December 30, 2008

Terrorism By Any Other Name

The truth about Israel’s “defensive” war.

Most of us Americans are living in Plato’s cave, chained to the ground, mistaking reality for a bunch of shadows being projected onto the walls before us. Nothing is what it seems. Everything that our puppet masters tell us is either a half-truth or an outright lie.

They told us they were taking away our civil liberties for our own protection. They told us that they needed to invade Iraq to keep the world safe. They told us that they would never—not them, not ever—torture prisoners of war. And now they’re telling us that the Israeli government is morally justified in its current war against the Palestinians.

Mass murder, of course, is never justified, and that’s exactly what’s happening in the Middle East right now, as Israel F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters continue devastating the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of men, women, and children.

While most world leaders have urged Israel to stop its campaign, the Bush administration has rushed to its side, calling the IDF’s actions defensive. Yes, only in Bizarro World, as Justin Raimondo calls it, could murdering civilians be considered defensive.

In supporting this outrageous claim, Israel apologists have pointed to recent rocket attacks from Gaza, noting that last Wednesday alone militants fired 80 rockets into southern Israel. Though no Israeli was killed, these attacks forced the Israeli government to finally say that enough was enough and decide it needed to protect its people. Or so the argument goes.

But it needs to be pointed out that, just as Israel claims it’s responding to Hamas aggression, so too did Hamas, when it was firing those rockets last week, claim that it was responding to Israeli aggression. For over a year, let’s remember, Israel has been imposing a merciless blockade on the Gaza Strip. An Amnesty International report back in August claimed that 80% of Gazans “now depend on the trickle of international aid that the Israeli army allows in,” compared to 10% a decade earlier. The reported continued:

Even patients in dire need of medical treatment not available in Gaza are often prevented from leaving and scores of them have died. Students who have scholarships in universities abroad are likewise trapped in Gaza, denied the opportunity to build a future…

Israel has banned exports from Gaza altogether and has reduced entry of fuel and goods to a trickle—mostly humanitarian aid, foodstuff and medical supplies. Basic necessities are in short supply or not available at all in Gaza. The shortages have pushed up food prices at a time when people can least afford to pay more. A growing number of Gazans have been pushed into extreme poverty and suffer from

Gaza’s fragile economy, already battered by years of restrictions and destruction, has collapsed. Unable to import raw materials and to export produce and without fuel to operate machinery and electricity generators, some 90 per cent of industry has shut down…

The above conditions, it should be noted, existed in the middle of a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a time in which the Israel government had, believe it or not, slightly eased the blockade.

The ceasefire, which was supposed to last until December 19, came to an end on November 4 when IDF forces entered Gaza, purportedly to destroy a tunnel, and ended up killing a Hamas gunman. From that point forward, intermittent fighting between the two sides resumed and Israel’s stranglehold on the Gazans tightened. Earlier this month, the Israeli government even prevented a delegation from Qatar from bringing $2 million in cancer medication into Gaza.

Now I’m not trying to oversimplify the matter. I’m not saying that Israel is completely evil and Hamas completely good. My point is to simply illustrate the absurdity of the Israeli/American narrative.

It’s wrong for Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. But it’s equally wrong for Israel to murder innocent Gazans—be it in the form of a military attack or economic blockade. The majority of Gazans, just like the majority of Israelis, are not terrorists and murderers, but innocent people who want nothing more than to live in peace. To brutalize these people in an attempt to avenge or deter Hamas is just another form of terrorism.

December 27, 2008

Another Unnecessary War

But then again, aren’t they all?

In case you haven’t been following the news lately, the situation in Afghanistan keeps worsening. For the United States, anyway. Things keep looking brighter and brighter for the Taliban. Not only have they gained a permanent presence in 72% of the country, but they continue managing to disrupt NATO supply lines from Pakistan.

The US, of course, is not one to walk away from a fight. So the response to this “grim” situation has been to send more troops. Adm. Mike Mullen, who in October predicted that things in Afghanistan would probably worsen over the next year, recently announced plans to send 20,000-30,000 more forces by next summer, something President-elect Obama has been recommending for some time now.

If history is any indicator, it’s unlikely that 60,000-80,000 troops (the number expected to be there by summer) will be able to defeat the Taliban insurgency. One hundred and twenty-thousand Soviet troops, let’s remember, were unable to vanquish the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s.

Moreover, as numerous invaders, among them the seemingly indomitable Alexander the Great, have learned, the Afghan people are not easily conquered. Efforts to occupy and rule the country, British historian Sir John Keegan wrote back in September 2001, have “usually ended in disaster.” For this reason, Keegan warned that “America should not seek to change the regime [in Afghanistan], but simply to find and kill the terrorists.”

But, as usual, the politicians proved then, and are proving now, to be impervious to the lessons of history. Pay no attention to all that academic-speak, they tell us—this is a war we will win, simply because this is a war we must win. And why must we win this war? In order to defeat al-Qaeda, of course. Never mind that Osama bin Laden and his pals fled Afghanistan back in December 2001. Never mind that the people we’re fighting now had nothing to do with 9/11. And never mind that the US could keep al-Qaeda out of the country without a military presence there.[1]

Never mind all this. The politicians claim that winning the war in Afghanistan is essential to keeping us safe, and the American people, as usual, believe them.

Far from keeping us safe, however, the war is actually increasing the likelihood of a future terrorist attack. For US-led military actions in Afghanistan are killing innocent civilians. Not that coalition forces mean to kill civilians, but given the nature of modern warfare, efforts to kill militants often produce headlines such as the following:

US air strike wiped out Afghan wedding party

Tensions Rise as Afghans Say U.S. Raid Killed Civilians

NATO Troops Open Fire on Afghan Bus, Kill Four Civilians

Afghan official ‘saw bodies of 50 children’ killed in US strike

Needless to say, such civilian deaths serve to turn the Afghan people against the United States. (Just think how you would feel if you were in their shoes.) For this reason, the longer the US stays in Afghanistan, and thus the longer it continues killing innocent people, the more terrorists it will end up creating.

This claim, of course, runs counter to conventional thinking, as most Americans seem to think the terrorists hate us because we’re free and because we’re Christian and because we allow our women to run around without headscarves. But the truth of the matter is that we were attacked on 9/11 because the US government has for several decades now been murdering and oppressing Muslims throughout the world. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has repeatedly stressed this fact, pointing to such actions as the US sanctions in Iraq (which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children), its stationing of troops in Islamic holy lands, its support of various Muslim-oppressing dictators, and it exploitation of Muslim lands for oil.

If the US government really wanted to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks, it would stop killing and oppressing innocent Muslims overseas and would instead start bringing the troops home.[2]

A radical suggestion, to be sure, and one that few in Washington would take seriously. But why should we expect them to? War, after all, is a racket. At least for them.


[1] As Andrew Bacevich, former U.S. army colonel and now professor of international relations at Boston University, writes, “Offered the right incentives, warlords can accomplish U.S. objectives more effectively and cheaply than Western combat battalions. The basis of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan should therefore become decentralization and outsourcing, offering cash and other emoluments to local leaders who will collaborate with us in keeping terrorists out of their territory.”

[2] Such an action, of course, would buoy many al-Qaeda terrorists. Just as, I imagine, many Lebanese terrorists were buoyed after Ronald Reagan began withdrawing US Marines from Lebanon in 1984. But the Lebanese terrorists, let’s remember, didn’t follow the Marines back to America and in fact haven’t targeted America ever since.

December 15, 2008

Libertarian Anarchism and the Principle of Non-Aggression

[Updated 06/05/09]

Murray Rothbard wrote that libertarian anarchism rests upon the principle of non-aggression, which he defined as the belief that no individual or group of individuals may aggress (that is, use violence or the threat of violence) against the person or property of anyone else. Examples of aggressing against someone’s person include enslaving him, as well as restricting his freedom to speak, publish, and assemble. Examples of aggressing against someone’s property include seizing his property and dictating the manner in which it may be used.[i]

Unfortunately for anarchists, a strong case can be made that the principle of non-aggression is not universally valid. To see why this is so, one merely needs to think of a hypothetical situation that would seem to justify violating the principle. For instance, imagine you’re sitting at a bus stop with a friend. The friend suddenly starts having a diabetic attack and you know that unless you can get him some sugar in the next few minutes he’s going to die. Looking over, you see a woman waiting for the bus, munching on a Snickers bar. You ask if you can have the Snickers to give to your friend. She says no. You plead with her. She says no. You offer to buy the candy bar from her. She still says no. You look back at your friend, who’s quickly nearing death. What do you do?

Well you forcibly take the candy bar. Obviously. Now, of course, it’s impossible to prove that you’re morally justified in taking the candy bar. But then again, as numerous philosophers have shown, it’s impossible to prove that any action is morally justified.[ii] Nonetheless, most of us would agree that we can have knowledge of certain moral principles.[iii] And I think that all of us, or at least most of us, would also agree that you’re morally justified in taking the candy bar.

From this, it follows that there is at least one conceivable situation in which one would be justified in violating the principle of non-aggression. Which of course means that the principle is not universally valid. And this in turn means that libertarian anarchism no longer has an unshakable foundation. Or to put it another way, since an individual can conceivably be justified in aggressing against another person, it’s certainly possible that a group of individuals—and thus a government—can conceivably be justified in aggressing against another group of individuals.

Before we see if there might be another way to justify anarchism, let’s focus a little longer on the principle of non-aggression. Though not universally valid, I think a case can be made that the principle is almost universally valid. For, excluding times one acts in defense, it’s difficult to think of many situations in which one is justified using aggression against someone else’s person or property. For this reason, the principle of non-aggression can be likened to many of our most deeply held moral precepts—for instance, the prohibition against lying. Though there seem to be times when it is morally imperative to lie (for example, Nazis coming to Corrie ten Boom’s front door and asking if she’s hiding any Jews), all of us would hold that, except in rare circumstances, lying is wrong.

Because the principle of non-aggression is almost universally valid, it can be a great tool for anarchists. For the principle can be used to show that almost, though perhaps not every, action undertaken by the state is immoral. As Rothbard writes, if we apply moral standards to everyone, not making exceptions for any individual or any group of individuals, including the state, then we can see that the state is allowed to commit all sort of acts that “even non-libertarians concede are reprehensible crimes. The State habitually commits mass murder, which it calls ‘war,’ or sometimes ‘suppression of subversion’; the State engages in enslavement into its military forces, which it calls ‘conscription’; and it lives and has its being in the practice of forcible theft, which it calls ‘taxation.’”[iv]

So the principle of non-aggression is a tool that can be used to debunk almost everything the state does. Or to change our metaphor, it is a filter that eliminates all, save perhaps minarchist, governments.

It’s still possible to save anarchism, however. For instance, we could argue something like the following: (1) Because human nature is what it is, all governments, even minarchist ones, inevitably become bigger and more intrusive; (2) Anarchism is morally superior to any government bigger and more intrusive than a minarchist one; therefore (3) Anarchism is morally justified. Determining whether this argument is sound, however, will have to wait for another day.


[1] Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (Murray Rothbard, 1973; reprint, Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2006), 27-28.

[2] A proposition is proven to be true when that proposition is inferred from other, pre-established propositions. Therefore, if morality could be proven to be true, all moral propositions would ultimately have to be inferred from other propositions. Needless to say, these other propositions would either have to be moral or non-moral ones. However, it is absurd to say that moral propositions can be ultimately inferred from other moral propositions. For, if we want to avoid an infinite regress of inferences, we must acknowledge that, if moral propositions were ultimately inferred from other moral propositions, then these latter propositions would themselves be unprovable. And, if this were the case, it would follow that morality is ultimately unprovable. And it is impossible to infer moral propositions from non-moral propositions. As Hume put it, it is impossible to infer an ought statement from an is statement. This is so because, in order to infer a conclusion from a set of premises, one must show that the conclusion is already contained in the premises and that merely connecting the premises brings this conclusion to light. For example, the following syllogism is valid because the conclusion is found by simply connecting the premises: (1) Jack stole from Jill; (2) Stealing is wrong; (3) Therefore, Jack’s stealing from Jill was wrong. This next conclusion, on the other hand, is not valid because the conclusion is not contained in the premises: (1) Jack stole from Jill; (2) Jack has brown hair; (3) Therefore, Jack’s stealing from Jill was wrong.

[3] Let me here provide a brief argument for my claim that we can have knowledge of certain moral principles. Let me begin by noting that, just as it’s impossible to prove that any action is morally justified, it’s impossible to prove that we can have knowledge of any moral principle. But this in no way implies that we can’t be epistemically justified in believing such propositions. For there are many propositions that we’re justified in believing even though we can’t prove them: for instance, the proposition, “My senses are generally reliable.” Though most all of us believe this proposition, it’s impossible to prove it. As many philosophers have pointed out, it’s logically possible that you’re just a brain floating in a vat somewhere who is hallucinating the external world.

All the same, philosophers have long contended that people are justified in having a whole host of beliefs that cannot be proven. Such beliefs are generally referred to as basic beliefs. Simply put, a basic belief is a belief that we know to be true even though we cannot prove it to be true. While some basic beliefs can be known with infallible certainty (e.g., “I exist”), others can only be known with a prima facie certainty (e.g., “My senses are generally reliable”) [W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 98]. Many of our traditional moral values, it seems to me, fall in the latter category.

Proof that these values are basic beliefs is that they possess the same essential characteristics as other basic beliefs. Basic beliefs, W. Jay Wood writes, are “the sort of convictions that are universally subscribed to, indispensable for living, beliefs to which we are irresistibly drawn from our earliest moments of our lives and which are rooted in our very psychological natures” [Ibid., 101].

Let me briefly offer two pieces of evidence that at least some of our traditional moral values possess these characteristics. First, many of these values are nearly universally subscribed to. This is the conclusion C.S. Lewis reached after surveying the moral codes of the ancient Egyptians, Jews, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Christians. As he writes, “[T]hough there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great—not nearly so great as most people imagine—and you can recognize the same law running through them all” [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1943; reprint, New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1986), 10]. For instance, “Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked” [Ibid., 5]. Moreover, the anthropological discoveries made over the past hundred years have shown that similar basic moral principles can be found in all cultures. As anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn writes, “Every culture has a concept of murder, distinguishing this from execution, killing in war, and other ‘justified homicides.’ The notions of incest and other regulations upon sexual behavior, the prohibitions upon untruth under defined circumstances, of restitution and reciprocity, of mutual obligations between parents and children—these and many other moral concepts are altogether universal” [Clyde Kluckhohn, “Ethical Relativity: Sic et Non,” Journal of Philosophy, LII (1955); quoted in Louis Pojman, Moral Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1998), 45].

Second, many of our traditional values are principles that humans, beginning at an early age, just can’t seem to disbelieve. One evidence Lewis gives for this is that even those who claim that morality is subjective are unable to actually hold to their subjectivism. As he writes, “He [the subjectivist] may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson” [Lewis, Mere Christianity, 5]. Similarly, those who attempt to reject traditional morality and create their own values reveal that they believe in traditional morality by the fact that the new values they create are derived from traditional morality. A prime example of this is Friedrich Nietzsche, who perhaps came as close as any other philosopher to actually rejecting traditional morality. Although he would have certainly denied it, Nietzsche fervently held to many traditional moral values. For instance, he condemned “Christian morality” by appealing to a number of traditional moral values which he believed Christian morality violated—e.g., he condemned the Christian values of charity, equality, and justice because he believed Christians only preached and practiced these values because they were filled with hatred and resentment towards the “strong,” and because they hoped they could execute revenge on the strong by preaching and practicing these values. Likewise, he seemed to criticize the Christian value of humility because he believed that those who attempted to practice it were generally disingenuous.