November 16, 2019

Cut Wasteful Spending on the Obsolete Conventional Military


A15332A0-C600-4068-9614-088791DE7B75What possible reason could there be to increase spending on the mostly obsolete conventional military?

The days of wars ending with one country marching into the capital of another are over, other than when DC invades some destitute, virtually defenseless Third World backwater.

No nuclear power is going to surrender without firing its nukes. No conventional navy is going to survive the first week of a war against a country with a modern missile system.

Generals in the Pentagon live in a dreamworld where they’re all Patton marching into Palermo. Let them fantasize on their own dime.

All of this military spending is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. The 21st-century US military is just a wealth transfer program for a few rich elites and a jobs program for about a million people who would otherwise have to do something productive.

It keeps the latter in a childlike state where they don’t have to face the uncertainty of the real world, where you can be let go even if you’re doing a good job.

It also has the secondary effect of making single payer health care programs in other countries look more viable than they really are, as those countries can stay marginally solvent by not wasting a trillion dollars a year on military spending.

The federal government has to be cut drastically in size and scope, starting with the most economically-damaging spending, military spending, or we’re in for a shocking dose of reality in terms of lower standards of living.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Remarks to the Punta Gorda Tea Party July 3, 2010

I would like to thank the organizers of the Punta Gorda Tea Party for giving me the opportunity to come here today and speak to you on this joyous occasion. I say “joyous occasion” because I suspect that everyone of you, like me, has at sometime in the past imagined that he or she was the only person in the world who understood that our liberty was in jeopardy, or who cared enough to do something about it. Yet, today, although the danger has never been greater, there is joy in my heart, as I hope there is in yours, because of what this movement has made plainly obvious: we are not alone! In fact, to paraphrase words attributed to Japanese Admiral Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I believe that those who would dare to attack our liberty have merely awakened a sleeping giant.

I would like to take just a few moments to reflect upon the meaning of that which we fight for, to share a few words from those who established this land of liberty, and to humbly suggest to you an idea to carry forward in this sacred fight. I want to start with the question that I began my first book with, which is, “What is freedom?”

234 years ago, a man named Jefferson answered that question for us. I would like to share a few passages from Mr. Jefferson’s favorite philosopher. This man’s writing was so important to Jefferson that he actually had a resolution passed that said,

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”

I share this with you not to make some theoretical or academic point, but because the ideas Jefferson refers to have the utmost relevance to the struggle we find ourselves in now. Let me read to you the opening words of the essay by John Locke that Jefferson cites:

“TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”

“A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection…

You no doubt recognize that this was the source of those famous words, “We hold these truths to be self evident – which means that no proof is required, for these truths can be directly observed in nature – that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

I wanted to read those passages from Locke because they contain a very important point. Our natural liberty is not the license to do anything we wish. We must exercise our will “within the bounds of the law of nature.” But what are those bounds? What is the law of nature?

Locke tells us. “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

So, natural liberty is the right to order our actions AND DISPOSE OF OUR POSSESSIONS as we see fit, as long as we do not harm another person in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. Libertarians today call this “the non-aggression principle,” but it is really the principle of natural liberty itself. It is the fundamental, founding principle of the United States. It is vitally important that the connection between liberty and non-aggression be understood, for it is upon this foundation that the limits on government power rests.

Jefferson confirmed this many times over the course of his life. Whenever he was asked about the role of government in a particular matter, he consistently applied the non-aggression principle. In a letter he wrote in 1816, he said, ““Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Of religious freedom, Jefferson wrote, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

On another occasion he wrote, “But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”

There are many more quotes just like these that I could read, but the point is made. You may ask yourself, “what does this have to do with Obamacare or any of the countless other present incursions into our liberty?” The answer is this: the reason that Obamacare violates our liberty is because it violates the non-aggression principle, which is liberty.

Now, I want to stop here to draw a crucial distinction. Non-aggression is not pacifism. While the principle of liberty forbids us to initiate force, we have a right and a duty to defend ourselves with force, if necessary, against those who commit aggression against us. And so, in order to secure our rights, we delegate this individual power to government – making government the societal use of force. It is also crucial to remember that all government action is backed by the force of arms. When we make laws, they must be followed or he who breaks the law will encounter that armed force. This power comes from us, from each individual – from our right to use force in self defense. However, we cannot delegate a power to government that we do not possess individually, and so the limit on government power is the same as the limit on individual power: that force may only be used in defense against aggression. When government is kept within this limit, its people are free. When it goes beyond this limit, even if the intentions are good, it is initiating force against its people and we call this tyranny.

When one person steals the property of another, we employ the societal use of force – government – to compel that person to make restitution and to accept punishment for the crime. This is consistent with the non-aggression principle. We call this justice.

When a foreign nation attacks us, we employ our military to defend our lives and liberty with force against that nation. This, too, is consistent with the non-aggression principle.

However, when the government makes a law that says that one person must pay the medical bills of another, or purchase a product that he does not consent to purchase, then it is the government that is the aggressor. It is the government that initiates force against someone who has not committed aggression himself. This is a violation of the non-aggression principle – a violation of liberty – and that is why it cannot be tolerated by a free people. No law written by men can violate the law of nature.

I respectfully suggest to all of you that this be the measuring stick against which you judge all acts of government, from its economic policies, to its criminal law, to its foreign policy. It was the non-aggression principle that our founders used to determine the limits of government power. It is the founding principle of our nation. Once you apply it, you will find that our government has violated our liberty for many decades. This has happened under Republican and Democratic rule. At home, it is characterized by the massive redistribution of wealth, not just for welfare for the poor, but for bankers on Wall Street, for farmers, for scientists, for educators, and for every one of us in programs like Social Security and Medicare – all of these are violations of our liberty that we must begin talking about responsibly phasing out, if we are to regain our freedom.

The violation of our founding principle extends to our foreign policy as well, for we fight wars with nations that have committed no aggression against us. This is a threefold violation: against the people of the nation we attack, against the soldier whose life is risked or sacrificed unnecessarily, and against the taxpayer who is forced to pay for it at the point of the same gun that compels him to pay for Obamacare.

Now, I know that the Tea Party movement strongly supports our troops and so do I. God help us if we ever become a nation that does not honor the men and women who walk in front of bullets to preserve our liberty. However, it is not the soldier that takes us to war. He does not make that decision – not because he is incapable of it – but because for a limited time while he serves, he pledges to follow the orders of his civilian leaders about where he will go and whom he will fight. By doing so, the soldier places a sacred trust in those leaders that they will call upon him to fight only when our lives and liberty are truly in danger.

Now, let me ask you one question: Do you truly believe that those same civilian leaders who have given you Obamacare, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, Amtrak – all of which are failed and bankrupt – were suddenly competent when they made decisions about taking us to war? I will suggest this to you: it is not merely incompetence, but a deliberate violation of our founding principle for the purpose of acquiring power that has informed all of their decisions. Remember that Washington, Adams, and Jefferson spent their entire presidencies trying to keep our country out of foreign wars. As James Madison said, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

My friends, we are in a struggle for the greatest idea that the world has ever known: freedom. You, the Tea Party, are being attacked by the established powers with every weapon at their command, and for one reason only: they are afraid of you. They know that their power over you requires your continued consent and you are no longer willing to be governed without it. I ask you to remember the meaning of that great principle of liberty, the non-aggression principle, and apply it objectively to everything that our government does. You will find that most of what it does today violates that principle. In other words, even after we get rid of Obamacare and send this president and Congress job hunting, we will still have a lot of work to do. It will not restore our liberty to vote out those who commit one form of aggression and replace them with people who will merely commit another. We must select representatives from amongst ourselves who will accept the natural limits of their powers or we will be no freer than we are now. But I am joyful today because we the people have that power. We have slumbered for decades, but we slumber no more. The sleeping giant is awake and we are going to win.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

Home

© Thomas Mullen 2010

Fighting For Our Freedom?

iraq warTo even question the active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the now-institutionalized worldwide military empire being maintained by the U.S. government draws tourrettes-like attacks from all who identify themselves as conservatives.  Not only are critics of U.S. foreign policy accused of being unpatriotic or even traitorous, but conservatives routinely go so far as to label them ungrateful.  The argument goes that critics of the empire enjoy the freedom of speech with which they criticize the government only because the military has fought to defend that freedom.  Therefore, those who oppose the present wars or our military presence around the world should be ashamed of themselves for “biting the hand that feeds them.”

Of course, this argument rests upon an assumption.  The assumption is that if the U.S. had not fought any of its past or current wars or had not maintained its military presence around the world, that we would have lost some or all of our freedom.  This fundamental assumption is never questioned (or I suspect even considered) by supporters of U.S. foreign policy, despite the fact that it completely disintegrates under even superficial examination.

Let’s give conservatives WWII for now, Pat Buchanan’s interesting arguments notwithstanding.  Is there any credible argument to be made regarding any of the major wars that the United States has waged since 1945 wherein one could conclude that not fighting it would have resulted in a loss of freedom for Americans?  What chain of events can any reasonable person construct whereby U.S. citizens would have lost their freedom if not for the invasions of Korea, Viet  Nam, Afghanistan, or Iraq?

The first two post-WWII wars were justified for ostensibly the same reason.  We supposedly had to prevent the communist governments of North Korea and North Viet Nam from taking over South Korea and South Viet Nam, respectively, because if we did not, communism would spread like a virus throughout all of Asia and eventually the world.  This was the so-called “Domino Theory.”  While anyone with a globe that is more or less correctly scaled can see through the ridiculousness of the argument in terms of Korea, one need not even resort to conjecture to refute this argument regarding the Viet Nam war.  History has shown in its case that the domino theory was completely untrue.

North Viet Nam did take over South Viet Nam.  The U.S. pulled out of Viet Nam in defeat and the very outcome that the U.S. had spent 14 years, the lives of 50,000 U.S. soldiers, and hundreds of billions of dollars attempting to prevent came to pass.  The communists took over all of Viet Nam.

Did American citizens lose any freedom as a result?  No.  In fact, as young men were no longer conscripted into the army to participate in this futile exercise, anti-war protestors were no longer being suppressed, and a huge chunk of government spending was eliminated (in theory, anyway), Americans were actually far freer once the war was lost than they were while it was being fought.

There is no argument to be made, no matter how far logic is stretched or how much disbelief is suspended, that Americans lost any freedom as a result of the loss of the Viet Nam war.  Therefore, the assertion that the troops fighting it were “fighting for our freedom” must be false.

Moreover, communism didn’t spread like wildfire beyond Viet Nam. After approximately 12 years, it imploded there just as it did in China at about the same time.  In the mid-1980’s, the Vietnamese began transitioning to a market economy, just as China did.  Today, both countries are arguably as capitalist as the United States, which unfortunately isn’t saying much.

As for Korea, the most generous conclusion one could come to regarding the “fighting for our freedom” theory is that the jury is still out – sixty years later.  U.S. troops are still stationed at the 38th parallel, supposedly keeping the communist barbarians from taking over South Korea as a stepping stone to the rest of the world.  Here speculation is certainly necessary, but not random speculation.  While it certainly would not be a postive outcome for South Koreans, can anyone seriously argue that if North Korea took over South Korea tomorrow that American freedom would be lost or even noticeably diminished?  How?

Fast forward 25 years and consider the present war in Iraq.  That war was started based upon on the assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that it was preparing to use against its neighbors to destablize the Middle East.  Let’s pretend for a moment that this assertion was not proven completely false.  Exactly how would another war in the Middle East, which would presumably resemble Iraq’s ten-year war with Iran, jeapordize the freedom of American citizens?  What cause and effect relationship could possibly be established between Middle Eastern politics and American freedom?  This question has to be answered before the “fighting for our freedom” assertion can be proven.

There is only one answer: none.  The Middle East has been unstable for thousands of years, and freedom has come and gone for countless western nations regardless of political devleopments in the Middle East, with the exception of the actual invasions of Western Europe by Muslim nations in the Middle Ages.  Those were ultimately defeated.  Certainly today the Middle Eastern nations pose no military threat to Europe, much less the United States.  To assert that Afghanistan could possibly threaten American freedom borders upon the absurd.

Putting the active wars aside for the moment, any objective observer would be even harder pressed to conclude that the U.S. military presence in the other 135 countries in which the U.S. maintains troops is contributing anything toward American freedom.  Can anyone seriously argue that if the U.S. government were to remove the 56,000 troops presently stationed in Germany that American freedom would somehow be jeopardized?  How?  The same question applies to  the 33,000 troops in Japan, the 10,000 in Italy, and so on.  There is simply no reasonable argument to be made that Americans would be one iota less free if all of these troops were to come home.

Warfare conducted for any purpose other than defending the borders of the nation does not make Americans freer.  On the contrary, it destroys freedom without exception.  More of Americans’ property is confiscated in taxes to support warfare.  Freedom of speech is curtailed.  Opponents of the war are rounded up and imprisoned or exiled.  Privacy is destroyed by the government in search of enemy spies or saboteurs.  These destructions of freedom have occurred during every war that the United States has ever fought, including all of the wars of the past 60 years.

Furthermore, America’s vast military presence in countries where no active war is being fought also results in less freedom for Americans.  Regardless of the public relations efforts of the U.S. military establishment, foreign troops are universally regarded the same way by the citizens of countries where they are stationed: they are resented.  This resentment breeds terrorism in some countries and other forms of protest in others.  Americans traveling abroad are much less free in what they can do, where they can safely go, and where they are welcome because of resentment born of U.S. troops stationed in foreign nations.

As Randolph Bourne famously observed, “war is the health of the state,” and the state is the enemy of freedom.  America was founded upon the idea that the state was “at best a necessary evil” and that there was an inverse relationship between war and liberty.  James Madison wrote that if “tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. No Nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”  History has proven him correct.  In the post-WWII era, the wars have become more numerous and longer and government has grown exponentionally.  With the expansion of war and the state, freedom has diminished.

This is not an argument for pacifisim or against the actual soldiers.  We live in a world with other nations that pose a threat to our lives and liberty and there must be some means to defend ourselves against an aggressor nation.  Whatever their reasons for joining, the men and women who serve in our miltary do make a huge sacrifice.  The overwhelming majority of them serve honorably both on the battlefield and off.  They join believing that they are defending our nation and freedom and the blame for our foreign policy does not rest with them.  A military force cannot function with each of its members questioning every order before carrying it out.  They have an obligation to disobey an order which is obviously immoral, such as shooting a non-combatant or torturing a prisoner, but beyond situations like those they must carry out their orders without question.  They place a sacred trust in their civilian leaders to deploy them only when it is absolutely necessary.

It is those civilian leaders who have violated that trust over and over again for the past sixty years.  It is they who have not supported our troops, spending their lives like so much loose change in wars that have been fought for everything but freedom.  They have sent them to countries that pose no military threat to the United States whatsoever and then tied their hands with rules of engagement that, whether intentionally or not, have prolonged those wars for years and even decades.  There can be no greater insult to the honor of brave soldiers than to exhort them to give their lives defending freedom when in fact freedom is not at issue in the war.

The United States government is broke.  It has accumulated a debt that can never legitimately be repaid.  While entitlement programs are ultimately far more economically destructive, costing over twice as much as U.S. military adventures, the $700 billion annual military budget is the next largest contributor to the deficits.  Of that $700 billion, less than $200 billion is spent fighting the two current active wars.  An active war should represent the high water mark of government spending, yet most of our military expenditures go to support standing armies in places like Germany and Japan.

It is evident that the military could be downsized by orders of magnitude without jeapordizing U.S. security in the least.  In fact, the U.S. would be far more secure without troops in 135 countries inspiring resentment against Americans and fighting wars against nations that could not launch a military attack against the United States in anyone’s wildest dreams.  Most importantly, the lives of hundreds of thousands of our troops, their opponents, and the innocent civilians in the countries that they fight in would be spared.

The gargantuan U.S. military establishment survives because American soldiers and civilians continue to accept the assertion that it is necessary to preserve our freedom.  This assertion is at best a destructive delusion and at worst an insidious lie, told by people who care nothing for our troops or the civilians they defend.  It is time to stop believing the lie and to truly support our troops.  Bring them home.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Three P’s: Things Government Cannot and Should Not Do

declarationIn this late stage of America’s devolution from constitutional republic to social democracy, one is hard pressed to find meaningful debate about the role of government. Despite a 24/7 news cycle and endless political commentary on talk radio, most Americans have not once in their lives heard the question, “What is the purpose of government?” Certainly, we hear that “the government should do this” or “the government should not do that” in regard to particular issues, but nowhere will you hear a meaningful discussion about the overall mission of government. Indeed, answering this question might not be all that beneficial to our chattering classes, because once it is answered, there is little need for hours and hours of more talk. Clarifying the role of government makes the answers to most political questions rather simple and unambiguous. It is hard not to suspect that many of our politicians avoid this subject intentionally.

If America is truly the “land of the free,” then there can be only one answer to this question. The purpose of government is to defend its constituents against aggression. Period. Since “liberty” and “the non-aggression principle” are one and the same, it is impossible for government to have any other purpose, or any additional role.

As government is by definition the societal use of force, any action of government other than defense against aggression must itself be aggression.  To induce human action through aggression is coercion. When coercion is practiced by government, it is called tyranny.

Freedom is the ability to exercise one’s will in the absence of coercion.  Therefore, freedom is impossible once government is allowed to perform any function other than defense.  If freedom is exercising one’s will in the absence of coercion, one cannot be free while being coerced. Two plus two cannot equal five.

That leaves a multitude of actions that government must be prohibited from engaging in. They generally fall into three categories, which I like to call “the Three P’s.” The Three P’s are to prevent, to promote, and to provide.  There is no way for government to engage in any of these three activities without destroying the liberty that it supposedly exists to defend.  Yet, this is 99 percent of what government in modern America does.

Most Americans look to government to prevent crime.  Once a particularly heinous crime is reported in the media, there are universal outcries about the failure of government to prevent it.  Almost no one stops to think about what it really means for government to “prevent crime.”  By definition, to prevent something is to act before it happens.  Since all government action represents the use of force, government can only prevent crime by initiating force against people who have committed no crime.  Force must always be initiated by someone.  The initiating party is the aggressor.  There is no other possibility.

This is not merely a theoretical or academic argument.  Think for a moment about the results of government’s various “crime prevention” efforts.  Gun control disarms the victims of crimes while empowering violent criminals who don’t care about gun control laws.  Economic regulations which attempt to prevent fraud insulate protected corporations from competition, emboldening them to commit more fraud.  Worst of all, the War on Terror, the ultimate government crime prevention program, has harassed millions of American citizens while allowing terrorists to walk onto planes with explosives in their shoes, underwear (and who knows where else), and has laid waste to an entire nation in order to determine that the “weapons of mass destruction” it supposedly possessed did not in fact exist.

In addition to preventing crime (including terrorism), that war also claims to undertake another of the Three P’s: to “promote.”  Once it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a new rationalization was needed for our brutal invasion of that country.  That new reason turned out to be our missionary desire to “promote democracy.”  Without getting into the erroneous perception that “democracy” and “freedom” are synonymous, it should be quite clear after seven years of uninterrupted martial law in Iraq that our government has failed to achieve either democracy or freedom.  Only government can be capable of missing the irony of ordering people at gunpoint to be free.  While it might play for some good laughs in a Peter Sellers or Monty Python movie, it is really quite horrifying when one considers that our government takes this position in all seriousness.

It is not only in foreign policy that government reaps disastrous results when trying to “promote.”  Consider its attempts to promote “clean energy.”  One need look no farther than the ethanol fiasco or “Climategate” to see the results government gets in promoting respect for the environment.

The same underlying reason accounts for the similarity of results when government tries to “promote” or to “prevent.”  In both cases, force is initiated against individuals who have committed no aggression themselves.  In order for government to “promote” anything, it must act.  When government acts in the absence of aggression, it commits aggression.  By committing aggression against and therefore overriding the decisions of millions of individuals, government causes innumerable unintended consequences.  All of them can be traced to the initiation of force.

The third of the Three P’s is by far the most destructive when undertaken by government: to provide.  The illusion that government can “provide” anything springs from a loss of recognition of what government is.  Government is the use of force, not by an individual, but by all of society.  As it is a destructive force, rather than a creative one, it can produce nothing.  Therefore, it can only provide something to one citizen that it has forcefully seized from another.  This holds true whether it is attempting to provide healthcare, education, housing, or any other form of property.

The fact that human beings spend the majority of their time on earth laboring to fulfill their wants or needs makes this the most costly of the Three P’s.  While warfare represents violent aggression against millions of people, government’s usurpation of human labor initiates violence against everyone.  While the cost of warfare in human lives cannot be expressed in dollars and cents, there is at least a limit to the amount of lives it can affect and the length of time it will go on (despite government’s best efforts to make it universal and indefinite).  However, once government has claimed a right to the labor of its constituents, no one is spared and the subjugation never ends.

While the active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to less than $200 billion per year (as if those amounts were not staggering themselves), the U.S. government spends trillions of dollars each year attempting to provide its citizens with healthcare, retirement benefits, education, housing, and other necessities.  Government’s results in all of these areas are the same: disastrous.  The healthcare, education, and housing provided by government are more expensive, of lower quality, and in shorter supply than would be the case if government did not attempt to provide them.  Aggression cannot create prosperity any more than it can create freedom.

Thomas Paine wrote that “government is at best a necessary evil.”  He understood clearly what government is: an institution of violence.  As individuals, we understand that the need may arise to commit violence against another human being, but only justifiably for one reason: to defend our lives against aggression.  Should we be faced with that unfortunate choice, we may be justified in resorting to violence but afterwards regret that the need to do so arose. Most importantly, no sane person claims a right to initiate violence under any other circumstances.  As we do not possess this power as individuals, we cannot delegate this power to government.  Any legitimate power possessed by government must derive from the individuals who constitute it.

To put it most succinctly, government must always be limited to a negative power.  It is the societal extension of the individual right of self defense.  As individuals cannot use force to prevent, promote, or provide, government cannot either.  Individuals have no right to force one another to do anything, even if they believe that it is in the victims’ best interests.  So, whenever the question arises of whether government should involve itself in some new aspect of its citizens’ lives, remember the Three P’s.  If the new program represents any of them, it is time for each individual to exercise his most basic right in respect to his government: the Fourth P, to prohibit.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.