I recently received a letter from a Libertarian who supports the NATO
war against Serbia.
“I see that the Libertarians are against the ‘war’ (or whatever it
is) in Serbia, lest as ol’ Abe Lincoln did some years ago, the state
would grow. Gladly do I appreciate the fear of a growing state.
“Yet to leave a mad dog such as Milosevic alive after such a butchery
shows a level of callousness that I can not accept and still consider
myself as moral.
“True, there are other places such as the Sudan where we are not
intervening. That absence is no excuse not to intervene somewhere. That
somewhere at present is Serbia. And if nothing is done and Milosevic
keeps his job, that means that in this evolving New World Order, the
institution of government has the acknowledged, if unofficial, right to
butcher its own citizens, to kill ‘we the people.’
“That can not be tolerated: mad dog governments must pay a price,
even if there is a fear of enlarging governments.”
I understand your concerns, but I believe that, in your sympathy for
some people, you’re overlooking many other people — and overlooking the
consequences that would flow from getting what you want.
First, if you believe everything you’ve read about the “butchery” and
“callousness,” and if you feel that your ability to “consider [yourself]
moral” hinges on your doing something, then do it.
But do you consider it moral to condemn to death other people, who
are as innocent as you are, to satisfy your moral outrage? Do you
consider it moral to force Americans who don’t agree with you to pay for
the instruments of death and destruction that are currently raining down
on the guilty and innocent alike in Yugoslavia?
Second, how did you arrive at your understanding of the “butchery”
and “callousness”? Your appraisal necessarily is based mostly on what
has been filtered through the Clinton administration and NATO
Bill Clinton’s reputation for veracity is probably the worst in the
world. This is the man who told you “the era of big government is over”
and “I did not have sex with that woman,” and who made up tales about
church-burnings in his childhood and dozens of other fantasies you’re
probably well acquainted with. Is this the source for your knowledge
about “brutality” and “callousness”?
NATO has violated its own charter by waging war when none of its
member nations has been attacked. So it is under strong pressure to
demonize its enemy — and can hardly be considered a reliable source of
You were told by NATO that it had not bombed a train carrying Kosovar
refugees, that Milosevic himself had done it — but then NATO admitted
it had bombed the train, but claimed that Milosevic had used the
refugees as human shields. And then NATO admitted that everything it
had said was wrong, and that NATO had caused “a tragic accident.” You
were told by NATO that the reason it has caused many innocent people to
die in embassies and civilian installations is because it is using
You were told by NATO that tens of thousands of young men had been
murdered by the Serbs — but, when pressed for evidence, NATO backed up
this claim by saying a pilot had seen a freshly plowed field from
thousands of feet up — a field that NATO, with no further evidence,
declared to be a mass grave.
You were told by NATO that Milosevic has murdered all the leaders of
the Kosovo Liberation Army — but then the Los Angeles Times (May 17)
reported that all the dead leaders were still walking around villages in
Kosovo — and that even the Kosovars discount most of the news of
This isn’t to say that Slobodan Milosevic is really a good guy. He’s
a political thug, like so many world leaders. But what source of
information has caused you to decide that thousands of innocent people
must be put to death in order to make this particular thug pay a price?
Third, have you considered how this war will set a precedent for
The pundits applauded when Harry Truman illegally committed American
troops to fight the Korean War. But that just made it easier for John F.
Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to illegally commit troops to fight in
Vietnam — which made it easier yet for Richard Nixon to illegally bomb
Cambodia, a neutral country. And that made it still easier for George
Bush to commit troops to fight illegally in Iraq.
And these precedents removed all possible restraints on Bill Clinton,
so that he could willy-nilly bomb and kill innocent people in Iraq, the
Sudan, Afghanistan, and now Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Albania.
How easy it will be now for the next president to bomb presumed drug
fields in Mexico — or terrorists supposedly hiding in Canada. Or
perhaps he’ll start a nuclear war with China, based on classified,
non-public information that China is about to invade Taiwan.
Or what happens when China decides some future Branch Davidians are
being oppressed by the American government? On what moral basis could
you argue that China has no right to rain bombs on innocent people in
Texas, in order to make our “mad dog government” pay a price?
Fifth, note something very closely: North Korea remains an apparent
threat almost 50 years after Truman’s bold stroke to involve America in
Korea. North Vietnam won its war against America and today controls all
of Vietnam — despite the death and destruction unleashed by Lyndon
Johnson and Richard Nixon. And in spite of America’s great “victory” in
Iraq, Saddam Hussein remains on the throne there — to be used as a
bogey-man with which our government can threaten its own people. So what
did all those illegal interventions achieve? And what will the illegal
destruction of Yugoslavia achieve?
What I’m asking is simply this: On what basis do you decide that
other people must die in order to satisfy your sense of morality? Isn’t
your morality something that is supposed to govern your conduct,
rather than decide the fate of others?
Statists have always justified “collateral damage” — the killing of
innocent people — by saying, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking
a few eggs.”
But it’s always someone else’s eggs that get broken. And no
matter how many eggs are destroyed, the omelet never materializes.
And thus we have perpetual war for perpetual peace — a peace that is
always promised, but never arrives, no matter how much killing and
killing and killing is justified by the search for peace.
If Slobodan Milosevic truly were threatening America, an American
President could post a reward of, say, $250 million — to be given to
whoever in the world succeeded in assassinating him. But, whatever he
really is, we know one thing for certain: Milosevic isn’t threatening
Your concern for some people entitles you to do — on your own —
whatever you can for those people. But I don’t believe it entitles you
to condemn innocent people to their death — or to force the rest of us
to pay for those executions.
To most people who call themselves libertarians, force is the
last resort for any problem — not the first.