|Montréal, November 10, 2001 / No 92||
by Martin Masse
It seems that all of a sudden, the "war on terrorism" has become less glamorous, and many of those who were telling us a month ago that the future of Western civilization depended on bombing Afghanistan are now having second thoughts.
Polls are showing that support for the military intervention is rapidly
going down in most countries except in the USA. More and more people are
getting impatient and wondering what exactly we are trying to achieve by
killing innocents and destroying their country. The irrational discourse
of the weeks following September 11, when the warmongers were accusing
anybody who was raising doubts about the relevance of a military answer
of siding with the terrorists, now looks like what it really was: an attempt
to silence dissenting voices and impose the official view on everybody.
Even the National Post, Canada's neoconservative voice, seems to have concluded that the market niche for war propaganda rags is fast shrinking and they might as well change the subject. For the first time in weeks, it's starting to look like its old self, with pictures of cute women on the masthead and some relevant news that do not sound like press releases from the Pentagon. On November 8, a huge picture of a sheep (Sheep have remarkable memory and can recognize faces, study says!) dominated the front page. As for the war coverage, we're learning (well, those who had only read the National Post until then learned) that "A month into the campaign in Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly clear the U.S. strategy of relying on Northern Alliance rebels to help topple the Taliban regime is deeply flawed."
That's a beginning. Who knows, maybe its readers will also find out one day that many people believe the strategy of the U.S. of trying to topple the Taliban as a way to get bin Laden and Al-Quaeda is deeply flawed, or that the strategy of the U.S. of trying to fight terrorism through military means is deeply flawed. Informing us is the mission of the media, isn't it? For some reason though, I have yet to read a single article in the Post where it is stated that innocent civilians are being killed in this war.
Anybody with half a brain and some notions of history could see this coming of course, especially in the U.S. where most adults should have some idea of what happened in Vietnam. It is, after all, bureaucrats (and that includes the military brass) who are planning this war, the same subspecies of mankind who are also unable to win the war on drugs, the war on poverty, or the war on potholes, despite having their hands on half the resources we produce.
As the number of innocent casualties is mounting and it becomes harder to deny that they exist, the only "moral" argument left to distinguish our armies and governments from terrorist organizations is that terrorists kill civilians on purpose, whereas we in the West kill them as a sad necessity. We don't enjoy it, we try to avoid it if we can, but too bad, war is war and people will be killed.
If that's not a clear sign of moral bankruptcy, I don't know what is.
I personally don't believe that those who support this war and find the "collateral damage" justified have more moral judgement than a 5-year-old kid who cannot understand why it's bad when he steals the neighbour's toys, just like it's bad when the neighbour steals his. But one question needs to be asked though: are the people who support the bombing – are we all, citizens of the countries that take part in the military action – responsible for the massacres that are being committed in our name?
Society as a monolithic organism
After reading my previous editorial (see WE ARE LOSING THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM, le QL, no 91) where I wrote that collective responsibility is a monstrous collectivist notion, a reader wrote to me that although it is clear the Afghan civilians that are being attacked are in no way responsible for the crime of bin Laden, he believes that American citizens should be held responsible for the massacres that their army is committing right now. Afghan civilians have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda, they don't even have much to do with their own tyrannical Taliban government, whereas American citizens have elected the present U.S. government and they clearly support its actions.
The problem with this way of seeing things is that it confuses society with a monolithic organism and sees democracy as a decision-making process for this collective organism. But democracy – especially large-scale democracy in a jurisdiction like the USA – is nothing of the sort. It is rather a political process by which a coalition of interests representing a majority of the voting population imposes its desires on the minority, thereby legitimizing the autocratic rule of a clique of parasites for a definite period of time.
In our so-called democracies, people elect tyrants for four years on the basis of a potentially infinite number of considerations: foreign policy, economic policy, healthcare policy, law and order policy, education policy, cultural policy, appealing look of the candidate, whatever. When these people have been elected, they can almost do whatever they want. If they need more money to intervene in any matter, they simply raise taxes. We've seen in the past decades that there are almost no limits to that. Constitutional safeguards, which used to impose some constraints, are not even relevant anymore. Most of what the federal governments in Washington and Ottawa do, like getting involved in education and health and in all kinds of matters that are supposed to be left to local jurisdictions, is unconstitutional. The U.S. Congress, which has sole authority to declare war, has not done so in the present conflict, but it goes on nonetheless. New "anti-terrorism" laws are being voted that will further curtail the rights and freedom that are supposed to be guaranteed in the constitution. When most of the politico-bureaucratic apparatus of power is colluding to achieve the same ends, there is very little ordinary citizens can do to stop it.
It is true that surveys now tell us that an overwhelming majority of Americans are behind their government in this war. But tacit approval or moral support is not the same as responsibility strictly defined. Being responsible means having a part to play in the decision-making process, with full knowledge of what's going on, and actively supporting the decision. Apart from the politicians, Pentagon bureaucrats and generals who are pulling the strings, no American citizen has any direct role to play in the conduct of this conflict. Ordinary citizens are no more responsible for the killing in Afghanistan than they're "sharing" with the poor when their government steals money from their pockets to redistribute it through welfare programs, even though they may approve of these programs.
Can we imagine a situation though where collective responsibility would indeed be a relevant concept? Yes we can.
The anarcho-capitalist solution
Let's say defense is not a public monopoly anymore but rather a privately supplied service and that we have to pay companies that compete among themselves to offer us this service, just like we do with the telephone. After an attack like 9-11 (that is, if we assume that such an attack could have happened in such a context, which is not likely the case as will be shown below), companies protecting New Yorkers and other threatened citizens of the North American continent would have to find an efficient way to catch the perpetrators and seize their assets to compensate the family of the victims. They would need to do this as efficiently as possible (meaning: get the most results at the lowest costs) because they would not have infinite resources to devote to this. Their clients might not be ready to cough up the one billion dollars a month that the war in Afghanistan is now costing. And if they were not satisfied with the "quality" of the service, they could always decide to switch and subscribe to another defense service, one offered by a company that seems to be getting better results.
Individuals would thus be free to choose the kind of strategy that they prefer and shun those they don't agree with, they would actively support this strategy with their own money, and would certainly have a lot more relevant information in this free defense market about what is really going on than they get today from government spin doctors and war propaganda rags.
If, in such a situation, a group of customers voluntary and with full knowledge of the situation decided to support and fund a service whose strategy was to bomb innocent civilians, then, yes, all these customers would fully and collectively be responsible for these massacres and might have to pay for it one day. Paradoxically enough, collective responsibility can only exist when individuals are perfectly free, because it is only in that context that they are in full control of their person and their property, and can thus be held totally accountable for what they decide to do with it. In that context, "collective" would not mean of course that someone shares reponsibility because he is part of a group, no matter what he has done personally, but rather that a group of people are each individually responsible for something they are doing together.
This is not pure speculation, it is in fact the solution that anarcho-capitalist libertarians (those who want to totally eliminate the state, as opposed to keeping a small state with control over defense, justice and a few other items) propose as a private alternative to state provided defense (see Hans-Hermann Hoppe, "The Private Production of Defense", Journal of Libertarian Studies, 14:1 (Winter 1998-1999), p. 27-52)
It is very likely that such a setting would have prevented events such as those of September 11. There would have been no government of the USA intervening in the affairs of other states and creating resentment among the population of various countries as it is doing and has been doing for decades. There would thus be no point, from the perspective of the terrorists, in attacking a territory governed by no offending government. Here is how Murray Rothbard describes the logic of anarcho-capitalist defense:
(...) wars result from conflicts between nation-states, each armed to the teeth, each direly suspicious of attack by the other. But a libertarian America would clearly not be a threat to anyone, not because it had no arms but because it would be dedicated to no aggression against anyone, or against any country. Being no longer a nation-state, which is inherently threatening, there would be little chance of any country attacking us. One of the great evils of the nation-state is that each State is able to identify all of its subjects with itself, hence in any inter-State war, the innocent civilians, the subjects of each country, are subject to aggression from the enemy State. But in a libertarian society there would be no such identification, and hence very little chance of such a devastating war.The collectivist identification of ordinary citizens with their state – in other words, the nationalization of people – is what justifies attacks against innocent civilians. It's also what legitimizes government's conscription of young men to send them to their deaths not for the defense of their family, their community or their country as we are led to believe – the U.S. and Canadian governments are constantly intervening in foreign conflicts that in no way threaten the security of our continent –, but in the pursuit of the strategic objectives of the statocrats. War is the health of the state, and the existence of the state, especially of large and powerful states, is the fuel that drives aggression. These two exist in symbiosis.
We are not likely to see states disappear any time soon. But if we at least went back to the limited and non-interventionist governments we had in North America until the late 19th century (until the War with Spain in the U.S. and the Boer War in Canada), we could prevent a lot of bloodshed and decrease the likelihood that major wars will happen.
To conclude, no, we are not directly responsible for the massacres in Afghanistan and elsewhere committed in our name; the criminals who control the state apparatus are. But it would be too easy to conclude from this that it's none of our business and we should not care about it. Our governments' actions are endangering our own lives and pure self-interest should command us to oppose them. And it is certainly our moral duty to do whatever we can to resist and stop them from continuing these massacres and, in the longer-term, to eliminate their power to do it.
Le Québec libre des
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