Veterans Day honors those citizens who fought in the U.S. governments wars wars supposedly waged to preserve Americans liberty. Most Americans uncritically accept this last part, and believe they owe the U.S. military a debt of gratitude for their freedom and independence.
This belief is so widely held that it has become a tenet of the country’s civic faith. However, it is just that an article of faith for there is scant evidence in history to support it. The unpleasant truth is that Americans have been continually led into unnecessary wars wars that have actually infringed on American freedom and prosperity by generations of duplicitous and megalomaniacal politicians.
This truth may be difficult to accept, especially for veterans who understandably want to believe their military service has been for a noble purpose. Nevertheless, concern for their feelings should not override the truth.
War entails confiscatory taxation, crushing debt, inflation, government management of the economy, regimentation, and infringements of civil liberties. War is big government on steroids.
James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, who is often called the father of the Constitution, pointed out:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.
War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honours, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
Has not Madison been vindicated by the American experience over the last century? Since 1898, there has been a stupendous growth in the size and scope of the federal government, and this expansion of state power has been largely a consequence of war. Americas wars have led to such accretions of executive power that the U.S. president now behaves like a Caesar: imprisoning, torturing, waging war when he pleases, and even killing people without so much as a habeas corpus hearing.
Now, many will take issue with my interpretation of American history. They may also point out that our modern world is much more complex and menacing than the one James Madison inhabited, and therefore his admonition, however eloquent, is now obsolete. After all, the U.S. government cant have a horse-and-buggy foreign policy in the age of the ICBM.
But the fact that a few governments have at their disposal weapons that could wipe out civilization in an afternoon doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. government must have an interventionist foreign policy. If anything, the existence of nuclear arsenals is an argument for extreme caution and restraint.
The American Empire and World War I
Americas ruling elite made a conscious decision to pursue an overseas empire by expanding into the Pacific via war with Spain (1898) and intervening in Europe via the Great War (1917).
Of course, their imperial ambitions were masked behind humanitarian rhetoric of peace, freedom, and democracy. But, ironically, wartime mobilization resulted in gross violations of civil liberties at home; the U.S. government imposed military conscription and imprisoned individuals for merely speaking out against WWI. In the final analysis, Woodrow Wilson proved to be a much greater threat to Americans liberty than the Kaiser.
And what did the sacrifice of 117,000 American lives in World War I accomplish? U.S. intervention had disastrous long-term consequences, as it ultimately led to the rise of National Socialism in Germany and Bolshevism in Russia. Revisionist historian Jim Powell explains,
Preoccupied with his good intentions, Wilson never seemed to have considered the possibility that intervening in Europe might do worse than fail to achieve peace. Because of historic resentments and staggering battlefield casualties, there was a lot of bitterness in Europe. Governments were nearly bankrupt, and people were hungry. They wanted vengeance for their suffering. The political situation was explosive. If one side were able to achieve a decisive victory, the temptation would be strong to seek retribution. So, Wilson intervened, enabled the Allied Powers to achieve a decisive victory, and the result was the vindictive Versailles Treaty with devastating political consequences that played out in Germany and around the world.
Apparently thinking only about what he wanted, Wilson pressured and bribed the Russian Provisional Government to stay in the war, when he ought to have known that country had been falling apart ever since it entered the war in 1914. Wilson ought to have known that millions of Russian peasants weren’t going to be affected much one way or the other by what happened on the Western Front, the only thing that Wilson cared about. He ought to have known that Russian peasants were deserting the Russian Army by the thousands, to go home and claim land, and soon there wouldn’t be any army to defend the Provisional Government. If Wilson didn’t know these things, he didn’t have any business trying to play an international war game. Wilson’s blunders made it easier for Lenin to seize power on his fourth attempt in 1917, leading to more than seven decades of Soviet communism.
World War II
Millions of Americas young men were sent overseas to war after Japans raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Germany’s declaration of war four days later. Those belligerent acts had come only after repeated warlike provocations by the United States. Had there been an honest man in the White House who genuinely desired peace, rather than the mendacious and bellicose Franklin D. Roosevelt, it is very possible that war with Japan and Germany would have been avoided.
Japans ambitions in Asia in no way threatened American liberties, and the same could be said of Germany’s ambitions in Europe. Despite FDR’s lurid and absurd claims of Hitlers desire for global conquest, Germany had neither the intention nor the capability to mount an attack on North America. It is important to remember that from the American perspective the Second World War was fought over there, and that the U.S. military in combating the Axis Powers was not defending the liberty of the American people.
The domestic consequences of the Good War were baleful. Vast new powers were concentrated in Washington, and the last remnants of federalism were crushed under the march to war. Just like in 1917, the U.S. economy was nationalized in the interest of wartime mobilization. FDR imposed military conscription and tight press censorship. His utter contempt for the Constitution was best illustrated by his executive order to incarcerate Japanese-Americans for the duration of the war, a shameful edict that aroused little opposition in Congress and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although the United States and its allies claimed victory in 1945, the war exacted an enormous material toll. Europe and much of Asia lay in ruins, with the butchers bill exceeding 50 million lives, mostly civilians.
The Cold War
WWII also ushered in the age of nuclear weapons and created an adversary far more menacing than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan ever were. The Cold War against the USSR continued the flow of tax dollars into the enlarged military establishment, and it was used as a pretext to create clandestine intelligence agencies, thus raising the specter of secret government in America.
Despite the various domino theories that cold warriors used to justify U.S. military intervention in Korea and Vietnam, these wars had nothing to do with Americas security or the freedom of the American people. They were essentially civil wars precipitated by artificial divisions drawn by outside powers, namely the United States. Furthermore, North Korea and North Vietnam were distant, impoverished, and war-ravaged nations with no capacity to attack or invade the United States.
Most Americans have been beguiled by the official propaganda, and they accept the simpleminded notion that Americas wars have been waged to keep them safe and defend their freedoms, when the opposite is closer to the truth.
Eighty years ago, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, lamenting his career, said,
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 19021912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
Butler expanded on his thoughts in War Is A Racket, a book describing how the U.S. military is often used, not to defend the country, but to advance the narrow interests of the political and financial elite. Although his book was concerned primarily with Americas entry into World War I, the generals conclusions could be applied to all American wars of the past century.