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The Dishonor of Militarism

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What a blown opportunity! Glenn Beck gathered thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to urge a restoration of American honor — but not once did he mention the most egregious assault on America’s honor: militarism.

It would have been a perfect time to call for dismantling the American empire, ending the bloody occupations and covert wars in Muslim lands, and terminating the gross violations of the rights of Americans and foreigners alike. Under the guise of the “war on terror” those things have stained this country’s reputation — perhaps beyond repair. Yet judging by the speeches at Beck’s rally, you would never know they were happening. He and his fans must think those things don’t dishonor America.

Beck says the country must return to its values, but he seems not to realize that the U.S. government has committed the greatest imaginable betrayal of American values as professed in the Declaration of Independence: Born in rebellion against an empire, America now is the empire against which others rebel.

Here’s a clue to how out of touch with reality the event was: Beck’s headliner, Sarah Palin, praised the military as “a force for good in this country, and that is nothing to apologize for.”

No? I guess she’s been too busy the last nine years to realize that the American military is a weapon of empire. Rather than keeping the American people safe, it endangers them by occupying foreign lands, imposing corrupt puppet governments, and killing resisters as “insurgents,” “militants,” and “terrorists.” Regularly occurring “mistakes” take the lives of people not even suspected of resistance.

Far from opposing the militarism that has taken the lives more than a million people since 2001, Beck and Palin embrace it. As the Associated Press reported, “The event’s website says the rally is to pay tribute to America’s military personnel and others ‘who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.’” I suppose those “others” are the politicians, military bureaucrats, lobbyists, and defense contractors pursuing an agenda as far removed from integrity, truth, and honor as it can be. Those are the people who lied Americans into illegal wars that by the government’s own reckoning create more “terrorists” than they destroy. When a member of the military actually acts with integrity and honor, as PFC Bradley Manning apparently did by exposing to Wikileaks what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s threatened with half a century in prison.

For Beck, all that is to be ignored. He told his audience, “This country has spent far too long worrying about scars and thinking about scars and concentrating on scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished, and the things that we can do tomorrow.”

Well, the people in the Middle East and Central Asia whose lives have been scarred by U.S. policy can’t wait for Beck and his crowd to get over their feel-good session. They want the bombings and surges to stop now.

Until we understand the “scars” and the deeds that continue to cause them, they will overshadow any good things. It is unseemly to brag about how good “we” are while the U.S. government causes such misery day after day across the world. Beck touts America’s exceptionalism, but to those receiving its Hellfire missiles, that just means America can trash the rest of the world with impunity.

Shame on Beck for ignoring all this.

Beck and his audience make themselves irrelevant in another way. They claim to be concerned about what they call “socialism” — government domination of the economy — but they have no clue that today the greatest impetus for it is militarism and empire. Those cost an incredible amount of money — more than $1 trillion a year — and divert an intolerable amount of scarce resources and labor to the politicians’ hegemonic purposes rather than to making average people’s lives better. Without the bloated national-“security” apparatus, companies would compete for consumers’ patronage in the marketplace rather than striving to become government contractors milking the taxpayers.

How ironic that a rally for honor and against socialism gave a pass to the biggest sources of disgrace and government consolidation of our time.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.