The Joy of Looting
Public and social authority having collapsed in Iraq, property was suddenly unprotected and available for the taking. Swept up in the euphoria of the moment, everything in sight was seized.
I speak not of the mobs in
No, I refer to scenes in the oil city of
Who will end up with the loot? It's hard to say who, but it's easy to know under whose authority the assets will be divided. As the Washington Post reports, "While France and other United Nations members say Iraq's oil production should remain under U.N. control, the Bush administration wants new Iraqi leaders to take charge of oil sales and development as quickly as possible."
Moreover, the paper adds, "It might be possible for the
The foreign press was appalled that the
"I can't tell if they like us or if they are just happy they have been able to loot all that stuff," one unnamed colonel told the New York Times. Only one brave soldier, Corporal Bryon Adcox of the Seventh Marine Regiment, was willing to go on record. "A few hours ago, they were shooting at us, now they are having a party," Corporal Adcox said. "Are they truly happy we are here?"
In any case, what the civilian looters took pales in comparison to what the coalition forces have at stake. Of course, we are assured that the forthcoming oil revenue will be used to rebuild
No matter what figures are being tossed around today, everyone knows it will require lots more to fix and repair what the
Not all looting in the postwar environment is the subject of dramatic pictures on television. Next week, U.S. taxes are due. The
But doesn't all talk of the spoils of war take away from the celebration of new-found Iraqi freedom? Ah, the joy of toppling statues of government officials! Here is a libertarian impulse at work. The desire to overthrow the regime is a wonderful instinct, as is the joy that comes when one falls. The
Alas, this was not a case of a regime collapsing in the same way East European dictatorships collapsed at the end of the Cold War. What we have here is a case of the bigger fish eating the smaller fish—one large invading state employing large machines to crush a small state with only small machines to defend itself. Ten years ago, the
To celebrate the victory of a mightily armed imperial power over a small despotism is not a libertarian impulse. From under the rubble of buildings demolished by bombs, the corpses of tens of thousands of dead, the billions and billions spent by government, and the whole world impressed at the effectiveness of raw power, symbolized by millions of Americans raising their fists in the air at this equivalent of the ancient Roman games, we can detect some very bad omens for the future.
Victory celebrations are inevitable but dangerous. They rejoice in destruction, not creation, cheer violence, not cooperation, herald the doings of mass armies, not the creativity of individuals, and glorify the actions of bureaucrats and politicians, not the productivity of society and enterprise.
Waging war is no greater achievement than any other act of destruction. It involves a government grabbing as much as it can get from its own population through taxes and borrowing and inflation, turning those resources into machines that kill and wreck, and then unleashing those machines on an enemy country.
Governments may not be able to create wealth—which is why socialism cannot work—but they can destroy it, which is why wars do work. Bombs, built on the backs of taxpayers, destroy not just military targets but the products of genuine human creativity: houses, markets, restaurants, schools, and hospitals. Take this model far enough and you can wreck the whole world. For this reason, the wars of the nation-state, even if just and necessary, should never be celebrated.
Successful wars send the message that our freedoms are secured only by armed agents of central power, and many are tempted to cede control of their lives to the executive state that prosecuted the war. We look to the top for leadership, which in the aftermath of an easy victory, is punch drunk with power. Already, we see every high official citing the alleged achievements of war as a basis for trusting the government to provide for us in every way. If we can overthrow Saddam, it is said, surely we can overthrow illiteracy, poverty, sadness, and social dysfunction right here at home! Clear the way for the total state.
As the warmongers cheer not only the war and its destruction and death, but also the new D.C.-run military dictatorship being set up in