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All That Is Necessary for Evil to Triumph
The air was filled with dust and the building footprints were still smoking hot. The scene was framed by twisted beams and burnt and beaten buildings. Scattered atop the hills of metal and debris, rescue workers worked diligently to find survivors. Below us lay the ruined bodies of thousands of lost innocent victims, and we were helpless to do anything for them at that point….
Many individuals around the world have learned that only by interacting peacefully can we achieve a more harmonious, prosperous, healthy, fair and tolerant society, that our lives on this planet can be far better. People universally oppose acts of aggression, theft, and fraud when committed by individuals. We accept the principle that the initiation of physical force against others is illegitimate, immoral, and may rightly be defended against. For the most part, we also insist that organizations of individuals, such as corporations, also abide by this natural tenet.
When it comes to state aggression, however, especially that wrought by democratic governments, the perspective for many can change. Individuals too often excuse the state when it harms innocent individuals. This may be because they feel powerless to effect change or uninformed, preferring to defer to those more knowledgeable. They may possess cultivated feelings of nationalism and exceptionalism; expectations of benevolence and altruism in state officials; fears of attack, fostered by interventionist propaganda and complicit mainstream media; yearnings for conformity; or just a willingness to harm, burden or restrict others, in the expectation of benefit to ends and causes they themselves consider to be good ones. Thus, when our governments act as aggressors rather than protectors of human rights, many individuals remain silent.
This is an unfortunate root problem, since government actors are responsible for the greatest measure (by several orders of magnitude) of violence, coercion, and harm done to innocent individuals, both today and throughout human history. These state officials rule, by either might, divine right, or the consent of the governed. What’s more, many government interventions, even those well-intentioned, lead to perverse incentives, which usually have a way of turning would-be cooperative participants into adversaries, as members of groups seeking unfair advantage for themselves and restrictions on others. Such aggression has unbalanced and disharmonized us in various ways. This state aggression is vastly important to everyone, as individuals around the planet are being impoverished, robbed, ripped off, maimed, and murdered.
The universal goal of the people in my profession is: First Do No Harm. As an emergency physician, my goal is to advise people on how to make the most appropriate medical decisions for themselves. I consider the risk-benefit ratio of every diagnostic test and therapy. I use my understanding of medicine to avoid harming my patients. Similarly, if we are going to commune by the use of government, then First Do No Harm needs to be our prime directive. We ought to use government power to protect the life and liberty of individuals, rather than as a weapon against the innocent.
Sometimes I think I’d prefer to be blissfully unaware and go on enjoying my pleasant life, without giving state intervention a second thought. Even if I had no empathy for the violations of humans at home and abroad, I’d have to be aware that inevitably the unchecked offenses done to me and my loved ones would exceed my tolerance. It’s been rightly proclaimed that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
I feel as the civil disobedient Mohandas Gandhi did when he said, “If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake, from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” Historically as well as currently, dissenters have been bullied and silenced, and purposefully mischaracterized by interventionists with low tolerance for resistance. Since most public policies are coercive, it’s right they be debated, and for dissenters and victims to voice their objections. May they be indefatigable in their objections, regardless of how they are treated. The policies most often detrimental and overreaching are foreign policy, military interventionism, and civil liberties infringements.
So many individuals with whom I interact are uninformed about much of governments’ interventionism and its adverse effects. Maybe this is why such unjust violence is allowed to persist. This provides the impetus for this volume, and for my inviting knowledgeable individuals to contribute to it. After all, governments ultimately rule by the consent of the governed. If we really want to strike at the root and save humans from violent, aggressive force, allowing for greater peace and prosperity, we must withdraw our consent to it, and work actively against state violence.
Contributors from around the world — victims, witnesses, soldiers and military officers, former state officials, political prisoners, journalists, lawyers, civil disobedients, activists, economists, aid workers, epidemiologists, and others — have shared their personal experiences with military intervention and police state abuses, along with the understandings each has reached regarding the harms and adverse effects (both universal and individual) of such interventions. These diverse dissenters, from many corners of the world and different walks of life, explain here why they have embraced peace and believe non-intervention and human rights is the just course. Although they undoubtedly hold varying, perhaps even contradictory, opinions on some public policies (and you’ll read and recognize some of them), what they share here are their objections to the most harmful ones. Some promote radical positions (radically peaceful) that are as worthy of consideration and discussion as they are thoughtful, intelligent, and perhaps even universally beneficial.
For me, my story was almost over before it began. In 1964, my father, knowing he would soon be drafted against his will into the U.S. Army, decided to join the New York Army National Guard, in the hopes that this would keep him from being forced to go to Vietnam and fight a war he opposed. He was in the 105th field artillery of the 42nd infantry division (Rainbow Division) in New York City.
My father had no interest in soldiering. In fact, some of my fondest memories of childhood were begging him during family road trips to retell the hilarious stories of his mishaps during his military training. I loved the way he told these stories, always laughing and with a look that expressed some of the absurdity of his situation.
Let me share a few:
One Sunday at Camp Smith my father was sunning himself on a rock, rather than participating in worship, although the rule was if you didn’t worship than you were supposed to be working. A sergeant approached him and said something along the lines of, “Guttman, why aren’t you in religious services?” My father informed him that he was in fact a sun-worshiper and wished to be left to worship, to which he was told, “As you were.” (Unfortunately, this dodge only worked the one time.)
On another occasion at Camp Drum my father answered a ringing phone he was walking past, “Camp Morgue. You kill ‘em, we chill ‘em.”
The incredulous voice on the other end of the line inquired angrily, “Do you know who this is?”
“This is Col. ______,” responded the commander of Camp Drum who would, my father thought, likely make his life truly miserable for his crack.
“Do you know who this is?” my frightened father responded with false bravado.
“Good!” and he hung up.
While shooting at Fort Dix, my father’s arms were too short to achieve a correct cheek-to-stock weld with his rifle, so an officer gave him an ornately decorated award rifle of his own that was easier for Dad to handle. As he walked through the firing range, he felt the other men’s eyes on him and his special gun. They assumed him to be an expert marksman, but he soon disappointed them in comical fashion. In a similar incident, my father’s face mask was too big for his face while he was being exposed to some noxious gas. His face burning, he ran from the area. Blinded, he ripped off his mask and yelled, “Shit!” He heard an officer respond wryly, “Don’t you mean ‘Shit, Sir’?”
You can see my father wanted no part of being a soldier. He was assigned as company clerk, which was in fact a dangerous job in Vietnam, as clerks often needed to transport messages and often got killed. However, some tragic fateful events in Harlem changed his life … and allowed for mine.
On July 16, 1964, a 15-year-old black boy, James Powell, alleged to be engaged in horseplay with friends in Harlem, was shot and killed by a New York City police officer, Lt. Thomas Gilligan. Gilligan alleged the boy had lunged at him with a knife. A planned peaceful civil rights rally that day quickly turned into a police-brutality protest, as news of the awful incident spread. Protesters marched on Harlem’s 28th Police Precinct, demanding the dismissal and prosecution of Gilligan. Police charged the protesters, which incited violent retaliation from the crowd. For five days, there were scattered incidents of skirmishes between citizens and police officers. Meanwhile, some other civilians seized the opportunity to loot and vandalize.
The 42nd infantry was put on alert. Because of this incident and the expectation of more civil unrest, my father’s division (which at the time was on yellow [standby] alert to go to Vietnam) had their mission changed. They were to remain in the States and be trained in riot control. My dad survived the Vietnam War, and never had to be in harm’s way nor be ordered to harm others. He went on to become a very well-liked teacher in the Bronx, N.Y., for 34 years, and he, along with my mother, a nurse, were shining examples to me and my brothers of good individuals who treated others well.
However, let’s consider “riot” control. The men in my father’s unit were trained to control individuals who were protesting, most often peacefully, against perceived injustices in government policies, one of which was the impression, though disputed, that black individuals were being drafted into the army at a disproportionate rate, compared to white individuals. It was later, on May 4, 1970 at Kent State, that Ohio National Guardsmen would fire 67 rounds at unarmed college students who were peacefully expressing their disapproval of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, killing four protesters and observers and wounding nine others, even paralyzing one of them.
While growing up, I was taught in school about tyrannical governments from long ago, the not-so-distant past, and the present — governments that aggressed against individuals in their own lands as well as abroad. I learned of the oppression and violence of European and Asian empires, of colonialism, of modern day European fascist governments, and of the Asian communist governments and the hundreds of millions of innocent individuals they murdered and incarcerated.
But at the same time I was also being taught, by way of countless examples, however spun and inaccurate, that Western democracies were exceptions to this. The colonists in North America, I learned, created the U.S. federal government to protect their natural human rights and supposedly restrained it from “mischief” — from harming any individual in the world — with the “chains” of the Constitution. I was also taught that the U.S. government, exclusively, was the greatest protector of justice and righteousness the world had known, as if human evolution had naturally led us to this safeguarding institution. Finally, I was taught that it was the responsibility of American citizens to share the wealth they create with the government, so it may maintain a massive military force. Furthermore, this superpower was not there just to protect Americans and any freedoms we were allowed to enjoy, but also to intervene overseas whenever necessary, to protect human rights from the intrusions of those other nondemocratic states.
Perhaps thanks to the peace movement of the 1960s and ’70s that I had also learned a bit about, I held some skepticism that U.S. government militarism was always about justice, and never for such nefarious reasons and special interests as empire and corporatism. Over the years, I have come to understand that regardless of the true motivations of government actors, their interventions are most often unjust and harmful.
Going well beyond matters of defense — whether in the interest of aiding others, making resources available to themselves or protecting private industries’ interests — countries adopt aggressive foreign policies, intervening with neither a moral justification nor any reasonable authority. Military interventions have caused the upheaval and destruction of the lives of so many millions of families. Studying world history makes it clear that aggression begets aggression and blowback. Despite popular arguments to the contrary, war nearly always impoverishes most everyone, except of course those trading in the war industry.
In the 4th grade (where ironically our teacher leaned heavily authoritarian in her interactions with us), we had a unit on civics. We students were encouraged to run for a few created classroom offices: judge, police officer, legislators, etc. I ran for police officer, and won the office. The classmates’ elected legislators then created laws that the students were expected to obey.
One law passed was that students were not allowed to talk when in line to exit the classroom at the end of the day. It’s interesting that students would impose this restriction on themselves, but we were kids excited about playing our new game of making and enforcing laws. We were following our teacher’s instructions. We were also mimicking the world in which we were being brought up, with our strict teacher and the restrictions we saw around us every day, both in and out of school. We were also finding out the truth: once individuals have power over others, they will often use it to restrain or burden them.
The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment was a controversial study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Student volunteers were assigned to play either of the two roles. The guards quickly began to display authoritarian behavior, and even harmed some of the prisoners. Many of the prisoners passively accepted this physical abuse, and some even readily followed orders by the guards to inflict punishment on other prisoners who attempted to stop it. Because of this, the experiment was abruptly terminated in just six days.
Although it seems silly to bring up here, my lesson has stuck, and it may be illustrative. Although the officers in my 4th grade class didn’t follow the imposed rules themselves, I was eager to play, and cited two girls in my class for talking in line. Immediately, though, I felt uncomfortable and regretted it. The next day the girls had their trial, and I stood witness to my accusations.
I felt incredibly embarrassed, but lacked the courage to tell the “court” and the classroom that the girls, even though they had broken the new classroom law, had done nothing wrong and had neither harmed nor bothered anyone. The girls admitted their guilt and received some “fair” punishment, yet the injustice of it really bothered me at the time.
We all have grown accustomed to restrictions put in place by other humans. (I still cringe whenever my school-aged daughter asks me “Are we allowed?” when I suggest we do some fun activity.)
Two decades before the Stanford experiments, the Asch conformity studies, whose results were published in the 1950s, demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. Participants were asked to respond to questions about printed lines on cards presented by the experimenters with fairly obvious differences visible. At times, plants in the study would purposefully give incorrect answers when asked the questions. When more than two plants answered incorrectly, many of the unwitting other participants would conform, and also give the incorrect answer. This interesting study showed how people will go along with something obviously wrong, for the comfort of not standing against the consensus.
I was thirteen during the Iran-Contra hearings and had little idea of what was going on. I understood that officials in the Reagan administration were being investigated for illegal covert operations, somehow involving American hostages in Iran and conflict with anti-government forces in Central America. Several years later, I also learned of the context: the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh (orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and U.K.), and the installation of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the leader of Iran. The shah would of course then be friendly to U.S. government interests (including those of U.S. and British oil companies), while running roughshod over Iranians and their rights. The 1979 Iranian Revolution then deposed the shah and replaced the pro-Western royal dictatorship with the largely anti-Western Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iran hostage crisis would follow, rather naturally.
Meanwhile, I was faintly aware of U.S. military operations in Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama as they passed through the headlines and into history.
I remember the abundant yellow ribbons around neighborhood trees during the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, and I accepted without much consideration that it was legitimate for the U.S. government to send U.S. soldiers to protect Kuwaitis from the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. I don’t think I was aware at the time of the sanctions against Iraq that were initiated then, but I learned some years later of the many Iraqis who suffered horribly and unnecessarily, because of them, until the Iraq invasion in 2003.
Again, still a teenager when the U.S. government intervened during the war in Bosnia, I did not educate myself to any significant degree about the conflict or the rationale for U.S. involvement, but I was resistant to U.S. efforts in nation-building.
For me, like most people, as an easygoing, younger adult, I took little interest in politics. I would much rather be backpacking or snowboarding than discussing public policy, let alone trying to convince anyone of anything. Government and politics had little to do with me, and I never thought to want anything to do with it. Little did I know….
My lessons really began when I was most free. At 21, I had graduated college, and was for the first time self-sufficient. Soon after my final exams, I traveled on a one-way ticket to Africa and solo-backpacked through a dozen countries for half a year. It was easy for me to feel liberated and inspired while hitchhiking through sub-Saharan Africa, where you can often pitch a tent right where you stand, or purchase meat from anyone on the street; on the ground, few rules seemed to exist. At least they didn’t seem to exist for me, since I had no plans to prosper in Africa. Rather, I felt confident, self-aware, and excited. I enjoyed my experiences and the pleasant way and easy smiles of the Africans I met along the way.
Unfortunately, Africa is not a land of freedom in many important ways. For the most part, individual Africans have few rights to be defended against the might of government or the whims of local strongmen and bureaucrats. Many African countries have brutal histories of war, slavery, and oppression. Governments seem often an obstruction to people’s prosperity. I was not savvy enough at the time to inquire about details, but I do remember talks with local people trying to get businesses going, and facing impenetrable bureaucracy, graft and bribery, as well as prohibitive costs and regulations.
A few times, I sensed a fear of government. I remember a Zimbabwean man grabbing my shoulder, alerting me not to move as President Robert Mugabe’s motorcade rode past in Harare, because I would risk being shot at by his military. I was also not allowed to pass into Rwanda, because fleeing refugees were flooding in from warring Zaire. While hiking on the border between Zaire and Uganda, I was turned back by my local guide, because of evidence of violence in the area. I was later told that a nearby village had been burned in a civil-war-related incident.
It was during this time traveling — a time of seemingly endless leisure and adventure, free of the rigors and structure of school and study — that my mind unfastened, and I became starkly aware of it all. It occurred to me that for the first time I was having original, thoughtful ideas. I gained some perspective and learned a sense of the value of self-ownership and awareness. I also found a new interest in learning.
Once I got home, while talking with my older brother, Evan, I shared some of my budding ideas. He thought to introduce me to the writings of Harry Browne. Browne expertly explains why the nonaggression principle, peaceful voluntary interaction, is as universally beneficial with regard to public policy as it is in all other human relations. In reading his works, I learned a more detailed and evenhanded story of U.S. history. This knowledge was enhanced by reading such revisionist historians as Thomas Woods, Thomas DiLorenzo, and others. I saw that the U.S. Constitution was not sufficient in binding the new government as many of the framers had intended, as it had not taken long for its members to impose the same oppressions as those of the thrown-off British crown and Parliament.
These injustices would, unfortunately for so many, go much further. I realized that, in particular, not only were the bombings of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki reprehensible acts, they were also unnecessary. Browne’s writings also criticized the U.S. government’s intrusive foreign policies and our numerous military bases overseas. They clearly explained why so many of those who were occupied objected. I came to understand the wrongs and harms of the U.S. government interventions in North America and overseas, actions I had once been taught were just, and necessary to human peace and prosperity.
One of the greatest benefits of my medical training and practice has been the vast amount of interaction I have had with individuals from all walks of life and cultures, as both patients and staff. Training in New York City and places far from there around the western U.S., including Alaska, as well as in India, has enhanced this exposure. This has only amplified my empathy for and connection to others.
Interspersed within my training and since, I have enjoyed other backpacking trips through North, Central, and South America, India, Nepal, Tibet, and the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. Perhaps, it was also my interaction with individuals in these places and other travelers along the way that has allowed me to appreciate the universal humanity of everyone everywhere, that Americans are no more exceptional, no better or worse, than other individuals across the globe, and that it makes little sense to conflate countries and the people who live there with their governments.
So, when individuals are killed by bombs halfway around the world, I feel no less sadness than when murderers flew planes into the Towers in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, and those buildings collapsed, and those innocent individuals died. It always surprises me how upset some individuals are and how indignant they become when their countrymen suffer, but how they can then be overwhelmingly indifferent to the suffering of others elsewhere. I appreciate the immoral equivalence of aggression, regardless of who initiates it, that too many people reject.
On 9/11, I was working in an emergency room in Harlem. As soon as the second plane hit, we went into our disaster/mass-casualty plan, while trying to suppress our own intense emotions. We were amped and focused for the next several hours. Unfortunately, there were not many walking wounded for us to treat, due to the overwhelming forces of impact, fire, and structure collapse that had killed everyone unable to escape the buildings. I spent that day caring for firemen, police-officers and some others who had inhaled dust. I made time to call my family, to let them know I was well, and to try consoling a scared friend whose husband, a fireman, had called her from Ground Zero. (Unlike many of his colleagues and friends, he was fortunate to survive, and we still have him with us.)
At the end of my thirteen-hour shift that evening, reluctant to use the subway system, I walked the four miles from Harlem to East 24th street, where I lived, and went to sleep immediately. The next morning, I walked to a nearby hospital, where I also worked, wearing my hospital credentials; along with other physicians, I rode an ambulance to Ground Zero to volunteer with the rescue effort.
The air was still filled with dust and the building footprints were still smoking hot. The scene was framed by twisted beams and burnt and beaten buildings. Scattered atop the hills of metal and debris, rescue workers worked diligently to find survivors. On our arrival, someone was found alive underground. I saw him or her carried on a backboard to an ambulance, and was enthusiastic that there was still help that could be provided.
Someone enlisted me to set up a breathing treatment station, to provide oxygen and nebulizer treatments to rescue workers suffering with bronchospasm. For a short time, someone asked me to mark on a diagram and tag where rescue workers had found body parts that were handed to me in dark plastic bags. Other than that, there was very little I was able to do to help.
That night, at a friend’s apartment, I was finally able to see footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center and hear eye-witness accounts. Over the next several weeks, I would read newspapers on the subway while commuting to work. They told the stories of victims and their loved ones. It was heart-breaking, and I would arrive at work each day teary-eyed and torn up.
It was an emotional time. The U.S. President was making a case for national threats and a needed “War on Terrorism.” I also read some very wise words, from Harry Browne, warning us against the danger of military interventions. Some other prominent libertarians were making the case for going after the individual accomplices to this criminal and murderous act; however, like Browne, they also rejected military mobilizations to Afghanistan.
I fully admit that I questioned my pretenses and debated with myself. National Defense is a legitimate function of government, and I wondered at the time whether military intervention might be the right path. I even contacted some military recruiters to talk about possible enrollment, wanting to do my part by taking care of soldiers overseas, once my emergency medicine training would be complete in a couple of years. (I later decided against this).
The explanations of George W. Bush and Colin Powell, about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s possibly using them against innocents, concerned me. Hussein had already a decade earlier invaded Kuwait; might he harm more people now? I felt that if they could make a credible case of there being an immediate threat, then preemptive intervention might be appropriate. My good friend, John Calone, surprised by my contemplations, argued with me vehemently, pleading with me not to accept this farce, and his words got me re-oriented.
Of course, we know that a credible case for an imminent threat was never made, and no such weapons were found after the invasion. In the light of truth and clarity, it is clear that Iraq posed no threat, that the war on Iraqis has been offensive rather than defensive, and that the global War on Terror, which the government claims encompasses a global battlefield, has only been counterproductive, killing innocent individuals, and creating more new enemies. Insurgents trying to protect their homes and families are not terrorists. (What’s more, John made the case that the U.S. government has no moral authority to intervene, regardless of what weapons another government may produce or procure.)
Since 9-11 (which was itself a response to U.S. government military activities over several decades, according to the words of the alleged conspirators and the intelligence officers who analyzed them) the U.S. government has waged war on several fronts, vastly expanded the surveillance state at home, and infringed on many of our civil liberties, including incarcerating thousands of individuals without trial, even to this day. Like so many of my generation, this has been my time of greatest insight and awareness of U.S. government actions. Antiwar.com, and Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and his terrific guests, have been the most helpful sources in enlightening me to the reality of world events.
I can understand how an individual might, out of fear, accept the government’s argument for military interventions, and even preemptive wars. History, reason and knowledge refute these policies. The U.S. War on Terror on several fronts over the last decade was the final piece of the puzzle, causing me to deeply consider the morality, and reject the legitimacy of two centuries of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.
During the U.S. presidential campaign in 2008, there seemed to be no significant difference between Barack Obama and John McCain, on either domestic or foreign policy issues. Though I didn’t vote for either of them, I had some hope that Obama might intervene less overseas were he to win. In the first few months of his presidency, Obama condemned torture and detention without due process, and talked less tough on the U.S. government’s overseas ambitions. I conceded to some of my friends who had supported him that Obama was off to a good start.
Soon enough, though, his rhetoric proved hollow. President Obama’s policies have been as harmful as his predecessor’s were to individual rights and the security of ourselves, our soldiers, and the unfortunate communities overseas they harm. He has continued George Bush’s policy of detaining prisoners without due process, and of extraditing our military prisoners to other governments to be tortured by them. He has supported extending the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; continued warrantless spying programs, secret prisons, and invasive Transportation Security Administration body searches; maintained the Military Commissions Act; and has even claimed an executive right to assassinate anyone in the world who he determines to be an enemy combatant. What’s more, he has even executed that power. These policies infringe on our rights to due process and to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The U.S. government continues to war in Iraq and to build large military bases there, guaranteeing our long-term occupation. Though the administration claims to be withdrawing from that country, the U.S. military will still hold a strong presence there, as they increase forces in nearby countries. Obama has bombed Pakistanis and Yemenis, escalated the war in Afghanistan, engaged the U.S. military in Libya, even without congressional approval, and worsened the situation with Iran — misinforming the world that Iranians are working on a secret nuclear program, despite knowing Iran had already reported the program to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. It also appears we are on the verge of placing more sanctions on Iran’s citizens, harming more innocent people and creating more enemies. That Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize suggests that George Orwell’s doublespeak in 1984 is now real: “War is Peace.”
According to the War Resisters League, current military spending makes up 36 percent of federal government spending. Another 18 percent they report is for veterans’ benefits and interest payments on the national debt, which the League contends only exists because of our military spending.
Joseph Sobran was right, “War is just one more big government program,” the biggest by far, as well as a massive industry. Contrary to claims in history textbooks, war creates no wealth. It is only destructive. Military planes, boats, tanks, bombs, trucks, guns, and bullets add nothing to our quality of life, not to forget the destroyed homes, buildings, streets, bridges, and the individuals lost and families ruined. War is the greatest and saddest waste of our resources.
Military spending is an opportunity-cost that detracts from our wealth. It is wealth that enables us to educate ourselves and our children, provide for our health care and safety, nourish ourselves with healthy foods, protect our environment, aid others, and engage in the activities in which we delight.
Being naturally tolerant and optimistic, I prefer not to be a detractor, but this evil will indeed continue to triumph if good men and women do nothing. A supposed Chinese curse says may you live in interesting times. Well, the 21st century has so far not disappointed with depressed economies, wars overseas, and authoritarianism and cronyism at home. But we can make these curses into blessings. There has already been a stiff shift in public opinion and conventional wisdom and massive grassroots movements to activism. Governments surely derive their power from the consent of the governed, and the governed lately (around the planet) are expressing their disapproval en masse. More and more individuals today understand and oppose state aggression.
Historically, though, thousands of brave citizens have refused to pay taxes, so as not to support what they believe are immoral actions by our government. Tax resistance has again increased in popularity over the last decade, with many protesting the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.
Peace-activist heroes throughout history have participated in this type of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau was imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes as a protest against the American war on Mexico, as well as against slavery. Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent protests included resistance to the British Salt Tax. He publicly boiled a pan of seawater, illegally producing salt. His action encouraged Indians to disobey the British authority and produce their own salt, rather than purchase it from the British monopoly and pay the excessive taxes. Tens-of-thousands of Indians were incarcerated. Britain’s control of the colony weakened as their injustices were made more visible. Gandhi was following in the tradition of American revolutionaries like John Hancock, a successful merchant, big-time smuggler and tax protester, and flamboyant signer of the Declaration of Independence.
My experience and study has led me to a position of non-intervention. For me, accepting the nonaggression principle, I believe that individuals and groups have the right to defend themselves from aggression. While at times defensive force may be necessary, I also believe that at times nonviolent disobedience and dissent, like that taught by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., can lead to more favorable results.
To many of us dissenters, positive ends are not justified, nor are they even achievable, by aggressive means. Most people could go along with governments intervening in cases of indisputable public goods. National security may be such a case, but it may not, for example, be gained at the expense of individuals’ rights to due process and privacy.
In the end, is not the burden of proof on the proponents of an intrusive policy? They need prove that there is some incontrovertible public good being protected or provided, as good reason for their infringing on other humans. More than that, shouldn’t we reject the government putting military personnel at risk in calamitous circumstances and asking them to engage in war, unless there is a clear-cut necessity?
Government is the only entity with a monopoly on relatively legitimate force, which is why it is prudent to be vigilant in our watchfulness and restraint. Not everyone accepts that governments consist of only disinterested parties endeavoring for peace and justice.
Ending government wars and protecting human rights are positions so basic, universal, and important to human wellness, fairness, peace and prosperity, most individuals will agree upon doing so, and on how we ought to unite to effect positive change. By ending aggression by states, we can stop this cycle of violence for future generations.
To help demonstrate the philosophy, morality, and universal benefits of peace, I have asked for the participation of intelligent individuals with particular insights in these matters, to share their experiences and knowledge with us. I have learned so much from the contributors to this volume. From Africa, from behind what was once the Iron Curtain, to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North, Central and South America… there are dozens of stories about why these diverse people came to a similar conclusion: peace is best for all. I expect you will find their stories as educational, illustrative, entertaining, insightful and inspiring as I have.
In the end, that is the most important goal of this endeavor: discovery, truth, and peace.