By Jacob G. Hornberger
Given that so many Americans continue to express gratitude to the troops for their forever service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere, it would be worthwhile to revisit the immortal words of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
When I was college student, I heard of something called the Thirty Years War, which took place in Europe in the 17th century. I was incredulous. How in the world could a war actually last 30 years?
I’m not incredulous anymore. The Pentagon’s and CIA’s war in Iraq has now been going on for 27 years and their war Afghanistan for 16 years, with no end in sight for either one. Moreover, their wars have expanded to Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East. If Pentagon and CIA officials get their way, there might even be another one in Korea. Maybe Iran too. Perhaps Russia or China also.
All of this forever warfare has certainly given rise to a vast, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment (or vice versa), as Madison said it would, and to what another president, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military-industrial complex.”
Combined with America’s ever-burgeoning welfare state, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, federal spending continues to spiral out of control. That’s means debts and taxes, as Madison pointed out. The federal government’s debt is now $20 trillion. Each taxpayer’s share of that debt is $165,000. To get a sense of the dangers of excessive government debt, consider the fact that the Puerto Rican government has just filed for bankruptcy owing to excessive debt.
Many Americans, especially young people, are having a difficult time making ends meet. Many young people are still living at home in their late 20s and 30s. Hardly anyone saves any money. Yet, savings in a society are the key to capital, productivity, and rising standards of living. Even if the government lowers taxes, it doesn’t reduce spending, which only means that people will owe more money as part of their share of the government’s debt.
The Pentagon’s and CIA’s forever wars have vested the president with what can only be called totalitarian-like powers — that is, powers that are traditionally held by dictators. How else can one describe the omnipotent power of the president to assassinate his own citizens? Or to round up, incarcerate, and torture his own citizens? Or to conduct secret surveillance of his own citizens? Or to rule by decree or “executive order” when it comes to matters relating to “national security.”
The federal bureaucracy? It’s ever-expanding, especially in the national-security state segment of the government.
Those are all attributes of dictatorships, included elected ones, not limited-government republics. Combined with ever-increasing federal spending, taxes, and debt, that’s how governments throughout history have ended up subjugating their own citizens. That’s why both Madison and Eisenhower warned us to be on guard: The forever wars in which the Pentagon and the CIA have embroiled our nation have destroyed our own freedom and our own economic well-being.
Of course, the Pentagon and the CIA say that the “terrorists” (or Muslims, Assad, Putin, North Korea, Iran, ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, drug dealers, or whoever), not their forever wars, are the real threat to our freedom, just as they said that the communists, North Korea, North Vietnam, Red China, the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and others were the real threat to our freedom.
So many Americans have fallen for this palpable nonsense, which is why they effusively thank the troops for their service for waging these forever wars on our behalf. It’s a perfect demonstration of Madison’s point about how forever wars seduce and corrupt the minds of their citizenry.
The fact is that no one is coming to get us and take away our freedom. That’s because no nation state or non-governmental group has the military capability that it would take to cross either the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean and successfully invade, conquer, and occupy the United States. Carrying out such an enormous undertaking would require hundreds of thousands of transport ships, fighter jets, and bombers, billions of dollars in ammunitions and supplies, and millions of troops. No nation or group has that type of money, armaments, supplies, or personnel. Not Russia, not China. Not North Korea. Not ISIS. Not the Taliban. Not anyone. The United States is under no danger — no danger whatsoever — of being invaded, conquered, and occupied by some foreign nation or group.
All too many Americans just don’t get that. They are convinced that America is under siege and that the federal government is about to fall to the “enemy” at any moment. It’s only because the Pentagon and the CIA are “over there” waging their forever wars, they are convinced, that the “enemy” is prevented from coming over here and taking over reins of the federal government and taking away our freedom.
Most important, all too many Americans fail to recognize the obvious — that it’s what the Pentagon and the CIA are doing over there that generates the “enemies” that the Pentagon and the CIA then use to justify their forever wars and their ever growing spending, debts, taxes, and destruction of liberty here at home.
Thanking the troops for fighting over there has caused so many Americans to lose sight of the fact that America’s forever wars has meant the destruction of their own freedom and economic well-being here at home, at the hands of their own government. We have learned the hard way that Madison was right: No nation, including the United States, can preserve its freedom in the midst of continuous warfare.
This article was originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation.