One of the most popular mantras in the post–9/11 era involves praising the troops for “defending our nation” and “protecting our rights and freedoms.” But how many people ever really think about what those mantras really mean? Indeed, how many people ever give serious thought to what would happen to our nation and to our rights and freedoms if the national-security state — i.e., the vast military and intelligence establishment — were dismantled? My hunch is that precisely because people haven’t given the matter careful consideration, their automatic response to such a suggestion would be that dismantling the national-security state would leave America defenseless and subject to being quickly conquered by the terrorists, the jihadists, the communists, the drug lords, or someone similar.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the dismantling of the national-security state would bring a safer, more secure, more prosperous, and more harmonious nation and, most important, would protect our rights and freedoms better than anything else.
When Americans praise the troops for defending our nation and protecting our rights and freedoms, what exactly do they have in mind? They’re thinking about the troops who have been occupying Afghanistan for more than a decade, and before that, Iraq, and killing people during that entire time. They’re also thinking about the CIA operatives who are engaged in assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, and other parts of the world. They’re thinking of the people who have been captured or kidnapped by U.S. military and intelligence personnel and taken to some prison camp or dungeon such as the ones in Cuba, Afghanistan, or Egypt for indefinite confinement without jury trial.
Yet the obvious question arises: How are any of the people killed, maimed, or kidnapped by the U.S. military or CIA really a threat to our nation or to our rights and freedoms? We could lose our nation and our rights and freedoms only if some foreign power were to invade, conquer, and occupy the United States. As part of that process, it would have to defeat the U.S. government (and the American people) in a gigantic war, one in which the U.S. government surrendered the reins of power to the enemy nation. The enemy nation would then have its troops and intelligence forces sweep across America in an attempt to enslave the American people, coercing them into obeying the mandates and dictates of the occupying troops and subjecting them to the horrors that customarily come with foreign occupation.
To be militarily successful, such an operation would require millions of foreign troops, along with massive supply lines to ensure that the troops were continually furnished with ammunition, food, equipment, and other essentials. The operation would require tens of thousands of transport ships and planes to ferry the troops, equipment, food, ammunition, and other supplies. Crossing the ocean with such a large armada would obviously be an enormous undertaking. Keep in mind that Nazi Germany was unable to cross the English Channel to invade Great Britain.
So where are the tens of thousands of al-Qaeda ships and planes ferrying millions of combatants across the Atlantic Ocean? Where are their supply lines? Where are they mobilizing for what would constitute one of the biggest military operations in history? How do they intend to deal with the millions of well-armed, well-trained American men and women all across the land and the most powerful military in world history?
Those al-Qaeda ships, planes, and troops simply aren’t there. The reality is that al-Qaeda lacks the manpower and the resources to invade, conquer, and occupy the United States. It’s simply not a possibility.
So how do we explain the fact that people have been attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 12 years and, until late 2011, 8 years in Iraq? How do we explain the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and, previously, on the World Trade Center in 1993, on the USS Cole, and on the U.S. embassies in East Africa?
None of those attacks had anything to do with a plan to invade and conquer the United States and enslave the American people. After all, notice that not even the 9/11 attacks were followed up with armies of invading jihadists who were hoping to take over the reins of power, including the presidency, the Congress, the judiciary, IRS, DEA, ICE, and the thousands of other federal departments and agencies.
So why have they been killing Americans ever since the fall of the Soviet Union? The answer is very simple: They want the U.S. national-security state out of their part of their world. Their position is: Go home. Leave us alone. Do not come back.
The U.S. national-security state obviously takes an opposite position: that it has the rightful authority to be over there, enforcing sanctions, embargoing, invading, occupying, assassinating, kidnapping, torturing, effecting regime change, installing brutal dictators, supporting dictatorial regimes with foreign aid, and influencing elections with the intent of getting pro-U.S. officials into power.
That’s what the fighting and killing are all about. Not about al-Qaeda’s wanting to take over America, but simply about one side’s saying, “Butt out of our part of the world” and the other side’s saying, “Not a chance.”
So what does this have to do with defending our nation and protecting the rights and freedoms of the American people? In the minds of national-security state officials, it has everything to do with such concepts.
But how is that possible, given that al-Qaeda isn’t even remotely capable of invading and conquering America and taking away our freedoms?
The answer is the way that U.S. officials — and, indeed, most of the American people — view the concepts of “national defense” and the protection of “our rights and freedoms.” In their minds, our “rights and freedoms” as Americans entail the authority of the U.S. government to police the world by intervening in the affairs of other nations with such things as sanctions, embargoes, invasions, occupations, and foreign aid. In their minds, interventionism is part of what makes an American. U.S. officials and their interventionist supporters believe that it’s all part of America’s heritage of freedom and “national defense.”
So when foreigners resist that “heritage” of freedom, they’re considered to be attacking America and trying to take away our “rights and freedom” to police the world. And when U.S. forces put down foreigners’ resistance to such “freedom,” the troops are convinced that they’re defending our nation and the “rights and freedoms” of the American people. And so are most Americans, which is why they praise the troops for defending our rights and freedoms as they wreak death and destruction on those who are resisting the U.S. intervention in their countries and who are saying by their words and actions: Get out. Go home. Leave us alone.
In fact, even the 9/11 attacks, which were on U.S. soil, were mounted in retaliation for the foreign interventionism that had preceded them. For that matter, so was the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and all the other terrorist attacks on the United States. People in the Middle East were filled with anger and rage over such things as the unconditional foreign aid to the Israeli government, the Persian Gulf intervention, the intentional destruction of Iraq’s water and sewage facilities, the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s declaration that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it,” and the no-fly zones by which innocent people, including children, were killed. With the terrorist attacks that followed, the attackers were retaliating for those types of things.
Keep in mind that for people in the Middle East, the U.S. government has no authority to do any of those things. For U.S. officials and for most Americans, however, the authority to do such things falls squarely within the ambit of “national security,” “national defense” and protecting “our rights and freedoms.” Don’t forget, after all, that all those interventions were carried out under the supervision of the Department of Defense.
Now let’s consider Switzerland, a nation that, as Stephen Halbrook points out in his 1998 book Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, our Founding Fathers pointed to when they were calling the federal government into existence with the Constitution. Switzerland has no overseas military bases or troops occupying foreign lands. The Swiss government does not support brutal dictatorships or other regimes with foreign aid. It does not impose sanctions and embargoes on other countries. It doesn’t obsess over which regimes are running particular countries. It doesn’t try to influence political events in other countries. It doesn’t engage in regime-change operations in the hopes of getting pro-Swiss foreign regimes into power.
So it’s no surprise that Switzerland is also not the target of terrorist attacks from al-Qaeda or anyone else. Unlike the United States, it isn’t engaged in a “war on terror.” The Swiss government also isn’t infringing the civil liberties of the Swiss people in the name of keeping them “safe.”
Does that mean that the Swiss government isn’t concerned about defending Switzerland or protecting the rights and freedoms of the Swiss people? Does it mean that the Swiss people are nothing but a bunch of pacifists who refuse to fight for their country and their freedom?
On the contrary, the Swiss people are among the fiercest, best-armed, best-trained fighters in the world. What makes them different is that they are totally devoted to “national defense” in the most genuine and honest meaning of the term.
All military strategy in Switzerland is oriented toward the defense of the country. It has no vast military establishment. Instead, it has a relatively small base of active-duty military personnel that relies on a wide base of citizen-soldiers who are prepared on a moment’s notice to report for duty.
The only downside to the Swiss military system is that it relies on conscription to ensure that young men are available to quickly serve as the nation’s military defense force in the event of an attack. But they really don’t need conscription because the Swiss citizenry, owing to Switzerland’s long heritage of freedom and independence, would immediately come to the defense of their country and their homeland in the event of an invasion.
Nearly everyone in Switzerland is armed to the teeth. Citizen-soldiers take their weapons, including automatic assault rifles, home with them. Soldiers who have been discharged from the military retain their weapons and keep them at home, ready to use. For the Swiss, shooting is a national pastime. Nearly every one of them, including the women, is an expert shot.
As Halbrook points out in Target Switzerland, there was nothing that Hitler wanted more than to absorb Switzerland into the Third Reich, as he had done with Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, along with neutral countries such as Belgium. But Hitler knew that if he invaded Switzerland, his military losses would be enormous and still there would be no guarantee of success, despite the fact that the number of Nazi forces far exceeded those of Switzerland. The Swiss made it very clear to Hitler that should Germany invade, every Swiss citizen would resist to the death. In fact, many junior officers in the Swiss military got together and decided that if their commanding officer suggested surrender, they would remove him, execute him, and replace him with an officer who would make no such suggestion.
Believing that discretion was the better part of valor, Hitler decided not to invade Switzerland. He knew that his military losses would be enormous and the anticipated gains few, especially given Switzerland’s vow to destroy all means of transport across Switzerland.
The Swiss military system, along with its confederation of cantons, served as a model for America’s Founding Fathers. That’s why, throughout the 1800s, America had no enormous standing army, much less a vast secret national police that was engaged in dark and sinister doings, such as assassinations, torture, and regime-change operations. There were also no armies of “defense” contractors and lobbyists helping to bankrupt the nation with out-of-control federal spending and debt in the name of “national security,” “national defense,” and “protecting the rights and freedoms of the American people.”
John Quincy Adams summarized America’s foreign policy when he told Congress that America does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” He pointed out that if America ever did turn in that direction, it would end up destroying the grand and positive spirit of the American people. He said that America’s contribution
to the world would be to establish a model society of freedom, one to which people around the world would be free to immigrate.
Finally, we mustn’t ever forget that the greatest threat to our rights and freedoms comes from the national-security state itself. It is people’s own governments that historically have done bad things to them in the name of “national defense” and protecting “the rights and freedoms of the people.” Our Founding Fathers clearly understood the nature and gravity of that threat, as reflected by their severe antipathy toward standing armies and militarism and their ardent commitment to the right of people to keep and bear arms, as a means to protect themselves from a tyrannical government, one that is using its military and police to do bad things to people. Indeed, the very idea of limiting the powers of the federal government with the Constitution reflects how our ancestors viewed the threat that the federal government posed to the rights and freedoms of the American people.
There is no better time than now for the American people to give serious thought to the role that the Cold War national-security state plays in our lives and to the adverse effect that it is having on our lives and on the lives of the people of the world. It is time to restore our heritage of individual freedom, noninterventionism, anti-militarism, and limited-government constitutional republicanism.
This article was originally published in the May 2013 edition of Future of Freedom.