Think for Yourself: A Belated Memorial Day Column

It’s a bit late for a column better suited to Memorial Day, but sometimes these things come to me on their own schedule.

I’ve never seen Arlington National Cemetery in person.  But even seen on television, its scale is beyond comprehension.  And the world is full of such places, in many countries, overflowing with war dead in their hundreds of thousands and millions.  Hundreds of thousands and millions of men who left the farm, their jobs, their families, to die — because they believed those who said it was for “their nation’s interest.”

We libertarians sometimes take a philosophical approach and argue from general principles, like self-ownership and nonaggression.  We own ourselves, but we don’t own others.  We have rights whose exercise and defense we can delegate to others, but we can’t delegate a right — a right to control others — that we don’t ourselves possess.

That’s all well and good, I suppose.  But there are lots of people out there who will never be convinced by such philosophical arguments, but who can be reached by old-fashioned common sense.  And if such people simply evaluated the claims and demands of government in the light of their own horse sense, the destructive power of the state would be greatly weakened.

The problem is, people usually don’t.  They’re taught from earliest childhood to put claims about Our Country, like claims about God, in a special class of propositions not subject to the normal rules of skepticism.

This makes no sense.  If you break down those ingrained barriers between the propositions of a man trying to sell you a used car, and the propositions of a man trying to sell you on a course of action dictated by Our Country or God, there’s really no difference at all.

Think about it.  The people who run the government are just human beings, exactly like the human being who wants to sell you the used car.  And they have interests, just like every human being.  When someone wraps himself in the Flag and uses the Holy Words, there’s a pretty good chance there’s something in it for him.  Really.  God won’t strike you dead for thinking it.

So for the love of God, when someone asks you to put on a uniform and fight for Our Country, stop and use your mind to evaluate his claims with the same skepticism you’d have for the pitch of a used car salesman.

What are the real interests of the people trying to sell you on a war?  Whose other interests are they serving?  When they talk about a “threat,” about “enemy aggression,” about the “national interest,” just what do they really mean by it?

“Threat”?  What kind of military threat sounds plausible to you, against a country whose military budget is larger than those of the rest of the world combined, with bases and garrisons in dozens of countries, a country that’s overthrown and installed more governments than most of the other empires in history? “Aggression”?  What kind of meaningful aggression can we fear from a country on the other side of the world that’s barely capable of projecting military force three hundred miles outside its own borders?  “National interest”?  What country ever had a legitimate national interest in picking the winner of a contest between two such feeble countries on the other side of the world, neither of which could fight it at all unless it went all the way around the world to meet them?

Stop and evaluate those claims with the same common sense you reserve for used car pitches, and other propositions outside the special class of propositions involving God  and Our Country.  If you subject them to common sense, you’ll probably find that any government making such claims, using the words “threat” and “aggression” and “national interest” in such a perverse way, is itself what you’d call an aggressor if it were any other country.

And you may find that the “national interest” the government claims isn’t your interest at all, or that of your neighbors, but rather the interests of those who get rich off other people’s sweat and blood.

You may find, in fact, that the government is selling you a used car.

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