troops don’t fire their weapons.
  • Pray that our troops don’t sexually assault military personnel.
  • Pray that our troops don’t frequent brothels.
  • Pray that our troops don’t commit suicide.
  • Pray that our troops don’t get addicted to drugs.
  • Pray that our troops stop helping to carry out an evil U.S. foreign policy.
  • Pray that our troops stop making drone strikes.
  • Pray that our troops stop making widows and orphans.
  • Pray that our troops are only used for genuinely defensive purposes.
  • Pray that our troops stop intervening in other countries.
  • Pray that our troops don’t die for a lie, like those who died fighting in Iraq.
  • Pray that our troops don’t die in vain, like those who died fighting in Afghanistan.
  • Pray that our troops think about the morality of their “service.”
  • Pray that our troops refuse to obey immoral orders.
  • Pray that our troops never become troops by saying no to the military recruiter.

One does not have to be religious to see that these prayers are noticeably different from the previous ones. Think about this the next time you see a billboard or church sign that says “Pray for Our Troops.”

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Yesterday I wrote about the ISFLC panel on 5 reasons Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. Here are 5 more reasons you can be confident that libertarianism is the most consistent expression of Christian political thought.

1. Christianity affirms the libertarian emphasis on private property. The libertarian theory of private property rights is perhaps libertarianism’s most distinguishing feature. Although you cannot find an explicit Biblical narrative that explains such a theory in full, you can find example after example of how private property and self-ownership are central to the kind of world God intended. Even the classic objection of “holding things in common” in the book of Acts assumes private ownership and a voluntary contribution of that property.

2. The God of the Bible consistently sides with those who are oppressed by government. The people of Israel were slaves, called “the least of all peoples”, and yet God specifically chose to rescue them and make them into a blessing for all men. A major narrative of all of Scripture is that it is good news for the least of these, and especially for those oppressed and downtrodden by those in power.

3. The Bible, from beginning to end, depicts the State as an enemy of God and vehicle of evil. The Tower of Babel narrative is our theological origin of the state, Jesus Christ is tempted with power that comes from it, and its final destiny is depicted in Revelation. Nowhere in the Bible is statism and institutionalized aggression given approval.

4. Christianity proclaims that all men are equally bound to the moral law. Everyone is accountable to it in the same way, and no one gets a special pass because they wear a uniform or have the privilege of being called “The Honorable” or “King” or “President” before stating their name. If anything, those with power are judged more strictly, and God does not take “I did evil so I could do good” for an answer.

5. Christianity recognizes that you cannot make people moral through the institutionalization of force. As Ron Paul has said, “The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous… God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing.” The Christian way of life is not wielding power over others so they conform, but rather displaying even greater power through service that shows God’s love. We call that wielding power under and we believe this is the way God himself works with us.

In conclusion, consider these words from Jacques Ellul:

But why freedom? If we accept that God is love, and that it is human beings who are to respond to this love, the explanation is simple. Love cannot be forced, ordered, or made obligatory. It is necessarily free. If God liberates, it is because he expects and hopes that we will come to know him and love him. He cannot lead us to do so by terrorizing us.

So, can a Christian be a libertarian? Of course! Libertarianism is, in fact, the best political position a Christian can take. Christian libertarianism is not about voting just the right way or explaining every jot of public policy, but rather about fundamentally changing our view of power and the institutions that wield it.

What is the most compelling reason for you? What would help you to understand the intersection of Christianity and libertarianism even more? Let us know in the comments, and help LCC out by sharing this article wherever you can.

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Hard Questions on the Drug War

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As I have maintained in all of my articles on the drug war, the war on drugs is a monstrous evil that has ruined more lives than drugs themselves. The war on drugs is really just a war on individual liberty, private property, civil liberties, financial privacy, personal responsibility, the free market, a free society, and freedom itself.

Take the case of Jesse Webster, 46, a former cocaine dealer from Chicago who was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for “participating in a drug conspiracy and filing false tax returns.”

Webster turned himself in 1995 when he learned that the police were looking for him. Because he refused to become a confidential informant, he was denied leniency and sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonviolent first offense.

For a sentence like that, Webster said, “I thought I’d have to hurt somebody, do bodily harm.”

The A.C.L.U. “estimates that more than 2,000 federal inmates are serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.” Like James Romans, someone who is serving a life sentence for selling marijuana. Even worse, “in a sample study of 169 federal inmates incarcerated for nonviolent crimes,” the A.C.L.U. “found dozens who were first-time offenders, as well as many others who had only misdemeanors and juvenile infractions in their past.” And that doesn’t even take into account the state prison population.

Although Webster now shares a 65 square-foot cell in a medium security prison in Southern Illinois, he spent 16 years in maximum security prisons—including Leavenworth—with murderers and rapists; that is, people who committed actual crimes.

“I should have done time,” Mr. Webster said. “But a living death sentence?” “A commutation of sentence which would result in his service of 20 or so years in prison is enough punishment for his crimes,” wrote Judge Zagel (the judge who sentenced him under the harsh sentencing guidelines of the day) to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the Justice Department.

No, Mr. Webster, you should not have done time—any time. And no, Mr. Zagel, 20 years is not enough punishment—it is 20 years too many. This is one prisoner serving time in federal prison who should be released immediately. But not because the sentence was too harsh, not because it was a nonviolent offense, not because it was his first offense, not because he only received three minor infractions in prison, not because his last infraction was in 1997, not because he earned in prison the trusted position of captain’s orderly, not because he has kept in contact with his mother, not because his mother is ill, not because he has seen his granddaughter only once, not because he got religion, not because he has been reformed, not because he has been rehabilitated, and not because we should feel sorry for him.

As much as we may not like the personal habits of cocaine users and the chosen profession of cocaine dealers, in a free society the government has no business regulating, interfering with, or prohibiting the free and voluntary exchange of any substance. The very fact that we have a war on drugs means that we don’t have a free society.

My thoughts on the evils of the drug war are contained in my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom and the other articles on the subject that I have written since the book was published in September of 2012.

What I do want to address here is a sincere question from a reader that I received in response to a short blog post I did a month or so ago about the case of Jesse Webster. Like any good libertarian, my reader’s initial reaction was that “there was no crime committed, since neither drug dealing nor tax evasion actually has a victim.” However, a family member of his raised a hypothetical scenario that I’m sure others have broached in the past:

What if he had sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose?  Would the sentence have still been unjustified?

My short answer is yes. My longer answer is this:

Even if it be acknowledged that someone might justifiably be sentenced to life in prison without parole because he sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose, that is still no argument for the drug war. It is rather an argument for punishing those who contribute to the death of a minor. What if instead of a 12 year old someone sold drugs to a 52 year old and that 52 year old died from an overdose? Would anyone recommend a sentence of life in prison without parole? Would anyone recommend a sentence at all? The issue here is the legal distinction between minors and adults as it relates to crime and punishment. This I leave to libertarian legal theorists.

Not in any particular order, here are some additional thoughts on the matter.

1. There are some hard questions on the drug war, usually regarding drugs and children. Questions of this nature should immediately raise a red flag because invoking “the children” is a standard tactic of the Left when seeking to justify gun control, WIC, food stamps, Head Start, Medicaid, etc. Much evil has been done by government in the name of child safety and child protection.

2. Just because libertarians oppose the war on drugs and support a free market in all drugs doesn’t mean that they believe it would be a good thing for anyone to use drugs, that they are indifferent to or unconcerned about the dangers of drugs in the hands of children, or that they are naïve about the potentially negative consequences of drug abuse.

3. If drugs were legal, I think it is fair to assume that governments would treat them like tobacco and alcohol; that is, it would be illegal for minors to possess them and for people to sell them to minors.

4. Has the war on drugs prevented drug dealers from selling drugs to 12 year olds? Of course it hasn’t.

5. The question of the legality of any or all drugs is purely a state matter. Even if someone thought that the states should wage war on drugs (I don’t), they would have to at least acknowledge that the federal government has no authority whatsoever under the Constitution to incarcerate anyone for selling drugs to anyone, including children.

6. What if someone sold a nail gun or a gallon of bleach to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from misusing either product? Would a sentence of life in prison without parole be justified? If not, then why should the sale of certain drugs be treated differently? Just because the government has declared that certain drugs are illegal while nail guns and bleach are legal?

7. It has been estimated that 7,600 Americans die every year from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. Should someone who sells (or gives) aspirin to a 12 year old and that 12 year old dies from an overdose be locked up for life without the possibility of parole? Would anyone but the emotionally distraught parent of the dead child even think of such a thing?

8. A 12 year old certainly bears some responsibility for buying drugs and overdosing on drugs. The question did not concern someone forcing a 12 year old to take drugs or tricking him into doing so. And neither did the question concern selling drugs to a 2 year old or a 12 year old with the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

9. The parents of a 12 year old who buys drugs and overdoses on drugs may bear some responsibility if they never bothered to warn their 12 year old about buying or taking anything from strangers. And even if the seller was a family friend, the parents still may bear some responsibility if they never warned their 12 year old about the dangers of drugs.

10. Drug dealers, like any “normal” businessmen, want repeat business, not dead customers.

11. Being a drug dealer doesn’t necessarily mean that one is so stupid and/or evil that he would sell drugs to a 12 year old.

12. Would a 12 year old be able to come up with enough money to buy enough of a drug to overdose?

Neither I nor any other libertarian professes to have all the “right” or “libertarian” answers to every question raised about the drug war. One thing is for sure: The world is full of dangerous items and substances, but it is the job of individuals, families, churches, consumer groups, and concerned organizations to keep Americans from using or abusing them—not the government.

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Dismantling the American Empire

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The WikiLeaks revelations have shined a light on the dark nature of U.S. foreign policy, including, as Eric Margolis recently described it: “Washington’s heavy-handed treatment of friends and foes alike, its bullying, use of diplomats as junior-grade spies, narrow-minded views, and snide remarks about world leaders.”

As much as I, an American, hate to say it, U.S. foreign policy is actually much worse. It is aggressive, reckless, belligerent, and meddling. It sanctions the destabilization and overthrow of governments, the assassination of leaders, the destruction of industry and infrastructure, the backing of military coups, death squads, and drug traffickers, and imperialism under the guise of humanitarianism. It supports corrupt and tyrannical governments and brutal sanctions and embargoes. It results in discord, strife, hatred, and terrorism toward the United States.

The question, then, is simply this: Can U.S. foreign policy be fixed? Although I am not very optimistic that it will be, I am more than confident that it can be.

I propose a four-pronged solution from the following perspectives: Founding Fathers, military, congressional, libertarian. In brief, to fix its foreign policy the United States should implement a Jeffersonian foreign policy, adopt Major General Smedley Butler’s Amendment for Peace, follow the advice of Congressman Ron Paul, and do it all within the libertarian framework of philosopher Murray Rothbard.

Thomas Jefferson, our first secretary of state and third president, favored a foreign policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” This policy was basically followed until the Spanish-American War of 1898. Here is the simple but profound wisdom of Jefferson:

  • “No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.”
  • “We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with the general affairs of Europe.”
  • “I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment.”

  • “We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties.”

No judgment, no meddling, no political connection, and no partiality: this is a Jeffersonian foreign policy.

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. After leaving the military, he authored the classic work War Is a Racket. Butler proposed an Amendment for Peace to provide an “absolute guarantee to the women of America that their loved ones never would be sent overseas to be needlessly shot down in European or Asiatic or African wars that are no concern of our people.” Here are its three planks:

    1. The removal of members of the land armed forces from within the continental limits of the United States and the Panama Canal Zone for any cause whatsoever is hereby prohibited.

    2. The vessels of the United States Navy, or of the other branches of the armed services, are hereby prohibited from steaming, for any reason whatsoever except on an errand of mercy, more than five hundred miles from our coast.

    3. Aircraft of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is hereby prohibited from flying, for any reason whatsoever, more than seven hundred and fifty miles beyond the coast of the United States.

Butler also reasoned that because of “our geographical position, it is all but impossible for any foreign power to muster, transport and land sufficient troops on our shores for a successful invasion.” In this he was echoing Jefferson, who recognized that geography was one of the great advantages of the United States: “At such a distance from Europe and with such an ocean between us, we hope to meddle little in its quarrels or combinations. Its peace and its commerce are what we shall court.”

And then there is our modern Jeffersonian in Congress, Rep. Ron Paul, the only consistent voice in Congress from either party for a foreign policy of peace and nonintervention. In a speech on the House floor several months before the invasion of Iraq, Ron Paul made the case for a foreign policy of peace through commerce and nonintervention:

A proper foreign policy of non-intervention is built on friendship with other nations, free trade, and open travel, maximizing the exchanges of goods and services and ideas.

We should avoid entangling alliances and stop meddling in the internal affairs of other nations — no matter how many special interests demand otherwise. The entangling alliances that we should avoid include the complex alliances in the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.

The basic moral principle underpinning a non-interventionist foreign policy is that of rejecting the initiation of force against others. It is based on non-violence and friendship unless attacked, self-determination, and self-defense while avoiding confrontation, even when we disagree with the way other countries run their affairs. It simply means that we should mind our own business and not be influenced by special interests that have an ax to grind or benefits to gain by controlling our foreign policy. Manipulating our country into conflicts that are none of our business and unrelated to national security provides no benefits to us, while exposing us to great risks financially and militarily.

For the libertarian framework necessary to ensure a foreign policy of peace and nonintervention, we can turn to libertarian political philosopher and theoretician Murray Rothbard:

The primary plank of a libertarian foreign policy program for America must be to call upon the United States to abandon its policy of global interventionism: to withdraw immediately and completely, militarily and politically, from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, from everywhere. The cry among American libertarians should be for the United States to withdraw now, in every way that involves the U.S. government. The United States should dismantle its bases, withdraw its troops, stop its incessant political meddling, and abolish the CIA. It should also end all foreign aid — which is simply a device to coerce the American taxpayer into subsidizing American exports and favored foreign States, all in the name of “helping the starving peoples of the world.” In short, the United States government should withdraw totally to within its own boundaries and maintain a policy of strict political “isolation” or neutrality everywhere.

The U.S. global empire with its 1,000 foreign military bases and half a million troops and mercenary contractors in three-fourths of the world’s countries must be dismantled. This along with the empire’s spies, covert operations, foreign aid, gargantuan military budgets, abuse and misuse of the military, prison camps, torture, extraordinary renditions, assassinations, nation building, spreading democracy at the point of a gun, jingoism, regime changes, military alliances, security guarantees, and meddling in the affairs of other countries.

U.S. foreign policy can be fixed. The United States would never tolerate another country building a string of bases around North America, stationing thousands of its troops on our soil, enforcing a no-fly zone over American territory, or sending their fleets to patrol off our coasts. How much longer will other countries tolerate these actions by the United States? We have already experienced blowback from the Muslim world for our foreign policy. And how much longer can the United States afford to maintain its empire? It is time for the world’s policeman, fireman, security guard, social worker, and busybody to announce its retirement.

This article is from chapter 7 of Laurence Vance’s War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy, and was originally published at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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