Our Military Myth

As the Red Army example shows, the practice of collective rape can even become a form of bonding process.

— Antony Beevor, author of The Fall of Berlin 1945

The military, that greatest conservative institution in the U.S. and the embodiment of strength and honor, protects the American people from aggression. The foolish and cowardly naysayers do not comprehend how many foreign tyrants are looking to plunder our nation’s silverware, force Microsoft to publish the Windows source code, and convert us to Islam at gunpoint. Our soldiers spread American virtues all over the globe, protecting the weak, establishing order, and securing important resources for the American consumer. God bless our guys, and may the sacrifices they make for all of us every single day be always remembered.

Such is our carefully cultivated myth about the military. This is what the guardians of what is perfectly normal, thank you very much, teach children in civics classes, and this is also the belief of many adults. Now I was blessed with attending school in the former Soviet Union, where the propaganda was too clumsy and heavy-handed to be taken seriously. That was also the time of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which means that nobody really cared. Fortunately for all concerned, the American Leviathan is healthy and pleasantly alert. This is why the citizen-subjects of this great country overlook the obvious fact that the modern military is a Communist establishment, and the ideology which sustains it a relapse into primitive barbarism which took place after a period of relative civilization. Genghis Khan burned entire towns and piled thousands of skulls into enormous pyramids. Only a few decades ago million-men armies slaughtered each other in world wars with efficiency which would have astounded poor old Genghis. Thriving cities were razed to the ground and their inhabitants annihilated. No one could escape, for if a citizen was not a soldier, he was considered to be a tool of state working for the war effort. As Ludwig von Mises wrote poignantly in 1919,

If in ancient times the destructive will of the more powerful met its limits in the inadequacy of the means of destruction and in the possibility available to the conquered of escaping persecution by moving away, then progress in the techniques of war and transportation and communication makes it impossible today for the defeated to evade the execution of the victor’s sentence of annihilation.

War has become more fearful and destructive than ever before because it is now waged with all the means of the highly developed technique that the free economy has created. Bourgeois civilization has built railroads and electric power plants, has invented explosives and airplanes, in order to create wealth. Imperialism has placed the tools of peace in the service of destruction.

With modern means it would be easy to wipe out humanity at one blow. In horrible madness Caligula wished that the entire Roman people had one head so that he could strike it off. The civilization of the twentieth century has made it possible for the raving madness of the modern imperialists to realize similar bloody dreams. By pressing a button one can expose thousands to destruction.

It was the fate of civilization that it was unable to keep the external means that it had created out of the hands of those who had remained estranged from its spirit.

Centuries of Christianity cooled the spirit of aggression and destruction in man. Classical liberalism, an ideology which ignited human imagination in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries further undermined the warlike instinct by firmly linking peace and prosperity and proving beyond all doubt the “futility of victory.” The French Revolution and later the totalitarian states of the 20th century undid all that. Human life no longer mattered. Neither did liberty.

That the influence of Christianity has been tremendously weakened is apparent. (Some have suggested that many Christians have given up because they are waiting to be lifted into heaven while they are still alive.) God is still dead (or should I say “stunned”), and there are few signs of a serious religious revival. Intellectuals publish books with titles such as Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. That mass-men are content to live under any system of social organization has been clear for a long time. Yet even among the natural elite very few know or care about classical liberalism. The situation is desperate, which is why it is worth dispelling some of our common illusions.

Make no mistake: when a person joins the army, he for all intents and purposes defects to the former Soviet Union and asserts a preference for life under total state. Consider:

  1. His life will be strictly regimented by his superiors to the extent that would have horrified a Soviet miner.

  2. During the time of his incarceration he will be completely useless to his fellow man. Instead of starting a business or learning a trade, he will be learning how to destroy in the blink of an eye what others have spent years and even centuries building.

  3. As a result of the brainwashing he will receive in the army he will run a serious risk of losing his ability to think critically. In addition, I fail to see how a man who has killed in an unjust war and has not repented can be a moral man or a believer in God.

  4. He will be turned into a weapon to be used according to the whims of the General Secretary of the Republican-Democrat party in Washington, D.C. He will be used to kill innocents, disrupt free trade, prop up tyrants at home and abroad, and foment hatred for private American citizens.

  5. He will be used as a guinea pig in government experiments, and, if he goes to war, he will likely be exposed to chemicals, radiation, and suchlike without his knowledge or consent, all of which will cause him to die well before his time.

Now I do not want to be unfair and overlook the benefits of military service. In general, a young man should consider joining the army if

  1. He likes to kill people and destroy private and public property.

  2. He thinks that he will enjoy recreations such as driving a tank or shooting big guns.

  3. He believes that the military will give him ample opportunity to rape local women and use the services of prostitutes, e.g., while on shore leave.

  4. He wishes to acquire certain rare skills, e.g., the skill of demolition or piloting airplanes or even hostage negotiation.

  5. He lives in a society where the dominant type of relationship is the hegemonic bond, for instance, a barbarian tribe or a military state geared for conquest, such that the most expeditious path to advancement is through a career in the military.

We have to admit that the historically greatest benefit of being a soldier — the ability to loot sacked cities — is offered less frequently these days. But for true professionals there are many opportunities to do well financially.

There was a reason why the Founders abhorred standing armies. It is very dangerous to have a well-armed, extremely expensive, mindlessly obedient, and uncivilized group of Communists among a free people. When the conservatives were yelling at Bill Clinton for “gutting the military,” one wondered exactly what the problem was. It was simply that Clinton preferred his welfare state to his warfare state, while the current master, George Bush, has the opposite preference.

At any rate, the conservatives were wrong. It is true that the size of the military has been going down steadily since the end of the Cold and Gulf Wars. At the end of the Clinton administration the military had 1.37 million active duty forces (down from around 2 million in 1991). But military spending has been going up, e.g. from $270 billion in 1998 to $312 billion in 2002. To put these numbers in perspective, consider this Cato Institute’s analysis:

When the U.S. annual budget for national defense is compared with that of other nations, the true magnitude of U.S. defense spending becomes clear. U.S. defense spending roughly equals the combined spending of the next 10 nations on the list — eight of which are our wealthy allies (only Russia and China fall outside this group).

The U.S. share of worldwide military spending increased from 27.5 percent in 1986 during the height of the Reagan military buildup to 32 percent in 1995. Today, the United States spends more than all of its wealthy friends and allies combined and almost one and a half times the amount spent by all of its rich NATO allies combined (the next most capable militaries in the world).

More important, the United States spends over 3.5 times the combined spending of nations that are “potential threat states” — Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Cuba and North Korea.

This state of affairs is intolerable. Recall that in politics there is practically no goodwill, which means that peace prevails when there is a balance of power, i.e. when the costs of aggression to the state outweigh the benefits. We therefore face two choices: either cut the size and budget of the U.S. military substantially or watch other countries arm themselves and retaliate in ways which make it difficult for the U.S. government to use its own strengths. In other words, a balance of power today is achieved by cutting our own military spending.

Here then is a genuine pro-liberty reform. Let us root out Communism in our own midst. Let these poor government workers truly serve the people in the market, even as private security guards and consultants. Let international companies hire their own mercenaries so that everybody knows that the latter are not financed with our money. Let war contractors make the proverbial plowshares. Let the Joint Chiefs of Staff change their vocation to the Amazing Siamese Twins in a traveling circus. In short, abolish the standing army.

Democracy or Who Made You King?

It often happens that a state will justify its various misdeeds and foreign aggression by arguing that it was “democratically elected,” while the other, evil state was not. Fortunately, this defense proves too much.

Suppose that I and a few other toughs form a gang with an intent to rob and terrorize the populace. When some of my victims ask me how I can do such evil things, I will patiently explain to them that my fellow gangsters voted for me to be their leader. When my bewildered victim objects that he does not understand what the rightness or wrongness of my actions has to do with the procedure by which I got to be chief, I will stubbornly repeat that this fact authorizes me to do pretty much anything I want. Surely, this is not what the democrats have in mind.

Democracy is in essence an internal political institution used to remove unpopular rulers peacefully, without violent revolutions. The ruler who got a one-time approval of the masses does not receive a license to do as he pleases. It is often alleged that democracy will nevertheless produce more liberal and peaceful governments than alternative arrangements. This, however, is by no means obvious. As economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe has shown, democracy has a crucial flaw. Elected officials are temporary caretakers and therefore have little incentive to think in the long term. The propaganda which the democratically elected rulers produce starts to includes false economic theories that justify their short-term focus. Worse, this attitude spreads to the rest of society. Everyone is in the political game, constantly being tempted to steal from one another by taking control of the machinery of state. Life speeds up and becomes more chaotic, more present-oriented, more error-prone, and even perhaps less “examined.” There is no longer a clear separation between state and society, a fact which tends to elevate limited wars to total wars. Mass-men turned politicians, drunk with power, send millions of their former fellows to die and to kill for those politicians’ quite arbitrary value judgments. For example, in his article entitled “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Bruce Bartlett quotes historian A.H.M. Jones:

Oppression and extortion began very early in the provinces and reached fantastic proportions in the later republic. Most governors were primarily interested in acquiring military glory and in making money during their year in office, and the companies which farmed the taxes expected to make ample profits.

There was usually collusion between the governor and the tax contractors and the senate was too far away to exercise any effective control over either.

The other great abuse of the provinces was extensive moneylending at exorbitant rates of interest to the provincial communities, which could not raise enough ready cash to satisfy both the exorbitant demands of the tax contractors and the blackmail levied by the governors. (italics mine)

Hoppe’s assault on democracy is open to an objection, one which I believe Ludwig von Mises would have made. Capitalism is a system of mass production. It serves the interests of everyone, but especially the common people. If the masses are completely inert and apolitical, the elites will never be able to avoid the temptation to exploit them to the max. Therefore, the masses must participate in shaping the institutions that bind us all. The question “Who made you king?” is thus answered as “Capitalism did.” Consumer sovereignty does not protect itself. It is true that

[the rationalists] never gave a thought to the possibility that public opinion could favor spurious ideologies whose realization would harm welfare and well-being and disintegrate social cooperation. …

After having nullified the fable of the divine mission of anointed kings, the liberals fell prey to no less illusory doctrines, to the irresistible power of reason, to the infallibility of the volonté générale and to the divine inspiration of majorities. (HA, 440)

Yes, “it will require many long years of self-education until the subject can turn himself into the citizen.” But there is no escape from the need for popular sovereignty, even if it is properly made to exclude the underclass. Free enterprise cannot exist without it.

Hoppe’s answer, it seems to me, would go as follows. Why must a common ideology necessarily be expressed in the process of voting for one of the two candidates for public office? The threat of revolution or a palace coup every now and then, while potentially disruptive, is a good price to pay for freedom from the perverse incentives of democracy. Furthermore, it is not at all obvious that there must be a sovereign over private property owners at all. Since Hoppe is an anarcho-capitalist, this is where I think he would disagree with Mises the most.

Another objection aims at the relevance of Hoppe’s argument. In the United States, for example, there is little democracy. No government has never asked me for advice. Few people vote. The choice is usually between the lesser of the two evils. There are many more permanent bureaucrats who are notorious for ignoring the Congress than there are elected officials. Courts wield a great deal of power. Politics is played by the “interested parties,” also known as pressure groups. In fact, popular referenda, when the state allows them, often produce results superior to the decrees of the state.

We can easily counter this by pointing out that while the Founders had intended for the government to embody the best features of democracy and monarchy (a “republic”), things have changed so that it now embodies the worst features of both. Hence we have on the one hand what Joe Sobran calls the “autonomous government,” and on the other hand, an autonomous government which is out of control. It exploits the public to a much greater extent than a monarchy would to the detriment even of the majority of government workers themselves.

Finally, we may question Hoppe’s assertion of a strong connection between the king’s ownership of a territory and his desire to enhance its capital value. If a king is placed in charge of a country the size of the United States, then his own standard of living will be almost unaffected if he mismanages it even to the extent that famines will kill off half the population. After all, how much does one man need that the rent he receives from one hundred million people is not enough, but the rent he receives from two hundred million people is? To be sure, in his capacity as a citizen and benefactor of a well-functioning market economy he must respect economic laws if he wishes to squeeze the most out of “his” people. But all elected rulers face the same constraints on their power. Is not Hoppe placing too much hope on the ideal chief of state whose far-sighted statesmanship is supposed to free us from the tyranny of squabbling politicians who think only in the short-term and are concerned exclusively with the welfare of their own special interests? But in practice is not that chief of state liable to treat his subjects as mere cattle to be manipulated and exploited for his own amusement? Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the king will not think, like Louis XV, that “Après moi le déluge,” which is French for “In the long run we are all dead.”

Hoppe argues that such an outcome is both unlikely and will almost never be permitted. This is plausible; for example, in his Discourse, Étienne de La Boétie tells the following story:

Cato the Utican, while still a child under the rod, could come and go in the house of Sylla the despot. Because of the place and family of his origin and because he and Sylla were close relatives, the door was never closed to him. He always had his teacher with him when he went there, as was the custom for children of noble birth.

He noticed that in the house of Sylla, in the dictator’s presence or at his command, some men were imprisoned and others sentenced; one was banished, another was strangled; one demanded the goods of another citizen, another his head; in short, all went there, not as to the house of a city magistrate but as to the people’s tyrant, and this was therefore not a court of justice, but rather a resort of tyranny.

Whereupon the young lad said to his teacher, “Why don’t you give me a dagger? I will hide it under my robe. I often go into Sylla’s room before he is risen, and my arm is strong enough to rid the city of him.” There is a speech truly characteristic of Cato; it was a true beginning of this hero so worthy of his end.

And should one not mention his name or his country, but state merely the fact as it is, the episode itself would speak eloquently, and anyone would divine that he was a Roman born in Rome at the time when she was free.

Some theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, permitted tyrannicide under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, in totalitarian countries such as Cuba, the former Soviet Union, the former Communist China, the chief is or was the absolute monarch, completely mad, and restrained by nothing. That no one there ever assassinated the dictators reveals much about the power of fear and belief. It seems therefore that the correct ideology and the correct religion come first, and the choice of the procedure by which the continuation of the government is assured a distant second.

It is also worth keeping in mind that what matters most is the size of the state and the existence of a sufficient number of competing political systems. As long as individuals have a good exit option, the attitude of the members of each given polity will be not so much “my country, love it or leave it” as “please love my country.” We can speak of de facto market anarchism when the number of competing states approaches some critical number. A canonical example of this happy state of affairs is what exists among private residential communities, condos, and cooperative apartment buildings. Their smallness and the huge amount of competition ensure that the governing boards of these settlements are focusing on one overriding goal, viz. maintaining and raising property values. What is more, they can do so rationally, unlike the larger governments which can never know if their “investments” in “infrastructure” and suchlike pay off. Here, also, is a list of things that an association or a condo board may not, in practice, do:

  • Inflate the money supply.

  • Send you off to war to fight for the Greatness of Our Beloved Condominium.

  • Impose a progressive income tax or any tax other than a small property tax.

  • Use public funds for the private gain of board members and their friends.

This looks like ideal government to me, insofar as anything can be ideal in a fallen world. Any scandal or arbitrary inconvenience will immediately lower the attractiveness of the community’s political system and the residents’ property values. After all, would you buy an apartment in a condo where you had to fill out tax forms? Would you not notice if a board member has decided to place himself “above the law” by painting the front of his house an ugly color while denying the same privilege to everyone else? However, already at the level of a small town things start to break down.

As a result, Hoppe’s arguments acquire particular potency when applied to local governments.

Today, with the disappearance of the frontier and unexplored territories suitable for human life and the impossibility of hiding from the assassins of the state (unless you are Osama bin Laden) or from its bombers, the task of ensuring the availability of a variety of exit options falls upon the citizens of the world.

The matter is complicated by the existence of nation-states. On the one hand, the existence of many nations naturally implies the existence of many states. On the other hand, for a citizen of one nation-state all other nation-states may not provide a good exit option. What is to be done? One approach is apparent. That the United States is a magnet for foreign immigrants suggests that the standard of living is the crucial benchmark for choosing one’s country of residence. But prosperity requires liberty, and both carry with them a large number of accompanying institutions and ways of living and doing business. Hence free nations, like all happy families according to Leo Tolstoy, are all alike in the most important sense of the word. Not only then does laissez-faire capitalism make it less likely for a person to feel the need to emigrate, but it makes each nation a better alternative for the citizens of all other nations.

In sum, democracy is vastly overrated. The only argument which supports it is that it prevents violent revolutions. Unfortunately, realistic democracy introduces a number of extremely unpleasant side effects which cancel out whatever usefulness democracy does have.

Errors of War

The “war on terror” has brought about not only a curtailment of the Irrelevant Liberties, but also a great deal of mental confusion. For example, there exist many otherwise intelligent people who believe that “evil” can be “destroyed” with the help of overwhelming military force. But evil is negative; it is a privation, an absence of good. How does one destroy that which does not really exist? How can one destroy an imperfection?

This is by no means a spurious analogy. Consider the war on poverty. For years the state tried to fight poverty with various coercive redistribution schemes. It failed, because poverty is simply a lack of wealth. It is not destruction that we must strive for; it is creation of wealth. This creation is a slow and fragile process of capital accumulation. By sabotaging the market economy, the government only slowed this process down.

What about the war on drugs? One can agree that the use of certain drugs by certain people under certain circumstances constitutes a vice. But that is between them and God and their friends and families. It is of no concern to the larger society. The drug war has ruined countless lives both here and abroad. It has contributed mightily to the growth of the Leviathan. Yet it failed utterly. The drug warriors pretend that the absence of good, in this case unwillingness to face reality, can be fought with Apache helicopters, prisons, and deceptive propaganda rather than a good sermon and a fighting spirit.

In general then, in order to “destroy evil” one must create good.

How does this principle apply to the current war? First off, there can be no comparison between a war and apprehending a criminal. Most wars, and this one is no exception, involve the use of unjust violence in “retaliation” for another instance of unjust violence. This can quickly lead to escalation, which is precisely what the government has been constantly warning us about. Yet the bloodthirsty intellectuals and many of the conservative rank-and-file think that “victory” is assured. They should take their eyes off the technological terrors they’ve constructed and re-read their Sun Tzu:

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain. (The Art of War, VI)

It seems that the terrorists know exactly what they are doing. Clearly, the natural order works in a certain way. Crushing people consistently fails to bring peace. There can never be a war to end all wars. Something else is needed. But what?

The answer is 100% free trade and strictly contractual relations with the citizens of all countries. We have to show them how good laissez-faire capitalism and international trade are so that they will think twice before blowing themselves up. The quicker they are incorporated into the international division of labor, the faster war and terrorism will become costly and very unpopular. There will emerge powerful business interests opposed to the disruption of trade inherent in any war. Today, for example, perpetual peace with China is all but assured given both countries’ commitment to capitalism. Recently somebody has come up with the idea that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved by building a wall between them and cutting off all contact. Going through with this will be a disaster, because neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis will then have anything to lose from each other’s destruction. They need more trade and more capitalism, not less.

We need to recall that almost all products and services we buy are made with the help of overseas capital or labor. Business negotiations among very different people are routinely conducted without the threat of nuclear war to back up the offers. We must come to appreciate how truly awe-inspiring it is to do business with people whose culture is profoundly different from our own. It is here in this perpetually despised “cash nexus” that our common humanity is reaffirmed in the most powerful way. It is the combination of self-interest and goodwill toward men that free trade both manifests and encourages that creates order and intelligibility and benevolence out of chaos and fear in man’s social life.

Another common error has to do with the much derided “moral equivalence.” How many times have we seen the slogan “God bless America!”? But God’s blessings are as a rule bestowed on those nations that are unwavering in their adherence to the natural law. Should they disobey, their past achievements will not save them from disaster. It is not worth pointing out, for example, that the people who died in the 9/11 attack did not deserve to be murdered. However, because most Americans failed even to try to restrain the state whose wild ambitions include managing the world with utter disregard for the laws of both social cooperation and conscience, they may not feign righteousness. They are utterly indifferent to their duty as citizens continuously to force the state to respect economic freedom at home and peace and self-determination of nations abroad and then become outraged when people around them die violent deaths. But maintaining a free, peaceful, and prosperous society requires keen minds and constant struggle, lest it degenerates into a ruthless welfare-warfare state with countless enemies. That struggle entails a conscious commitment to the correct ideology and a willingness to act on it. The fault, as always, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

I was amused by the recent incident with the National Review‘s firing Ann “the Warrior Princess” Coulter for saying “We should invade [the terrorists’] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” They truth is, they are just as bloodthirsty as she is, but being the neocons that they are, they have to call for World War III while staying politically correct (which means Christianity is a no-no).

The corruption of the Western civilization is never more obvious when its “defenders” tremble in anticipation of spreading it with fire and sword. Persuading others of the superiority of the Western culture is not even an option. Unfortunately, instead of the Western ideals they will only spread destruction and the doctrine of might. This evil that they sow we all shall reap. In abundance.

Hanson Loves Total War

Victor Davis Hanson is very pleased with the decision of the US government to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He replies to Gene Callahan’s dissection of his position, e.g.:

Callahan ignores the fact that the bomb ended, not perpetuated “eternal” war, abruptly saving millions of casualties on both sides.

Only unconditional surrender discredited the militarists and thus allowed democracy to emerge — and with it more than a half century of Japanese prosperity, security, and liberal government.

And in the security of the present he forgets that the allies much earlier had tried a negotiated, rather than unconditional surrender and subsequent occupation of the enemy homeland in 1918 — and got Hitler and another war later as thanks.

1. To get started, is Hanson familiar with the doctrine of double effect? Roughly, it states that it may be permissible to perform an act with both a good effect and a bad effect, provided that the latter

  1. is outweighed by the good effect;

  2. is a mere side effect; if it is either one’s goal or a means to the goal, then the act is forbidden.

Thus, bombing a munitions factory may (though not necessarily) be Ok, even though some civilians may die as an unintended side effect, while deliberately bombing civilians in order to, for example, break a country’s will to fight is morally wrong, as it involves doing evil so that “good” may come out of it.

This moral rule prohibited the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to achieve the aims Hanson favors.

2. It is true that the nuclear bombing ended the war; however:

  1. Could the war have been ended in some other, less wicked, way?

  2. Surely, Hanson does not condemn all war negotiations because of the singular event of Hitler’s rise to power? (And Hitler is a separate subject altogether.)

  3. How does he know that “dropping the bomb on Hiroshima probably saved millions of lives”? Why not merely thousands of lives? For example, during the entire World War 2 there were around 400,000 American deaths. If the number of lives allegedly saved is small, then the double effect principle is violated not only in part b) but in part a), as well.

  4. The “eternal” perpetual war refers to the ideology of total war. The rule according to which an armed conflict must end in an unconditional surrender of, in Richard Weaver’s words, “a totally depraved opponent” leads inevitably to an endless orgy of murder and destruction.

    The main reason for the non-occurrence up until now of World War 3 has been, other than perhaps the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction between the US and the USSR, precisely a rejection of the ideology of total war. By resurrecting it, Hanson is not doing anyone any favors.

Further, Ludwig von Mises describes the economics of total war as follows:

The wars fought by primitive tribes did not affect cooperation under the division of labor. Such cooperation by and large did not exist between the warring parties before the outbreak of hostilities. These wars were unlimited or total wars. They aimed at total victory and total defeat.

The defeated were either exterminated or expelled from their dwelling places or enslaved.

The idea that a treaty could settle the conflict and make it possible for both parties to live in peaceful neighborly conditions was not present in the minds of the fighters.

Is Hanson defending the ways of primitive tribes? Must the enemy be destroyed utterly for peace to endure?

3. Hanson is not suggesting, I hope, that “more than a half century of Japanese prosperity, security, and liberal government” can compensate those who died in the blasts?

Is he saying that economic benefits to some arbitrary group of people can make up for hundreds of thousands of unjustly murdered? Is living well really the best revenge?

And were demanding an unconditional surrender and nuclear bombing the only ways of instituting liberal government in Japan? Could a less immoral way have been devised? Whatever happened to the power of ideas?

4. Of course, “dropping a bomb on the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army to force a military cabal to surrender” is much worse than “blowing up an office building,” because the former killed a lot more innocent people than the latter, precisely as a means to forcing an unconditional surrender!

5. Finally, it does not in fact make a “difference who starts wars, much less whether they are fought by fascists or democracies” with regard to the just way of waging wars. Bombing innocent people is wicked regardless of whether “their” government started the war or committed atrocities elsewhere. This is because there is a difference between jus ad bellum and jus in bello that our author overlooks.

Hanson ought to reconsider his collectivism.

Our Sicko Prisons

There is an influential school of thought among armchair penologists that considers prison rape to be an unofficial part of punishment. It occurred to me that this school needs to be shut down.

What is the purpose of permitting prison rape? Let’s see whether or not any of the standard four perspectives on punishment applies to our case.

Could anal rape perhaps be in the criminal’s own good? If degradation, abject humiliation, and infection with STDs like AIDS are in one’s own good, then yes. It is rather difficult, indeed, to imagine a less useful or redemptive instance of suffering than being raped. The only exception perhaps is raping a rapist to make him realize the horror of his own prior crimes, but prison inmates rarely make the relevant distinctions.

Do not the rapists, either, upon shaming and using another human being in such a vile manner, travel even further down into the darkness? It is unlikely that even the most fanatical paternalist authoritarian would argue from this point of view.

Equally obvious is that permitting prison rape does not condemn a criminal any more than he is already condemned. He is isolated from society and can do no more harm to it for the time being. Even if one is under the mistaken impression that “they are all scum,” if being raped may at least in some cases cause a man to lose all of his natural sentiment and become a monster who will later be released, then the policy of permitting or encouraging rapes is contrary to the purpose of condemning those who cannot be reformed. Even less clear is how such a policy is supposed to civilize those rapists who are scheduled for parole.

The most common justification for the indifference to the fate of prisoners is the pragmatic one, viz., that the widespread awareness of the possibility of being raped serves as a deterrent to crime. In reality, however, the effect is probably the opposite of that which our pragmatic is trying to achieve. The knowledge of prison horrors deters mostly the timid from riling the state; it makes prison more pleasant and therefore less intimidating for the ruthless and the depraved who commit rapes. (Why is being deprived of female company in jail not a sufficient deterrent?) It is only the tyrant who prefers to have the good citizens quiver before him while refusing to restrain those who assault private persons and property.

Further, the cause of the common good requires that punishments be calibrated with precision, lest they either result in an excessive crime rate, or in unintended substitution effects, or punish too harshly. To the extent that lawmakers fail to take rapes into account (which is inevitable because rapes are covert and unpredictable), the punishments are, from the pragmatic point of view, too harsh, which is undesirable. “Pragmatism” is supposed to seek, via cold-blooded and unsentimental calculation, the greatest happiness for society as a whole, but criminals still remain members of society, and any calculation ought to include their welfare into account, as well.

In addition, a society in which brutal punishments are inflicted even for minor transgressions would be too risky to live in, because no one is perfect. This is especially so for political crimes, that is, for upsetting the state, since it is for them that the greatest wrath of the state is reserved.

Finally, might justice call for allowing or even approving of rapes? Could it be a clever way of getting back at the “liberals” who “coddle criminals”? First, as has already been mentioned, it is the more brutal criminals who rape the less brutal. Is letting them satisfy their urges in such a hideous manner not “coddling”? Whence such astonishing permissiveness? Second, and most important, the first principle of retributive justice is uniformity: all things being equal, the same crime must be punished in the same way no matter who commits it. Yet rape is entirely arbitrary. One man steals a car, goes to prison for two years, leads an uneventful life, and upon being released, integrates himself into society. Another takes the same punishment, yet suffers being raped every day and commits suicide two months later. That is justice? Oy vey!

I would further demur to the proposition that letting the mob satisfy its hate and sadism against offenders by legitimizing prison rapes leads to a virtuous society.

Even if one holds that being repeatedly raped is the fate deserved even by small-time rule-breakers (and perhaps inflicts this punishment on his own children when they upset him?), one must first persuade his fellow citizens of his idea of the good and try to put it into law. Logic also places our defender of “justice” into a strange position of having actually to feel distraught with the number of inmates, which includes the rapists, who avoid rape and thereby escape justice.

It seems to me that the adherents of the pro-rape school would be well-advised to re-evaluate their philosophy.

Sowell’s Efficient Police State

Recently the economist Thomas Sowell has defended government spying against American citizens. Here is what he says with commentary.

Intelligence agencies have neither the manpower, the time, the money, nor the interest to listen in on you and your aunt Mabel.

But it is up to the intelligence agencies to decide to whom they will listen. Maybe they will find listening to me talk with my aunt Mabel boring, but maybe they won’t. What makes Sowell think that they will not listen to conversations between people who have nothing to do with terrorism? Everybody has a private life, with personal secrets to hide from strangers. Might not a curious or ambitious agent want to peek in? Now Sowell may object that it is unlikely. But I say that it is not up to him to calculate the level of perversity of government agents. Doesn’t he know how many people governments killed in the 20th century alone? Spying on citizens is a trivial misdemeanor compared to mass murder. He should rest assured that state functionaries are quite capable of that.

And consider: in the East Germany during the Cold War a large segment of the population were Stasi spies for the government reporting on their family members and “friends.” In Russia, life was, as Hedrick Smith described it, “a mass settling of scores on a personal level.” So, all the government has to do is disrupt the harmony of interests sufficiently and invest in more manpower and money for domestic and foreign intelligence. That time will come if intellectuals like Sowell spend their time justifying the state’s spying regime.

Sowell’s second point I take to be that even if the government does spy on personal conversations, it is highly unlikely that it will be your conversations. But for heaven’s sake, it will be someone’s conversation! Someone will be unlucky. And it well may be you. And how is injustice Ok if it is limited to the relatively few individuals among some large arbitrary group? Is murdering a Chinese person better than murdering a Dane, because, well, there are plenty more Chinese where that guy came from?

Further, what of the prominent ideological enemies of the regime? Isn’t it so much more likely that they will be singled out for surveillance to make it reasonable for them to be concerned?

Or is the idea that one should count on his insignificance, on being “ordinary” or some average mass-man, and on the possibility of hiding in a crowd as protection against the state? But “ordinary” people have precisely the least amount of power to protect themselves, if the state chooses to make an example of them, say, to intimidate other “ordinary” people. Moreover, the extent to which terrorists also hide in the crowd makes this strategy so much less useful, as the spies will want to scrutinize anyone they deem in any way suspicious, regardless of how “ordinary” he looks to Sowell.

But, a Supreme Court Justice once pointed out that the Constitution of the United States is not a suicide pact. The Constitution was meant for us to live under, not be paralyzed by, in the face of death.

But to permit the government to violate the Constitution in the face of potential dangers is to put a premium on the government’s insisting that such dangers exist. If the government can suspend the Constitution any time the President declares a state of emergency, then it will encourage the use of that “tool,” national emergency or security or what not, for the state to gain dictatorial powers. That’s what public debate is for, to figure out if the danger really exists, or whether granting the government extra power is reasonable. Sowell has to prove that such a situation prevails right now. It is not enough simply to assert that “we are at war.” I mean, these days we’re always at war with someone, and that unfortunate state of affairs has come about not insignificantly because the state wants to use the fear of men like Sowell to justify increasing in size and scope and reach.

At any rate, should we be at war at all? Isn’t it our constant foreign interventionism that motivates terrorist attacks? To give the government more power in domestic matters is ultimately to enlarge that power in foreign affairs. So, there will be more wars, more foreign belligerence and oppression, which will lead to still greater dangers to American citizens, real or imagined, and to still more calls for the expansion of the police and warfare state. As usual, one intervention creates conditions that seem to call for more interventions until one part of society becomes an army on the march and the other, morally twisted slaves and informers. This vicious circle has to be broken. And Sowell is not helping.

Precious time can be wasted filing legalistic documents to get some judge’s permission to tap the domestic terrorists’ phones before CBS or CNN broadcasts the news of the captured terrorist leader overseas and the domestic terrorists stop using the phones that they had used before to talk with him.

I am not an expert on the proper procedures to keep secrets. Let us suppose then that Sowell is right. “Precious time” will, indeed, be wasted. So what? The government will have to find another way of catching those it dislikes. But at least our freedoms will be preserved. To mock Sowell just a bit, collective security is not a pact that will lead us to the world of 1984. Perhaps some risk of a terrorist attack is preferable to the danger that arbitrary government powers pose to every citizen. Maybe when people in America start disappearing without a trace, and a bullet to the back of the head in a prison corridor to “traitors” and “enemies of the people” will become standard government procedure, then Sowell will regret his defense of the destructionism of the state.

That is the point of no return — and we are drifting towards it, chattering away about legalisms and politics.

Oh yes, those annoying legalism and politics. Let us abolish the law (and lawyers), the pointless squabbling of the politicians, and, in the same spirit, the elections and transfer all powers to our new absolute monarch, George Bush. At least things will get done then. Right? Bush is a man of action. He’ll take care of everything. He is our beloved and trusted leader. All he needs is just a little more power. Surely, we can’t refuse a guy as nice as Bush, can we? I think we can and should.

And by the way. You have my full permission to listen to my conversations. I ain’t got nothing to hide.

Conspiracy Theory

Washington, D.C. — 3/14/2006 — A top-level government official has confirmed that the moronic masses indeed need to be protected from themselves. “They need to be managed and herded like the cattle that they are,” said the official. “People are gullible and stupid, incapable of any kind of self-control. Without a paternal government regulating every aspect of their lives from cradle to grave they will be lost. They need us.

“Reality is harsh and dispiriting,” the spokesman continued, “hence it is our greatest duty to shield the masses from the truth. Truth and freedom are not for everyone; indeed, these goods are too precious to be used and soiled by the worthless multitudes, who are now and will always be slaves to their own inadequacies and superstitions.

“No. It is demeaning to concern oneself with the welfare of the mob. The mob exists in order to be used. They have no rights. Their standing in our eyes is that of tools and machines. They exist solely for our pleasure. Deception and violent repression are the basic ways to deal with them.”

According to polls, the press release was greeted with an immense relief from both the Republican and Democrat public. “It’s great to know that we’ll be taken care of,” one respondent averred. “Ignorance is bliss.”

Human Liberty Promotes Animal Welfare

Poor chickens. According to many animal rights advocates, they live unhappy lives. Maybe they do. (Though perhaps they should still thank their human caretakers for the gift of life.) Now the evaluation of the ethics of animal rights is not my concern here. Let’s ask instead: why are the chickens so, uh… exploited? Well, it’s because the farmers have come up with these objectionable to some people technologies to satisfy consumer demand for eggs and chicken meat and byproducts to the best of their ability. They are, as of today, the most technologically efficient methods of production. Since they lower the costs of doing business and ultimately prices, too, these foods are available even to the poorest of consumers.

But still, what about the miserable chickens? Isn’t there a way to liberate them from the tyranny of indifferent and unenlightened consumers? I believe there is.

In a free society, there is perpetual economic and technological progress. The latter is always ahead, and at any given time there are many technologies that are not used in any mass production process. But let’s focus on the former. There are right now those consumers, though they are in the minority, who prefer meat and eggs from healthier chickens (free-range, etc.), which, the advertising alleges, are better in quality, and so opt for the more expensive organic stuff. How could we increase both the absolute number of such consumers and their ratio to the rest of the chicken and egg lovers? How else than by speeding up the economic progress? As real wages rise with the wage / price ratio increasing, as it tends to happen under unhampered free markets, and the average person becomes richer, needs that could not be previously satisfied suddenly come within the reach of the masses. If it is true that chickens that are cared for by the farmers as if they were their own children produce vastly more delicious and healthy meat and eggs, even though such care is at least initially more expensive, the now wealthier consumers may choose precisely these goods. As Mises writes, “Modern wealth expresses itself above all in the cult of the body: hygiene, cleanliness, sport.” The wealthier we are, the more attention, as a rule, we will devote to the fine art of maintaining health.

But that is not all. Much of the animal rights agitation concerns technological imperfections, as well. Consider medicine. Primitive medical equipment tends to fight the disease with a great deal of collateral damage. Sophisticated equipment, drugs, etc, on the other hand, fight the evil in the body without harming what is good. We should expect future technologies to keep maximizing the benefits to human beings while minimizing the harms, such as, say, negative environmental externalities. Civilization is about making proper distinctions. Here’s how Genrich Altshuller, the creator of the TRIZ system for inventors described technological progress:

The Law of Ideality states that any technical system, throughout its lifetime, tends to become more reliable, simple, effective — more ideal. Every time we improve a technical system, we nudge that system closer to Ideality. It costs less, requires less space, wastes less energy, etc.

Ideality always reflects the maximum utilization of existing resources, both internal and external to the system. The more free or readily available the resources utilized, the more ideal the system will be. …

What happens when a system reaches Ideality? The mechanism disappears, while the function is performed.

(This last bit does not describe any sort of divine ex nihilo technology; Altshuller gives real-world examples in which this actually occurs.)

It is extremely probable that the current practice of chicken and egg production may be technologically inefficient and still admit much improvement. In 20 or 30 years things may change so much that the ethical concerns of animal rights advocates will no longer be relevant. For all we know, farmers will discover a more efficient process that is at the same time more humane to the animals. Higher quality products will become available at lower prices in the future than poorer quality products cost now. This is not a cynical attempt to defuse the concerns of the animal rights activists, but an observation that all living creatures serve man better when they are happy. Hence the increased demand for higher quality animal products will translate into more happiness for the animals.

Unfortunately, the present level of both technology and economic well-being simply does not allow right now for better treatment of chickens. There are more pressing concerns to be taken care of first. The quality / price combinations available to the consumers at this moment are what they are, and we have to accept that. It follows that instead of despising and sabotaging the market as animal rights activists are apt to do, they must join forces with the proponents of human liberty in order to achieve maximum possible economic and technological progress and thereby lighten the load on animals. If this progress continues, then that the conditions of domesticated animals will improve with time is next to certain.

Furthermore, if the ethical arguments of the animal rights / welfare folks are correct, then their influence will only increase if the practical concerns of the average man of putting food on the table can be met with greater ease. People listen to moralists, especially those who seem to demand unfamiliar new sacrifices, more sympathetically when they don’t have to worry overmuch about the cost of the necessities of life.

Unfortunately, the animal rights crowd does not recognize that this progress takes time. They want animal “liberation,” whatever that means, right now. They will fail. The only means to the happiness of animals is through the happiness of humans.

Consider a paradox to drive the point home, this time with respect to wild animals. Suppose I find a beetle in my apartment. It’s quite possible, if the beetle is good-looking, that I would want to save it by catching it and throwing it outside. Now suppose in a quite different situation that there are 1,000 beetles in my apartment. I couldn’t live there. I’d have to kill them all and, what’s more, I would feel no remorse. Wild nature is full of organisms that want us dead or sick so that they can eat us or use us to procreate. They attack our crops and livestock with equal mercilessness. So, in the wilderness, it’s either us or them. It is only when nature is tamed and controlled, that some kind of extension of charity to animals, such as pets, is possible. Those animal rights advocates who celebrate primitivism destroy their own cause. Without civilization, there will be much less fellow-feeling for animals, because the war between man and nature will return to the state in which man will care only for his own survival and, in fact, will fear and loathe nature.

I realize that if farmers bring life into the world, they have to care for it well. Yes, factory farming, which is the offensive technology, is fairly new, having been brought about through economies of scale, so that it is so efficient that only a tiny percentage of the population in the US now works in agriculture. But 100 years ago the working conditions in factories for humans were awful, as well. Socialists described the unhappy lot of workers as the outcome of capitalism. Yet the economic and consumer satisfaction-driven technological progress made possible only by capitalism have so much improved working conditions that they are no longer a public issue. No one talks about it. Libertarians even advocate the abolition of OSHA.

Newer technologies can reduce the costs of keeping animals healthy or enable such improvements in animal health and happiness that are now completely impossible. Antibiotic diets, bovine growth hormones, tight confinement of animals, etc. are primitive transitional tools. They may do some good, but they also do a lot of harm. Again, more sophisticated technology will maximize the benefits while minimizing the harms both to the animals and to their products.

It might be objected that technology is what’s responsible for the bad conditions of animals in the last several decades in the first place. Why should more technology make things better in the future? The answer is that factory farming has brought inexpensive foods to everyone in America and to many in the rest of the world. It did much to eliminate hunger. In other words, farmers so far have been focusing on bringing cheap food to the masses. Yet even now the transition is underway to higher quality foods. Those may still be somewhat of a luxury, but under free markets today’s luxuries are tomorrow’s necessities. Technological progress will switch direction, and the results will be that the animals will be treated better.

There is an inconsistency here regarding our economics. On the one hand, people are remarkably impatient, demanding constant improvement from the economy, as I have suggested the pro-animal people subconsciously do (or at least consciously should). On the other hand, they show themselves indifferent to public affairs in that they have given the federal government tremendous powers to determine economic policy and so docilely take whatever it gives them. With regard to the welfare of animals, this attitude is not going to cut it!

What is to be done? I suggest that we envision a society in which money is sound and as good as gold; in which no human association larger than a city is allowed to impose taxes; and in which there is no such thing as government borrowing. A society in which there are no state-run enterprises, such as public schools, and in which private enterprise is free, rather than regimented in the name of clamping down on competition. A society in which — and this regards our chickens in particular — there is no government intervention in agriculture. (Many more reforms could be proposed, but that is not important right now.) If we had a society like that, then the rate of economic progress would increase many-fold. And the chickens would be the beneficiaries.

California’s Young Pioneers

The Californians are going to vote on universal preschool for children over 4. The projected costs are $2.4 billion a year, but that’s a miscalculation; it’s going to cost a lot more. (Don’t ever trust government estimates.) Who will pay? Well, isn’t it obvious? The rich! The rich are always available as a convenient resource for whatever slick socialist scheme the government wants to implement. Far be it from them to have any authority or gravitas for contributing so the economy or, God forbid, rights; no, they are tools, things to be used, whenever fancy strikes the social engineers. Soaking the rich is ever popular; how dare they be better off than the average Californian slob!

Some warn that shaking down the wealthier part of the population has its limits; the money could dry up during an economic downturn. Taxes may have to be extended to the upper middle class, as well. No matter, accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way; what do numbers matter when it’s about the children! Maybe a raid on the neighboring states could supply the needs of the state government, although I hear that the chieftain, Conan the Barbarian, has a weak heart.

Now explain to me why the public in this day and age would want universal anything. Aren’t public schools a sufficient disaster? Why extend the failed model to preschool? The propaganda talks about “quality” preschools. Of course, it does. Each socialist promises to the masses lives of plenty that will far outstrip what capitalism can offer to them, as long as he is elected dictator. Everything will go exactly according the well-intentioned central plan that the socialist has dreamed up. But that’s the very problem. Will government-run and government-subsidized preschools (those that will meet the state’s “standards”) be the best means of providing preschool education to the children of California? Or are there better ways?

First of all, there seems to be no realization that government preschools, just like government schools, are a danger to children. They are not goods; they are economic bads, like trash or pollution. Children fare much better when their moral and intellectual education takes place at home or at certain especially successful private facilities. Public schools will actually damage your child’s mind and heart. I expect the state preschools to do the same. Except that it will be worse, because children will be given over to their wardens at an especially tender age. My own personal view is that even fully private preschooling is a controversial idea, because in them, children are not loved. Parents should think long and hard before “tearing their children from the bosom of the family,” as Mises put it.

Then there are the government “standards.” In the marketplace all methods and standards of instruction and learning tools and teacher training evolve to satisfy the consumers — the children and their parents. There will be no such evolution in government preschools. Free from competitive pressures, they will not innovate nor improve nor meet changing market demand. Things will change in them, alright, but only for the worse. Very soon, in the poorer districts, there will be many cases of neglect and abuse. The present politically correct climate of public opinion will make it difficult for preschools to be selective about their customers, which means that their services will be hampered by bad students.

Even in the better preschools there will be no incentive for these government overseers of the future privates of the industrial army to raise children properly. (The overseers will be well compensated, and in fact the teachers unions support the initiative, because preschool matrons will be paid salaries similar to those of public school teachers. But that will not help the children.) The costs will constantly rise, while the quality of service will decline, as with all near-monopolies.

What little competition will remain will be put at a significant disadvantage. For example, the measure will also crowd out successful private firms like the Montessori schools, which, if they want to remain in business, will have to change their curriculum and teaching methodology in order to become “acceptable” to the bureaucrats.

Further, different children and parents will benefit from different kinds of preschools. What is agreeable to one consumer may not be so to another, and the market allows numerous seemingly irreconcilable consumer preferences to be satisfied. Yet all preschools under socialization will be one-size-fits-all. What’s more, the “size” that is supposed to fit all will likely actually fit very few. Why do people trust the government to adopt any sort of reasonable standards and practices from some scientifically valid point of view? The era in which the government attracted the best and the brightest is long gone. After a brief period of time this will become another political problem, about which people will talk incessantly without ever conceiving of the superiority of private provision of education. It will be yet another failure of the human race to arrange its economic affairs properly, generating among the Californians only cynicism and self-contempt.

The program is said to be voluntary, but for how long? We should expect calls to make preschooling mandatory shortly after the measure passes. If it’s good for schools, why not for preschools, as well? And the government knows better how to deal with the kids than their parents do anyway, or so the statists will argue.

Again, why the coercion? The market has worked to make preschool available to a great majority of the population who want to take advantage of it, if it is indeed an advantage. Well, some very poor families are unable to afford it. And preschool is now taken to be a necessity of life. So, since no one (people feel) ought to be deprived of necessities, even temporarily, that allegedly justifies redistribution. But at best, this line of reasoning calls for some sort of negative income tax, a bad idea but at least not an obviously insane one. If we wait just a little bit, then the preschool industry, if left free and private, will develop to such an extent that even the poorest will be able pay for their children to go to their centers. Is the vice of impatience a good reason to ruin preschools for everybody right now? Must all children suffer because economic progress is not fast enough?

And please don’t give me the public goods argument for preschools. The idea is that a better educated public is more likely to support democracy and to make wise decisions in public affairs. Look, if children as young as 4 in preschools will be exposed to government indoctrination, I fear for their sanity. And, once again, the end of the public’s being well-versed in economics and political philosophy is not at issue; the problem is the best means to achieving that goal. If you laughed at seeing the words “economics” and “philosophy” in the same paragraph as “public schools,” I am not surprised. Maybe it’s time we tried freedom in education.

The universal preschool measure is education socialism which will shortly prove to be a failure and an embarrassment to California. Unfortunately, at that time it will take some imagination to see what private enterprise would have built if the government had not nationalized the industry. It will take imagination to see how the “rich” could have invested the money (perhaps even into private preschools) that was taxed away and thereby created jobs and furthered prosperity in California.

The voters will be well-advised to torpedo this wickedness at the polls.

Sins of the Rulers

Ezekiel 27 begins with a strikingly beautiful paean to commerce and international trade. Let’s read the prophecy:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“You say, O Tyre,
‘I am perfect in beauty.’

Your domain was on the high seas;
your builders brought your beauty to perfection.

They made all your timbers
of pine trees from Senir;
they took a cedar from Lebanon
to make a mast for you.

Of oaks from Bashan
they made your oars;
of cypress wood from the coasts of Cyprus
they made your deck, inlaid with ivory.

Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail
and served as your banner;
your awnings were of blue and purple
from the coasts of Elishah.

Men of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen;
your skilled men, O Tyre, were aboard as your seamen.

Veteran craftsmen of Gebal were on board
as shipwrights to caulk your seams.
All the ships of the sea and their sailors
came alongside to trade for your wares.

Men of Persia, Lydia and Put
served as soldiers in your army.
They hung their shields and helmets on your walls,
bringing you splendor.

Men of Arvad and Helech
manned your walls on every side;
men of Gammad
were in your towers.
They hung their shields around your walls;
they brought your beauty to perfection.

Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of goods; they exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise.

Greece, Tubal and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged slaves and articles of bronze for your wares.

Men of Beth Togarmah exchanged work horses, war horses and mules for your merchandise.

The men of Rhodes traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony.

Aram did business with you because of your many products; they exchanged turquoise, purple fabric, embroidered work, fine linen, coral and rubies for your merchandise.

Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, oil and balm for your wares.

Damascus, because of your many products and great wealth of goods, did business with you in wine from Helbon and wool from Zahar.

Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged wrought iron, cassia and calamus for your wares.

Dedan traded in saddle blankets with you.

Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your customers; they did business with you in lambs, rams and goats.

The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold.

Haran, Canneh and Eden and merchants of Sheba, Asshur and Kilmad traded with you.

In your marketplace they traded with you beautiful garments, blue fabric, embroidered work and multicolored rugs with cords twisted and tightly knotted.”

The trouble for this ancient center of civilization is prefigured in the previous chapter:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’

therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.”

Ezekiel 27 ends with a terrible curse on everyone in Tyre because its government had made war.

And Ezekiel 28 describes both the offense and punishment with perfect clarity:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“In the pride of your heart
you say, ‘I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.’
But you are a man and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.

Are you wiser than Daniel?
Is no secret hidden from you?

By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.

By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud.”

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“Because you think you are wise,
as wise as a god,

I am going to bring foreigners against you,
the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords
against your beauty and wisdom
and pierce your shining splendor.

They will bring you down to the pit,
and you will die a violent death
in the heart of the seas.

Will you then say, ‘I am a god,’
in the presence of those who kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you.”

And so we see here how the glory of a nation whose rulers have sinned against the divine laws, if it does not repent and mend its ways, is taken away from it.

Some may, perhaps anticipating my point, angrily rush into judgment and compare Tyre to Iraq and the US to the “ruthless nation” that punished it for its attempts to develop WMDs or for its support for al-Qaeda. But such an interpretation would be implausible for three reasons.

First, the “punishment” was mistaken on both counts, because there were, of course, no such weapons, nor was there al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Second, Iraq, while a civilized country and the “best place for shopping in the Middle East,” according to the now defunct Yahoo! Travel, especially before the wars, was not “perfect in beauty,” at least in the sense that it was not the most prosperous nation.

And third, Saddam had little reason to imagine himself a god (first, the country he ruled was simply too small, and second, there was no cult of personality in Iraq), certainly less than America’s own “Decider,” who oversees a vast empire and has a mass following of those who consider him a great leader.

No, this is a story about us.

And what we have done is broken a very important moral law by impoverishing and attacking a country with which we should have been friends and trading partners from the beginning. The effects of sin are corruption of nature, a stain on the soul, and a debt of punishment. Hence,

  1. the inclination to virtue and truth and wisdom in the American public life has been diminished, as, I think, is obvious;

  2. the evil we have done has dimmed the light of whatever positive influence America has on the world; and

  3. it is quite possible that we will be stripped of our gifts, whichever are left.

God protects all those unjustly harmed, not just Jerusalem, as in the passages above. This is not going to be a “splendid little war”; it is a transgression for which we will pay dearly. Those who supported the war and those who still do, may they reconsider and be forgiven.