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The Antidote to Military Exceptionalism

vance_war_empire_militaryThis talk was given at the Authors Forum at the 2014 Austrian Economics Research Conference at the Mises Institute.

I would like to thank Joe Salerno, Mark Thornton, and the Mises Institute for allowing me to talk about my newest book. I would like to talk about how the book came about, its relation to some of my other books, and the book’s content, theme, audience, reception, cover, and emphasis. I look at the book as an antidote to military exceptionalism.

War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy (hereafter just War, Empire, and the Military), cannot be fully understood without reference to the companion volume I published last year, War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism (hereafter just War, Christianity, and the State). But these books cannot be fully understood without reference to the one book that preceded them: Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State (hereafter just Christianity and War), the second edition of which was published in 2008 and the first in 2005. This is the book I was encouraged to repudiate and shred when I took delivery from my printer. But even that book cannot be fully understood without reference to a single article titled “Christianity and War” that was published on October 29, 2003, on It was at a conference here at the Mises Institute in 2003 that Lew Rockwell asked me to write something for him on war from an evangelical perspective. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My first edition of Christianity and War was published in January of 2005. I spoke about it in March of that year at the Authors Forum at what was then called the Austrian Scholars Conference. That book contained thirteen essays—organized under the headings of Christianity and War, The Evils of War, Specific Wars, and The U.S. Global Empire—that had all been published on The second edition of this work was published in January of 2008. I spoke about it at the 2008 Authors Forum of the Austrian Scholars Conference, just before I delivered the Lou Church lecture. This time the book contained seventy-nine essays—organized under the headings of Christianity and War, War and Peace, The Military, Christianity and the Military, The Iraq War, Other Wars, and The U.S. Global Empire—that had all been published on

In 2013, because the second edition of Christianity and War had already grown in size to 432 pages and I had written so much more on the subjects it contained since its publication, I ruled out a third edition because it would end up being over 900 pages.

So, since one part of Christianity and War and much of my new material consisted of essays with a decidedly Christian theme, while the other part of the book and much of my new material was more secular in nature, it seemed best to organize the existing and new material along these themes. Thus, I organized all of the religious material into War, Christianity, and the State, published in mid-2013, and all of the secular material into War, Empire, and the Military, which was published earlier this year.

War, Christianity, and the State contains 76 essays in 414 pages organized under the headings of Christianity and War, Christianity and the Military, Christianity and the Warfare State, and Christianity and Torture. (By the way, I’m against it.) War, Empire, and the Military contains 127 essays in 528 pages organized under the seven headings of War and Peace, The Military, The War in Iraq, World War II, Other Wars, The U.S. Global Empire, and U.S. Foreign Policy. Each essay is reprinted verbatim, with the exception of the correction of some typos. Every essay in the former book appeared on With just a few exceptions, all of the essays in the latter book also appeared on I don’t suppose that either edition of Christianity and War or either one of my two new books would ever have come into existence had not Lew Rockwell published my article on Christianity and war back in 2003. I guess I should be giving him royalties from every sale of the books I make.

Although the essays in War, Empire, and the Military are organized under seven headings, they have one underlying theme: opposition to war and the warfare state. War is the greatest destroyer of religion, morality, and decency. War is the greatest creator of fertile ground for genocides and atrocities. War is the greatest destroyer of families. War is the greatest creator of famine, disease, and homelessness. War is the greatest destroyer of civil liberties. War is the greatest creator of widows and orphans. War is the health of the state. And although many of the essays in War, Empire, and the Military reference contemporary events, the principles discussed in all of them are timeless: war, militarism, empire, interventionism, and the warfare state. The essays in each chapter are simply listed in their order of publication. Each chapter as well as its individual essays can be read in any order. The only exception is the chapter on the U.S. empire, which is better read chronologically. Here I have done much original research on the extent of the U.S. empire of troops and bases that encircle the globe. The last time I checked, the United States had troops stationed in about 160 different countries or territories. This is 160 too many, even if there is only a small contingent of soldiers stationed in some locations. Something new in War, Empire, and the Military that is not in any of the previous books related to it is a chapter on U.S. foreign policy, which, by the way, I characterize as aggressive, reckless, belligerent, and meddling. Absent from the book are articles that explore the relation of Christianity to war, the military, and the warfare state. In fact, the book is almost devoid of any references to religion. This means that War, Empire, and the Military has appeal to a much broader audience than its companion volume War, Christianity, and the State.

I mention religion because some people have the mistaken notion that all of the things I write are religious in nature. Well, my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom is certainly not a religious book, although it does contain an essay titled “Should Christians Support the War on Drugs?” (By the way, my answer to that question is “no.”) And although it is true that I write for theological journals, if you take a look at my article archives at, the Mises Institute, and the Future of Freedom Foundation you will see that in addition to articles on war, the military, the warfare state, the U.S. empire, and U.S. foreign policy, I write often about libertarianism, conservatism, the Republican Party, foreign aid, economics, politics, discrimination, the drug war, gambling, victimless crimes, Social Security, Medicare, taxation, free trade, the Constitution, the free society, government regulation, the state, the U.S. government, the federal budget, education, gun control, the welfare state, and health care. Nothing inherently religious about any of those things.

Although all of the essays in War, Empire, and the Military are available online, the reception of the book has surpassed my initial projections. It is certainly much more convenient to hold a collection of 127 articles in your hands instead of looking them all up online. The publication of the book has also led to an increase in sales of the book’s companion volume, War, Christianity, and the State, as more people have discovered it who evidently missed its release last year.

The cover of the book contains an actual photograph of a dead German soldier that shows in graphic detail how some soldiers end up: alone in a field, dead, far from home, forgotten, food for maggots and animals. Someone sent it to me with a note that it was taken from a French postcard issued after World War II.

I confess that I write with an agenda. The longest chapter in War, Empire, and the Military is the one on the military. And for good reason. You see, you can’t have a war without soldiers. This observation is lost on most conservatives and many libertarians. In fact, U.S. military personnel—who, in addition to bombing, maiming, destroying, invading, occupying, and killing for the state as they enforce an evil U.S. foreign policy, are also the policemen, firemen, bullies, busybodies, and social workers of the world—are the one group of government workers that many libertarians are willing to give a free pass. They may have nothing but contempt for TSA, DEA, CIA, EPA, FBI, and ATF goons, bureaucrats, and thugs, but not a word of condemnation for members of the military. They may denounce warmongering politicians, senseless foreign wars, the warfare state, the military-industrial complex, U.S. foreign policy, foreign military bases, and the destruction of civil liberties during wartime, but not utter a negative word about members of the military. They have been infected with the cult of the uniform, military exceptionalism, and the American national religion.

More than at any time in history, Americans show reverence to the military. Patriotism is now equated with admiration for the military. All former and current members of the military are heroes. Sporting events are merely an excuse to have a military worship service. Show up in a military uniform at a restaurant on Veterans Day and you will probably get a free meal. Military personnel often board airplanes before the rest of the passengers. There are announcements in airports welcoming home military personnel and thanking them for all they do to keep us safe. How many thousands of cars are there with bumper stickers proclaiming: “my son (or daughter) is serving in the military.” Businesses announce their support for the troops on their signs. Military personnel who wear their uniforms out in public are stopped and thanked for their service. Churches hold special military appreciation days. And is there anything that military personnel don’t get discounts on?

It doesn’t seem to matter the reason for each war or intrusion into the affairs of another country. It doesn’t seem to matter how long U.S. troops remain after the initial intervention. It doesn’t seem to matter how many foreign civilians are killed or injured. It doesn’t seem to matter how many billions of dollars are spent by the military. It doesn’t even seem to matter what the troops are actually doing. Americans as a general rule—Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, religious or irreligious—believe in supporting the troops no matter what.

To question the military in any way—its size, its budget, its efficiency, its bureaucracy, its contractors, its weaponry, its mission, its effectiveness, its foreign interventions—is to question America itself. One can condemn the size of government, but never the size of the military. One can criticize federal spending, but never military spending. One can denounce government bureaucrats, but never military brass. One can depreciate the welfare state, but never the warfare state. One can expose government abuses, but never military abuses. One can label domestic policy as socialistic, but never foreign policy as imperialistic. The troops are simply off limits.

If this is how you feel, then the next time you (or your sixteen-year-old daughter) are in an airport getting felt up by a TSA goon because you refused to go through the porno scanner, just keep repeating to yourself as you grit your teeth and endure it that the goon just couldn’t find another job, he is just patriotic, he is just doing it for the benefits, he is not the one that added groping to his job description, he just needed money for college, he is just following orders, and he is just doing his job.

I would like to conclude with just four words: please buy my books. They are for sale here at the Mises Institute, and I will even sign them for you. Thanks for your attention and for your attendance at this conference.