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Costs of War

Mises Daily: Sunday, April 11, 1999 by

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Orange County Register
April 11, 1999

U.S.-led airstrikes on Yugoslavia may be cruel, counterproductive and unconstitutional, but there's no shortage of politicians, journalists and intellectuals willing to beat the drums–or at least pound their computer keyboards–for war.

Former liberal peaceniks, morphed into saber-rattling hawks, have joined with neoconservative chest-pounders to promote the idea of America as the eternal meddler–always there to avert a humanitarian crisis, and always willing to kill to defend its "credibility.''

As disgusted as I've been by the carnage and the hypocrisy, I have been heartened by this development: Many independent-minded Americans from the left, center and right have eschewed the jingoism and propaganda and have stood against American airstrikes. Their voices won't be heard on CNN, but you can find them on the Internet in places like Antiwar.com.

Anti-interventionists–mindful that the founding fathers rejected entangling alliances and eschewed foreign wars–may be in the wilderness now, but the strength of their ideas assures their resurgence. When that day comes, people may look back at The Costs of War recently released in its second printing, as having provided the intellectual spark for the movement.

Edited by Ludwig von Mises Institute vice chairman John V. Denson, "Costs"' is a 535-page collection of essays by leading libertarian and paleo-conservative writers. Their focus isn't on the horror of war, but on how much U.S. "victories'' have cost our nation in lost freedom. The basic theme–that war always builds the power of the state–is unassailable. During war time, the U.S. government has encroached on civil liberties, has exacted higher taxes and taken on deeper debt to pay for the machinery of war, and has created emergency measures and bureaucracies that rarely fade away after the conflict is over.

That's why classical liberals, today's libertarians, oppose foreign military excursions. Not out of pacificism–most libertarians believe in taking up arms to defend their homeland against an invasion. But out of the understanding that militarism is at war with the values of a republic, especially when decisions are based on fuzzy concepts ratherthan on actual threats to security.

They also know that imperialistic endeavors go hand in hand with the liberal philosophy, a point made in the book by Justin Raimondo: "(W)hat made possible the overthrow of the old Jeffersonian mindset–at least among the urban intellectuals and the policymaking elite–was the political culture of progressivism: intent on reform, the goal of the progressives was nothing less than reforming the entire human race.''

That certainly rings true with regard to what Madeleine Albright–Madame War, as one Russian leader calls her–told the Brookings Institution last week about the future role of NATO. The "New NATO'' will go hither and yon promoting the ideas of multiculturalism, democracy and progress–at gunpoint if necessary.

Yet, however critical many conservatives have been about how President Clinton has waged war (not ruthlessly enough!), they tend to ignore evidence of how war, and the threat of it, bolsters the big government they claim to decry.

In "Costs,'' Robert Higgs explains how the world wars did as much as the New Deal to transform the republic into Leviathan: "Within three decades, from the outbreak of World War I in Europe to the end of World War II, the American people endured three great national emergencies, during each of which the federal government imposed unprecedented taxation and economic controls and acculated enormous debts. ... The wartime experience, said Calvin Hoover, had `conditioned them to accept a degree of governmental intervention and control after the war which they had deeply resented prior to it.' ''

As President Clinton plunges us more deeply into the Kosovo quagmire, more Americans may come to recognize that pattern. Until then, grab a copy of "The Costs of War'' and remind yourself of why war is the enemy of everything a free people should believe in.

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Steven Greenhut is an editorial page editor at the Orange County Register.

c) copyright 1999 The Orange County Register



See also Anti-war links.