War and the Morality of Americans

May 3rd, 2008 - by admin

Joseph Potter / Lew Rockwell.com – 2008-05-03 23:10:29


(May 1, 2008) — Murray Rothbard began his book Man, Economy, and State with the fact that the first truth to be discovered about human action is that it can be undertaken only by an individual human actor. Only humans have human ends and can act to obtain those ends.

This means that “states”, “collectives”, or other “groups” can do things only by the actions of individual humans. It is using a metaphor to say that the American military invaded Canada in 1812. There is nothing wrong with using the metaphor as long as we understand that it was really an invasion of many individual humans who are each responsible for their own actions.

Lew Rockwell once pointed out that the ancient view of the state was that there are special laws of morality that apply to the state, and that the state was above the sort of judgment we might render in regards to the actions of an individual human being. This allowed the state to kill, steal, rape, pillage, or dominate in any manner it chose while still remaining “moral” since different rules applied to the state.

The liberal tradition abolished this notion and replaced it with the idea that no state should act in any way that was not in accordance to the moral standards expected of the individual human.

“Yet the liberal tradition gradually abolished the idea of caste and special legal privilege. It asserted, more generally, that no group possesses a special license to lord it over others. St. Augustine might have been the first to observe that the moral status of Alexander the Great’s conquests was more egregious than the pirate’s depredations. The pirate molests the sea, but the emperor molests the world.” (Lew Rockwell)

Hayek wrote that justice is the application of the same rules to everyone regardless of their station in life. He saw injustice as using different sets of rules for different classes of people. For example, the class of Americans called military men have no more right to kill innocent women and children than you or I do in our private lives.

LRC writer Gene Callahan and adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute pointed out that:
“For centuries, the idea that justice during war is not, in its essence, different than justice during peace would have been held as obviously true by most of the population of Europe. While war was seen as sometimes an ugly necessity, just war doctrine held that the same rules of morality applied to a king making war as to a peasant defending his home. The State had no special moral status, and was seen at best as a bandage, only necessary due to man’s fallen nature.”

The ideas put forth by all these men coalesces into the notion that the American state is bound by the same morality as we individual Americans are. It seems fair to judge the morality of the “American People” (at least the government supporters) as a group; and judge them by the government that they claim to run, and that some claim is the best in the history of mankind. Many Americans have fought the government with all their abilities and are not part of the group of government supporters that I am discussing.

Since the same rules apply to the collective as they do to the individual, let us ponder the morality of the average modern American. I posit that we may judge the average American’s morals by examining American foreign policy, both in times of war and in times of peace.

Murray Rothbard summed up his view of the theory of a just war thusly:
” … My own view of war can be put simply: a just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them. …”

No nation should ever enter even a just war without serious contemplation; and to wage an unjust war is an action that is to be greatly reviled, loathed, and shunned. To wage an unjust war is to sink below the status of the animals.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Robert Elias who is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco wrote a paper outlining the terror tactics of the American government on foreign countries. Regardless of how one feels about his point in the essay on why the 9/11 attacks occurred, one must be horrified at the actions of our government that he marshaled into evidence in his article.

He pointed out that the US has used “Weapons of Mass Destruction” around the world on innocent civilian populations. These are American bombs, both nuclear and conventional, used indiscriminately for no military objective. The targets are civilian centers and the victims are simply called “collateral damage.”

The list he gave:

Japan (1945)
China (1945–46)
Korea & China (1950–53)
Guatemala (1954, 1960, 1967–69)
Indonesia (1958)
Cuba (1959–61)
Congo (1964)
Peru (1965)
Laos (1964–70)
Vietnam (1961–1973)
Cambodia (1969–70)
Grenada (1983)
Lebanon (1983–84)
Libya (1986)
El Salvador (1980s)
Nicaragua (1980s)
Iran (1987)
Panama (1989)
Iraq (1991–2000)
Kuwait (1991)
Somalia (1993)
Bosnia (1994–95)
Sudan (1998)
Afghanistan (1998)
Pakistan (1998)
Yugoslavia (1999) `
Macedonia (1999) `

The bombings of civilian population centers in so many places in such a short period of history would be enough, in my mind, to prove that American foreign policy is not that of a peace-loving people, but there was even more. Also listed were numerous uses of chemical and biological weapons on civilians in foreign countries, and even tests using Americans citizens here at home without their knowledge! How could this possibly be justifiable under any system of morality?

We have overthrown foreign governments, interfered with elections in foreign countries, invaded foreign lands on a regular basis, and supported all manner of dictators around the globe. The CIA once overthrew the first democratically elected leader of Iran and installed a brutal dictator. What other “black opps” have our spooks been up to over the years?

We spend more than the rest of the world combined on our war machine, and we are also the world’s largest supplier of arms to the third world. We intimidate or use force on any country that does not obey the orders of the masters in Washington. We also use economic warfare against countries that are out of favor.

Economists tell us that the vast waste of our time, talent, and treasure on the war machine and foreign policy has impoverished the lower class and taken food from the mouths of the children of the poor. The economic ramifications on the American people will reverberate down through the corridors of time for generations to come.

There really is no way I could call American foreign policy moral by any measure. If one places the responsibility for our bipartisan foreign policy squarely on the American People, then it is time to recognize that we are not the people of that shining city on a hill lighting the way for humanity. In fact, we need to learn, as a people, to “live and let live” before we give advice to other nations on any subject.

Martin Luther King said, “America is the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world today” and it has gotten only worse since he said that in the 60s. Our people have allowed our foreign policy to bankrupt our country financially and morally. What can we do? It seems only a “Revolution in Freedom” will save us now.

Joseph Potter lives in Florida and teaches in a small private school.
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