The Hand-Wringers Still Won't Believe We're At War
R. A. Hettinga
Mon, 1 Apr 2002 17:32:48 -0500
The Hand-Wringers Still
Won't Believe We're At War
Toogood Reports [Monday, April 1, 2002; 12:01 a.m. EST]
Last weekend, I was invited to debate the merits of foreign intervention
(post-Sept. 11) at the annual convention of the Illinois state Libertarian
Party in suburban Chicago.
My opponent was the esteemed Prof. Richard Ebeling, Ludwig von Mises
Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College.
Prof. Ebeling took the position that many of this nation's foreign
interventions have been misguided, creating more enemies than friends as we
arrogantly send military forces into more 100 nations on ill-defined, often
downright goofy missions euphemistically described as "nation-building" or
"peace-keeping," which are ill-suited to the use of military force. I
Prof. Ebeling further argued the best way for American to advance the cause
of freedom is not by trying to impose American-backed puppet regimes by
force, but rather by reinstituting individual liberties here at home -
leading the world by example. I agreed.
Then Prof. Ebeling, in company with many leading lights of the national
Libertarian Party (including perpetual presidential nominee Harry Browne)
drew from these premises the conclusion that fighting a "War on Terror"
overseas is inappropriate and morally wrong.
Why? Because war can occur only between national states, and we have no
idea which national states (if any) planned and backed the actions of Sept.
11. Therefore, those turn out to be simply "criminal acts," best dealt with
through our criminal justice system, the same way we might deal with
conspirators who helped plan some kind of armored car heist that went
wrong, resulting in the explosion of a gas works and the death of thousands
of unintended victims.
(Mr. Browne actually went so far, last fall, as to recommend that the best
course of action would have been limited to having the Manhattan district
attorney issue a series of "John Doe" warrants for unknown parties
responsible for the events of Sept. 11. Asking what happens after that
quickly leads us to what Ayn Rand used to call the "Blank-out" - we just
mail these warrants to the World Court at The Hague, presumably, asking
them to extradite these fellows should they ever stumble across them.)
Prof. Ebeling did not join me in ridiculing this proposal; he embraced it.
Funny, you'd think one of the first things an economist would realize is
that when you reward a behavior, you get more of it.
One of the major factors that emboldened the perpetrators of Sept. 11, of
course, was the series of half-hearted, ineffective, "symbolic" responses
of the Clinton administration to such earlier acts of war as the attack on
the U.S.S. Cole, the bombing of our embassies in East Africa, etc. -
institutionally senile gestures which I have compared to a patient's
failure to take his whole course of antibiotics, allowing the infection to
return, now increasingly resistant to the medicine.
When these depraved zealots can claim "The Great Satan is weak; he does
nothing," it only boosts their recruitment numbers.
Remember, America's academic Neville Chamberlains warned us last fall that
if we waded into Afghanistan we'd be getting into another Vietnam; we'd be
stuck there for years, losing tens of thousands of men in an indecisive
quagmire, while the "Arab Street" would rise up against us en masse in
righteous anger, from Morocco to Indonesia.
Wrong. The Arab response has been much closer to a collective "Uh-oh." In
fact, these adversaries respect only a show of strength; concessions (like
the latest Israeli offer of land-for-peace) are merely seen as a sign of
weakness, a motivation for an escalation of atrocities.
But silliest of all is this notion that the current war of terror against
America can be adequately dealt with by our domestic, criminal justice
The problem here is that a criminal justice system really works as a
deterrent only inside a homogeneous culture with shared values and
Most of us actually need no criminal code to stop us from stealing our
neighbor's car. We refrain from doing so because our parents taught us it
would be wrong, and because we prefer to live in a society where no one
steals our car, either. If we do stop to contemplate such a crime, however,
we realize that (if caught) we'd likely spend the night in jail, and then
blow most of our life savings on lawyers' bills. We might end up being sent
to jail - not only a distinctly unpleasant prospect on its own merits, but
also likely to cost us our jobs, and brand us forever as "convicted
felons." No wonder middle-class detainees are notoriously likely to commit
suicide in the first hours after arrest.
When our judges and police chiefs tell us "the system is working" by
jailing more and more people, they're wrong. A deterrent actually shows
it's working best when you hardly need to use it, at all.
When does our criminal justice system work least well? When it confronts an
alien culture in our midst, such as the members of an inner city ethnic
drug gang, with a completely different set of premises and incentives. With
little in the way of property or mainstream social status to lose - and
surrounded by associates for whom it's actually a badge of honor to have
done time in the slammer - what terrors does another run through the
"justice system" turnstile hold for these conscienceless predators?
Our institutions, frustrated at their impotence in the face of such a
seemingly impervious and hermetically sealed group of deviants, respond
with an increasingly absurd blizzard of regulations (doing more of what
already hasn't worked), until puzzled middle-class parents find themselves
informed their offspring will no longer be allowed to wear hats, scarves or
kerchiefs to school, left they be mistaken for "gang colors."
This is how our "justice system" flounders when faced with a subculture of
American youths who are in fact so similar to us that they speak our
language, watch our TV shows, drive our cars, and happily consume Pepsi,
Doritos, and Britney Spears videos. Now imagine how many further levels of
"disconnection" separate the carefully modulated disincentives of our
"justice system" from a jibbering Wahhabi Muslim terrorist.
Threaten to extradite Osama bin Laden to America for trial? Where he'll be
able to give jailhouse interviews and make public courtroom speeches, every
word of them broadcast to the American people - during a trial which would
make O.J. Simpson's look like a model of decorum and restraint?
Then - leaving aside the number of kidnappings and hostage-takings that
would be pulled off in an attempt to free him or in mere solidarity with
his righteous struggle - our utmost threat is to send him to his 70
"high-breasted virgins" in paradise, making him a martyr forever in the
eyes of his depraved, paranoid, sexually repressed supporters?
The threat of this kind of publicity dream come true - in the worst-case
scenario that he's ever caught and that our domestic justice system ever
manages to convict him (after all, few of his associates are likely to
talk) - is supposed to dissuade such characters from committing more
atrocities on the model of Sept. 11?
By coincidence, the dinner speaker at last weekend's Illinois Libertarian
convention was popular black conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elders
of Los Angeles, who was asked why he considers himself a "small-l
libertarian," declining to join the Libertarian Party, proper.
Mr. Elders bluntly replied that it's because of "a certain naivete that
Libertarians display when it comes to foreign policy."
I know just what he's talking about.
Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the
Rise of Western Power on March 25 penned a piece for the National Review
online, in which he compares those who would "wish away" today's terrorist
threat, insisting it can be dealt with as "a routine criminal matter," or
by sending more foreign aid to the Arabs and appeasing their grievances and
"feeling their pain" ... with those who tried to appease and placate Hitler
in the 1930s.
"In some ways in our war against the terrorists we are like the democracies
of the late 1930s," Mr. Hansom warns. "They knew that there was more to
Hitler than his avowed quest for the return of the Sudetenland or the
Alsace-Lorraine. They sort of suspected that an entire, venerable culture
in Germany and Japan had gone off the deep end. ...
"We Americans, like those 70 years ago who so wanted a perpetual peace,
pray for a return of sanity in the Middle East. We chose to ignore horrific
stories of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia - the embryo of 9/11. We are more
amused than shocked that madrassas have taught a generation to hate us.
When mullahs in Iran speak of destroying Israel we wince, but also shrug.
We want to see no real connection between madmen blowing themselves up to
kill us in New York and the like-minded doing the same in Tel-Aviv. We put
our trust in peace with a killer like Mr. Arafat, who packs a gun and whips
up volatile crowds in Arabic. All the while, no American statesman has the
guts to tell the Arab leadership that statism, tribalism, fundamentalism,
gender apartheid, and autocracy - not America, not Israel - make their
people poor, angry, and dangerous.
"Rather than preparing for what our enemies are preparing for us, we look
to gestures of appeasement. Does not the Islamic world appreciate the
presence of General Zinni? Do we not give billions to Arab countries? Did
we not save Kuwait ...?
"Like the dashed hopes of the 1930s such faith is not only misplaced, but
also dangerous. ... Polls everywhere in the Middle East reveal not mere
anguish, but real enmity toward Americans. Public pronouncements in Iran
are not any less hateful than what emanated from Berlin in 1936. Thousands
of al Qaeda killers have escaped - and thousands more are angry over the
death of the comrades and kin and planning carnage for us as we sleep," Mr.
Hanson concludes. "If 9/11 was the beginning of a war, then we should
remember that wars usually end when one, not both sides, win."
We are at war
I found myself having to argue in Chicago, once again, that we are at war.
Yes, Mr. Bush should seek a formal congressional declaration, focusing the
required national debate on who we are going to war against (Saudi Arabia
and Pakistan are certainly complicit, and should be made to explain
themselves), and how much treasure it's going to take, and how we'll know
when this war is won. And yes, in the meantime, this is a war that may be
cynically used by men such as John Ashcroft as an excuse to strip us of
ever more of our domestic liberties.
But the answer to that is to end the war, and the best way to end the war
is to win the war, and winning wars nearly always requires that men who
demonstrate the kind of astonishing courage and skill demonstrated by Navy
SEAL Neil Roberts be sent overseas to find our enemies, shoot them in the
head, burn their homes, level their villages, and barbecue their goats.
I asked, last Sunday, why German and Japanese tourists do not now come to
this country and commit suicide in order to blow up American buses and
markets. Why? Because the war of 1945 was ended decisively in 1945, I said,
with a victory so complete that no modern German or Japanese citizen thinks
he can reverse that verdict of arms through such tactics.
"Forget the 'cycle of violence' and the 'peace process,' " wrote Mark Steyn
in Toronto's National Post the next day, March 25. "History teaches us that
the most lasting peace is achieved when one side - preferably the worst
side - is decisively defeated and the regime's diseased organs are
comprehensively cleansed. That's why National Socialism, Fascism and
Japanese militarism have not troubled us of late."
But the Israelis were not allowed to win their war of 1967, of course, even
as their tanks sat within 19 miles of Cairo. An oil-hungry America once
again yanked their choke-chain, with the result that hundreds of thousands
of paranoid, misguided, hate-filled Arab Muslims (raised on unrebutted
blood libels like that published by Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma of King
Faisal University in the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh the other day,
reporting that for the holiday Of Purim "The Jewish people must obtain
human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastries.... The
victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew") are still
trying to reverse the never-completed military decision of 1967 by other
The answer is not to "convince them they are wrong." The answer is to make
war on the folks who thought they could get away the events of Sept. 11
(and those who cheered and threw candy in the streets), kill them by the
thousands (no more "calling an end to the carnage," as on the road out of
Kuwait, a decade ago), and make the survivors sign on the dotted line, in
public, both in English and in Arabic: "I swear by Allah that Israel has a
right to exist in peace within her current borders - just as does the
Palestinian state called Jordan - that America is not the great Satan but
rather the world's Font of Freedom; that I will make war on them no more;
that I will instead go home and focus on developing freedom and prosperity
and pluralism and property rights and the separation of religion and state
in my own land, where the Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 are now welcome to
come and settle next door."
Those who have attacked us and who still won't sign, even after they've had
their asses whupped? Kill them. It's called "war," and "war" is what our
assailants went to great pains on Sept. 11 to instruct us that they want.
In 1941, Isoroku Yamamoto knew that he had "awakened a sleeping giant."
Time for someone else to get the message.
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
The IBUC Symposium on Geodesic Capital
April 3-4, 2002, The Downtown Harvard Club, Boston
<mailto: email@example.com> for details...
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'