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The Military Option

October 16, 2001

Patriot MissileI told my mother that I do not support military action in Afghanistan and that I absolutely do not support the idea of the draft being reestablished.  My mother paused and said, "That disappoints me . . .  I thought I had raised a patriot."

Hold it right there. I love my country, and if it were to be invaded by a foreign power, I would be the first volunteer to protect it. However, I also believe that the Constitution still matters. Therefore, the first thing I must ask is, "Has Congress proclaimed war on Afghanistan?" The answer is, "no," and that's only the first problem.

The attack on the World Trade Center was carried out by a group of criminals, and, like most others, I agree that the criminals should be brought to justice. Murder is murder; if you commit murder, you must pay the price. Unfortunately, the nineteen people who were certainly involved are all dead, so all attention has turned to getting Osama bin Laden, who stands accused of having masterminded the plot.

But is using the military the way? When the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 to "arrest" Manuel Noriega, 3,000 Panamanian civilians were killed (this is a number that is still hotly disputed by the U.S. State Department, as shocking as that may seem), and it seems our justice in Afghanistan will be little different. A small village and a Red Cross storage house have already been hit. Thank goodness that the bomb that hit the boys' school didn't detonate.

Making matters more confusing, Afghanistan doesn't really have a government. They've been fighting a civil war since the Soviet withdrawal, and now all of the weapons are in the hands of two factions. The faction that controls the largest territory is the Taliban, a group which is an extremely small percentage of the population. 

Think of it this way: if 1000 people are stranded on a deserted island and two of those people have machine guns, who will be the leaders? The civilians may complain at first, but after a few examples have been made, the surviving population will be far more docile. The same applies in Afghanistan.

The majority of the population are plain folks like you and me who just want to make a better living for their families. Now the U.S. is dropping bombs on them.  (For a good, short article on how the average Muslim around the world is not a fanatic, gun-toting American-hater, see the article, The Varieties of Muslim Experience, located on the Jewish World Review Web site.)

In 1993, Ira Einhorn was tried in a Pennsylvania court and convicted in absentia for the 1977 murder of his girlfriend.  Mr. Einhorn had fled to France, which refused to extradite anyone to the U.S. to face the death penalty.  Now I ask, the next time France refuses to extradite a murderer, should we bomb their civilian population? 

Adolf Eichmann, who masterminded the deportation and murder of millions of Jews, deserved to be brought to justice if anyone ever has.  After the Second World War, Eichmann fled to Argentina to hide with his family.  The Israeli government finally located him in 1960 and had the Massad quietly "liberate" him; i.e., they kidnapped him and returned him to Israel for trial.  He was sentenced to death by hanging in 1962. By present U.S. standards, Israel would have been justified in carpet-bombing Buenos Aries unless the Argentine government had quickly complied.  Obviously, it would have been a ridiculous thing for Israel to do, so why are we, the Americans, doing it to the Afghans?

And why are we concentrating on Afghanistan? Well, that's where the now infamous "terrorists training camps" are located. But the Taliban are educated at a special religious school in Pakistan. Why haven't we insisted that Pakistan shut down the Taliban school and hand over the teachers? Could it be because, unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has the bomb?

When I mention my disapproval of military action to some of my friends, they always say, "Don't worry. The military's weapons can take out a chosen target and not disturb a single flower in front of the orphanage next door."

Really? Then why did NATO planes "accidentally" bomb the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo a few years ago? Why did U.S. planes "accidentally" bomb a residential neighborhood in Afghanistan this past weekend, or a Red Cross food storage facility a few days later?

Whenever the military is used, no matter how noble the intentions, civilians die, and I am bitterly opposed to bringing even more misery to an already miserable people. Furthermore, who actually believes that military power will stop terrorism? If the military was all it took to wipe out terrorists, Israel would have long ago shut down the PLO, and Britain would have made Northern Ireland a vacation mecca even before my birth.

A small group of terrorists has done despicable things, and they should be brought to justice.  I'll even volunteer to pull the switch after their trial. But I see absolutely nothing honorable in bombing innocent families (whose only crime is being born in the wrong place) when other options are available. I see nothing patriotic in answering the suffering of our citizens with the suffering of someone else's. 

So yes, I am a Patriot, but I am a patriot who is against the actions of his government, and I am reminded of the last paragraph of George Orwell's Animal Farm:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.


Rob Blackstock teaches economics at Auburn University, and can be reached at MAIL.  See his Mises.org Articles Archive.


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