How Anarchy Works: Security Without The State

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“It is all the more curious, incidentally, that while laissez-faireists should by the logic of their position, be ardent believers in a single, unified world government, so that no one will live in a state of “anarchy” in relation to anyone else, they almost never are. And once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as being in a state of impermissible “anarchy,” why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighborhood? Each block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.” – Murray Rothbard, Power and Market

Whenever someone is exposed to the ideas of market anarchy, their first thought is “but what about the roads?” Soon after this, more interesting questions arise, mostly relating to security issues. How would the law work? How would an anarchist society repel armed invaders? Who stops the bad guys? What’s to stop a powerful gang from looting everyone else (as though that isn’t precisely the situation we have with governments)? And so on.

Unfortunately, there is no way to answer these questions in a way that would completely satisfy the skeptic. Society is composed of humans, which implies a degree of uncertainty. This is unavoidable, whether we are discussing how anarchy works or how democratic government works. People feel comfortable with the system they know, so to most people, government “works.” But many innocent people go to jail (or are executed), many crimes go unpunished, and for every “winner” of a war, there is at least one loser. If you are a skeptic, I understand – nearly all of us crazy anarchists were once statists too.

This post is intended to be a comprehensive resource (for libertarians and skeptics alike) on some of the basic questions of how security might work in an anarchist society. The key word here is “might”; anarchist (and quasi-anarchist) societies have existed, and they have handled security issues in different ways. As such, nothing here is guaranteed.

But guarantees aren’t the point. Rather, I want the reader to come away with the understanding that security issues can be handled adequately under anarchy. Furthermore, it is highly likely that security would be considerably better under anarchy than under any statist conditions.

 

Human Nature – Are Anarchists Too Optimistic?

A common complaint levied against anarchists is that we must believe that humans are inherently good; how else would we trust everyone to behave under anarchy? I can understand the appeal of this objection on the surface. The state is the primary institution that supposedly fights crime, so without the state, criminals will run rampant and take advantage of those with a heightened sense of morality.

But upon closer examination, this objection doesn’t hold up. First of all, the state is not the only institution that aims to prevent crime or immorality. Consider, for instance, private security companies. There are neighborhood watch groups. There are companies that sell home defense systems. There are guns, locks, and guard dogs. In other words, there are already plenty of market mechanisms in place to prevent bad behavior. I will go into much more detail later on, but for now, the point is that the state is not the only thing that gets in the way of bad people doing nefarious things.

On a more theoretical level, the objection breaks down even further. Let me quote Stefan Molyneaux:

“The first and most obvious problem with this position is that if evil people exist in society, they will also exist within the State and be far more dangerous thereby. Citizens are able to protect themselves against evil individuals, but stand no chance against an aggressive State armed to the teeth with police and military might. Thus the argument that we need the State because evil people exist is false. If evil people exist, the State must be dismantled, since evil people will be drawn to use its power for their own ends and, unlike private thugs, evil people in government have the police and military to inflict their whims on a helpless (and usually disarmed!) population.”

In other words, the existence of immoral individuals provides a stronger argument against the state than against anarchy. One could make the argument that a state can provide checks and balances to prevent these kinds of abuses of power, but taking a quick look around at the world (and perhaps reading the next section) should make it obvious that this is no solution at all.

A more rational system can evolve to handle the evildoers without any change in human nature.

 

How Do States Fare In Defense/Justice?

Status quo bias causes people to support the current system. But it doesn’t take much analysis to conclude that the current system is horribly broken.

States And “National Defense”

People often wonder how a stateless society could defend itself. But realistically, how effective are states at protecting their citizens from foreign governments? To anyone who is honest about the facts, the answer is “not very.”

Any system of collective defense can only be considered good or successful if it is used primarily defensively (not for aggressive purposes or invasions), is applied consistently and effectively, and is done for a reasonable cost. State-based national defense fails on each of these grounds.

States have a natural tendency towards aggressive war, certainly as compared to organizations that exist under anarchy. States acquire their funding via taxation (aka theft), so those who make the decisions regarding war and peace are NOT the same people who are paying for it. In economic terms, the costs of aggression have been externalized – which implies a strong tendency towards aggressive war. Companies operating under freed markets do not have this issue – if a private company wants to invade another country, they need to pay the costs of this themselves (note that this is true with freed markets, but not the current “crony-capitalist” system we live under today). In addition, wars tend to help politicians accumulate power and silence critics, providing a built-in incentive to create enemies.

Some Americans may respond that their government isn’t aggressive. Given the propaganda we are constantly subject to, it is understandable that some people might think this. Allow me to quote myself from a recent article about the evils of war:

“In fact, most Americans are likely unaware of how militarily aggressive their government truly is. Since America’s founding, there have been hundreds of instances of military use in foreign lands. There are only a handful of years throughout American history where America has not been at war abroad.

In addition, William Blum counts at least 55 instances since World War 2 where the United States has attempted to overthrow a foreign government (often a democratically elected one), many times successfully.”

This aggressive foreign policy is also inconsistent. Why else would the US government be vociferously backing neo-Nazis in Ukraine? Or arming al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria, Libya, and across the globe? States can do these things, but the incentives to behave in such ridiculous ways simply does not exist under anarchy.

And this destructive behavior doesn’t come cheaply, either. The Pentagon has spent $8.5 trillion since 1996, but nobody has a clue what this money has been spent on. They’ve illegally avoided an audit for that entire time, at least in part because they’ve been cooking the books and due to repeated boondoggles:

“In one example, the DLA had stockpiled 15,000 Humvee front suspensions as of 2008, which is the equivalent of a 14-year supply. Yet somehow between 2010-2012, defying both logic and prudence entirely, the agency purchased 7,437 more of those same parts—at significantly higher cost than those already gathering dust on warehouse shelves—at a time when demand had been cut in half.

As of September 2012, the DLA and military had already ordered $733 million in duplicates of existing supernumerary supplies, which was a 21% increase from the $609 million it spent on the same asinine duplication the previous year. All this stuff makes a comprehensive inventory impossible, and a worker in the DLA’s largest warehouse explained there is no system for verifying that items are stored correctly or even to track or estimate how much is lost to employee theft.”

The Department of Defense’s budget in 2014 was $581 billion, more than the next ten military spenders combined, and a full one-third of the amount spent on defense worldwide. And many war hawks claim that “budget cuts” are gutting the military, which is simply absurd.

The reality is that in a state-based system of “defense,” the citizens will always lose. The only things being defended under the current monopoly-defense system are politicians lustful for power and the war profiteers.

States And “Justice”

It would be a cruel joke to claim that the justice system in America “works.”

Unfortunately, it would be impossible for me to document here all the ways in which justice is sorely lacking under our current system, so I will have to be satisfied with merely painting a brief picture of the issues. To anyone who has been paying any attention at all, this section should be unnecessary. Nevertheless, many of the same people who point out the flaws of our current justice system object to anarchy because they think justice will be distributed “unfairly.”

Naturally, any decent and functioning justice system should catch as many bad guys as possible, while leaving the innocent spared. But in America, 86% of those in the Federal prison population are incarcerated for victimless crimes. These millions of individuals are victims themselves, not criminals, and so the justice system is clearly a failure so long as victimless crimes are being prosecuted. Here are some more statistics from that article (emphasis in original):

“In 2008, according to the Department of Justice, there were 7,308,200 persons in the US corrections system, of whom 4,270,917 were on probation, 828,169 were on parole, 785,556 were in jails, and 1,518,559 were in state and federal prisons.  This means that the U.S. alone is responsible for holding roughly 15% of all the prisoners in the world.

In other words, 1 in 42 Americans is under correctional supervision.  This constitutes over 2% of the entire U.S. population.  That percentage jumps up drastically if we limit the comparison to working aged adult males, of which there are around 100 million.  Over 5% of the adult male population is under some form of correctional supervision, alternatively stated, 1 in 20 adult males are under correctional supervision in the U.S.”

No reasonable person can believe that a full 5% of the adult male population of the US are violent criminals or deserve to be under correctional supervision.

But even ignoring victimless crimes (and the actual violent crimes that the government commits by prosecuting them), there are many innocent people currently locked up. According to the Innocence Project, between 2.3% and 5% of the prison population is innocent (or up to 100,000 individuals). Many of these people are executed, and many more will be. And according to some of the boobs in the Supreme Court, innocence is not a sufficient precondition for being exonerated!

This should be terrifying to everyone, particularly in light of the many ways that the justice system is stacked against the defendant. For instance, the FBI recently was forced to admit that all their forensic experts falsified hair evidence in every trial for over 20 years for the benefit of prosecutors. This led to 32 individuals being sentenced to death, 14 of whom have already been executed. In fact, many state crime labs are incentivized to produce results that would lead to a guilty verdict – an absolute perversion of justice. There are many reasons why the justice system is heavily stacked in favor of prosecutors, and malicious prosecutors are almost never held accountable (prosecutors win 95% of cases, 90% of those without ever going to trial).

And what about the police? Turns out they like to abuse their power too, from faking 911 calls in order to conduct illegal warrantless searches on homes to disappearing individuals and then torturing them into making false confessions at illegal black sites. The law has provided these same police with “qualified immunity” – in effect, a license to kill. And they’ve taken advantage of it, slaughtering literally thousands of individuals without consequence; only 54 police officers have been charged since 2005, most of whom were cleared or acquitted.

And police aren’t even required to help civilians, a fact they take full advantage of. For instance, Seattle police have been allowing car break-ins to occur, even when a citizen found the culprit himself. And as we saw in Ferguson, Baltimore, and surely soon to be more locations, the police aggressively work against peaceful protesters while letting violent rioters go unmolested as they destroy innocent peoples’ property. Hell, police dogs have a higher status than civilians in America.

So, how much has this top-notch protection been costing Americans? That depends on whether you count civil asset forfeiture, the practice by which cops and prosecutors can legally seize a person’s assets without even being charged with a crime. Apparently, your cash and your car are guilty of dealing drugs, even when you aren’t. According to the Institute for Justice, these state-sanctioned armed robberies are costing Americans hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and 80 percent of those who are victimized aren’t even charged with a crime. Some of this money is going towards paying off police officers’ student loans, and buying others drugs and prostitutes. And naturally, this creates a strong incentive for police departments to go after innocent drug users rather than legitimate criminals.

But what if you don’t count these highway robberies, but only the normal costs of policing and “justice”? The states and the Federal government spent $80 billion on incarceration in 2010, and it costs $30,000 per year to house an inmate. As a point of comparison, the median household income in 2013 was just $52,250.

If we are comparing the existing system to a possible anarchist system, the bar is being set quite low. As skeptical as you may be about justice under anarchy, it really doesn’t need to do much to improve upon the current system.

 

Transitioning To A Stateless Society

When it comes to discussions regarding how security will be provided in a stateless society, a highly relevant but often overlooked factor is how exactly anarchy comes about. This has serious implications for the feasibility of the new system.

Most of those who are not anarchists are stuck in a mental framework of living in a world dominated by states, and this makes stateless security seem far-fetched. As with most of the other reasons why people are skeptical of anarchy, this is completely understandable.

But if anarchy is to come about, an ideological and cultural change will most likely be necessary. While there may be some that I’m unfamiliar with, I know of no anarchist who would claim otherwise. A critical mass of anarchists would need to exist – in this writer’s opinion, that would be somewhere between 1% and 5% of the population of a given area. And a large segment of the population will need to stop looking to the state to solve all their problems, even if they are not anarchists per se.

When a statist imagines an anarchic system, they are usually imagining what would happen if, right now, the state simply evaporated. Of course, this is nonsensical. People are still clamoring for political rulers, so if a particular government collapsed, the state as an institution would continue to exist. If anarchy is to occur, it is likely to be a more gradual development, developing over months or years as opposed to days. Technological advances will continue to make the state more and more obviously superfluous, so that ultimately it will just wither away. Institutions will arise parallel to the state, not just after the state ends.

I will not argue here for why I am optimistic that anarchy will ultimately win out. But our discussion of how anarchy could work is not predicated on any kind of optimism. One can think that the likelihood of anarchy ultimately winning out in human society is highly improbable yet still understand that if it did arise, it would work. This is crucial – no matter how implausible you may think it is that anarchy will actually become the way of the world, it has no bearing on any of the arguments presented in this article.

Ideology and culture are important factors in the ultimate success of a stateless society. And anarchists realize that for statelessness to be successful, anarchist ideals will need to become more prevalent. Statists will reason that if anarchy were truly a superior system, then it would already exist (in a certain sense, it already does exist, in that there is still political anarchy, but I digress). But this ignores the role of ideology – and the numerous historical cases of anarchy or quasi-anarchy that have existed, which will be discussed later.

The Will To Be Free

How exactly does ideology fit into the picture? The most obvious way is that anarchists will refuse to support individuals that comprise potential ruling classes that desire to form a new state. In other words, there will be far more individuals who are not clamoring to invite a new ruling class into power and surrender their rights. States can never maintain their power through brute force alone; to a large extent, the subjects themselves will need to accept the state’s legitimacy for it to be able to rule.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel summarizes well the argument I’ve provided thus far:

“The territory constituting the United States is in a very real sense already conquered—by the United States government. Only when Americans have liberated themselves from that conqueror will they have effectively denationalized defense. In other words, the policy question—Can private alternatives provide more effective protection from foreign aggressors?—and the strategic question—Can any people mobilize the ideological muscle to smash the state?—are intimately intertwined.

…although it makes good sense to try to imagine what society would look like if minimum wages were repealed without any other change, it makes far less sense to imagine what society would look like if government were abolished—and especially to ask how such a stateless society might protect itself—without any other change. By the very act of overthrowing the domestic government, whether peacefully or forcibly, the former subjects will have forged powerful tools for protecting themselves from foreign governments. The same social consensus, the same institutions, and the same ideological imperatives that had gained them liberation from their own state would be automatically in place to defend against any other states that tried to fill the vacuum.”

Consider that military conquerors routinely use existing local government structures in order to maintain control of the subject population. These structures are already viewed as legitimate, unlike the far-away conquerors. Hummel writes:

“The effective dominance of would-be conquerors who possess military superiority but face the implacable hostility of an ideologically united population is more problematic. The English hold on Ireland was, owing to this factor, always tenuous, and one can find similar instances into the modern era. Cultural coherence is another advantage that hunter gatherers and primitive agriculturists sometimes possessed in their struggles with more centralized societies. Contrast Spain’s fairly rapid conquest of the Indians of Central and South America, already habituated to indigenous state rule, with the much more drawn out European campaigns against the North American Indians, who were slowly expropriated, expelled, and exterminated over several centuries but never really fully subjugated until the twentieth.”

In other words, a people who have an ideological appreciation for statelessness are going to be far more difficult for an existing state to subdue than is common in more modern warfare (consider how quickly the Nazis took over and subdued multiple European countries).

Hummel mentions another advantage that stateless societies would possess while defending themselves:

“Posing no threat of conquest themselves, they could tap into the sympathies of a foreign ruler’s subjects better than any other opponent such rulers might take on. Would-be conquerors could find their own legitimization seriously compromised. Just as the American Revolution sent forth sparks that helped to ignite revolutionary conflagrations in many other countries, a vibrant economy free from all government would arouse such admiration and emulation that it would surely tend to expand. In short, a future stateless society would have the best prospects of enjoying beneficial ideological dynamics, both internally and externally.”

To sum up, any feasible stateless society would be far more difficult to conquer than what people imagine today.

 

Anarchy – An Unknown Ideal?

Before diving into the mechanics of how an anarchic society can provide security and legal order, I want to emphasize the fact that anarchistic and quasi-anarchistic societies have in fact existed and thrived. If you think that without government, it would be impossible to settle interpersonal disputes and survive in a world of states, consider the many historical instances to the contrary.

Statelessness seems to have been a feature of many primitive societies, where

“…the costs of violence and the benefits of order in primitive societies were enough to induce the establishment of recognized rules of conduct with emphasis on individual rights and private property-that is, the type of laws necessary for maintenance of a free market system in more complex societies. Furthermore, voluntary participatory mechanisms to enforce those rules, to adjudicate disputes, and…to allow for further legal growth, also developed.”

Furthermore, according to a scholar of primitive societies, E. Adamson Hoebel:

“The community group, although it may be ethnologically a segment of a tribe is autonomous and independent. There is no tribal state. Leadership resides in family or local group headmen who have little coercive authority and are hence lacking both means to exploit and the means to judge…They are not explicitly elected to office; rather, they lead by the tacit consent of their followers, and they lose their leadership when their people begin no longer to accept their suggestions. . . . As it is, their leadership is confined to action in routine matters. The patriarchal tyrant of the primitive horde is nothing but a figment of nineteenth century speculation. The simplest primitive societies are democratic to the point of near-anarchy. But primitive anarchy does not mean disorder. Anarchv as synonymous with disorder occurs only temporarily in complex societies when in a social cataclysm the regulating restraints of government and law are suddenly and disastrously removed.’”

None of the following cases are a perfect description of what I would consider a modern-day anarchy to be. Most are fairly old, and it can be difficult to extrapolate legal insights from societies that existed hundreds of years ago. My intent in this section isn’t to say “look at these successful anarchist societies that we should emulate,” but rather that other societies have dealt with the problems of security without resorting to the state, so it should be plausible that contemporary or future societies can as well.

Anarchy In America

The continent of North America has seen a number of historical instances of anarchic legal institutions, where justice is provided without government.

Many of the Native American tribes in North America relied on a customary legal system rather than law defined by states. Notable examples are the Yurok and Comanche tribes, whose legal systems were described by Bruce Benson:

“Few Indian groups had any sort of strong central legal authority before Europeans began to exert various types of influence on the evolution of Indian law. This does not mean that there was no law, however. Evolving unwritten social contracts among Indian groups had produced well-developed legal systems based on customary rules of conduct which emphasized individual rights and private property. Adjudication procedures were in place to solve disputes without violence. No state-like centralized authority applied sanctions, but sanctions were applied, primarily in the form of economic restitution. These sanctions were enforceable because of reciprocal arrangements between individuals for recognition of law, support of judgments, and community wide ostracism.

These features [of Native American legal systems] are: (1) rules of conduct which emphasized a predominant concern for individual rights and private property; (2) the responsibility of law enforcement falling to the victim backed by reciprocal arrangements for protection and support when a dispute arose; (3) standard adjudicative procedures established in order to avoid violent forms of dispute resolution; (4) offenses treated as torts punishable by economic payments in restitution; (5) strong incentives to yield to prescribed punishment when guilty of an offense due to the reciprocally established threat of social ostracism which led to physical retribution; and (6) legal change arising through an evolutionary process of developing customs and norms.”

The colony of Pennsylvania had a brief stint of anarchy between 1684 and 1688. During this period, there was technically a government; it just never did anything. The governing council didn’t meet and taxes weren’t collected. Murray Rothbard explains:

“If for most of 1684-88 there was no colonywide government in existence, what of the local officials? Were they not around to provide that evidence of the state’s continued existence, which so many people through the ages have deemed vital to man’s very survival? The answer is no. The lower courts met only a few days a year, and the county officials were, again, private citizens who devoted very little time to upholding the law. No, the reality must be faced that the new, but rather large, colony of Pennsylvania lived for the greater part of four years in a de facto condition of individual anarchism, and seemed none the worse for the experience. Furthermore, the Assembly passed no laws after 1686, as it was involved in a continual wrangle over attempts to increase its powers and to amend, rather than just reject, legislation.”

Another example of a legal order arising without a central government is that of the so-called “wild, wild West,” which was nowhere near as chaotic as popular culture makes it out to be. Terry Anderson and PJ Hill studied this period and concluded:

“The West during this time often is perceived as a place of great chaos, with little respect for property or life. Our research indicates that this was not the case; property rights were protected and civil order prevailed. Private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved. These agencies often did not qualify as governments because they did not have a legal monopoly on “keeping order.” They soon discovered that “warfare” was a costly way of resolving disputes and lower cost methods of settlement (arbitration, courts, etc.) resulted.”

Numerous kinds of organizations arose to deal with disputes among individuals. Land clubs allowed property rights to be established in areas that the federal government had yet to survey; cattlemen’s associations enforced property rights in areas with large amounts of cattle but lacking in government police; mining camps helped establish the rules for adjudicating mining claims without lawyers; and wagon trains provided means of enforcement for those who were traveling West and had left the federal government’s jurisdiction.

These associations were all voluntary, allowed a variety of legal systems to flourish in parallel to each other, and resolved disputes in ways that minimized the risk of violence (the West seemed to have far lower homicide rates under these arrangements than when government police were present). Individuals who wanted to leave an existing group and start a new one could do so at will – unlike with governments.

Anarchy In Asia

In Western New Guinea, the Kapauku people maintained a form of legal order without government or a central coercive power. The legal system involved establishing reciprocal relationships with a tonowi, who was a respected person within the community. Bruce Benson describes the arrangement:

“Each individual in the society could choose to contract with any available tonowi (availability generally involved kinship). Typically, followers became debtors to a tonowi in exchange for agreeing to perform certain duties in support of the tonowi. The followers got much more than a loan, however: “The expectation of future favors and advantages is probably the most potent motivation for most of the headman’s followers…. Even individuals from neighboring confederations may yield to the wishes of a tonowi in case his help may be needed in the future.” Thus, tonowi leadership was given, not taken, and reflected to a great extent an ability to “persuade the unit to support a man in a dispute or to fight for his cause.” Thus, this position of leadership was achieved through reciprocal exchange of support between a tonowi and his followers, support that could be freely withdrawn by either party (e.g., upon payment of debt or demand for repayment). The informality and contractual characteristics of Kapauku leadership led many Western observers to conclude that Kapauku society lacked law, but there is clear evidence that law was recognized, and that processes for adjudication and change existed in the Kapauku’s legal system.”

From this basis, a complex legal system allowed the Kapauku to maintain peace with each other, and allowed for changes in the law as needed.

In addition, the people living in the highlands of Southeast Asia (called Zomia) had a stateless society that survived for an extended period of time. Parts of India, Burma, China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia chose to remain out of reach of state control for thousands of years. Today, many in this region have been absorbed into existing states, but there are still many who remain outside of state control (an estimated 80-100 million people live in this region).

The people of Zomia engaged in intentional behaviors to avoid becoming subject to states, as Edward Stringham and Caleb Miles show.

“The Zomia have chosen to live and conduct economic activity in places that have been difficult for states to control or tax. Zomian peoples have organized their agriculture so that their crops cannot easily be confiscated or measured. They have also adopted religions and ideologies that make them resistant to control by external or internally grown states.”

Perhaps we can learn from them!

Anarchy In Europe

Europe has also seen numerous experiments in anarchy.

Let’s take medieval Iceland for starters. Between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, Iceland had a system of private law that is quite interesting. David Friedman explains:

“Killing was a civil offense resulting in a fine paid to the survivors of the victim. Laws were made by a “parliament,” seats in which were a marketable commodity. Enforcement of law was entirely a private affair. And yet these extraordinary institutions survived for over three hundred years, and the society in which they survived appears to have been in many ways an attractive one. Its citizens were, by medieval standards, free; differences in status based on rank or sex were relatively small; and its literary output in relation to its size has been compared, with some justice, to that of Athens.”

The Icelandic system managed to solve some of the common problems that statists instinctively think of when they try to picture what anarchy would look like. For instance:

“One obvious objection to a system of private enforcement is that the poor (or weak) would be defenseless. The Icelandic system dealt with this problem by giving the victim a property right – the right to be reimbursed by the criminal and making that right transferable. The victim could turn over his case to someone else, either gratis or in return for a consideration. A man who did not have sufficient resources to prosecute a case or enforce a verdict could sell it to another who did and who expected to make a profit in both money and reputation by winning the case and collecting the fine. This meant that an attack on even the poorest victim could lead to eventual punishment.”

On the other hand, some complain that those who lose in court would simply refuse to pay up. But that can be addressed as well:

“A man who refused to pay his fines was outlawed and would probably not be supported by as many of his friends as the plaintiff seeking to enforce judgment, since in case of violent conflict his defenders would find themselves legally in the wrong. If the lawbreaker defended himself by force, every injury inflicted on the partisans of the other side would result in another suit, and every refusal to pay another fine would pull more people into the coalition against him.”

In a later section sketching out possible ways anarchist law could work, the insights from the Icelandic system will come in handy.

Another anarchic justice system was that which prevailed in medieval Celtic Ireland for nearly 1000 years. Joseph Peden studied this system and concluded:

“My survey of the literature indicates that (1) private ownership of property played a crucial and essential role in the legal and social’ institutions of ancient Irish society; (2) that the Irish law as developed by the professional jurists – the brehons – outside the institutions of the State, was able to evolve an extremely sophisticated and flexible legal response to changing social and cultural conditions while preserving principles of equity and the protection of property rights; (3) that this flexibility and development can be best seen in the development of the legal capacity and rights of women and in the role of the Church in assimilating to native Irish institutions and law; (4) that the English invasion, conquest and colonization in Ireland resulted in the gradual imposition of English feudal concepts and common law which were incompatible with the principles of Irish law, and resulted in the wholesale destruction of the property rights of the Irish Church and the Irish people.”

The legal status of women was particularly noteworthy; they were centuries ahead of the English in this respect. Women could own property, initiate divorces, and make contracts. Many types of sexual relationships were legally permitted and protected – and in some cases, men were entirely responsible for the support of children.

Other European areas have also experienced anarchy, including the region called Moresnet between Prussia and The Netherlands, which was a disputed territory after the Napoleonic Wars. The people of this small town lived in peace and prosperity, unmolested by nearby states, and with a market for legal recourse, from 1816 until World War 1, when it was absorbed into Belgium.

The final example I will mention here is the tiny Republic of Cospaia, which survived for nearly 400 years as an enclave in central Italy that was free from government. The denizens of Cospaia prospered, largely because there were no taxes. Despite having no government, there is no indication that the people of Cospaia had to contend with violence or a breakdown of society.

Modern Somalia

“Why don’t you move to Somalia?” is one of the most common things I hear when I tell people that I am an anarchist. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about this region, but I have already written an extensive article on what anarchists can learn from Somalia.

I’ll let you read that post if you want all the details, but here’s the short version. Many people are surprised (or refuse to believe) that Somalia has actually seen dramatic improvements since the loss of central government in 1991 in a large number of development indicators, even relative to its neighbors that do have states. This is largely because of the Xeer, the traditional clan-based legal system that has existed in Somalia since the 7th century, and doesn’t involve the state at all:

“The Xeer outlaws homicide, assault, torture, battery, rape, accidental wounding, kidnapping, abduction, robbery, burglary, theft, arson, extortion, fraud, and property damage (Van Notten 2005:49). The legal system focuses on the restitution of victims, not the punishment of criminals. For violations of the law, maximum payments to compensate victims are specified in camels (payment can be made in equivalent monetary value). Typical compensation to the family of a murder victim is 100 camels for a man and 50 for a woman; an animal thief usually must return two animals for every one he stole.”

There’s a lot more to it, of course. For those of you who are interested in exploring the subject of Somalia in more detail, I strongly suggest you read the article linked above.

 

Security Against Crime: Law In An Anarchist Society

We have already dealt with many of the objections that you may have with regards to the provision of law in a free society, but most people still will have a difficult time visualizing how anarchy would work when dealing with criminals.

Certainly, we anarchists are not utopians, and we acknowledge that there will still be criminals, whether the state exists or not. The question then becomes: how does society deal with them?

I intend to answer that question in this section. As mentioned before, this is just a sketch of ways that criminality can be addressed under anarchy. I’m sure that legal entrepreneurs will come up with far more innovative solutions than I am including here, but I hope to help you recognize that the problems of justice in a free society are solvable.

Polycentric Law – How Does Law Evolve?

Most people think of “the” law as specifically the rules created by the state that they live under, and that law is created because the government says so. The law is legislated, or in other words, the law is “made.”

But we can also think of law as being something that is “found” – and in fact, this is far superior to the reigning paradigm. Law should be thought of as principles to be discovered by judges, not just whatever legislators want. The law is decentralized, since no single body determines all the rules of conduct. Because of this decentralization, multiple types of law can coexist in what we’d call a polycentric legal order.

In a sense, we already live under polycentric law. Consider the competition among governments and their respective legal systems, and the rules of homeowners’ associations, clubs, religions, and employment. Consider the rules you must abide by to live in a residential co-op, to buy or sell goods in a mall, and even the cultural norms that we abide by.

Norms are discovered, and written and unwritten rules are developed as a consequence, because of the natural process of human action. But when the law is monopolized by the state, the natural process of the discovery of law is destroyed. True law is formed in a bottom-up process rather than the top-down way of our current system.

There are quite a few arguments for a more decentralized evolution of law than the centralized method of legislation. Most fundamentally, polycentric law provides far more certainty than a legislative system, although that may seem paradoxical at first. But since the legislature has the ability to change the law from day to day, the system creates uncertainty with regards to what rules will apply tomorrow. Stephan Kinsella explains:

“First, judges can only make decisions when asked to do so by the parties concerned. Second, the judge’s decision is less far-reaching than legislation because it primarily affects the parties to the dispute, and only occasionally affects third parties or others with no connection to the parties involved…Third, a judge’s discretion is further limited by the necessity of referring to similar precedents.”

Legislation can override agreements that have already been voluntarily accepted, which, in the long run, makes it difficult to rely on any existing conventions or to keep the agreements that have already been made. If the rules are likely to change, then it makes it more difficult to trust the rules.

When rules are less trustworthy, the future becomes more unpredictable than it otherwise would be. Future goods, actions, and expectations become less likely to occur due to this unpredictability. The result is that people further shift their preferences away from future goods and more towards present goods. This makes everyone poorer, since it is saving (delaying gratification) that builds wealth. Not only that, it increases the amount of crime.

“As a person becomes more present-oriented, immediate (criminal) gratifications become relatively more attractive, and future, uncertain punishment becomes less of a disincentive. Thus many people on the margin — those who are just deterred from committing crimes by the threat of possible future punishment under normal time-preference conditions in a free society — will not be deterred from committing crimes in a society with legislation and its concomitant increase in time preference. In other words, there are individuals today who are committing violent crimes solely because of the increased uncertainty in society caused by the existence of legislation. Further, when the increased uncertainty tends to impoverish us by shortening the structure of production, more people are poor and impoverished, which also tends to increase the amount of crime in society.”

Legislation also suffers from a knowledge problem, similar to all forms of central planning.

“A crucial reason for the systematic ignorance of central planners and legislators alike is “the decentralized, fragmentary character of knowledge.” This makes central planners and central law-makers systematically unable to ever have enough knowledge to make informed decisions that affect entire economic or legal systems. Moreover, not only is a central planner “unable” to gather information only present in a dynamic price structure, but the attempt to plan actually destroys the price structure because the private property system at the base of a price structure is outlawed. Similarly, not only does a legislator face a severe ignorance problem — he could never hope to have a comprehensive and continually updated view of all the interactions, rules, relationships, and customs that exist among the people — he also subverts the very spontaneous legal order that would form in the absence of legislative interference.”

The end result is law that is simply worse.

“…legislators, even if they wanted to enact rules that truly take into account the actual situation, customs, expectations, and practices of individuals, simply can never collect enough information about the near-infinite variety of human interactions. The legislator, like a communist central planner, can only grope in the dark. And unlike a blind man who literally has to grope in the dark but at least knows when he has finally run into a wall or found the door, the legislator (or central planner) have no reliable guide for knowing whether they have constructed the “right” law (or economic allocation) or not. Further, not only can legislators not know the actual situation of the individuals they intend to cast their legislative net over, but they cannot predict the often far-reaching effects of legislation. Legislation routinely has unintended consequences, a fact that cannot be gotten around since it is necessitated by the systematic ignorance that legislators face.”

Decentralized, polycentric law gets around this problem. Cases can and will be reviewed by peers, and market actors can determine whether they agree or not. It’s a natural form of checks and balances.

It also reduces the impact of special interests on the legislative process. When law is discovered by judges, the scope of a decision is far smaller, and special interests have vastly less to gain from manipulating the process.

This is not to say that there won’t be any mistakes made in rulings by judges under a polycentric legal order. Of course there will. But if all the courts are private and competing, there is at least a real incentive to have the rules improved. Legislators have no such incentive, and don’t really provide a solution to the possibility of judges making mistakes.

“Another problem with urging legislation as a solution to common law gone astray, is that this assumes that the legislature can be convinced to make the correct legal reform. First, this is a very dubious assumption, especially given the special interest lobbying that legislators face, and also given the fact that legislators tend to be people who are interested in power rather than philosopher-kings who want to do the right thing. Second, if a proponent of legislation assumes that reasonable and humane legislators can see the light of reason and correctly reform the law, why is it not at least as likely that judges can be persuaded as well?”

Clearly, polycentric law is far superior to what governments have to offer.

Okay, But What Would Law Actually Look Like Under Anarchy?

Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the merits of polycentric law, but it can still be difficult to picture how this would play out in real life. By its very nature, I couldn’t tell you how it would look with certainty, but I can at least sketch out some possibilities.

Needless to say, there will need to be some kind of organization tasked with resolving disputes. A natural candidate for this kind of organization would be an insurance company – in this case, you are insuring yourself and your property from crime.

Not everything can be insured; if you have partial or total control over that risk, then insurance is not a viable business model. For instance, I cannot insure myself against committing suicide, or not wanting to get up in the morning. As such, insurance companies would only insure you against unprovoked crime, and would therefore regulate certain behaviors that would provoke others in order to contract with them. This implies that known aggressors would be unable to procure insurance, and those who wanted more insurance would need to conform to certain non-aggressive norms (for instance, the policy would stipulate that you cannot steal from others). They would likely also subsidize any means of increasing their clients’ security, either by lowering premiums or just supplying them outright. For instance, insurers may want to subsidize alarm systems, more advanced locks or access systems, fences, guard dogs, armored vehicles, mace, rape whistles, self-defense training and education, and handguns. Perhaps they would aid in the creation of neighborhood watch groups. It is in the insurers’ interest to make clients as secure as possible in order to reduce the number of claims they will need to pay out.

You can also think about crime insurers under anarchy as “cosigners” for one’s agreements. In other words, they act as a guarantor of their clientele’s contracts, with the premium charged being a reflection of the risk that a particular client may get into costly disputes with others.

Because different insurance companies would be competing, different sets of norms would be available. In other words, people would get to choose the type of rules they submit themselves to. There could be all kinds of firms with different types of laws: religious laws, hippy laws, or bro codes. This should drastically reduce conflict in and of itself, since people aren’t forced to live under rules that were imposed upon them, and they are fully aware of the rules at the outset. Compare this with government law, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe wittily does (emphasis mine):

“The state, as ultimate decision-maker and judge, operates in a contract-less legal vacuum. There exists no contract between the state and its citizens. It is not contractually fixed, what is actually owned by whom, and what, accordingly, is to be protected. It is not fixed, what service the state is to provide, what is to happen if the state fails in its duty, nor what the price is that the “customer” of such “service” must pay. Rather, the state unilaterally fixes the rules of the game and can change them, per legislation, during the game. Obviously, such behavior is inconceivable for freely financed security providers. Just imagine a security provider, whether police, insurer or arbitrator, whose offer consisted in something like this: I will not contractually guarantee you anything. I will not tell you what specific things I will regard as your to-be-protected property, nor will I tell you what I oblige myself to do if, according to your opinion, I do not fulfill my service to you but in any case, I reserve the right to unilaterally determine the price that you must pay me for such undefined service. Any such security provider would immediately disappear from the market due to a complete lack of customers.”

Things get only slightly more complicated when you consider conflicts that occur between people living under different legal codes. Insurance companies will establish certain procedures for how they handle this kind of situation, quite likely involving arbitration from a third party. These procedures will tend toward standardization, since it makes it so that insurers can interact with each other as efficiently as possible, just as different banks, credit cards, and merchants have standardized themselves to become highly interoperable. And of course, these procedures would be specified in advance in any insurance policy.

Arbiters would be chosen largely based on their reputation for fairness. The whole point of arbitration is to find a peaceful resolution to interpersonal disputes, and this requires a point of agreement regarding the procedure for resolving the conflict. For each party to the dispute, proposing an arbiter biased in their favor does nothing to reach this point of agreement; if they weren’t interested in a peaceful resolution, they could simply fight, rather than try hiring a biased or corrupt arbiter. In other words, both parties have an interest in using an arbiter that is generally seen by society as fair and impartial.

This perception of fairness is the most important asset of any arbitration agency – if they develop a reputation as unfair or corrupt, they will quickly lose business. Nevertheless, it’s certainly plausible that one or more parties in a dispute will find the judge’s verdict unfair. But the arbiter can at least aim to render a verdict (and explain their reasoning) in a way that seems fair to as many third parties as possible. This is imperfect, for sure, but compare it to law under government, where even highly corrupt/unfair/inefficient judges are shielded from market competition.

If you are a party to a dispute and refuse arbitration, your protection agency, as well as most others, will likely perceive this as evidence that you are in the wrong. Those who refuse, therefore, are unlikely to continue receiving protection. Similarly, if you accept arbitration but then refuse to abide by the ruling, you will be left to fend for yourself. You may be added to blacklists or have your “crime score” (analogous to a credit score) raised, and people will refuse to do business with you, or at least charge a high premium for it.

Catching And Punishing Criminals

This is all well and good for contract disputes and other instances where both the plaintiff and the defendant are known ahead of time. But what about instances of crime where the criminal has escaped? Someone will need to investigate the crime and catch the bad guy, but without government police, who will be responsible?

The insurer/protection agencies can fulfill this function as well. Perhaps the insurer has their own detective division, or perhaps they contract out with a private police agency to conduct the forensic work necessary – the exact setup will of course depend on how entrepreneurs and consumers act. On the subject of policing in a stateless society, Edward Stringham writes:

“There are many cases of private law enforcement, one of the most common can be seen at institutions of higher learning. Although private security officers and dean’s offices differ greatly from their bureaucratic counterparts, they nevertheless perform the job supposedly only government police and courts are capable. Many other entities also produce a safe atmosphere in a similar manner: shopping malls, amusement parks, resorts, and private housing developments are cases in point. Just because they are not as ostentatious as the state does not mean that they are not providing protection. These institutions show that not only is the notion of private security possible, but that it is widespread.”

(Look how elegantly the market can solve the “market failure” of so-called “public goods.” Take the example of homeowners’ associations (HOA), which I predict would be common under anarchy. They are quite capable of providing security without the need for a government; in fact, they have several significant advantages. For one thing, HOAs are non-coercive institutions where all of the members have agreed to abide by their terms, in distinct contrast to government. Members of an HOA are almost certain to have more influence over its policies than they would over their government’s policies, particularly due to their smaller size and the shared community. Finally, competition between HOAs is far more significant than that of governments, even local ones.)

Let’s say someone robs you of $10,000. Your crime insurance policy stipulates that in the case of theft, you will be reimbursed for, say, 1.25 times the value of what was stolen (a little something extra for mental anguish, perhaps). You, the victim, are immediately reimbursed and made whole again, and in exchange, your insurer now has the rights to pursue the criminal and recover damages from them. Today, victims of crime don’t get their money back or any kind of compensation.

If the insurer catches the alleged criminal, then there can be a trial to determine whether they are guilty. If the arbitrator finds them guilty, what happens then?

Most likely, the guilty party will be required to pay the protection agency a fine, which could be based off the insurance payout, plus the cost of pursuing and apprehending the criminal. (As an aside, this would create an incentive for criminals to immediately turn themselves in, since the cost of apprehending them, and thus the cost of being found guilty, will increase otherwise.) In other words, the criminal would owe the insurer $X.

As mentioned in the previous section, the guilty party has very strong incentives to accept the terms of the arbiter peacefully. To not do so would result in social ostracism that is likely at least as damaging as the fine. An obvious issue at this point is: what if the criminal can’t pay up?

An institution analogous to a prison can fulfill this role under anarchy. I describe in detail how private prisons could work under anarchy as well as major issues with our current prison system here, but I’ll let Robert Murphy explain:

“But where would these ne’er-do-wells be taken, once they were brought into “custody”? Specialized firms would develop, offering high-security analogs to the current jailhouse. However, the “jails” in market anarchy would compete with each other to attract criminals.

Consider: No insurance company would vouch for a serial killer if he applied for a job at the local library, but they would deal with him if he agreed to live in a secure building under close scrutiny. The insurance company would make sure that the “jail” that held him was well-run. After all, if the person escaped and killed again, the insurance company would be held liable, since it pledges to make good on any damages its clients commit.

On the other hand, there would be no undue cruelty for the prisoners in such a system. Although they would have no chance of escape (unlike government prisons), they wouldn’t be beaten by sadistic guards. If they were, they’d simply switch to a different jail, just as travelers can switch hotels if they view the staff as discourteous. Again, the insurance company (which vouches for a violent person) doesn’t care which jail its client chooses, so long as its inspectors have determined that the jail will not let its client escape into the general population.”

This is worlds apart from our current system, where victims have the double-whammy of paying for the incarceration of criminals via taxation in addition to the loss from the crime itself. These “prisons” would still keep dangerous people “off the streets,” but unlike our current system, would actually have a shot at rehabilitating criminals by having them take responsibility for their actions. And the conditions would be vastly superior to the incredible abuse that you see in prisons today.

Some Common Objections And Responses

The above was just a rough sketch of how an anarchist society could provide law and order. But if you are reading this and not an anarchist, chances are you have some questions or issues regarding how this system would work. In this section, I’d like to address some of the most common ones. If you can think of one that isn’t included here, please leave a comment.

Won’t protection agencies go to war with each other?

By far the most common practical objection to anarchy is that there would be chaos, as marauding protection agencies battled it out with each other. The argument goes something like this: I am insured by protection agency A, and you are insured by protection agency B. We get into a dispute, and then our protection agencies go to war with each other. Multiply this by all of the disputes at any given time, and you have absolute chaos. A Hobbesian jungle.

Upon closer reflection, this objection has no legs. First of all, even if the above account were true, it is significant that populations living under states fall into civil war constantly. To use this as a justification for government, one would need to show that this kind of civil strife would be more common under anarchy than it is with states – no easy task.

After all, there are good reasons why we wouldn’t expect chaos and civil war between protection agencies. Most importantly, these protection agencies would own their own assets, whereas decision-makers in government do not. If two agencies were to go to war, both would suffer severe costs in money and manpower. Even the “winner” would lose quite a bit, and both would lose market share to any other protection agencies that are operating nearby. This is true regardless of the relative size and strength of the protection agencies. Robert Murphy elucidates this principle by asking a question about the American Civil War:

“In the 1860s, would large scale combat have broken out on anywhere near the same scale if, instead of the two factions controlling hundreds of thousands of conscripts, all military commanders had to hire voluntary mercenaries and pay them a market wage for their services?”

To ask the question is to answer it. When people are responsible for paying the cost of their actions, highly destructive behavior such as war becomes far less likely.

But there’s another reason why war breaking out between protection agencies is unlikely. The employees of security agencies can make their own decisions, and I suspect there are very few who would be willing to risk their lives in order to (potentially) increase their bosses’ profits. Most people are strongly opposed to and disgusted by the idea of murdering other members of society, and would agree that they want to settle their disputes peacefully and without resorting to violence. Were this not so, the point would be moot, as governments are hardly a solution to the problem of people wanting to murder each other.

Since people generally do not want to resort to violence,

“…why would we expect such virtuous people, as consumers, to patronize defense agencies that routinely used force against weak opponents?  Why wouldn’t the vast bulk of reasonable customers patronize defense agencies that had interlocking arbitration agreements, and submitted their legitimate disputes to reputable, disinterested arbitrators?”

Finally, if there were rogue protection agencies that decided to go to war, it would be in nearly everyone’s best interest to stop them. Banks could start freezing their assets. Utility companies could shut off their water and electricity. There would be market mechanisms to prevent the rogue agency from warring.

So long as arbitration is viewed as a cheaper way to resolve disputes than violence (and this will be true under almost all conditions), war between rival protection agencies is highly unlikely.

Wouldn’t these insurance agencies become states? Wouldn’t they collude and form a cartel?

Many people will read the above description of justice in a stateless society and dismiss it, claiming that the insurance or protection agencies would just be states. Often, this comes from the fallacious association people have in their minds between government and criminal justice – whatever organization that is mediating disputes is the government, in this view.

And if you would like to call it a government, or “competing governments,” or whatever you want, that’s fine. The semantics don’t really matter. That being said, there is one fundamental difference between government and the system described above: the role of coercion.

The key feature of states is that they have a monopoly on “legitimate” coercive authority within a given territory. In contrast, individuals can withdraw their support for their protection agency (which they voluntarily chose in the first place) and take their business elsewhere.

But what if an individual’s protection agency decided that they wanted to subjugate their current, paying clients? This is the kind of problem that would be very easy to anticipate, so individuals shopping around for crime insurance will only become clients if their contract has a stipulation regarding how disputes between the insurer and the insured are resolved that is favorable to them. Perhaps a particular arbiter is specified at the outset, or perhaps the arbiter will be of the client’s choosing. If the protection agency doesn’t heed this procedure, then they – just like the criminals discussed above – would become pariahs, and lose all their business and all their power.

Of course, this assumes that the protection agencies don’t form a cartel, backed by coercive violence, and thus bring the state in through the back door. But protection agencies forming a cartel is unlikely for the same reasons that they are unlikely to go to war against each other. Presumably, the reason to join a cartel is economic self-interest, so it is logically inconsistent to suggest that an agency will join a cartel but then engage in self-destructive behavior. The cartelized agencies are essentially in a prisoner’s dilemma with each other; the payoff to a given agency of reneging on an agreement to punish “outsider” agencies is higher than going along with it.

How would the poor get access to the legal system? What about the uninsured?

This problem should be negligible, since those who have less property also have less to insure, and thus would have lower premiums. And in the most extreme of edge cases, surely charity and pro bono work could help. It’s easy to envision arbiters doing some pro bono work for the poor in order to improve their reputation, which will help them get more paying clients. Contrast this with our governmental system, where legal fees price even middle-class people out of legal representation.

In any system, government or not, there will be a small segment that slips between the cracks, and doesn’t receive justice. Unfortunately, the only solution to this is for criminals to agree to stop committing crimes, and everyone else agreeing to stop getting into disputes.

A related objection is that some people don’t believe that justice is something people should need to pay for. But whether there is a government or not, justice has a cost, and it must be paid. I will dismiss this with a clever quote from Michael Huemer:

“If we decide that it is wrong to charge money for a vital service such as rights protection, whereas one can charge whatever one likes for inessential goods such as Twinkies and cell phones, then we will build a society with plenty of Twinkies, cell phones, and rights violations.”

Does this let people get whatever weapons they want, like nukes and assault weapons?

Some people think that we need government so that there aren’t random people building nuclear weapons in their basements. How would anarchy deal with things like weapons proliferation and gun control? A stateless society could handle this issue peacefully, and in a way that ought to satisfy both those in favor of gun rights and those who lean toward gun control.

Consider weapons from the standpoint of a crime insurance agency, which will need to pay a large sum to the estate of anyone whom their clients kill. One of the first things you’d want to know is what kind of heat they are packing, right?

Different insurers will handle the situation differently, and I’m sure a variety of policies will be available. But my bet is that someone who keeps assault rifles and sawed off shotguns in their house is more likely to hurt others, so insurance companies will either charge a significantly higher premium, or refuse to insure them entirely. Similarly, I think you’d be hard pressed to find an insurer who is willing to underwrite a policy for someone who is tinkering with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

This presents a beautiful solution to the gun control problem. Actuaries could determine the relative risk of people carrying certain types of weapons, and a rational, market-based approach would result. I cannot predict what the end result of this would be, but here’s my guess: most insurers would probably reduce a client’s premium if they own a handgun and verify that they have taken a gun safety course, since this will allow the client to defend themselves and reduce claims. Other weapons are likely to increase premiums, perhaps drastically. For those individuals who really want to own an assault rifle, no coercive force will be used to stop them – but the full force of society’s values will be used to discourage it.

What happens when the arbiters make incorrect judgments?

In any given case, there are two main ways that judges could make errors: letting a criminal go free, or proclaiming an innocent person guilty. Unfortunately, no one has yet devised a social system that can prevent these kinds of issues from occurring, but anarchy can help mitigate the effects of these errors.

Let’s say that an obvious murderer has been judged innocent. Today, it is completely feasible that someone widely viewed as guilty can be acquitted (think OJ Simpson). When this happens, the murderer gets away with it – no further punishment is meted out. Under anarchy, however, you can be quite sure that the murderer’s insurer will hike up their premiums for continued service, or refuse to do business with them entirely. Remember: the insurer is concerned about the likelihood that their client will be convicted of a crime in the future (and then need to pay damages), and someone who is generally recognized as a murderer would be considered a liability.

What about the wrongfully convicted? For starters, it defies imagination that a stateless society could wrongfully convict more people than America’s current “justice” system, particularly if you include all of the victimless “crimes” that innocent people are sent away to prison to rot for. No doubt, people will continue to be wrongfully convicted under anarchy. The difference is that someone will actually be responsible for it, and can be held accountable. If John is wrongfully convicted of murder, the protection agency that caught and prosecuted him could be brought to court for the damages they’ve done to him. This means that any insurer will want a high-confidence that they found the right guy, otherwise they may be on the hook for a lot of money. In addition, John has a legally enforceable right to this money, so he can offer to pay anyone who can find evidence proving his innocence (or his insurance agency can look for evidence as well). Under government, once a conviction happens, nobody has any reason to look for evidence of John’s innocence.

Clearly, this system is imperfect, as are all social systems. But it is equally clear that anarchy would handle mistakes of justice far better than government.

 

Security Against States: “National Defense” Under Anarchy

Having discussed how a stateless society could handle conflicts internally, we now come to another issue: how would a stateless society defend itself from attacks from foreign governments? After all, it is highly unlikely that all governments will disappear at once, so what is to stop a government from invading and taking over a region under anarchy?

It is critical to anarchist theory that this question be answered. After all, “national defense” is the prototypical “public good” – one in which non-payers cannot be excluded from enjoying its benefits, and use by one individual does not make it less available to others. According to this theory, a free market would be unable to provide for common security because of free riders – individuals who will not pay for protection because they know they can get it for free so long as others pay for it. It would be difficult for an army to say “we will protect house A from foreign aggression, but we will not protect house B.” Since everyone has the incentive to be a free rider, defense from foreign aggression will be under-produced on the market.

This view is fallacious. For one thing, all goods that tend to be considered public goods have been adequately provided by the market (lighthouses are a classic example). Things like software and radio or television broadcasting would fit the definition of public goods, but do not require government intervention to produce in sufficient quantities. In my mind, it is likely that the idea of public goods have been deliberately promoted in order to provide an aura of legitimacy to government – but I digress.

What it comes down to is that public goods theorists simply aren’t creative enough. They ignore the many ways in which humans overcome the free rider problem, and refuse to consider that these means could be possible. I’m pleased to say that as cryptographic technology improves, the public goods justification for the state will completely fade. The Lighthouse app (still in beta), a peer-to-peer crowdfunding app relying on smart contracts, has officially and mathematically solved the problem of how to provide public goods in general. That’s how human progress works – entrepreneurs come up with solutions to problems.

As for collective security in particular, it is crucial to remember that the state is distinct from its subjects, and the state is designed to protect itself, not the people residing within its borders. Those who make up the state have strong incentives to provide defense that will secure the state itself – but the incentive to protect the people living under that state is minimal. After all, the state (or those who make up the state) is just another special interest group. But defense of the public remains a public good, so it is very unlikely to be adequately supplied by a government.

The free rider problem can be overcome and collective security can be produced efficiently, but seeing this may require some imagination as well as remembering that the ideological milieu would be different under anarchy. Psychological factors can help to overcome the free rider problem, as described by Keith Preston:

“But there are many other reasons why individuals would choose to fight an enemy invader or contribute voluntarily towards such an effort [besides economic reasons]. Psychological attachments of the “blood and soil” variety, loyalty to one’s family, community, religion or culture might be a motivating factor for many people. For example, gays might be eager fight against a potential conqueror known for its persecution of homosexuals. Racists might fight an invader out of base racial hatred for the dominant ethnic group among the enemy. Believers in virtues such as honor and courage or adherents to particular ideals (“justice”, “freedom”, “humanity”) would have their own reasons for fighting beyond the mere economic. Some may choose to fight for the sheer adventure of it all or out of a simple taste for violence and bloodshed.”

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel writes:

“…national defense, in the sense of protecting the people from a foreign State, is a subset of the general problem of protecting them from any State, domestic or foreign. Consequently, the factors that already provide protection from the domestic State are the very factors which on the market would provide protection from foreign States. To put it concretely, the same social consensus that has voluntarily overcome the free-rider obstacle to protect the United States, one of the most free, if not the most free, nation in the world would voluntarily overcome the free-rider obstacle to protect American freedom from foreign States.”

If we can expect the state to provide for collective defense, then we can even more strongly expect an anarchist society to do so.

Avoiding Conflict

Without a doubt, the best strategy for collective defense of a society is to avoid armed conflict in the first place. Anarchist societies can do a far better job of avoiding conflict than states can.

While certainly not the only factor in decisions regarding whether or not to go to war, the most important one is a cost/benefit analysis. It can generally be said that if a potential war will provide little utility to those who decide to embark on it, but will be costly, it most likely will not happen.

This of course implies that states are likely to be highly aggressive – the costs of war are not borne by the politicians, but them and their military-industrial complex cronies can certainly get significant benefits from it! Stateless societies, where those who choose to make war must fund it fully themselves, are far less likely to be aggressive. And luckily, what is needed for effective defense is far less expensive than what is required for military aggression.

A stateless society can drastically reduce the chance of conflict by making it costly to invade, and with as little benefit as possible. Without an already existing state in place, there will be no command center for the foreign aggressor to take over. Rather than simply taking over the capitol and using the already existing and “legitimized” state apparatus to extract taxes from the populace, the invader will need to win the war neighborhood by neighborhood. And if they succeed, they’ll need to create all the infrastructure needed to govern the hostile territory before being able to take from it. For example,

“…during the American Revolution the British focused their energies on conquering Philadelphia, at that time the nominal capital of the United States, on the assumption that once the capital had fallen the rest of the country would be theirs as well. What the British failed to realize was that the United States was a loose-knit confederation, not a centralized nation-state, and the government in Philadelphia had almost no authority. When Philadelphia fell, the rest of the country went about its business as usual; Americans were not accustomed to living their lives according to directives from Philadelphia, and so the British troops ended up simply sitting uselessly in the occupied capital, achieving nothing. Hence Benjamin Franklin, when he heard that the British army had captured Philadelphia, is said to have replied, ‘Nay, I think Philadelphia has captured the British army.’”

In short, there would likely be very little to gain from attacking a stateless territory, at least financially. Contrast this with the possibility of invading a small state with a weak military. There is already an apparatus for control and administration in place, and likely only government defense institutions rather than a decentralized network of private ones. Given that there are many governments today with weak militaries, they would be superior targets for invasion than a stateless region. And since these weaker states aren’t being constantly invaded in today’s world, that provides some evidence that large states may not be all that aggressive against a stateless society. In fact, today there are more than 20 nations without a standing army, including noteworthy examples like Costa Rica and Liechtenstein, which hasn’t had a military since 1868 (and wasn’t taken over by the Nazis!).

As time progresses and technology advances, the benefits of warring also become lower. If wealth is mobile, then the potential gain from an aggressive attack is decreased substantially. With more and more economic activity taking place on the internet, physical invasion becomes less profitable. Consider this example from Bruce Benson:

“While land certainly remains an important source of wealth in much of the world, it is increasingly less important. Wealth is increasingly tied to capital, which is increasingly mobile. If the defenders can escape and take much of their wealth with them, the expected gains from invasion are reduced. Note what has been happening to Hong Kong as the date for China’s take-over of the city approaches, for instance. Much of the city’s wealth has been relocated to Vancouver, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, and elsewhere, as entrepreneurs and capital owners seek relatively free societies where their property rights will be more secure.”

Along the same lines, Mark Lutter makes a convincing argument that war is becoming less and less likely as trade becomes easier.

“I propose history to be interpreted as a gradual reduction in transaction costs. Institutional evolution is leading to a world where anonymous exchange is possible with any actor. It is the lowering of transaction costs that has led to the highest standard of living mankind has ever enjoyed, as well as the most peaceful time in human history. It is now more profitable than ever to cooperate.”

Since it is quite likely that the stateless society will be engaging in some form of trade with the people of any potential aggressor nation, the price of going to war drastically increases for an aggressor.

This is all well and good in terms of the economic motivations for war, but war is sometimes about more than that. There can be ideological or geopolitical motivations as well. In a stateless society, there would be no government to engage in significant disputes with foreign governments, and thus eliminate many of the potential causes for war. There may be individuals in the ungoverned area that are hostile to a particular state, but that foreign government will feel far less threatened by some hostile individuals than a hostile government. In addition, stateless societies would not be players in the power games and competition for domination in an area. There would be no standing army, and the society would not act as a single agent, so foreign governments will feel less threatened by the “power” of a stateless society. It would be clear to the subjects of a state that is aggressing against a stateless society that it is their government that is in the wrong, which will decrease the state’s legitimacy in their eyes. With legitimacy being the source of the state’s power, this would be a dangerous game for them to play.

Nevertheless, it would be naïve to argue that a stateless society will never be invaded. But there are some easy ways that the anarchists could make it as costly as possible. For instance, protection agencies (being those who are most threatened by a potential foreign invasion) can put bounties on the heads of state officials to encourage insurrection and privateering. They can also assassinate those public officials, or create the credible threat that they could do so. Since protection agencies will be practiced at capturing/apprehending people, assassination or kidnap might be something they’re good at. Government decision makers are far less likely to go to war if they know that it is their heads which are on the line.

Protection agencies should ensure that the threat of retaliation is squarely on the political/military leaders, and not the soldiers and civilians of the foreign country. In fact, they can offer sanctuary or perhaps money to foreign soldiers in exchange for their desertion. If deserters bring some weapons with them, surely protection agencies would be willing to pay for those as well.

Couldn’t states just nuke the stateless regions? Technically yes, but remember that states can also nuke other states, and would have more reason to do so. Nuking a stateless region would offer no gain, would have long-lasting environmental impacts that could damage the aggressor state, and there would almost certainly be a loss of legitimacy internally.

To sum up, there are many reasons to believe that a stateless society would have drastically lower needs for defense than a state would, and is unlikely to be attacked. This is truer under some conditions than others. Philosopher Michael Huemer provides seven conditions of an anarchist society that make it very likely that it could avoid warfare:

  1. Established in a region otherwise dominated by liberal democracies
  2. The society itself embraced liberal values
  3. Strong social and economic relations with its neighbors
  4. No large internal ethnic or religious tensions
  5. Not established in a region with a long-standing territorial dispute
  6. Established through an indigenous movement rather than being imposed by a foreign power
  7. Established with the consent of the state previously controlling the territory.

All but #7 seem highly likely, but even that would be quite plausible as ideology evolves and becomes more anarchist-friendly. And if not – well, they can still assassinate the generals.

Guerrilla Warfare

Even if the risk of a stateless society going to war is lower, it still exists; the people must be able to defend themselves when this happens.

History has shown time and again that a small group can beat even a great empire via guerrilla warfare. And a stateless society could handle guerrilla warfare quite well, including an advanced division of labor, as Keith Preston describes:

“The anarcho-military forces would likely differentiate between ordinary infantry and militia fighters on one hand and more professionalized specialists on the other. The militia itself would include ordinary people of all ages and backgrounds. The responsibility of these groups would be to secure supply centers, transportation systems and medical facilities along with ordinary community institutions, businesses and homes. They would likely be armed with weapons that are easy to maintain, transport, supply and use such as high-powered rifles with a good scope, semi-automatic handguns and regular shotguns sawed off as low as possible. An invading army would have to fight on a community-to-community, street-to-street, house-to-house basis. Enemy troops attempting conquest would face an endless barrage of sniper fire, Molotov cocktails, ambushes, sabotage, bombings and assassinations. Guerrilla attacks would be launched from forest areas adjacent to highways where enemy military units were traveling. Anti-aircraft artillery would be placed atop mountains and skyscrapers. Those charged with the use of more powerful or sophisticated weaponry – tanks, laser technology, rocket launchers, land mines, machine guns, grenades, fighter planes, missiles – would likely be drawn from the ranks of mercenaries and other military professionals specifically trained for certain functions.”

How would a stateless society secure the manpower for these militias?

“Organizations that sponsor immigrants might make membership in a defensive militia a condition of a grant of assistance. The same might be true of homeless organizations, proprietary communities or professional guilds. Mercenary groups might sell their services to businesses or communities during a time of invasion. These groups might support themselves during peacetime through contracting out for other types of labor including street patrol, private security or bodyguard services, fire and rescue services, construction work, park maintenance, environmental cleanup or disaster relief. Militia recruits might come from some unusual sources. Gangs and outlaw motorcycle clubs might serve as mercenaries during a time of war. (The Hell’s Angels volunteered for service in Vietnam but were refused.) Criminals might work off their restitution debts through service in a militia.”

And in the event of invasion, protection agencies could arm their clients or lift restrictions on their weapons. There could even be a “draft” clause within the policy that mandates the signatory to become part of a militia in times of need, perhaps in exchange for a reduced premium. It’s also quite likely that protections agencies would stockpile some good guerrilla weaponry during peacetime, including roadside explosives, antitank weapons, sniper rifles, and so on.

Instead of having a government Navy, shipping-related industries could supply protection for their own vessels and could maintain a fleet of warships, or pay mercenaries/privateers to do so. Aviation related industries could supply air defense by having a few fighter jets or attack helicopters. It’s easy to imagine industry groups doing this collectively – not every small shipper needs its own battleships.

And in today’s world, cyber-warfare is becoming more and more important, and this helps distribute power away from states as well. Stateless hackers could be very effective in gathering intelligence, messing with the aggressor’s communications and supply lines, or even damaging infrastructure directly.

Along with all of this war-making ability, a civil defense system could coexist.

“…a non-statist military defense would likely include an elaborate civil defense system. This might involve a large network of radar monitor services, scout ships and planes, sirens and broadcast systems that could be used to notify the public of an eminent invasion, vaccines, antidotes, gas masks, decontamination centers, bomb shelters, underground tunnels, radiation suits, body armor, emergency food and medical supplies, emergency evacuation plans, intelligence services, arsenals and emergency communications centers. These programs, organized and funded by Red Cross or March of Dimes-like organizations, could co-exist along with the private, voluntary militias of the type already described.”

Finally, the stateless society is likely to receive aid from other foreign governments who are enemies of the invading government. This could include air defense, intelligence, small arms…you name it.

Through guerrilla warfare, the stateless society could fight back against aggressive states, and become incredibly difficult to pacify.

Nonviolent Resistance

The most important component of collective security without a state (in my opinion) is nonviolent resistance, such as hunger strikes, marches and demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, labor strikes, refusal to pay taxes, and ostracism of collaborators. Bertrand Russell once pondered:

“Let us imagine that England were to disband its army, after a generation of instruction in the principles of passive resistance as a better defense than war. Let us suppose that England at the same time publicly announced that no armed opposition would be offered to any invader, that all might come freely, but that no obedience would be yielded to any commands that a foreign authority might issue. What would happen in this case?”

Any potential invader who actually followed through on it would have their brutality immediately revealed, which is likely to garner sympathy for the stateless side, lead to additional foreign aid, and potentially foster insurrection against the invading government.

When governments resort to violence against nonviolent protesters, previously uninvolved individuals will become partisans, expanding the resistance. As the aggressive government’s authority becomes delegitimized, the source of its power dwindles as citizens refuse to cooperate.

This may sound outlandish to some, but it is actually quite common. The historical success rate of nonviolent action seems to be at least comparable if not better than violence. We all know about Gandhi and the British, the civil rights movement, and the fall of communism, for instance. There are numerous advantages to nonviolent action, a few of which are described by Bryan Caplan:

“Because it seems less dangerous and radical than violence, it more easily…wins broad public support. The costs of participation are lower, so more people are likely to participate. Traditional noncombatants like children, women, and the old can effectively participate in nonviolent struggle. It is more likely to convert opponents and produce internal disagreement within the ruling class. It generally leads to far fewer casualties and material losses than violence. And since it is more decentralized than violent action, it is less likely to give rise to an even more oppressive state if it succeeds.”

Another benefit is that there is no such thing as final defeat so long as there exist individuals whose spirit has not yet been bent to the invaders’ will. It can also be done with less planning, strategy, or organization than violent methods such as military conflict.

Historically, most nonviolent resistance movements have been sporadic and fairly disorganized. But it can be significantly more effective if people are trained in civil disobedience and nonviolent protest tactics. This could be a good area for a charity/volunteer organization, and could lead to a sort of “National Civil Disobedience Reserve Army.”

Nonviolent resistance, done properly, is incredibly difficult to defeat.

 

Conclusion

If you have spent little time contemplating anarchy in the past, chances are you have a ton of questions or concerns about how it would work. I attempted to address many of the most common ones in the body of this article, but surely I’ve missed some. If you have any thoughts about this, please leave a comment and I will do my best to address it.

There are also numerous books out there which cover this subject matter in far more detail than I have. Here are a handful that I would recommend:

I’d like to end with a quote from Murray Rothbard:

“Suppose…that we were all suddenly dropped down on the earth de novo and that we were all then confronted with the question of what societal arrangements to adopt. And suppose then that someone suggested: “We are all bound to suffer from those of us who wish to aggress against their fellow men. Let us then solve this problem of crime by handing all of our weapons to the Jones family, over there, by giving all of our ultimate power to settle disputes to that family. In that way, with their monopoly of coercion and of ultimate decision making, the Jones family will be able to protect each of us from each other.” I submit that this proposal would get very short shrift, except perhaps from the Jones family themselves. And yet this is precisely the common argument for the existence of the state.”

War Is Evil

Injured child

Image courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues –

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

(The Latin phrase is roughly translated as “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country”) – William Owen, a British soldier who died in the trenches just seven days before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918

Of all the things that I find frustrating and despicable about modern American society, it is the cavalier attitude towards war exhibited by the vast majority of Americans. There are some pockets of genuine anti-war sentiment on the fringe left and the “isolationist” Old Right and libertarians. But there is a bipartisan agreement, in deed if not in word, that war is tolerable, acceptable, good, or even morally required in an increasing number of cases.

I wasn’t always the whack-job libertarian that I am now; up until about my junior year in high school, I looked at the world as though it was a chess board, with America and her allies being “the good guys.” At the time, war had merely seemed like a means to an end. To make the world safe, America needed to be the dominant power at all costs. And since we were America – the “indispensable” nation, the “exceptional” nation, and the clear occupants of the moral high ground – we could do no wrong. Sure, innocent people will die in war, but it’s for The Greater Good. The Iraqi people may not believe it right now, but once we’ve dealt with some bad apples and established a functioning democracy there, surely they will come around and appreciate the favor we have done for them.

It’s hard for me to believe now that this is the way I felt back then. I was probably even more pro-war than the average American. But it does give me some perspective on why people are so deluded about war, and reinforces my belief that ending foreign aggression in all its forms is the single most important thing that we as activists must be working toward.

 

America – Reluctant Fighter Of “Just Wars”

It is very difficult to garner support for wars of conquest in a modern, liberal democracy. In the past, religion was often used to justify war (“Kill the heathens!”), but this justification has lost much of its appeal.

But while that justification is no longer so effective, the need for the elite to wage war and line their pockets with the proceeds hasn’t ceased. A new way of deluding the public was necessary.

Westerners love to think of themselves as advanced, progressive, humanitarian, and morally righteous. This is true all across the political spectrum (that’s right, liberals. Even the neocons believe that they are doing a good thing, as silly as that sounds). In order to get your average American to support war, you just need to convince them that it is for humanitarian reasons: the enemy is evil, slaughtering his own people, and a new “Hitler.” We can use our military might to change the enemy, to liberate the people who are victims of some monster, and to bring them democracy and responsible governance.

I can do no better than to cite David Swanson from his book War Is A Lie here (you can read chapter 1 here, and I strongly suggest you do):

“The long-standing tradition of making war on foreigners and converting those not killed to the proper religion “for their own good” is similar to the current practice of killing hated foreigners for the stated reason that their governments ignore women’s rights. From among the rights of women encompassed by such an approach, one is missing: the right to life, as women’s groups in Afghanistan have tried to explain to those who use their plight to justify the war. The believed evil of our opponents allows us to avoid counting the non-American women or men or children killed. Western media reinforce our skewed perspective with endless images of women in burqas, but they never risk offending us with pictures of women and children killed by our troops and air strikes.”

If there is a positive intention behind any given war, many Americans will support it almost unquestioningly. Invading Afghanistan = Liberating women and catching Osama. Bombing Libya and/or Syria = saving the people from a ruthless dictator. These justifications are even used to revise the past; many people consider World War 2 to be a paradigmatic example of a just war because it ended the holocaust. Of course, there were many opportunities to save the Jews without going to war, and saving the Jews was never used as a part of World War 2 propaganda at the time (which was mostly focused on dehumanizing the Japanese).

On a slightly more academic level, pundits and philosophers have tried to ascertain what conditions can be used to determine whether a potential war is, in fact, a just war. Damon Linker elaborates:

“[There are] six criteria just war theorists…use to determine when a war is morally justified. The war must be undertaken with the intention of establishing a just peace. It must be defensive. It must be aimed at protecting the innocent against unjust aggression. It must have a reasonable chance of success. It must be declared and waged by a competent governing authority. And it must be undertaken as a last resort. If the war meets these six criteria, it can be considered morally justified.”

In theory, this would sound highly limiting. Very few, if any, wars would actually fulfill each of these criteria. And yet Americans can justify practically every single war based on these criteria.

“We always have a moral rationale for undertaking military action. We always consider our actions defensive (even if the aggression hasn’t happened yet) and aimed at protecting the innocent. We always think we have a reasonable chance of success. We always consider ourselves to be a competent authority. And we always claim to have waited as long as possible to act.”

We delude ourselves into believing we have great reasons to act, that if we don’t act now, something horrible will happen, and that we are just protecting ourselves and the helpless, downtrodden victims of whoever the enemy-of-the-day is. If anything, “just war” theory simply provides a self-righteous justification for whatever war the elite are planning. Not only that, but it grants the United States government and her allies the moral “authority” to play judge, jury, and executioner as the world’s policeman (incidentally, this seems to be the way actual police in America are behaving as well).

Americans fail to realize that their government is not acting defensively, and certainly does not have a moral rationale for much of the military adventurism that is obediently and unquestioningly supported.

In fact, most Americans are likely unaware of how militarily aggressive their government truly is. Since America’s founding, there have been hundreds of instances of military use in foreign lands. There are only a handful of years throughout American history where America has not been at war abroad.

In addition, William Blum counts at least 55 instances since World War 2 where the United States has attempted to overthrow a foreign government (often a democratically elected one), many times successfully.

Interventions Map

And while the United States has often attempted to take down truly evil people, this is a red herring. For every petty dictator the US tries to overthrow, there are more who the US emphatically supports. The US is even backing the fascist, neo-Nazi government in Ukraine, and supporting the use of child soldiers in South Sudan. For all the railing against ISIS and how barbaric they are to behead people, the United States stands firmly behind Saudi Arabia, which beheads far more people for such “crimes” as sorcery and pleading not guilty of a crime. Better yet, the US government itself has been supporting ISIS, I kid you not.

Of course, America can do no wrong, so Americans routinely ignore these inconvenient facts. The illusion must be maintained that it is only the enemy who commits atrocities. David Swanson provides this example:

“It is as important, in selling a war, to deny or excuse one’s own atrocities as to highlight or invent the enemy’s. President Theodore Roosevelt alleged atrocities by the Filipinos, while dismissing those committed by U.S. troops in the Philippines as of no consequence and no worse than what had been done at the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee, as if mere mass murder were the standard of acceptability. One U.S. atrocity in the Philippines involved slaughtering over 600, mostly unarmed, men, women, and children trapped in the crater of a dormant volcano. The General in command of that operation openly favored the extermination of all Filipinos.”

This type of hypocrisy, buttressed by massive propaganda efforts, is so standard that it boggles the mind. Once you begin to recognize it, you see it everywhere. You see it in so many places that you wish you did not. Occasionally I question my own sanity when I observe the absurdity of Americans continuing to believe the same lies and ignore the same hypocrisies over and over and over again.

Take the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance. To justify this war, we were repeatedly told that Saddam Hussein had been using chemical weapons on his own people. This is certainly true. What is universally ignored is the fact that the United States supplied Saddam with chemicals weapons during the 80s in order to use against Iran (and supplied him with intelligence so he could use them more effectively). Just one of many reasons why the Iranian government doesn’t trust us.

That’s a sin of omission. How about a sin of commission?

“On October 9, 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told a U.S. congressional committee that she’d seen Iraqi soldiers take 15 babies out of an incubator in a Kuwaiti hospital and leave them on the cold floor to die. Some congress members, including the late Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), knew but did not tell the U.S. public that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, that she’d been coached by a major U.S. public relations company paid by the Kuwaiti government, and that there was no other evidence for the story.  President George H. W. Bush used the dead babies story 10 times in the next 40 days, and seven senators used it in the Senate debate on whether to approve military action. The Kuwaiti disinformation campaign for the Gulf War would be successfully reprised by Iraqi groups favoring Iraqi regime change twelve years later.”

These kinds of lies are so routine that even providing that single example may do my argument a disservice. I can’t possibly list even a miniscule fraction of them, and any attempt to do so would inevitably result in important omissions.

Nevertheless, it is clear that, for war to have public support, the government must convince its subjects that they are acting on the side of righteousness, that they are The Good Guys who must defeat The Bad Guys. And most Americans will go along, because we want to believe that “we” are the good guys. As the great George W. Bush once said:

“We’re taking action against evil people. Because this great nation of many religions understands, our war is not against Islam, or against faith practiced by the Muslim people. Our war is a war against evil. This is clearly a case of good versus evil, and make no mistake about it – good will prevail.”

In every war, the enemy is made out to be pure evil – it makes it far easier to get your soldiers to kill those people and your civilians to cheer them on or buy war bonds. But while the manipulation may serve elite interests, it makes no logical sense.

“But just as the supposedly irredeemable heathen were converted to the correct religion when the screaming and dying stopped, so too do our wars eventually come to an end, or at least a permanent occupation of a pacified puppet state. At that point, the irredeemably evil opponents become admirable or at least tolerable allies. Were they evil to begin with or did saying so just make it easier to take a nation to war and persuade its soldiers to aim and fire? Did the people of Germany become subhuman monsters each time we had to make war on them, and then revert to being full humans when peace came? How did our Russian allies become an evil empire the moment they stopped doing the good humanitarian work of killing Germans? Or were we only pretending they were good, when actually they were evil all along? Or were we pretending they were evil when they were only somewhat confused human beings, just like us? How did Afghans and Iraqis all become demonic when a group of Saudis flew airplanes into buildings in the United States, and how did the Saudi people stay human? Don’t look for logic.” – David Swanson

 

Ignoring The Costs Of War

What war really looks like

This is what war really looks like, courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org

For Americans to fully support a war, it often isn’t enough to whip them into a frenzy of fear and jingoistic sentiment. War is expensive in terms of blood, treasure, and its toll on society, so it is important that the impact of these costs of war be minimized.

Americans happen to be very lucky when it comes to war. Surrounded by two oceans and two far weaker allies, it is very unlikely that any war the United States gets involved in would have drastic consequences for American civilians. Other than a couple of Japanese weather balloon experiments during World War 2, Americans haven’t experienced attacks at home since the Civil War ended.

War is also very expensive from a strictly financial perspective. But Americans don’t pay for war directly – the United States simply goes into huge amounts of debt and prints massive quantities of money in order to fund the war effort. This helps mask the true cost of war; instead of actually paying for it directly, Americans pay via higher prices and enslaving their children with debt.

Consider this: the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will likely amount to somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion dollars. This comes out to between $35,000 and $52,000 per household in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in 2013 was just under $52,000. Here’s a thought experiment: if Americans were told at the outset that they would have to sacrifice a full year of income to pay for these wars, how many people would have supported them? To ask the question is to answer it.

The result of all of this is that for the average American, war is simply no big deal. It happens “over there” and has no immediate effect on our lives (other than expanded mass surveillance and loss of liberties, a concession it seems most Americans are quite willing to make). This makes it easy for many Americans to forget what a horrendous thing war is – and to come up with some twisted justifications for it. War means little to the majority of Americans, but to the neoconservatives and the “humanitarian” interventionists with their “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine, it provides a cheap excuse to feel good about themselves.

Even if using the military to intervene in foreign affairs were likely to help people – and there are many reasons to believe that regional interventions are misguided and counterproductive – this hardly makes war morally justified.

Think of it this way: nearly everyone would agree that it is morally wrong to murder a random person and harvest their organs in order to save five other peoples’ lives. Many might put the ratio far higher than five to one. This means that for a war to be justified as “humanitarian,” at least five innocent lives would need to be saved for every one innocent life lost, and this is ignoring the massive uncertainty inherent in the actual decision-making process, the propensity to underestimate casualties, etc. As we will see later, it is highly unlikely that this would ever be the case.

And yet, in large part because Americans are so far removed from the costs of war, they can come up with all kinds of utilitarian justifications for it. It is a “necessary evil.” “We’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.” And so on. Tolstoy’s words ring true here: war, he said, “is not a polite recreation, but the vilest thing in life, and we ought to understand that and not play at war.”

How can wars be used to fight against evil when there is nothing more evil than war?

 

Forgetting The Human Element

The ultimate result of everything covered thus far – the propaganda, the hypocrisy, the remoteness of war – leads to the failure to look at people as individuals and as real human beings.

Stalin famously said that a single death was a tragedy, but a million deaths was just a statistic. The reality is that a million deaths are a million tragedies; unfortunately, people choose not to see it that way. There are many reasons to be against war, but ultimately it comes down to the sheer scale of the human cost, the million individual tragedies.

Napalm girl

A victim of napalm, after it has already burned off all her clothes.

It is not easy to count the dead in war, but people have done their best to compile estimates. World War 1 resulted in approximately 15 million deaths. World War 2 resulted in about 66 million dead, primarily civilians. Approximately 3 million died in the Korean War, and another several million in Vietnam. Over a million people, almost entirely civilians, have died as a result of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan (despite the Pentagon’s attempts to fudge the numbers), which is only one part of the incredible human cost of these wars.

And those figures ignore the particular atrocities of war: massacres, rapes, displacement of people. In fact, 90% of all war deaths are civilians. Take Vietnam:

“According to study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, there were 3.8 million violent war deaths, of which two million were civilian, with similar estimates reached by the Vietnamese government and Robert McNamara himself. Up to 500,000 Vietnamese women turned to sex work. 14,000 South Vietnamese civilians were killed, mostly by U.S. firepower, during the Tet Offensive. 70 million liters of herbicidal agents, notably Agent Orange, were dumped across the countryside. (“Only you can prevent forests” was the travestied Smokey the Bear slogan.) 3.4 million combat sorties were launched by the U.S. and South Vietnam between 1965 and 1972. The amount of ammunition fired per soldier was 26 times higher than in World War II. In the northernmost province of South Vietnam, Quang Tri, only 11 out of 35,000 villages were not damaged by bombing or artillery. A survey found that 96 percent of Marine Corps second lieutenants said they would torture prisoners to obtain information.”

Another inconvenient truth that most Americans don’t hear about is that due to American sanctions, up to half a million Iraqi children starved to death during the 1990s.

“There are disputes over the exact number of children who died as result of the sanctions, but most everyone agrees that the number ranges between 225,000 and 500,000…Let that sink in: Our own government — the U.S. government — knowingly and deliberately implemented and maintained a cruel and brutal policy with the intent to target the civilian population of Iraq, with the full knowledge that it would cost the lives of countless innocent people, including innocent children.

Even worse, year after year, knowing full well that economic privation, near-starvation, and death were the actual results of the embargo — and that it was not producing the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power — U.S. officials nonetheless steadfastly continued it.”

When asked about the effects of these sanctions, US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said they were “worth it.”

Worth it for whom?

Oh yeah, and the United States is the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons. In particular, they were used on civilian populations, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

I’m afraid that, in the spirit of Stalin’s words, the magnitude of these atrocities can get lost in the minds of most people. Many people claim they cannot “understand” or “believe” or “comprehend” these kinds of atrocities.

Let me try to help you understand.

Each one of those dead is a parent who will never see their child grow up, leaving behind a kid who must grow up without them. Each one of those dead is a child who could have lived a full life. Instead, they are the cause of the greatest sadness that a parent can experience.

Each one of those dead is a brother, sister, husband, wife, cousin, or friend. They are a human being.

When our politicians talk about the sacrifices that “we” make to “liberate” another country, they are not talking about their own sacrifices. Their “sacrifice” is to collect more money for their next campaign cycle and ensure that they have lucrative jobs in the military-industrial complex when they leave office.

No, it is everyone else who had no say in the decision to go to war who must sacrifice. More accurately, they are sacrificed on the altar of power. These people did not sign up for war. They did not ask to be murdered. They did nothing to deserve being murdered.

But these people are dead. That means no more life, no more learning, no more career, no more sharing happy moments with each other, no more music, no more friendship, no more love.

These people will never get to taste delicious food, watch a sunset, feel a cool breeze on their skin, smell freshly cut grass, or hear a beautiful melody.

Each and every one of these people meant something. They had family and friends who loved them, they had jobs and contributed to their communities, and they had hopes and dreams and aspirations. Just like you, me, or anyone else.

Iraqi burned alive in jeep

Attempting to escape his jeep, this Iraqi was burnt alive while struggling to survive.

These lives have been stolen by the elite political and corporate warmongers, and they can never be brought back. The last memory a child will have of his parents is of them being burned alive by a drone strike so badly that their skin is indistinguishable from cattle. The last memory a parent will have of their child is of them screaming in pain and terror, confused as to what they have done to deserve their fate.

These people are dead. Barack Obama murdered them. George Bush murdered them. As Harry Browne said, they murdered these people “as certainly as though [they] personally had fired a rocket launcher at their homes.”

All this death is meaningless. The only purpose of war is so that psychopathic politicians can enjoy their little power trips, and so that big defense and energy companies can make a few extra billion dollars. War is a racket, pure and simple.

Many will euphemistically and irresponsibly talk of “collateral damage.” They will say these deaths are unintended, as though somehow that implies that they don’t count. But innocent people WILL die in war. If you support war, you support innocent people dying, being maimed for life, and losing everything they have. You cannot simply separate war from the tragedies that it spawns. Those who launch wars do so knowing full well that they are causing innocent people to die, and those who support them are advocating for death and destruction.

Under normal circumstances, this is called mass murder. War turns otherwise normal people into sociopaths. What the average war supporter is advocating others to do on their behalf, they would never do on their own. War supporters would not go out and shoot innocent people, but they will happily delegate that task to someone else. Meanwhile, they feel proud of themselves and may even put a bumper sticker on their car saying as much.

This all stems from the failure of people to look at others as individuals, as fellow human beings. It is far easier to cheer on the deaths of some ambiguous, generic Iraqis than to cheer on the death of a person who is real to you. As Lucy Steigerwald said:

“Being anti-war requires a faith in people of a different religion who live in places most of us will never visit. It demands empathy and recognizing their humanity, regardless of culture clashes.”

This may require putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed – if bombs were raining down on your city, your family and friends were getting maimed and murdered. It is this kind of empathy that is required to stop people from worshipping cowardly monsters like Chris Kyle, the famed “American Sniper.” Imagine what would happen if some Middle Eastern country really did try to take over America, and Americans fought back. Enter an Arabian Sniper:

“A guy named Abdul is hiding on a roof top in Wichita, using a scoped rifle to shoot people he believes are intending to kill other members of his army of invaders. If the person in his scope looks American- in other words, if the person obviously isn’t one of his guys- and is armed, he shoots. Man, woman, child- it makes no difference. After all, he tells himself, these dogs deserve it because they are all the same, and they want to kill him and his guys.”

When Abdul returns to his home country, his people consider him a hero. As an American, do you?

Such is the irrationality that must be overcome. If it is not okay for them to kill us, then it is not okay for us to kill them. War is just mass hypnotic psychosis. It is always wrong. But powerful interests will always be pushing for more war and more death. It is the job of each and every one of us to have empathy for others and to refuse to resolve our disputes through violence.

Those who make the wars never have to fight the wars.  The Great Deciders will never be in a night ambush, where the fear is so overpowering that their bodily control abandons them, and they shit themselves.  And the defense contractors, engorged on obscene profits, will never have to kick open a mud hut door after strafing it with automatic weapons fire, and discover a heap of dead children beneath a wounded mother, who is so traumatized that she cannot even scream.  And the media tycoons cheerleading for more carnage, will never rush to the flag-draped coffin of a dead son or daughter and wrap themselves around it in fury as the military band tries to sound heroic.”

How The US Government Fuels Terrorism All Over The World

Death to America Online

If a family member of yours was murdered, I think it is safe to say you would be very upset, and would want to see the murderer punished and justice to be served.

Depending on the circumstances, you might even take justice into your own hands – pursuing and getting revenge on the perpetrator yourself. In most cases, however, you would likely leave it up to the justice system. But what if the murderer were rich and powerful, and could easily pull the right strings and use their influence to prevent justice from being served?

I’d venture to guess that in this case, you would be beyond pissed. Someone was evil enough to murder your family member, and then they were able to use their power in a massive perversion of justice in order to get away with it. You would almost certainly desire revenge, and would likely take it at any chance you got. There’s really nothing odd at all about this psychological predilection, and I take it that it would hold true for a large segment of humanity.

It’s only natural to hate those who harm you and your loved ones. In fact, even if your family member were a bad person – perhaps an evil person himself – most still would not take kindly to their murder.

Nothing I’ve said thus far is particularly controversial, or even informative. People generally would accept it at its face. And yet somehow, as soon as the word “terrorism” becomes involved, the majority of people throw this obvious logic out the window!

Terrorism

Since September 11th, 2001, the United States government has been leading what has since been dubbed the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Let’s put aside for the moment the extreme ambiguity in what this actually means. For most people, terrorism is defined at the “I know it when I see it” level.

I’ve previously discussed the propagandistic use of the term “terrorism.” In this post, I’m more interested in exploring the question of whether the actions of the US government and her allies are successfully fighting this ambiguous enemy. The very clear, undeniable answer is that American government policies are doing far more to fuel terrorism than to stop it.

 

The United States Helped Create Al-Qaeda

It’s amazing how short the political memory of most Americans is. It was less than forty years ago that the US was actively funding and arming the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ever since 9/11, the US government has vehemently denied this.

However, reputable sources have confirmed that this is true. For instance, in 1999, The Guardian reported:

“American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.

Since the fall of the Soviet puppet government in 1992, another 2,500 are believed to have passed through the camps. They are now run by an assortment of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist.”

Similarly, a 2004 article from the BBC states:

“During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA.”

Robin Cook, ex-Home Secretary in the UK, had this to say in an op-ed he penned for The Guardian after the London bombings:

“Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.”

Former Director of the CIA Robert Gates, in his memoirs From the Shadows, claims that the US began funding the mujahedeen in 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion. And Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President Carter, confirmed in an interview that they knowingly worked to aid these Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan.

All this is not to say that the funding and aid wasn’t justified at the time, given the relevant geopolitical concerns. The intent was to draw the Soviet Union into their own version of Vietnam. Arguably a decent strategy. Nevertheless, we must accept the history and understand the consequences, or blowback, from the actions of the US government.

There’s quite a bit more to the story than that, but this should suffice for now. For more info on the implications of this sordid history (for instance, that this relationship with bin Laden and al-Qaeda continued throughout the 90s), see this, this, and this.

While al-Qaeda is the most high profile of the Islamic fundamentalist organizations that were largely incubated by western funds and support years ago, it is not the only one. Off and on since the 50s, the US government has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. And in order to counterbalance the secular PLO, the Israeli government was formerly a major backer of Hamas.

Were it not for American aid (as well as aid from America’s Gulf allies), it is plausible that there would be no substantial Islamic fundamentalist terror movement, and quite probably no September 11th.

 

More Wars, More Terrorism

It was the United States that helped initially spawn the militant Islamist movement in the 1980s. And early on, the ire of these movements was not immediately directed at the US. What really got the Islamists angry was the many years of militarism by America in Muslim countries.

The US military has been heavily involved in the Middle East since far back in the 20th century, but it has been rapidly accelerating. Since 1980, the US has bombed 14 predominately Muslim countries:

“Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.”

And as Glenn Greenwald notes, Syria marks the seventh predominately Muslim country that the US has bombed since Obama came to power:

“When Obama began bombing targets inside Syria in September, I noted that it was the seventh predominantly Muslim country that had been bombed by the U.S. during his presidency (that did not count Obama’s bombing of the Muslim minority in the Philippines). I also previously noted that this new bombing campaign meant that Obama had become the fourth consecutive U.S. President to order bombs dropped on Iraq. Standing alone, those are both amazingly revealing facts. American violence is so ongoing and continuous that we barely notice it any more.”

It is surely true that the immense death and destruction caused by these many military campaigns are major recruiting tools for terrorists. If your house were destroyed, your family members and friends were killed, and your country occupied, surely you would harbor ill will towards those directly responsible.

 

Hate America's Army

By far, the most influential of all these military adventures in terms of its effects on the Islamic terrorist movement was the war in Iraq that began in 2003. You may recall the allegations that Saddam Hussein was allied with and supporting al-Qaeda, one of the major justifications for going to war in the first place. In fact, a Pentagon study released in 2008, which involved combing through 600,000 documents seized in Iraq, found no evidence that Saddam had dealings with al-Qaeda. Same with the September 11th commission. Given the claims from top Bush administration officials that the evidence linking Saddam to al-Qaeda was “bulletproof” and “overwhelming,” it is clear that they simply lied.

You may also recall that soon after the invasion of Iraq, Islamic terrorism became almost synonymous with the country. Despite no evidence of al-Qaeda presence beforehand, the new al-Qaeda in Iraq became a force to be reckoned with. In fact, a study by Mother Jones in 2007 concluded:

“Our study shows that the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third.”

Since that study only includes attacks that had at least one casualty and were confirmed to be from a known jihadist organization, it likely understates the results. A National Intelligence Estimate, reflecting the combined opinion of all US intelligence agencies, also concluded that the Iraq war substantially increased terrorism. Basically, Iraq became a training grounds for jihadists from all over the world, who were able to then take their skills and use them back in their home countries – or anywhere else.

Much of the same can be said about the war in Afghanistan, though to a lesser degree. If current tactics were working, there wouldn’t be continued violence and terrorist attacks there after more than a dozen years…but alas, more terrorists are being created than killed. This should be unsurprising in Afghanistan, where the US Army is capturing, beating, killing, and torturing the wrong people and creating enemies on behalf of disreputable Afghan cronies.

While there were many new militant Islamists created as a consequence of America’s wars, quite a few have received massive financial and military support over the past few years. You may recall the western attack against Libya that toppled Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. The war was sold to Americans as a humanitarian intervention; Gadhafi is such a horrible person, so we must support the democracy-loving rebels! Of course, those rebels were primarily – you guessed it – al-Qaeda. And what happens when you support Muslim extremists and give them weapons? Well, you end up with a US-backed general becoming a major player in ISIS! The Libya that America and her allies destroyed is now a safe haven for all sorts of jihadist organizations, and instability and terrorism have proliferated throughout Africa as a result.

If you are generous, you could argue that the US government simply didn’t know who it was arming. Were that true, it would mean that our intelligence services are so incredibly incompetent that anyone could see that they ought to be disbanded immediately. But for better or for worse, we know that America and her allies knowingly supported Islamic terrorists. The Libyan rebel leader even admitted that his fighters had links to al-Qaeda:

“Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.”

This is certainly the conclusion that the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi came to:

“The Citizen’s Commission on Benghazi’s interim report, in a paragraph titled “Changing sides in the War on Terror,” alleges “the U.S. was fully aware of and facilitating the delivery of weapons to the Al Qaeda-dominated rebel militias throughout the 2011 rebellion.”

The report asserted the jihadist agenda of AQIM, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and other Islamic terror groups represented among the rebel forces was well known to U.S. officials responsible for Libya policy.

“The rebels made no secret of their Al Qaeda affiliation, openly flying and speaking in front of the black flag of Islamic jihad, according to author John Rosenthal and multiple media reports,” the interim report said. “And yet, the White House and senior Congressional members deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress Al Qaeda.””

Leaked recordings also verify this account.

But that’s not all! It turns out that the Libyan terrorists that the west had been financing were starting to migrate over to Syria to fight with the (also) terrorist rebels, aided by the CIA, specifically on behalf of the US government.

Ahhh yes, and then we get to Syria. Here’s where things get really sketchy. For the sake of brevity, I cannot provide a full treatment of the ways in which the US has been backing fundamentalist Islamic terrorists in Syria, but I can at least provide a brief outline.

Obama has been, and continues to arm what the US government has been calling “moderate” rebels in Syria. This is a complete farce; everyone and their mother knows that the only substantial rebel forces fighting against Assad’s government have been Islamic fundamentalists such as ISIS. This had been widely reported in the media, even as far back as 2013:

“The New York Times, (and here and here) , Wall Street JournalUSA TodayCNNMcClatchy (and here), APTimeReutersBBC, the Independent, the TelegraphAgence France-PresseAsia Times, and the Star (and here) confirm that  supporting the rebels means supporting Al Qaeda and two other terrorist groups.

Indeed, the New York Times has reported that virtually all of the rebel fighters are Al Qaeda terrorists.”

So far, the United States has given $400 million in aid to the Syrian opposition (aka, the terrorists). Just the other day, the Pentagon declared its intention to train, fund, and arm an additional 15,000 “carefully vetted” Syrian rebels to fight against Assad. Despite the fact that previous groups of “moderates” who’ve received US training have joined the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. Hey, maybe this time it will work out differently, right?

What about ISIS, the new bad guys in the Middle East who just about everyone can agree are about as evil as it gets? Turns out they owe quite a bit to the United States as well.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East right now is very convoluted, and any sensible country would have no part in that mess. In Syria, the dictator Assad is a longtime enemy of the US. But the only credible fighting force against his government are the maniacal terrorists of ISIS and al-Qaeda. In some twisted sense, this means that the US government’s “best interest” could involve letting the slaughter that is going on in Syria continue for as long as possible.

This means that there is, at the very least, some sort of “unholy alliance” between the US and ISIS. I must be very careful here to distinguish between what is speculation, and what is heavily substantiated.

I strongly suggest you read this piece from Nafeez Ahmed, which details how the West both directly and indirectly promoted the success of ISIS, from securing passage for militants to cross into Syria to helping train them in camps along the Syria-Jordan border. For our purposes, I intend to focus primarily on how the US and her Gulf allies have been funding radical Islamic terror. As Ahmed states:

“…the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficially financing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret.”

But for those who somehow find this too difficult to believe, Vice President Joe Biden admitted that they had been funding ISIS all along. Speaking about Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Biden said:

“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad—except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

And the Daily Beast reports that ISIS has been getting funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar – all American allies. Daniel Lazare provides some additional details:

“After years of hemming and hawing, the Obama administration has finally come clean about its goals in Syria.  In the battle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, it is siding with Al Qaeda. This has become evident ever since Jisr Ash-Shughur, a small town in the northeastern part of the country, fell on April 25 to a Saudi and Turkish-backed coalition consisting of the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham, and an array of smaller, more “moderate” factions as well.

Al Nusra, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, is Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate. Ahrar al Sham, which is heavily favored by Qatar, is also linked with Al Qaeda and has also cooperated with ISIS. The other groups, which sport such monikers as the Coastal Division and the Sukur Al Ghab Brigades, are part of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and are supposedly as anti-terrorist as they are anti-Assad.  Yet they nonetheless “piggybacked” on the offensive, to use The Wall Street Journal’s term, doing everything they could to further the Al-Nusra-led advance.”

The funding of Islamic extremism by America and her Gulf allies is nothing new. In fact, it has been going on for decades. For example:

“…in Pakistan, where the aid program (known as Operation Cyclone) was organized, the Reagan administration was supporting a brutal dictator known as Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamic extremist who had come to a power in a coup in 1978, overthrowing a secular government. Zia carried out an Islamization project in Pakistan, with the building of hundreds of madrassas that preached intolerant variants of Islam and declaring judicial decisions must be based on Sharia law. The Reagan administration funded Zia’s government with $5 billion ($2 billion of which was military aid), as well as a further $3 billion to fund the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The stalwart US ally, Saudi Arabia, agreed to fund the mujahideen dollar for dollar for whatever the United States spent.”

And Wahhabism, one of the more extreme forms of Islam (the extremist subset of the already extreme Salafist movement) that tends to breed the most terrorists, is largely centered in and funded by Saudi Arabia:

“It would be troublesome but perhaps acceptable for the House of Saud to promote the intolerant and extremist Wahhabi creed just domestically. But, unfortunately, for decades the Saudis have also lavishly financed its propagation abroad. Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991.

The money goes to constructing and operating mosques and madrassas that preach radical Wahhabism. The money also goes to training imams; media outreach and publishing; distribution of Wahhabi textbooks, and endowments to universities and cultural centers.”

Secret cables from WikiLeaks confirm these claims, as well as implicate other Gulf states in the funding of fundamentalist Islam and terrorism. Remember, these are US “allies.” These are the countries that are supposed to be “on our side” in the “War on Terror.” Much of this is implicitly backed by the CIA. For a timeline of American/CIA flirtations with extremist Islam, see this.

Jihad me at hello

Given this history, it is hard not to ask the obvious question: is the United States really trying to fight against Islamic terror, or is it trying to foster it? Here we get more into the realm of speculation, but the facts as presented thus far strongly suggest this is the case. Despite government rhetoric, there are some who believe that the United States is intentionally supporting ISIS as a part of its Middle East strategy to counter Syria and Iran. In other words, the US could be the main driver of the success of ISIS, the despicable organization that is beheading journalists, slaughtering children, eating human hearts, and burning people alive in cages.

It’s hard to stomach, and difficult to prove for certain. But when mainstream, establishment publications like Foreign Affairs are actively endorsing the idea of supporting al-Qaeda (in this case, to curb the rise of ISIS, a very convoluted strategy), it is absolutely worth asking the question.

It seems like this is in fact what many Iraqis, including senior military figures, believe: the United States is deliberately supporting ISIS in order to oust Assad in Syria, and perhaps to gain some leverage over the weak Iraqi government as well. Of course, the mainstream media has dismissed this all as some crackpot conspiracy theory. And perhaps it is. But this is the view of Iraqi intelligence, which has noted that many US airdrops have been finding their way into ISIS’s hands. Perhaps that is why Iraq shot down two British planes that were allegedly carrying weapons for ISIS.

Whether these Iraqi accusations are true or not, it is certainly clear that the mess we face in the Middle East right now is largely the fault of the United States and the rest of the West. And where it isn’t directly the fault of the US, it is most certainly exacerbated by the US policy of “watching the world burn.” Any way you spin it, American involvement in the Middle East has been a huge driver of radical Islamic terrorism. And given the sprawling infrastructure of American military bases all across the Middle East, it is likely that these self-destructive policies will continue for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: Newly declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents show that the United States and the Western world have intentionally supported radical Islamists with the goal of forming a “Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” in order to counter Assad’s government. These documents were dated August 2012, long before ISIS became a household name.

This is no longer speculation. The United States, the Gulf states, Turkey, and other western nations specifically foresaw the rise of ISIS and deliberately supported it anyways. For more information and analysis, see this.

 

Drone Warfare And Torture – Losing Hearts And Minds

It’s not just America’s Mideast wars and occupations that are creating terrorists – specific tactics are also fueling this rise in terrorism. Two of them specifically come to mind: drone strikes and torture.

For the purpose of this article, we can mostly ignore the human rights implications and clear violation of international (and even American) law that these tactics involve. While these issues are certainly important – a lack of due process, the profligate use of cruel and unusual punishment, etc. – we are primarily concerned here with their practical impact. Of course, blatantly disregarding peoples’ human rights as well as international law does tend to have a practical impact…

Drone Strikes

I’ve tried to explain to several people that even when drone strikes do hit their target, they tend to create more terrorists than they kill. I struggle to understand why people don’t seem to understand this.

Perhaps most Americans believe that “targeted killings” actually succeed in hitting their desired target and no one else. The government and its propagandistic media do everything in their power to facilitate this perception. It is standard practice to have unknown drone victims reported as “militants”. Of course, the reality is that the vast majority of drone victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children.

In fact, only 12% of the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan have been identified as militants. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“…out of the 2,379 known victims of drone strikes between June 2004 and October 2014, 704 have been identified. Only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group.”

Drone strikes kill far more people than are actually targeted, despite official government rhetoric. And each of these victims is another reason to be pissed off at the United States.

“A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.”

 

terrorists hate us for our freedom

If your family and friends were being murdered out of nowhere, you would (unless you are a complete pacifist, but very few people are) want to fight back against whoever did this. If you are an American reading this, think back to how you felt immediately after September 11th. And now consider that practically the entire justification for the Global War on Terror (including multiple real wars, thousands of deaths at the hands of drones, torture, overthrowing governments, and massively intrusive domestic surveillance) stems from this single event, resulting in the death of 3000 civilians. Many Americans continue to justify an incredibly aggressive foreign policy simply based on the very little terrorism that Americans are victims of. And most of those who use 9/11 as a justification for war don’t even know anyone who died in that attack!

I also want to bring up Israel, a country that I believe has vastly more justification for military aggressiveness. Israelis have actually had to deal with significant and persistent terrorist threats. Israelis continue to live in fear of rocket attacks. And in the minds of many Israelis, this provides sufficient justification for Israel’s wars and assassination attempts. What these Israelis fail to see is that – regardless of whether it is justified or not – launching counterstrikes only exacerbates the problem. It’s very easy to understand why Palestinians tend to hate Israel, even if Israel isn’t acting out of line.

The use of drones is simply a gold mine for terrorist recruiting. It’s not just the civilian deaths; the ever present threat of drone strikes is enough to cause psychological damage to those who live underneath them. According to a report by Living Under Drones:

“Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.”

Drone strikes also alienate potential allies against terrorist organizations. From the same report:

“Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani rel­ations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.”

Ordinary Pakistanis are highly unlikely to help out the US in her counterterrorism efforts. Not only that, but these drone strikes potentially destabilize the government of Pakistan. Either their government can vigorously oppose drone strikes to appease their citizens and maintain stability (but then the US loses an ally), or they can help the US and find far more serious domestic opposition. Neither is particularly beneficial if the goal is to prevent terrorism.

Drones kill children

This is all well and good, but is there any empirical evidence that the use of drone strikes increases terrorism? This is difficult to measure, but limited evidence suggests that this is likely the case.

Using propaganda output as a proxy for terrorist activity, research has shown that the use of drone strikes has not been able to diminish this output. While the creation and dissemination of propaganda may not be the best metric, unlike many others, it is at least objective and quantifiable.

A study from the National Bureau of Economics Research found that civilian casualties in Afghanistan significantly increased terrorism because of “revenge” effects.

“In Afghanistan we find strong evidence that local exposure to civilian casualties caused by international forces leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run, what we term the ‘revenge’ effect. Matching districts with similar past trends in violence shows that counterinsurgent-generated civilian casualties from a typical incident are responsible for 1 additional violent incident in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks and lead to increased violence over the next 6 months.”

This is not the least bit surprising, given our discussion up to this point. But the most damning evidence of all is documented by Andrew Cockburn, and is in reference to the strategy of targeting “high value individuals” (HVI) in a terrorist organization. The same strategy was employed in the 1990s against drug cartels, with the same counterproductive effect – more and cheaper drugs.

“Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target’s base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo [a Pentagon analyst] added an emphatic punch line: “Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated.””

In short: drone strikes, at least in part due to being a humanitarian disaster, are a major aspect of terrorist recruitment.

Torture

Neoconservative pundits like to say that torture, or “enhanced interrogation” as it is euphemistically called, helps save American lives by preventing terrorist attacks. Many Americans instinctively agree with this assessment, perhaps in part due to how torture is portrayed in popular media like Zero-Dark Thirty. The reality is the opposite.

In fact, leading experts, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, top military interrogators, counter-terrorism experts, top intelligence agents and officials (including an FBI agent who interrogated al-Qaeda prisoners), and the Senate Armed Services Committee agree that torture is ineffective at stopping terror attacks and increases risk of terrorism.

Torture is physical therapy

While that proves nothing on its own, it should make you give pause before writing the government a blank check to torture whoever they want for “national security” reasons, but this is exactly what many Americans have done. Perhaps people should put more thought into allowing their government to waterboard, rectally feed/hydrate, sleep deprive, expose to cold and loud music, hold in stress positions for up to 180 straight hours, sexually abuse and humiliate, and threaten to abuse and rape family members of prisoners held without charge, many whom are later found to be innocent of any crime. Particularly when, as stated in the Senate’s own torture report, this did not stop a single attack on America or her allies.

Torture is completely unjustified for many reasons, both moral and practical. Torture can be and has been effective in a handful of individual cases, but it is unreliable and unpredictable (for more, read “Is Coercive Interrogation of Terrorist Suspects Effective? A Response to Bagaric and Clarke” by Philip Rumney). Since it is impossible to know when torture might actually be effective, it is bad policy. People often justify torture in “ticking time bomb” scenarios, where a terrorist attack is going to be happening imminently and authorities may be able to get information that can stop the attack from a captive. Besides the fact that those who argue in favor of torture can’t point to a single situation where this would have been this case, it fails on theoretical grounds. As Rumney argues:

“…one of the ironies of the entire debate surrounding coercive interrogation is that its use in the context of the paradigmatic “ticking bomb” terrorist may also be where it is of the least utility. Where a decision to use coercion is made in order to avoid an imminent catastrophe, the suspect, assuming he or she possesses relevant knowledge and is prepared to divulge information, could easily give false or misleading information simply to stop the infliction of pain. Once found to be false, there may be little time for the authorities to gain truthful information.”

Duh. Does nobody else think about these things? But even that ignores the very important problem of knowing whether or not you are even torturing the right people with the right information, a very important consideration when it comes to whether the use of torture tends to increase or decrease terrorism. Rumney describes the problem well:

“…in the midst of conflicts with terrorists and insurgents, attempts to control the use of coercion fail and the techniques escalate, as do the range of persons subjected to those techniques. This is directly linked to the issue of effectiveness because intelligence gathering requires the use of interrogation techniques that produce reliable information, along with the accurate identification of those who possess relevant knowledge. The problem of slippage also creates difficulties in terms of predictability as non-coercive interrogation is cast aside to be replaced by a range of coercive techniques that have not been proven to be more effective. Indeed, as the earlier analysis suggests, such techniques might actually have a range of predictable consequences that hinder, rather than assist, intelligence gathering.”

In other words, when torture is allowed, it begins to replace non-coercive methods of intelligence gathering. It starts to develop a kind of “mission creep,” which means that more innocent people (or even “guilty” people who don’t have the necessary information) will be tortured. If they didn’t hate America before, how do you think they’ll feel after being tortured without cause?

Indeed, without due process or even basic evidentiary requirements, it becomes likely that innocent people become victims of a “legalized” system of torture, like the one we have in the United States. Rumney again:

“It has become increasingly apparent that many individuals detained by the United States as part of the “war on terror” have no connection to terrorism and do not possess the specific knowledge that is being sought. This is a result of a range of factors including the selling of supposed “terrorists” to United States forces and the poor quality assessment of individuals when they are first screened by inexperienced military intelligence officers. Indeed, early internal intelligence assessments at Guantanamo Bay suggested that fifty-nine detainees (nearly 10% of the total number of detainees at the camp) did not meet screening criteria for deciding which prisoners should have been sent to Guantanamo Bay. A report in the Los Angeles Times claimed that an operational commander at Guantanamo Bay had gone to Afghanistan and complained “that too many ‘Mickey Mouse’ detainees were being sent to the already crowded facility.””

We’ve spent a lot of time thus far discussing why torture is ineffective. But it isn’t merely ineffective – it is counterproductive and weakens America’s position in the “war on terror.”

Think Progress has a short report (I highly recommend looking at it if you’re interested in this stuff) outlining just a few of the reasons why torture is counterproductive:

  • Enhanced Interrogations Recruits Terrorists
  • Enhanced Interrogations Puts American Soldiers At Risk
  • Enhanced Interrogations Ruin Credibility Of Intelligence Agencies
  • Enhanced Interrogations Strain Alliances
  • Interrogations Ruined America’s Moral Authority
  • Enhanced Interrogations Makes Terrorists Unprosecutable

I’m not going to discuss each of these points, since most of them don’t require too much straining to understand. What I specifically want to focus on is how torture breeds more terrorists and makes it more difficult to fight against already existing ones.

Two political scientists have found that countries that used torture suffered from more terrorist attacks and were more likely to lose wars. It is theoretically plausible that the causation could run in the other direction (ie, that terrorist attacks cause countries to use torture), but their statistical methods make that conclusion unlikely. These researchers write:

“They hypothesize that abuse of the subset of rights known as physical integrity rights fuels terrorism by making it more difficult for government authorities to collect intelligence on terrorists and by undermining domestic and international support for their counterterrorism efforts. They test this hypothesis using a data set that includes measures of both domestic and transnational terrorist attacks and find that respect for physical integrity rights is consistently associated with fewer terrorist attacks. This suggests that those interested in curtailing terrorism should press governments to more carefully respect physical integrity rights.”

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been used as recruiting tools by terrorists, and have driven hundreds (probably thousands) of people to join terrorist organizations (see here, here, and here).

Not only have new terrorists been created because of the United States’ use of torture, but the information gleaned from torture has also caused problems including false leads and terror alerts with serious consequences, including “evidence” linking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to al-Qaeda. To the extent that this information helped influence the decision to invade Iraq, torture has created innumerable new terrorists.

 

Conclusion

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the US has a well-documented history of supporting Islamic fundamentalist terrorists when it suits her geopolitical aims. Not only that, but the specific behaviors and tactical responses to terrorism have created legions of new America-hating, violent terrorists.

Even so, America continues to arm and support terrorists in the Middle East, and continues to use the same tactics that have proven so counterproductive. Meanwhile, the Western world continues to marginalize its Muslim population. In fact, it was the UK’s MI5 that turned ISIS’s “Jihadi John” from a nonviolent, normal guy who opposed the 9/11 attack to the violent terrorist he ultimately became.

I did 9/11

All of this inevitably leads one to wonder – why? Why would our government continue to pursue such terrible policies? I don’t have a surefire answer to this question. Perhaps members of the government are simply incompetent. Maybe the neoconservative movement is so hell-bent on world domination that they don’t even consider the moral or pragmatic consequences of their actions. Or perhaps there is a connection running through America’s initial support for al-Qaeda, 9/11, Saudi Arabia, and the current support for Islamic terror.

Regardless of the reasons, however, it is clear that there is a divide between rhetoric and reality. And for our part, we need to spread the word about the failures of the “war on terror” so that hopefully, someday soon, this needless bloodshed can be stopped.

“Never Again”: Why Is The Western World Supporting Neo-Nazis?

The Holocaust is a historical event that occupies a significant part of the collective memory of the Western world, as it ought to. There are many lessons to learn from that period, including the dangers of unbridled state power, the consequences of racism inflamed by propaganda, and the terrifying things that otherwise reasonable people will do when encouraged by “authority”.

The scale of sheer horror that the Nazis wrought upon Europe are well recognized by almost everyone in the Western world, and has spawned the phrases “never again” and “never forget” to represent the eternal vigilance we must possess in order to ensure that such evil does not rise to power again.

Unfortunately, Americans seem to have let their vigilance slip precipitously, as the events over the past year or so in Ukraine have proven.

Particularly as a Jew, but more generally as a human being, I am deeply disturbed by the complete lack of attention there has been to the rise of neo-Nazism in Ukraine. Even more disturbing is how this rise has been actively encouraged by the US government, and how the government and media have been actively suppressing this information.

The Obama administration and its lapdog media have dismissed the claims about neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine as Russian propaganda, but spending a minute or two looking at the facts reveals this to be a blatant and dangerous lie. While it is certainly true that the government in Kiev is not solely controlled by Nazis, they do have a significant presence and influence.

My intention here is to demonstrate, for those in the Western world who are unfamiliar with the situation, the significance of the role played by neo-Nazis in Ukraine and document at least some of the direct support that the US has provided to them.

The Jews of America and the Western world need to condemn US actions in Ukraine or else be hypocrites of the highest order.

 

Neo-Nazis In The Ukrainian Government

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called the government in Kiev a bunch of “neo-Nazis, Nazis, and anti-Semites.” We could dismiss his accusations as pure propaganda, and certainly he is exaggerating. But the inclination in American media and policy circles now seems to have swung in the exact opposite direction, alleging that the extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi segments of the new government are virtually non-existent.

Enter Svoboda, formerly the Social-National Party of Ukraine (compare to the Nazis, otherwise known as the National Socialists), and Ukraine’s preeminent far-right party. Less than a year before the Western-backed coup that toppled the democratically elected pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the World Jewish Council called upon the EU to ban several neo-Nazi parties in Europe, including Svoboda. If you do a Google search on Svoboda, neo-Nazis in Ukraine, or the like, you will see plenty of articles from around 2012 condemning them.

Now, they are a powerful force in Ukraine, one that the US government is staunchly supporting, and the EU is doing nothing about. According to investigative journalist Robert Parry (who broke the Iran-Contra scandal, by the way):

“In December 2012, barely a year before the coup, the European Parliament expressed concern about “the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine” represented by Svoboda, whose founders included admirers of World War II Nazi collaborators, such as Stepan Bandera and Adolf Hitler’s Ukrainian auxiliary, the Galician SS.

parliamentary statement from Brussels noted “that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles” and urged “pro-democratic parties” in Ukraine’s parliament “not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with” Svoboda.

After the coup, which was strongly supported by Svoboda and spearheaded by its associated neo-Nazi militias from the west, Svoboda and other far-right political groups were given several ministries in recognition of their crucial role in the anti-Yanukovych putsch.

Now with Svoboda at the center of power in Kiev, the EU has muted its alarm, all the better to maintain the white hat/black hat scenario favored by Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media. That narrative portrays the Kiev regime as the blameless white hats and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the ethnic Russian rebels in the east as the evil black hats.”

Whether you agree with the narrative presented in the last paragraph or not, it is indisputable that neo-Nazis were able to procure for themselves significant power in Ukraine after the coup. In fact, some of the first actions by the interim government were to make Ukrainian the only official language of the nation (and people wonder why the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the East were upset…) and making moves to remove a law on the books which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism.”

Known neo-Nazis have also taken prominent positions in Ukraine’s government:

  • Andriy Parubiy, co-founder of Svoboda, is the secretary of Ukraine’s security council. He is in charge of everything related to national defense in Ukraine.
  • Dmytry Yarosh, leader of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector (which, according to historian Timothy Stanley, “flies the old flag of the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators at its rallies”), is his deputy.
  • Oleksandr Sych, a Svoboda parliamentarian who tried to ban all abortions in Ukraine, including those resulting from rape, was made deputy prime minister for economic affairs.
  • Oleh Makhnitsky, a prominent member of Svoboda, was named prosecutor-general of Ukraine.
  • Serhiy Kvit, also of Svoboda, was put in charge of the Education Ministry.
  • Andriy Makhnyk of Svoboda was put in charge of the Ecology Ministry.
  • Ihor Shyaiko of Svoboda became the head of the Agriculture Ministry.
  • Tetyana Chernovol, previously involved in the anti-Semitic Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNA-UNSO), was named chair of the government’s anti-corruption committee.
  • Dmytro Bulatov, also with UNA-UNSO connections, was appointed minister of youth and sports.

In other words, neo-Nazis were given control over Ukraine’s military and security apparatus, their justice system, the economy, the education system, and other areas. This is not something that can be simply written off as an irrelevant, lunatic fringe – these people have real power.

On October 26th, 2014, there was a parliamentary election in Ukraine. The US government and its media have seized upon the results of this election to argue that, in fact, the neo-Nazis are marginalized, and to reaffirm that these concerns are all just “Russian propaganda”.

The far right, ultra-nationalist parties did not do well in the elections, true. But the views of many of the major parties are similar, and neo-Nazis have won seats as members of the more “mainstream” parties. As Roger Annis reports:

“Much has been written about the seemingly poor electoral outcomes of two of the largest extreme-right parties — Svoboda and Right Sector. Both failed to reach five per cent. Svoboda received 742,000 votes (4.7 per cent, compared to 10.4 per cent in 2012) while Right Sector received 250,000. But the numbers alone understate the situation with the extreme right.

Svoboda elected at least six candidates. Party distinctions were blurred by a field crowded with neo-conservative and extreme-right candidacies and by cooperation agreements between the parties. Thus, a leader of the fascist Social-National Assembly–Andriy Biletsky (an Azov Battalion commander) — won direct election as an “independent” when no candidate of the Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk blocs ran in his district in Kyiv. Some extreme rightists ran as candidates of the two large blocs.

Yatsenyuk’s bloc stood aside in the district in Dnipropetrovsk where Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh won. Two other Right Sector candidates were elected in the city, Ukraine’s fourth-largest.”

There’s more. While Svoboda and Right Sector are likely the most high profile of the neo-Nazis, there are other extreme nationalists with questionable associations that get less attention. For instance:

“The third place finisher was another, new electoral bloc, “Samopomich” (Self Reliance). It won 1.7 million votes (11 per cent) and 34 seats. It is headed by the strongly pro-Europe mayor of the city of Lviv in the west of Ukraine, Andrii Sadovyi. Sadovyi’s Lviv is a stronghold of the extreme right.

Another Samopomich leader newly elected to the Rada is Semen Semenchevo. He is a commander of the Donbas Battalion, one of the dozen or so rightist and fascist paramilitary battalions that have sprung up this year to fight alongside the conscript Ukraine army in the east of the country.”

Then there is the Radical Party, which got 1.7 million votes and 22 seats. The leader of this party, Oleh Lyashko, is a paramilitary commander who Amnesty International has called out for kidnapping and brutalizing important supporters of political autonomy in eastern Ukraine. Take a look at one of his campaign posters:Ukraine campaign poster

Last I checked, impaling a caricature of some rich Jewish oligarch with a trident seems…well, a little bit anti-Semitic. Reminder: this party received 1.7 million votes.

While the US media is severely downplaying the role that neo-Nazis are playing in Ukraine by only considering a small slice of the neo-Nazi pie, all the major parties are fairly similar, according to an investigation by VoxUkraine. Consider the current president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who is fully backed by the US. In December, he granted Ukrainian citizenship to a Belarusian neo-Nazi who is a prominent member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Society, an organization whose primary goal “is to prepare for a race war.” Why was he granted citizenship? Because of his valiant service fighting with the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, of which we will be investigating next.

 

The Nazi Presence In Ukrainian Militias And Police

The Ukrainian government since the US-backed coup on February 22, 2014 is the first government to dispatch neo-Nazi storm troopers (aka death squads) since the fall of the Third Reich. Most prominent among the various death squads (in the western media: “volunteers”) is the Azov battalion.

Take a look at the helmets that these Azov soldiers are wearing:

Azov helmets

On the left, you can clearly see a swastika. That lightning-bolt-looking-thingy on the right? That was the symbol of the German SS, the organization tasked with carrying out the Holocaust.

Azov logo

You would think that if the media caught wind of this, it would be a huge story. A moral outrage! There would be investigations, firings, and so on. But when the Washington Post covered this, they buried that detail in the bottom few paragraphs, and dismissed the use of Nazi symbols as “romantic”:

“A former school here is now a training ground and barracks for the men of the Azov, who receive a $70 a month salary as well as minimal training and aging firearms from the government. One platoon leader, who called himself Kirt, conceded that the group’s far right views had attracted about two dozen foreign fighters from around Europe.

In one room, a recruit had emblazoned a swastika above his bed. But Kirt, a former hospitality worker, dismissed questions of ideology, saying that the volunteers — many of them still teenagers — embrace symbols and espouse extremist notions as part of some kind of “romantic” idea.

He insisted the group’s primary goal is defending its country against Russian aggression.

“It’s like 1924,” he said. “Putin is the new Stalin.””

Do you see that? It’s basically a big “who cares?” followed immediately by changing the subject and demonizing Putin. This is simply unacceptable. It isn’t just some “romantic” idea, but a known part of their ideology. Here is Robert Parry paraphrasing some of the Telegraph’s coverage of the Azov battalion:

“Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a recent commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight.”

We need not just rely on the more anecdotal evidence by Azov members. What about their actual printed materials? According to the BBC, an online publication of the Social National Assembly (remember, the head of Azov, Andriy Biletsky, is the head of this umbrella organization as well) states its aims: “To prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital,” and “to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man.”

And this guy Biletsky was given an “Order For Courage” award by (US backed) president Poroshenko.

The Azov battalion has been very successful in their military campaign in eastern Ukraine. Perhaps as a result of this success, Vadim Troyan, former deputy commander of Azov, was appointed Kiev’s chief of police. In other words, the guy who is ostensibly supposed to be keeping Ukraine’s capitol city safe from crime is in fact an avowed neo-Nazi.

Next, let’s meet the appointed head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) “Department of Propaganda”, Yuri Michalchyhyn. As reported by Justin Raimondo:

“Michalchyhyn is a real piece of work: as the former head of the “Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center,” he isn’t shy about his advocacy of National Socialism. “We are against diversity,” he told the Guardian. “Ukraine is for Ukrainians.” Among his political activities: organizing a torchlight parade replete with Nazi symbolism. Michalhyhyn considers the Holocaust “a bright episode in European civilization.”

One can only imagine what kind of propaganda Michalchyhyn will be turning out on behalf of the Ukrainian SBU – paid for with American tax dollars.”

 

Neo-Nazi War Crimes

Of course, actions speak louder than words, and we ought not to rush to conclusions merely because of copious amounts of written and spoken evidence that these monsters are, in fact, monsters. In a chilling article by Chris Ernesto, we learn some more about the kinds of things these scumbags support:

“In October of 2014, Azov Battalion servicemen took part in a march organized by Right Sector to commemorate the anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who infamously undertook to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944.”

But the neo-Nazis of the Ukrainian government don’t merely support extreme violence and ethnic cleansing; they practice what they preach, and have been doing so in eastern Ukraine for the past year with the full support of the United States government.

For instance, the Ukrainian government has been indiscriminately firebombing parts of eastern Ukraine that have no military value, including with the use of illegal white phosphorous (click the link to see images and videos of the carnage). Actually, it’s not indiscriminate; artillery target maps show that the Ukrainian army, including the neo-Nazi “volunteers”, are specifically targeting civilians.

The atrocities committed by these Nazis are not isolated occurrences. They have been happening consistently for the past year. Taking a page out of ISIS’s book, the Ukrainian nationalists are even beheading some of their victims. As Vox reports, the neo-Nazis are blocking off roads and preventing humanitarian aid (food, medicine, etc.) from entering eastern Ukraine:

“These groups pose a serious threat to Ukrainian civilians as well. In December 2014, pro-Kiev militias blocked humanitarian aid from reaching rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine. Amnesty International researcher Denis Krivosheev said in a statement that the militias were starving civilians as a weapon of warfare, calling the tactic a war crime.

Another militia, the Aydar Battalion, has kidnapped and tortured civilians in eastern Ukraine. On dozens of occasions, militia members abducted civilians, tortured and interrogated them, and stole their money and valuables before either releasing them or handing them over to the Security Service, Amnesty International reported in 2014. The battalion was also reportedly running a secret detention center in the city of Severodonetsk, in which “detainees were forced to recite the Ukrainian national anthem and beaten if they failed.””

But if you get your information from western media sources, you would only be hearing about the atrocities committed by the “pro-Russian separatists” or “terrorists” in eastern Ukraine, and nothing about the vastly more prevalent war crimes coming from the pro-Kiev side. This is an incredible double standard, and one which is intolerable given the stakes in this war.

Maidan Square – Sniper Massacre

On February 20th, 2014, during protests against the democratically elected, pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, snipers shot and killed well over 100 people from both the police side and the protestor side.

In nearly all reporting on this massacre in the west, it was simply assumed that the snipers were from the government side. As such, the coup that occurred two days later was hailed, somehow, as a “victory for democracy”, despite the overthrow of a constitutionally elected leader (say what you will about Yanukovych, but at least he was actually elected).

But this was all incredibly premature, even though it was wrapped up nicely for western consumption by the media. People failed to ask the all-important question when it comes to these kinds of things: cui bono? Who benefits? Without even taking a look at the evidence, it is clear that the government had far more to lose by ordering this massacre than, say, neo-Nazi elements among the protestors.

According to a leaked phone conversation on February 26th, 2014, between foreign-affairs chief of the EU, Catherine Ashton, and her investigator, Urmas Paet, it was in fact elements from the protestors’ side who were responsible for the massacre. This call was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

But most damning of all is an incredibly thorough study done by Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottowa, taking into account all the available evidence, which concluded that the massacre was in fact perpetrated by members of the protestors’ side, and that the post-coup government covered the whole thing up. Here is a summary of the findings:

“The analysis and the evidence presented in this academic investigation put the Euromaidan and the conflict in Ukraine into a new perspective. The seemingly irrational mass shooting and killing of the protesters and the police on February 20 appear to be rational from self-interest based perspectives of rational choice and Weberian theories of instrumentally-rational action. This includes the following: the Maidan leaders gaining power as a result of the massacre, President Yanukovych and his other top government officials fleeing on February 21, 2014 from Kyiv and then from Ukraine, and the retreat by the police. The same concerns Maidan protesters being sent under deadly fire into positions of no important value and then being killed wave by wave from unexpected directions. Similarly, snipers killing unarmed protesters and targeting foreign journalists but not Maidan leaders, the Maidan Self-Defense and the Right Sector headquarters, the Maidan stage, and pro-Maidan photographs become rational. While such actions are rational from a rational choice or instrumentally-rational theoretical perspective, the massacre not only ended many human lives but also undermined democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Ukraine.”

In other words, the United States has been supporting a government that came to power through a false flag attack that involved slaughtering over 100 of their own people. Echos of the Reichstag fire, anyone?

Odessa Massacre

On May 2nd, 2014, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups broke out on the streets of Odessa. This culminated in a large skirmish outside the Trade Unions House, which was then set on fire, resulting in the deaths of 42 pro-Russian activists and six more on the streets outside.

Unsurprisingly, the western media reported this as though the details were murky, but that evidence strongly supported the idea that it was in fact pro-Russian elements that were behind this.

And unsurprisingly, they were (and continue to be) wrong; Right Sector thugs were the responsible party, and it almost seems as though the western media’s false coverage was deliberate. From an insightful article on Alternet, here is a description of the carnage:

“On May 2, 2014, following a match between two football teams, radical football fans along with Right Sector neo-Nazis brought in from outside Odessa joined forces. According to various testimonies and videos, the pro-Kiev protesters set on fire the tent of federalization-supporters of citizens who want to ensure that their rights will be protected in a federal Ukraine. The pro-Federation activists rushed into the historical trade union building hoping to find a refuge and barricaded themselves. The perpetrators ran into the building and beat people. They attempted to break into one of the rooms, but failed. They then left the building only to continue to throw Molotov cocktails (prepared by Ukrainian nationalist girls), shot at survivors who attempted to jump out from the windows, and beat to death those who managed to make their way out. Ambulances did not arrive to treat the survivors for hours and Israeli medical students offered first aid. The Odessa police did not stop shooters from firing at those trapped in the building. Some of the police were wearing the same red bands worn by Right Sector members and were seen talking to them. At the same time, however,Reuters and BBC falsely portrayed fascists who shot at pro-Federation activists inside the Trade Union building as “pro-Russian militants”.”

And as described by Robert Parry:

“This brutal Nazism surfaced again on Friday when right-wing toughs in Odessa attacked an encampment of ethnic Russian protesters driving them into a trade union building which was then set on fire with Molotov cocktails. As the building was engulfed in flames, some people who tried to flee were chased and beaten, while those trapped inside heard the Ukrainian nationalists liken them to black-and-red-striped potato beetles called Colorados, because those colors are used in pro-Russian ribbons.

“Burn, Colorado, burn” went the chant.

As the fire worsened, those dying inside were serenaded with the taunting singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The building also was spray-painted with Swastika-like symbols and graffiti reading “Galician SS,” a reference to the Ukrainian nationalist army that fought alongside the German Nazi SS in World War II, killing Russians on the eastern front.”

For more evidence, including grisly photographs and videos of the massacre, see this and this. The content of those pages is truly horrific, so do not open them if you are uncomfortable with the grotesque.

One week later (May 9th), there was a similar massacre in Mariupol. This event received far less attention, but is worthy of mention as long as we are discussing neo-Nazi atrocities in Ukraine. More from Robert Parry:

“This tactic of torching an occupied building occurred again on May 9 in Mariupol, another port city, as neo-Nazi paramilitaries – organized now as the regime’s “National Guard” – were dispatched to a police station that had been seized by dissidents, possibly including police officers who rejected a new Kiev-appointed chief. Again, the deployment of the “National Guard” was followed by burning the building and killing a significant but still-undetermined number of people inside. (Early estimates of the dead range from seven to 20.)

In the U.S. press, Ukraine’s “National Guard” is usually described as a new force derived from the Maidan’s “self-defense” units that spearheaded the Feb. 22 revolt in Kiev overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych. But the Maidan’s “self-defense” units were drawn primarily from well-organized bands of neo-Nazi extremists from western Ukraine who hurled firebombs at police and fired weapons as the anti-Yanukovych protests turned increasingly violent.

But the mainstream U.S. press – in line with State Department guidance – has sought to minimize or dismiss the key role played by neo-Nazis in these “self-defense” forces as well as in the new government. At most, you’ll see references to these neo-Nazis as “Ukrainian nationalists.””

The point I’m trying to make here is that these are bad guys. Evil human beings, who are willing to brutalize others, largely for racial reasons, in order to attain power. And, despicably, the west is actively supporting this.

 

The Western World Is Supporting These Neo-Nazi Thugs

Many of the people behind the events in Ukraine are neo-Nazis willing to murder anyone who gets in their way. The US and EU are giving them full support. The corporate media is whitewashing their crimes and manipulating the public into believing that Putin is responsible.

Anyone who is paying any attention to the news knows that the US is openly backing the government of Ukraine against those who want autonomy in eastern Ukraine. For instance, the US government has already sent heavy weaponry to Ukraine and has earmarked $19 million to help build up the Ukrainian military. Andriy Parubiy, the avowed neo-Nazi and co-founder of Svoboda discussed above, has just come to Washington in order to ask for even more weapons assistance. The fact that a neo-Nazi was even allowed to speak in front of Congress is terrifying.

But it isn’t just weapons. The Pentagon has confirmed recently that US troops will be deploying to Ukraine this spring in order to help build up the Ukrainian National Guard (which has been heavily infiltrated by these neo-Nazi militants). They will be stationed in Lviv, well known as a stronghold of neo-Nazi sentiments.

In case I haven’t made myself clear: the United States is both training and providing weapons to people who are unabashed neo-Nazis so that they can fight a war against nuclear armed Russians.

This is not an exaggeration, nor am I falsely conflating the current government in Kiev with neo-Nazis. While there are certainly many people in the current Ukrainian government who are not Nazis, they are not even close to a fringe group, as I’ve shown above. And in fact, the US is specifically being extra kind to the more extreme elements within the Ukrainian establishment. Consider Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda, who has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish Mafia”. Here is a picture of him doing his party’s salute, eerily reminiscent of the sieg heil:

Oleh Nazi Salute

And here he is with US Senator John McCain:

McCain with Nazi

Dec. 15, 2013: U.S. Senator John McCain, center, speaks as Democratic senator from the state of Connecticut, Chris Murphy, second left, and Opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok, right, stand around him during a Pro-European Union rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP)

 

McCain with Nazis again

And here is Oleh with US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, of “Fuck the EU” fame (for those of you who don’t know, this is a reference to her intercepted phone call where she was caught discussing who ought to lead Ukraine, just a few weeks before the coup which put her top choice in power. Listen to the recording here and read the transcript here):

Nuland with Nazis

The US’s Historical Support Of Nazis

The current events in Ukraine are far and away the most blatant example of US support for Nazism, but this is not the only instance (and not even the only incidence of supporting Ukrainian Nazis, specifically).

During the tail end of World War 2 and its immediate aftermath, US intelligence agencies helped exfiltrate over 1000 Nazi scientists from Europe and brought them to America in order to aid in the cold war against the Soviet Union. This was codenamed “Operation Paperclip”. Among these scientists were monsters who performed tortuous experiments on living humans.

The US government went to great lengths to hide this, and prevented many of these Nazis from being prosecuted. Information was deliberately withheld about these people so that Nazi-hunters wouldn’t be able to find them.

Some of these scientists did in fact contribute to meaningful scientific advances (like Wernher von Braun), but many also turned out to be liars, useless to US intelligence, or even Soviet double agents.

The Jewish Response

One would expect the US and the western world to condemn the goings-on in Ukraine, and to do everything possible to stop the menace of a resurgent Nazism in Europe. Of course, if you are a cynic/libertarian like me, then you would understand that these things are more about politics and power, and less about doing what’s right.

But even I would have expected the response from the Jewish world to be more appropriate to the seriousness of the situation. Was there not a collective agreement among world Jewry to ensure that never again would we allow the horrors of something like the Holocaust to happen? A part of this agreement means preventing the ideologies that would breed genocide or ethnic cleansing from gaining any kind of foothold or traction.

Somehow, however, world Jewry is failing in this regard. The rest of the world may not speak out against Nazism, but this just makes the need for Jews to stand up and protest ever stronger. Instead of trying to prevent the Nazi power grab in Ukraine, the Jewish world is ignoring it at best, and supporting it at worst.

For Ukraine’s Jews, this is a somewhat challenging issue. Many of them are more western leaning, and thus were a part of the opposition that overthrew Yanukovych a year ago. Of course, the opposition at that time was made up of a diverse cross-section of Ukrainian society. As such, many of these Jews were on the same side as the neo-Nazis, though they of course did not support them in any way. For Ukrainians, the question is more complicated than it should be for the rest of world Jewry; they have their own political concerns, whereas the rest of us are far removed from the political battles of a foreign country. As people with no stake in and no business participating in Ukrainian politics, our focus ought to be on anti-Semitism, not whether the government of Ukraine is “pro-Western” or “pro-Russian”.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite world Jewry condemning the rise of Nazism in Ukraine in the years before the coup, Jews have been fairly silent in the year since. Considering how the danger to Jews is now orders of magnitude higher, this is absurd.

While the Jewish response has mostly been muted or somewhat indifferent, some Jewish organizations have actually worked against Jewish interests and safety in Ukraine. Representative John Conyers had written an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which was intended to prohibit US assistance, training, and weapons to neo-Nazis in Ukraine.

But the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center didn’t support blocking funding for neo-Nazis, and they should be held accountable for their stance on this issue. As AlterNet reports:

“If passed, Conyers’ amendment would have explicitly barred those found to have offered “praise or glorification of Nazism or its collaborators, including through the use of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, or other similar symbols” from receiving any form of support from the US Department of Defense.

The amendment was presented by congressional staffers to lobbyists from Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, two of the country’s largest established Jewish pressure groups. Despite their stated mission to combat anti-Semitism and violent extremism, the ADL and Wiesenthal Center refused to support Jeffries and Conyers’ proposal.

According to Democratic sources in Congress, staffers from the ADL’s Washington office and the Simon Wiesenthal Center rejected the amendment on the grounds that right-wing Ukrainian parties like Svoboda with documented records of racist extremism had “moderated their rhetoric.” An ADL lobbyist insisted that “the focus should be on Russia,” while the Wiesenthal Center pointed to meetings between far-right political leaders in Ukraine and the Israeli embassy as evidence that groups like Svoboda and Right Sector had shed their extremism.”

Why are Jewish organizations which are intended to combat anti-Semitism taking a political stance on the Ukrainian conflict rather than acting to combat anti-Semitism?

Israel has been largely silent on the Ukraine issue, which is also disturbing. Does not Israel consider itself the defender of world Jewry? To be fair, Israel did vote for the UN resolution that condemned racist fascism and Nazism, but you would think that to be something obvious to vote for, something to take for granted. I suppose it wasn’t actually so obvious, since the US, Canada, and Ukraine all voted against it. What the hell?

 

Conclusion

What I’ve outlined in this article is disturbing to say the least. But I do want to temper my comments with a caveat or two. The fact is, there are many different organizations operating in Ukraine right now, and they may have differing ideologies. In addition, these groups are made up of individuals, and not every individual believes the same thing that their group affiliation might suggest.

As such, I apologize for any errors that may result for having conflated certain organizations with each other. For instance, Right Sector and Svoboda are different organizations and may have different goals or philosophies, though both are clearly ultra-nationalist and possess elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I’m sure there are some subtle differences between these organizations, and surely some individuals within these groups are not as virulently anti-Semitic as this article may have suggested. But there is no doubt that the neo-Nazi threat in Ukraine is real and significant.

In addition, I want to make clear that the current national government of Ukraine is NOT committing state-sanctioned acts of anti-Semitism. It seems as though the government is actually trying, to some extent at least, to counter anti-Semitism in the country. And as I alluded to in the previous section, many Jews in Ukraine support the government and say that it is not sanctioning anti-Semitic action.

But while there may not be state-sanctioned anti-Semitism now, this should not lull the Jewish people into a false sense of security. What do you think would happen if the fascist neo-Nazis actually took complete control of the government? They already have significant political power, significant grassroots support, and are the most battle-hardened segment of Ukrainian society. We must listen to their rhetoric. Perhaps once they’ve taken care of the separatists in eastern Ukraine (using American weapons and training), they will then turn on the more moderate elements and begin to execute the more racist and anti-Semitic aspects of their political program.

Many Jews that I know voice the opinion that countries like Israel and America help to ensure that world Jewry is safe. They believe that without these benevolent nations, Jews somewhere may fall prey to the kinds of dangerous anti-Semitism that fueled Hitler’s Germany.

Well…perhaps that isn’t enough. If anything, it seems that, at least on some level, many Jews may be worse off because of America. While that may not be a generally true statement, it is clear that right now, the United States government is deliberately aiding and abetting Nazism in Europe.

You may wonder why this is the case. It may sound too absurd to be true. But this is politics, and in the realm of the political, morality flies out the window. Anything goes. That’s how John Kerry could accuse the pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk of making Jews register with authority figures there or face deportation based on a rumor which turned out to be a complete hoax. You see, the White House felt no need to do any fact checking on something that proves useful for their own propaganda purposes. Accusing the other side of anti-Semitism is politically beneficial, but supporting Nazis can be as well, particularly if they can keep Americans in the dark about it.

Fellow Jews, please do not become complacent. Even countries that have historically been good to Jews, such as the US (despite some exceptions, like not allowing Jews to come to America during the 30s and 40s), are not permanent bulwarks against the horrors of Nazism and anti-Semitism. We ought to appreciate that our lives are far better as Jews than they have been in many other times and places. But if we are to take the slogans “never again” and “never forget” seriously, we must be eternally vigilant; unfortunately, we are currently failing in this regard.

Happy Purim.

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Charlie Hebdo: Terrorist Acts Are Just Criminal Acts, So Let’s Treat Them That Way

Charlie Hebdo

The recent Charlie Hebdo attacks were despicable, and have been rightly denounced by the international community as well as the Muslim community. Unfortunately (and predictably), the reaction to this attack has been the usual response to any act of terrorism: more fear-mongering, and more excuses to restrict our freedom.

On the right, we have people saying we need to shut down our borders, support the troops, give the government more surveillance powers, and eradicate radical Islamic beliefs. On the left, we have people saying that “we’ll never give up our freedom of speech!” all while advocating censorship for the sake of political correctness.

Meanwhile, the US killed hundreds of Muslims in drone strikes in 2014. The media dutifully and falsely reports that nearly all of them are “militants” or “terrorists”, which in this case is defined as a young male who hasn’t been proven to not be a terrorist. We rightly express moral outrage at the attacks in Paris, but refuse to turn that critical eye back on our own government. (See this great article comparing the media coverage of drone strikes to that of the Paris ones).

There are plenty of reasons for this perceptual double standard, but a particularly nefarious one is the term “terrorism” itself. Since 9/11, we’ve been involved in a “war on terror” – a war that, like all other war-on-adjectives (war on drugs, war on poverty, etc.), can never be won. We are endlessly warned of “the terrorist threat”, told that “we will never give in to terrorism”, or that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

There is no doubt that the acts that most in the Western world consider “terrorism” are in fact immoral, barbaric acts. But what is it that makes the act an act of terrorism as opposed to, say, a criminal act, such as any other mass murder? There is little, if any; the term “terrorism” is simply a propaganda device.

When you call a criminal action “terrorism”, it causes a change in peoples’ psyches. Most people tend to interpret a “terrorist act” completely differently from that of an equivalent criminal act that has not been dubbed the same way. It makes people afraid, which is exactly what all parties involved want (except for innocent civilians, of course). A scared population is easy to control.

“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.” — Herman Göring at the Nuremberg trials

The deaths of a dozen cartoonists and other media personnel is a tragedy, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. There is a part of me that feels ashamed to “use” their death as an opportunity to get on my soapbox, but it is merely to counter the sadly much more effective way these deaths are being used in the mainstream.

Because this was a “terrorist” act, we will be reminded that “they hate us for our freedom”. There will be no mention of their hating us because we invade their countries, bomb their weddings and funerals, and support their dictatorial regimes, despite them making that clear.

Because “they hate us for our freedom”, we will be told that it is necessary to grant the NSA, FBI, and CIA more latitude to spy on us and torture us. Out one side of the mouth we will be told that we must never give up our freedom of speech to these monsters, and out the other side they will continue to arrest and jail people for having certain opinions.

Of course, all of this is just a repeat of the bitter cycle that has plagued us since 9/11. The end result is a downward spiral into more and more tyranny and aggressive, unjust warfare.

It needs to stop. If we want to defeat “terrorism”, we need to start treating it the same way we treat all criminal acts. We can still express moral outrage over crimes, but most crimes don’t result in us collectively losing our wits.

People respond to crime by taking action in order to minimize their risk of being a victim – buying locks, getting a gun for self-defense, not walking alone late at night. These are common sense behavioral changes that will reduce, but can never eliminate, the risk of being a victim of crime.

With acts of “terrorism”, people get whipped up into a frenzy and demand to eliminate the risk, for instance, by trying to annihilate the ideology of “Islamofascism”. Of course, it is an impossible task to eliminate the risk, and any attempt to do so just tosses cost-benefit analysis out the window. (As an aside, the risk of dying in a terrorist attack is already very, very low).

The fact is, by responding to terrorism the way we have continually done for the past 13 years or so, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy that terrorism works:

“The attacks of September 11 were a spectacular success. Is there any other honest interpretation? They were a success not because of the Americans they killed that day, but because we chose to spend the next decade mired in hopeless, counterproductive global wars that cost us trillions of dollars and killed thousands more Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Terrorists wanted to show the world that we were brutal and unjust, and we did our best to help them do that. Terrorists wanted a war, and we gave them one. And we lost. We lost by giving them the stupid, fearful, angry response that they wanted…

…Our collective insistence on treating terrorist acts as something categorically different than crime—as something harder to understand, something scarier, something perpetrated not by humans but by monsters—feeds the ultimate goals of terrorists. It makes us dumb. It makes us primitive. It is our boogeyman, and no amount of rational talk will drive it out of our minds.”

Precisely. Remember that there was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq until we toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. And Juan Cole has some more penetrating analysis, suggesting that al-Qaeda is just trying to “sharpen the contradictions” in France:

“The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.”

By drawing an arbitrary and false distinction between terrorist acts and acts of crime, we play right into their hands. We are drawn into adopting precisely the policies that lead to more terrorist attacks. These are the very same policies that destroy our civil liberties and cause us to lose the moral high ground by stooping to their level and butchering many more innocent people in aggressive wars.

My condolences go out to the families of those who died in this tragedy, as well as all the rest who will suffer as a consequence of this act.

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