As the nation reflects today on those lost in battle, we must not forget to seek out the active, interested minorities in society who chose to put those men into harm's way, and why.
by Christopher Zimny
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
—Thomas Hardy, "The Man He Killed"The concept of war is a rather straightforward one for most people. It is usually divided into a plethora of arguments on the "legitimacy" of any given war by those using cool rationale, and emotional anti-war sentiment from those against it. Any of these are seemingly acceptable points of view for discussion; it certainly seems reasonable enough to debate whether the Hussein or Gaddafi regime should go, for instance. Counter that with the most recent body bag count and raw video of war, asking if involvement is worth it. Draw up reasons why the enemy fights, then put forward arguments to dissuade people from this myth. Point out why we are fighting to begin with and argue about the merits of our mission. Each side's purpose in debating about war, of course, is to persuade or dissuade in each case. This always is done with remarkable candor, though it is done under the mousetrap of the State.
In the course of modern events, there is a whole series of issues to be debated about the conflicts in the Middle East alone, let alone fighting with specialized forces in other parts of the world. A war fought in a "conventional" manner (i.e. one country's army against another) provides a stark picture of what is needed to gain popular acceptance for a war. When a country fights in a guerrilla war, convincing the citizens of the country to support the war effort or participate in it might be tough going, but it can be done. A mission like the one (many, perhaps) in Afghanistan might be hard to follow. It is much easier when one can recognize the enemy—that is to say, when "the enemy" is in a place that could be recognized on a map. The foe has a face that can be drawn on propaganda posters or socially cast out. With a little effort, the side opposite of one's own can easily be transformed into the true and just enemy, needed to be fought.
Note that engineering minds for war is a peculiar task. Once the seeds are put into place, the poison becomes as a virus does, and a war between people who would not have otherwise harbored any unfriendly spirit toward one another virtually manufactures itself. Use the present day example of North Korea. The situation is steeped obviously with the porcine dictatorship, but the situation is useful as the state exhibits the same behavior has any other, though to a more terrible degree. The government and people of and under the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are not at war today, nor do they have the means on their own to have any kind of prolonged conflict. But that aside, if the "Great Successor" wished for war with Japan, South Korea, or the U.S., the reputedly credulous people between the border of China and the 38th Parallel would not hesitate to spit in the faces of "their enemy." Why is this? North Korean children are taught in school about the U.S. imperialist bastards and Japanese "occupiers" who the Koreans tore loose from prior to the Korean War. Then couple these doctrines with the divine status and personality cults of DPRK leaders. For over sixty years, North Koreans have been fed the same nauseating notions, thus they are ready to pounce when the order comes.
We see that when the same diluted food is fed to us on our own plates in America, we simply call it something different and pretend that it is not the same thing. All in all, the two have some different subtleties, but we can call a spade a spade when the drums of war begin to beat. The same hype is offered by the government—that "the enemy" hates "us" for "our freedoms", they are crazed by their religion, their political ideology, that they are willing to stop at literally nothing to destroy us as a whole civilization, or that any given scenario is a "threat to national security" and that one has a duty to "protect his neighbor" in these perilous times.
In the spirit of Memorial Day, along these lines, your author feels the need to point out the most insidious, in my opinion, of all tricks used by the government: praise of military veterans of all kinds. This sentiment is an obviously admirable one, but it is contorted for the benefit of those who started the war to help keep support for the war. (One can see people respecting Presidents for honoring the fallen, forgetting that the Presidents themselves sent those men to their deaths in the first place.) The aim of the State is to have its subjects focused on the task it has set for them. A collectivized mindset is put into place, under a guise of "patriotism" or whatever the government pulls out of its hat: wayward ideas are "brought to reason" or denounced soon without any encouragement from the state apparatus itself.
Fighting "for the good of the country" is the classic state paradigm, or in some parts of the world and at different times, on behalf of the Emperor or God. The common denominator in any war is a given set of governments which have it out for each other. That is the point needed to be most stressed. Stripped bare, this is what a war is: nothing but two sets of people in positions of power who want to come to blows with one another. The rest is predicated on convincing everyone else to join them (or at least tacit acceptance) in the cause or in the fight. (This is conceptually easy to visualize. For instance, think of how much vitriol you do not feel for a shop owner in Tehran, and vice versa, then imagine the nature of what it would take for you to fight one another.) To use the words of Murray Rothbard in his great essay, "Anatomy of the State": "The first task of the State and its intellectuals was to convince the people of [any given state] that the attack was really upon them and not simply upon the ruling caste. In this way, a war between rulers was converted into a war between peoples. . ."
Of course, convincing the citizenry can take many shapes: force is one of them. Conscription may be the clearest example of this, in practice. A doubter of the doctrine so presented is invited to refuse to present themselves when called for the draft to see what the consequences are. A state's conscription program is inherently a system which takes the unwilling citizens of a country to fights its battles—else the draftee would have volunteered. In short, it is evidently their war—a war by those in government—not one of "the people".
So on Memorial Day, when those fallen soldiers, Marines, airmen, and seamen are remembered for their service, do them the honor of contemplating why they are not sitting next to you having a conversation, or sharing the meal you're having tonight. My humble thanks go to those who joined and fought under the impression that they were serving to protect their families and the citizens of America (of which I am part) from aggressors. This writer only asks that you consider what their sacrifice means, along with who placed them, and for what reason were they put, in such a perilous situation.
This article was originally published on Memorial Day by The Libertarian Review.