During the last several days I’ve come to much more deeply understand the experiences that many veteran soldiers have had, including motivations for joining, reasons for leaving, and current involvement in dismantling the military industrial complex. I’ve spoken to veteran soldiers with many different experiences and many different current views. I’ve learned more about the compromises, the manipulated hopes, the unprepared decision making so many recruits made. I’ve learned about the excitement of being able to leave a depressed town, the desire for respect, the harsh contrast between words of recruiters and the reality of military involvement.
I want to speak about morality. Many of you felt dismissed when I challenged your morality. So let me speak of my own first.
I’ve lived with almost every form of privilege possible, every advantage that any person could reasonably, or unreasonably, expect to have. And yet, I’ve done many things that have gone against my own moral codes at the time, for very minor personal gains. I’ve gotten myself into situations in which I’ve compromised my own ethics, been dishonorable in my own eyes.
It was the tough love, the harsh criticism, the unyielding attacks that forced me to try to become the kind of person I want to be - and continue to push me today. If no one had ever called me a liar, I would not have come to value honesty as much as I do now. If no one had ever called me a coward, I would not have come to value courage the way I now do.
That’s not to say I’ve never been tempted. In the last few days, I was sorely tempted to give a dishonest and politically expedient apology. In the past, I probably would have.
Like me, many of you have made a mix of good and bad decisions, compromises that were necessary or unnecessary.
During the last days, I’ve spoken to several veterans, most of whom are anti-war, who want to dismantle the military industrial complex, who want to work against the manipulative techniques used by military recruiters, who have explained the toxic results of military worship, and helped me better understand why people enlist.
I’ve come to understand that people join for honor, tradition, or the chance to seek opportunity. They sign unbreakable contracts before they are legally able to drink or rent a car.
I’ve heard of military worship running so deep in communities that parents are prouder to say that their child has become a soldier for the military industrial complex, than that he does higher paid machining or construction.
I’ve heard of government schools letting recruiters come in and give puffed up, practiced, manipulative sales pitches to 14-year-old kids without their parents present.
I’ve listened to stories of people who so strongly believed that they were going to be fighting for good, defending America, the heartbreak of discovering that they had been lied to, the awakening as they learned of the true evil of the military industrial complex. I’ve also listened to other stories, of people who work in missions like search and rescue, whose only offense is being funded through taxation and perhaps legitimizing the more problematic roles of the military.
I’ve spoken to parents who have had to answer the “Did you kill anyone?” question, and the even more harrowing, “Was it the right thing to do?” followup.
You can do good things for good reasons, good things for bad reasons, bad this for good reasons, or bad things for bad reasons. I’ve done all of those in my life, including the fourth one.
The genius of capitalism is that it makes people do good things, even when their motivations are just selfish. The horror of today’s military is that it makes people do bad things even when their motivations are honorable. People who want to defend freedom are instead sent to bomb hospitals and weddings, to create and man counterproductive bases in foreign countries, to create enemies instead of making America safer. Those who want to noncombatively support something noble end up supporting something evil. Many end up just doing whatever they need to to get through their tours. Is that perfect? No. Is it understandable? Yes.
Those of you who were in the military: I respect many of your intentions, recognizing that they were different for different people. I understand them much better today than I did before. It may surprise you that I already respected many of the skills and attitudes that I have learned from military culture. I even wrote about them for an upcoming book.
But for many of you, the actions that you committed or supported were often wrong. That doesn’t erase the honorability of the intentions. And the honorability of the intentions doesn’t erase the wrongness of the acts.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The military exists to do military things. As part of that process, it does other things. It serves food to soldiers, builds boats, processes accounts, even builds schools. But that’s not why it exists. We don’t have a 900 billion dollar budget to build a few schools. We don’t have 20 aircraft carriers so we can occasionally protect a few school kids on their commute.
It’s true, that in the process of doing a lot of bad, the military does some good. But the ratio is so disproportionately bad, it’s primary effect is so corrosive to our safety, that any support or legitimization should be considered very, very carefully.
It’s also true that there are theoretical situations in which an armed force could do a lot of good. Many veterans indicated that they would not join an armed force run by the government, so badly has that government betrayed their trust, but that they would fight the invaders in an independent organization.
If the U.S. was attacked by the recognized army of an enemy state, then an armed military response, ideally non-governmental, would be the right response. I don’t see that as likely to happen to a nuclear power, but if it did, an organized, an armed response would be the right one. That’s not the situation we have today, in the last 50 years, or in the foreseeable future. But if that situation were present, I would encourage people to take up arms, and do so myself.
If you kill for immoral or unnecessary reasons, even if ordered to, that’s bad. Even if you didn’t know it was bad at the time, it’s bad. If you help keep the military running in some other capacity, adding to the perceived legitimacy of one of the most problematic organizations on earth, at best that’s a compromise. It’s not ideal. It may even be mostly good. But just as it would be dishonest to ignore the good, it is dishonest to ignore the bad. Something can be good without being perfect. That creates the impetus to improve it. If you work in something you consider good, are there ways that the voluntary market could provide something better, like a search and rescue service that did not squander resources on the drug war?
Many of you told me how you were tricked by lofty words of recruiters, and how badly you regretted believing them. Today, I ask you to be equally skeptical of political leaders who try to rewrite history or create a comforting fantasy in which current combat service in the context of current reality is fully heroic. Be wary of those who pretend that our current counterproductive wars are, in fact, necessary after all, or that joining current combat operations is a great and noble service. Neither of those are true. I know that they are comforting to believe, but those people are not your friends. They are not helping you become the best, most uncompromising, most powerful person you can be. They are trying to make you complacent. Remember that a false friend tells you what you want to hear, but a true one tells you what you need to hear. Remember the difference between the addictive lies of recruiters, and the moral, personal, and political truths you then discovered.
As a part of the Liberty movement and the Libertarian Party, I will fight for you. I will not pander to you. I will help you fight for freedom in every way that I can, and hope that you will help me do the same. I will recognize the nobility of your intentions, but I will not ignore the reality of your actions or the actions of an organization you helped legitimize. I will treat you with respect as a person, but I will not place you on a pedestal above all criticism. I will give you the same respect I hope you give me: honestly respect you for what you do right, and honestly challenge you for what you do wrong.
Navy veteran Doug Craig said to me that being a veteran doesn’t make you special. If anything, it makes you unspecial, a part of the destructive military-industrial complex, but that the real work for liberty you do afterwards can make you special. I’ve spoken to many of you who have frankly stated that what you did in the military was wrong, and discussed how hard you are working to stop those types of wrongs. I am awed by the personal courage it took to express that to me, even after I’d given you reason to distrust me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that courage.
I want young people to find a better, truly moral and uplifting path to success and respect. You know better than anyone how the enlistment cycle works, and how to break it. You know what young potential recruits are thinking better than anyone else. You can help create other opportunities and better paths, as many veterans have already worked to do, or help people recognize the better paths that already exist. You can help debunk the lies of politicians, recruiters, and other tools of the military industrial complex.
Part of that process will, in my view, involve eliminating the exaggerated war worship, military worship, and troop worship that recruiters and politicians so skillfully manipulate to evil ends. When families see more honor in their kids’ being part of the destructive military industrial complex than in the uplifting free market, our values have gone backwards. When soldiers for the military industrial complex are treated as automatic heroes, it only helps recruiters and politicians continue endless, pointless, counterproductive war.
That value system must change. Doing so won’t be easy, or painless, or always gentle, but it will be necessary and profoundly beneficial. If kids learn that a job in the free market is better than a job in the forced market, that entrepreneurship is more heroic than meddling in foreign civil wars, that creating is better than destroying, that individuality is better than obedience, they will seek a better life.
Some have mentioned that rejecting military worship will make it harder for us to get elected. If we engage in war worship, military worship, and troop worship, we will supposedly have an easier time getting elected. If we keep the military on a pedestal, according to this theory, it will make it easier to elect Libertarians.
First, I doubt that’s actually as true as people think. Second, it’s missing the point of what we do. Our goal is not just to win elections for the sake of winning them. Winning elections is a means to dismantle the military industrial complex and other major problematic parts government. If we win elections and leave that intact, what, exactly, is the point?
In the next few days, I will be proposing a bold, new direction for the Liberty movement and the Libertarian Party. I hope you will consider it.
We are all a mix of good and bad. The important thing is to know which is which, even when the public has it backwards. Many of you engaged in or supported actions that neither you nor I could consider good actions. Your intentions were good, or perhaps just desperate compromises when you were in inescapable situations. Today, many of you are working to put an end to that system.
The public often doesn’t know which of those two is the truly noble calling. Many individuals, airports, restaurants, bars, magazines, TV ads, lobbyists, and politicians repeatedly tell you, “Thank you for your service,” without bothering to find out what that service is.
I’m not going to do that. I will not contribute to the diseased culture that says, “Anything the military does is automatically noble and deserves gratitude.” Nor will I fuel the lie that says, “Your intentions were good, and that’s all that matters.” I will not disrespect you by holding you to such low standards. Nor will I support the lie that says the most noble thing you’ve done was your military involvement. Not a single veteran I’ve spoken to so far has believed that. So I will not be issuing a blanket, unconsidered, “Thank you for your service,” anytime soon.
Instead, let me say this: Thank you for all you are doing for liberty.
(Personal post, not an official LP post)