Over the weekend I took a brief look at the mass media’s coverage of the Iraq war, posting eight satirically captioned photos of soldiers playing with Iraqi children. I’ve been monitoring the response to these photos all over the Internet, and across the political spectrum, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, both from conservatives and surprisingly from most liberals as well. But a few people misunderstood the point of the posting, or just don’t have a sense of humor, and their responses were scathing.
First, a little background, for those of you just tuning in. I actually did receive these photos from an Army source in Baghdad, with the captions already attached. As far as I can tell, though, they were sent to me by mistake. I rarely cover the Iraq war in any way, because I’m focused on the homeland. But I am well aware that the mass media presents a horribly one-sided view of the war, and I found the pictures funny.
So in that same humorous vein, I posted them.
As I mentioned, both conservatives and liberals enjoyed the post. Conservatives found it funny and felt vindicated because an important aspect of the Iraq war was getting some exposure. Liberals found it funny and took heart in the rarely explored fact that not everything going on in Iraq is death and horror.
But this is primarily to address the three critics (of thousands of people) who raise two important points. Before I do that, I want to make one thing crystal clear: I opposed the Iraq war then, I oppose it now, and I believe that the U.S. has no business interfering in the affairs of other countries.
First, I was criticized for “trivializing” the death and destruction that has taken place in Iraq, both of Iraqi citizens and American soldiers. Death is hardly trivial. We are all well aware of the death and destruction in Iraq. But death was not the point of the post. The point was life. Here we have a celebration of life, with almost-forgotten people helping Iraqis rebuild and improve their lives. I’ve made the point before that most of you would voluntarily contribute to helping Iraqis dig wells, build schools and hospitals, and so on — if only you and your unborn grandchildren weren’t already being taxed for it and getting a horrible bargain because the U.S. military doesn’t know how to account for money.
Second, I was criticized for “supporting war criminals.” This person believes that, because the Iraq war was wrong, any American soldier in Iraq is automatically a criminal for refusing to go, regardless of what they happen to be doing over there, that President Bush is a war criminal for ordering innocent people to be tortured and killed, and so on. Again, all of this may be true, but the critic misses the point again. The point is that no matter what plot of land we were born on, or which tinpot dictator claims to rule us, we are all human beings.
But this critic feels justified in calling someone who builds a hospital a criminal. I can’t claim to understand the mindset which fails to distinguish between someone who builds a hospital and someone who shoots up a hospital, killing the people inside. If building a hospital is a crime, then we are all criminals, and the human race should go extinct. I say there is a significant difference between someone who follows orders to build a school and someone who follows orders to bomb a school. Perhaps, then, some of the soldiers in Iraq are criminals.
The larger questions, though, are: Is war ever justifiable? Why do governments go to war? Can war be made unnecessary?
The answers to these questions turn on the nature of government. Government, in its essence, is simply popular agreement among a set of people that a small subset of them, as few as one or as many as millions, should dictate to the majority of them how their lives are to be ordered, and to force them to comply. Government provides power to those who are a part of it, over those who are not. There are many “forms” of government, but they all maintain this basic structure.
The American experiment was of a new form of government, but it too maintains this basic structure. And history has shown that it too suffers from the same problems as any other government. It grows large, feeds off its people and “eats out their substance,” enters into preemptive wars of dubious merit, and so forth.
The American founders, though, came up with a rather different idea of the scope and purpose of government: that it should exist only to protect people from each other, and otherwise to not interfere with their right to do as they please. They recognized the danger that any government poses to its people, but theorized that an eternally vigilant people would serve to keep it in check. History has shown that this, too, has not worked out in practice.
So, back to the original question: Is government evil?
The basic philosophy of liberty holds that you own yourself, and no one therefore has the right to murder, steal from or enslave you. Nor do you have the right to delegate murder or slavery to another person or group of people to perform these acts on your behalf.
Today we have a government which ignores the will of its people, tramples their right to be left alone, taxes them so heavily that many people are deeply in debt, confiscates the possessions and real property of people who have done nothing wrong, tortures and kills whoever it wants with impunity, and has performed a long list of other abuses on the people which I don’t have time to get into.
This is exactly what government is: murder, theft and slavery committed in the name of “the people.” In other words, you. The United States has proved to be no exception. You have no right to ask anyone to murder, steal from or enslave anyone else on your behalf, so how can government do it in your name?
By this simple measure, government — any government — is evil. Even the founders of the U.S. recognized this, though they qualified it by calling government a “necessary evil.” If it’s so necessary to have this evil ruling over our lives, why have we failed in our duty to keep a tight lid on it? Why do we allow this evil to run rampant, not only over us, but the rest of the world as well?
While you consider this, also consider the possibility that government is an unnecessary evil, and that most people are basically good enough that involuntary rulers can be dispensed with entirely, and the rare people who feel the need to murder, steal or enslave can be dealt with through voluntary interactions.
Governments go to war because of basic human nature: nobody likes being told what to do, and one government wants to force the other government to do something it wants. As we’ve explored already, this is immoral, wrong and evil. But since government itself is immoral, wrong and evil, it is exactly what we should expect government to do.
There are two ways to eliminate war from the face of the planet. One way is to create an all-powerful totalitarian world government which oppresses everyone and ruthlessly kills anyone who dissents. The United Nations has laid the groundwork for this.
The other way to eliminate war from the face of the planet is to eliminate government from the face of the planet. And the only way to do that is to spread the philosophy of liberty.
Pick your poison.