The 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 Israelies 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.

April 16, 2003

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