We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street / Cause we like a livin’ right and bein’ free. -Merle Haggard

The late libertarian Harry Browne once called the Defense Department “the Post Office in battle fatigues.” I believe his point was that people often romanticize the military brass, but really these are just government bureaucrats.

After World War II, the Cold War arose, and conservative-minded folks became suspicious about opponents of war. Didn’t they want to fight communists? This divide deepened in the 1960s, when all the dopey hippies came along preaching free love and flying high. My late father, a WWII vet who fought under MacArthur, despised hippies. He rightly saw them as irresponsible cretins. When I was young in the 1970s, America was still fighting aggressive communism. Those who opposed the fight were distrusted, especially those who told us that if we were just nicer to dictator xyz, then they’d listen to reason and we’d all sing Kumbaya together (we see their descendants today who think Obama some sort of demigod). Middle American conservatives don’t like these people. They distrust those who oppose military involvement. They prefer Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

This was my own thinking on wars for a long time– I favored every war up until Iraq. It was then that my views started changing. I still can’t stand hippies, but I took a second look at the serious anti-war libertarians (as opposed to the liberal posers who’ve suddenly quieted down since their guy was elected). If we don’t trust the government in anything it does domestically, why should we trust its foreign policy wisdom? Perhaps the things they do there backfire. Perhaps they are motivated by non-altruistic concerns.

Consider these problems with wars:

  • People get killed. Our soldiers, their soldiers, and civilians. It sounds simple, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t instances where wars can save lives, but the fact that people are being killed should invite questions about the necessity of any war.
  • Wars waste a lot of money. The government spends huge amounts of money to create weapons. Then it uses those weapons to blow up bridges and buildings in other countries. Then it spends still more to rebuild all those homes and bridges. Where does this money come from? It is stolen from the private sector. Debt and inflation attack the savings that could have funded real investment. A labor force that could have produced useful items instead is diverted to produce things that will be blown up. (This gives lie to this idea that World War II “got us out of the Depression.” This conventional wisdom is a fallacy, as historians like Robert Higgs have pointed out.)
  • Wars divert resources from the private to the public sector. Any dollar moved from the private realm to the public realm enervates private society and strengthens the the public sector.
  • Government grows bigger and more powerful on the heels of popular support for wars. This leads to new laws that expand government and lessen social and economic freedom. The late conservative Paul Weyrich noted that one should never give to your friend power that your enemy might one day inherit. If Obama’s popularity persists, will anyone be surprised if its administration eventually use all the new security powers given it by the Bush Administration to persecute all you 2nd-Amendment “terrorists” out there with your guns, or you unpatriotic elements who won’t hire unrepentant homosexuals? It wouldn’t surprise me. As we continue toward a cashless society, it becomes easier to ensure that no transaction goes unnoticed. We usually are told it’s all about “national security.” I guess it’s all just a coincidence that it eases auditing and taxation, and eliminates privacy.
  • Randolph Bourne put it this way: “War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. … Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. Loyalty — or mystic devotion to the State — becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.”
  • Empires are brought down by expensive wars. The US is, conservatively, $65-100 trillion in the hole now depending on which estimates you believe. Debt and inflation always accompany wars. The U.S. simply does not have the money to be blowing stuff up in Iraq or to be occupying bases across the globe. Necessity will eventually force many of these troops home in lickety-split fashion. Empire is the last stage before collapse.

I am not anti-war in blanket fashion, but I hate big government. I do not trust the state. Why should I?

Why should you, my conservative friends? I am not saying that all wars are evil. But be very skeptical.