Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day cheap talk

One of the things about moving in libertarian circles is that on Memorial Day (and the Fourth of July, and Veteran's Day), you get treated to lots of very emotive criticism of the U.S. military and its missions. I'm not just talking about "I don't agree with all the U.S.'s policies". Practically every American would say that and the ones that wouldn't say that are too brain-dead to spend much time discussing here. A good, pithy example that I saw on facebook today went something like:
"To the American military on Memorial Day, thanks, but no thanks"
Another, showing a widely publicized bombing victim of the Iraq War said:
"If this is what must [be] done to 'protect my freedoms,' I greatly prefer that my freedoms be left for me to protect."
I want to make two observations about the deluge of these sorts of things that I see.

First, I think it's really demonstrative of the very low quality of thinking on these issues by the people that post this sort of thing that they can't simply say "The Iraq War and some other stuff was a really shitty decision that should never have been made". It's not that hard to stick to that. I've been saying that since 2003 and I've had no trouble being clear about what I think without trying to wrap up the entire enterprise of American military force into one tragic picture of a badly wounded Iraqi. It shows intellectual laziness on your part that you can't make a coherent argument against the American military writ large and instead have to rely on an emotional reference to a single war that is widely disapproved of in your attempt to make the broader argument. It also bothers me that they use this boy as a prop for a political agenda that goes well beyond their view of the Iraq war. That's pretty sick.

My second observation is that most of this is cheap talk. I'm not going to make a "well if you don't like it than you can leave" case, but I am going to observe that people who dismiss the American military in toto as I've seen many people do today are just serving up "cheap talk". It's very easy for residents of a planetary superpower to be pacifists. What the hell do they have to lose. They don't even need to worry about the ramifications of being even modestly convincing because they know they'll never be convincing enough to ever have to bear the costs of actual pacifism. This is a problem with anarchism in general (Gene Callahan often makes related arguments in the case of anarchism) - it's very easy to sing the praises of anarchism when you live comfortably in a liberal society governed by a reasonably well functioning state. Anarchists don't spend a lot of time considering the problems that would come up in actual anarchy because they're never faced with it, and they're never faced with it because over the millennia humans have come to realize it's a really shitty idea. The ones that do try to explain these hard issues tend to be unconvincing. And when I say they are "unconvincing" I'm not just stating my opinion. That's an objective assessment of the arguments presented, Exhibit A being the embarrassingly low number of people that have been convinced. I can't think of a better definition of "unconvincing" than "an argument that fails to convince". Anarchists on the Fourth of July, like pacifists on Memorial Day, engage in lots and lots of cheap talk.

If you want to tell me that American military power has been badly misused over the years, I'm right there with you brother. If you want to say we should never have gone into Iraq I agree completely. If you want to criticize the use of force in the war on terrorism we can have a very civil discussion about that and I might even agree with certain elements of your case. But if you are going to make a broad-brush statement about how you'd rather not have the American military around to guarantee your freedom then I'm telling you right now that I think you sound like an idiot. And if you plaster a picture of a suffering kid on your wall to distract people from your weak arguments, I think you're either impressionable (maybe you're sharing it) or you're an opportunistic asshole.



  1. "Murica!!!"

    -Daniel Kuehn.

    Not that I really disagree.

  2. "I'd rather have my country die for me."

    -- Jefferson Airplane

  3. I agree with you, especially the bit about pacifists/anarchists living in America - it's a really easy path to take.

    My only issue with Memorial Day is that it honors and glorifies Americans who have died in battle while staying silent about innocent casualties. I choose to honor both on Memorial Day. I do so not to cheapen my fellow citizens' sacrifice, but as a reminder that war does have consequences even when necessary.

  4. 99.9% of blogging is cheap talk.

    I mean look at this bit of cheap talk right here:

    ~But if you are going to make a broad-brush statement about how you'd rather not have the American military around to guarantee your freedom...~

    You know freedom is worth a buck o' five.

  5. http://www.tomwoods.com/blog/dont-show-me-photos/

  6. I think you're largely right and that the US military, through its existence has allowed many of us (even some of us non-americans) to live in relative security. That said, you're also right that the US military has been used to commit all sorts of atrocities and that US military adventurism has caused a lot of harm in this world. Since that is the case, why should we dedicate a day to the glorification of those people who literally spent their lives in the service of an instrument which is responsible for so much evil? The US military is a necessary evil. We should not forget the necessary bit, but neither should we forget the evil bit.

  7. 1/2

    1. Regarding intellectual laziness: Does a person have to provide a 200 page proof a la Russell and Whitehouse when they state the crude truism that "2+2=4"? No. They just have to state it, and the philosophers and logicians can prove it. The same thing is the case with the military. Anarcho-capitalists have provided a veritable cornucopia of literature on why one is justified in being "blanket" anti-state military. You know, the whole violation of individual liberty in order for it to even exist thing. You might have read about it from third rate summaries from fellow..."whatever you feel like being today"...ists who try to "translate" anarchist literature.

    You chastise people who show posters of wounded children as propagandistic, emotional tactics. Oh really? Is it because it is compelling you to have to face the consequences of your own beliefs, which is too hard to handle? What do you call your propagandistic, emotional scare tactic that claims we're all going to die horrible deaths from invasions and violence everywhere, if it weren't for mommy and daddy government? Is that a reasoned argument? Hardly. That's just pure emotive posturing. It's the same garbage they told the negro slaves. "You can complain about the master's tactics. You can complain about the way he beats you. But don't you dare question the whole master-slave relationship! You'd be an idiot! If it weren't for his protection, you'd die from lynchers!"

    2. Regarding "cheap talk." You claim that it's "cheap talk" to want anarchy in a statist world. That it's easy to talk about anarchy in the safety and comfort of mommy and daddy government. This is so bad of an argument it is hard to even take it seriously. The argument for anarchy is grounded on reason, evidence, and ethics, not making easy unconvincing arguments in the alleged safety of the state's bosom. Your "Exhibit A" shows that you have no clue what an "objective assessment" even means. It is not what the majority believe. That is exactly the kind of vicious nonsense that rationalists have painstakingly warned against for hundreds of years. If most people were "convinced" that slavery was justified, would that make arguments against slavery "objectively unconvincing"? No, of course not. But according to you, it would be. It makes no difference whatsoever whether an argument is accepted by 1 person, or 7 billion. An argument is "objectively" true or false by the standard of reason, not popular opinion polls.

    It is not a rational argument to claim that if the majority of people cannot be "convinced" that slavery is wrong, that slavery is in fact wrong, and that those advocating to be freed from slavery are somehow only giving "cheap talk" in the comfort of the safety of their slave masters. The same thing is true for those advocating to be freed from the statist system. They cannot be refuted by you or anyone else referring to popular opinion, whether that reference is true or false. Their arguments are not "objectively" true or false by how many people happen to agree or disagree with them. You have to provide rational arguments.

  8. 2/2

    3. Regarding "safety" of military. How "safe" can people be when they are subject to taxation backed ultimately by lethal force, the very taxation that makes the military possible? Shouldn't a provider of protection against property rights, refrain from engaging in violating property rights itself? It is a rank contradiction to claim that because we need protection against property violations, there should be an institution that violates property rights as the solution. But that's what a state is, and the state military. It is a group of people who violate property rights, in the name of protecting property rights.

    Coercive monopolies in protection are not only not necessary, but they are oxymorons. They're like square circles, rapist protectors of genitals, or robber protectors of wealth.

    You are not even willing to debate whether or not there should even be a standing army financed by taxation. You only want to debate the strategies and tactics of such standing armies. In other words, you refuse to delve into the core foundations.

    Finally, you yourself in this post are posting up the metaphorical image of myself and other anarchists dying a horrible death in anarchy as a distraction from your weak arguments against anarchy.

    You've hit intellectual rock bottom, DK. Now it's time for you to work yourself back up, this time without the fear, without the appeals to ad populum, and this time, using the "unpopular" reason.

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  10. Yes, how impertinent of them to publicize photographs of dead Iraqi children. That can only be motivated by political point-scoring....how dare they? And on Memorial Day, too! There are some real sickos out there.

  11. As a non-American I often wonder exactly what it is Americans think their military is for. You are a continental fortress with vast oceans on your east and west coast. You have the biggest, best equipped military in human history. If another country were to attack you, they would be destroyed in no time. Yet so many Americans are OBSESSED with the idea of "defense" which as we have seen means bombing and/or invading other countries, usually resulting in the deaths of innocent people.

    "we should never have gone into Iraq"


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