Ron Paul changed American politics in a way that no single individual can claim: it was Paul, a congressman from a rural district in Texas, who put libertarianism on the political map. It was the movement he inspired – a movement driven largely by young people – that has challenged the War Party like no other. Not even the antiwar movement of the 1960s has done so much to change the American consciousness when it comes to our interventionist foreign policy – and Paul’s new book, Swords Into Plowshares: A Life in Wartime and a Future of Peace and Prosperity, encapsulates the spirit of the man and the seed he has planted.
Written in the form of a memoir, Swords Into Plowshares tells the story of how Paul’s philosophical and political development made him into one of the foremost champions of peace in the history of this country. Born in a small farming community in Pennsylvania, young Ron grew up during the early years of World War II and he relates that experience – the rationing, the war propaganda, the deaths that impacted his friends and family – from the perspective that only wisdom and distance can grant. No, he wasn’t born a libertarian – that came later – but he instinctively recoiled at the tragedy and regimentation that wartime America engendered. Through the Korean “police action” and then into the Vietnam era – when Paul, by then a medical doctor, served in the Air Force – the author recalls his growing alienation from the rah-rah “patriotism” and unthinking belligerence expected of all “good” Americans during that era.
By the time Paul was elected to Congress as a Republican, in 1976, he had become convinced that the foreign policy of the Founders – friendly relations with all, entangling alliances with none – was the best prescription for peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, not many of his colleagues agreed with him.
As he examines the history of US global interventions since the Eisenhower administration, Paul notes how brazen our empire-building has become. Whereas under Eisenhower – whose reign is usually thought of as a relatively peaceful era – the interventions were mostly covert, as time went on our policy of global meddling evolved slowly but surely into outright aggression, openly practiced, and even trumpeted. Until we finally arrived at the ultimate militarism of the Bush Doctrine – a morally perverse policy that allowed us to “justify” the ethically indefensible policy of preemptive war, i.e. attacking countries that had never attacked us and posed no credible threat to our security.
There is so much material packed into this volume – the nature of war, the welfare-warfare state, the effectiveness of war propaganda, the historical origins of neoconservatism, the economic fallacies perpetuated by war propagandists, and that’s just for starters – that a comprehensive review would make a small book in itself. The best I can do, in the space allotted to me, is to give you a glimpse into what I would unhesitatingly call the best and most convincing antiwar polemic of our times.
Paul is best known for his deep knowledge of economics, which finds expression in his longstanding crusade to rein in – and eventually abolish – the Federal Reserve system. His focus on this issue made him a lonely figure in Washington for many years – that is, until his campaign finally bore fruit with the “mainstreaming” of the “End the Fed” campaign. His prescient prediction that foresaw the Great Collapse of 2008 led to the subsequent popularization of his anti-Fed views. And yet even as many conservatives came to recognize the real source of the boom-and-bust pattern of the economy over the years, they failed to see how the Fed enables our foreign policy of perpetual war. In Swords Into Plowshares, Paul makes the vital connection:
“Our economic policy, and in particular the Federal Reserve, is intertwined in global finance and our foreign policy. Without the power over the creation of money and credit employed by the politicians and central bankers working in secret, most wars could not be fought. The people would never tolerate the taxation and borrowing required to pay for the wars. Inflating the currency is more convenient and less noticeable. To the benefit of those who promote war, the cost of war is hidden and the payment delayed.”
Secrecy – in which the Fed is shrouded – is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of the State’s constant warfare against its own citizens: the costs are hidden from the populace, and thus are tolerated for a bit longer. Yet in the end, there is no evading the terrible toll. As Paul writes:
“Just as we can expect a cataclysmic end to a deeply flawed economic and monetary system, we should expect a similar end to the US Empire. And a strong case can be made that the two will reach their ends together.”
Ron Paul is nothing if not brutally honest, albeit not in a way that Donald Trump would dare engage in. When it comes to examining the crimes of our rulers, he is unsparing:
“It’s no longer a complaint about the ‘Ugly American.’ Instead the ‘Ruthless American’ is blaming others for acts of terrorism yet engaging constantly in the same.”
If the “American exceptionalism” our political class constantly invokes means exempting American policymakers from the judgment of history, then Paul, for one, is having none of it. Nor is he fooled by the fuzzy-minded “multi-lateralism” of the “realists” and internationalist liberals who think organizations like the United Nations and other transnational organizations hold out any real hope for peace:
“The tendency of multinational agreements and organizations to advance war, even if their stated purposes involve promoting peace, arises from the nature of government. By their very nature governments are opposed to peaceful resolution. Their goal is strictly to solidify power and gain economic advantage. Governments have always been in the business of war. They will not deliver peace. Most people naively believe that governments intend to promote peace, liberty, and security. It’s more accurate to say governments use force, including war, to secure power and wealth for a privileged class at the expense of the rest of the people.”
Paul doesn’t have a lot of confidence that governmental structures are going to give us a more peaceful and prosperous world. Which makes perfect sense: after all, he’s a libertarian, i.e. someone who knows better. Yet you don’t have to be a libertarian to appreciate – and agree with – Paul’s hardheaded analysis.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the insight it gives us into Paul’s career in Congress, and the difficulties posed for someone with his views. Like that time he tried to get on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:
“Initially they had told me with confidence that, with the Foreign Affairs Committee not a highly sought after committee, there would be no problem with me joining it. But, later, in a remarkably blunt statement my request was denied because, due to my opposition to foreign aid – to anyone. I was accused of not being a friend of Israel. I was pleased though that four years later, and without me changing my voting habits, I was, after persistent, polite requests, assigned to the Foreign Affairs Committee.”
While the most conservative Republicans rail against “special interests” who lobby Congress relentlessly in order to get subsidies for themselves, this same fastidiousness doesn’t carry over into the foreign policy realm – especially when it comes to Israel, which is given a blank check by these alleged paragons of fiscal virtue. Sen. Rand Paul, Ron’s son, ran into the same buzz-saw when he came out for abolishing all “foreign aid,” and no matter how strenuously he’s tried to appease the Israel lobby they won’t let him forget his supposed sin. Ron might have schooled his son in why appeasing these fanatics doesn’t work, but I suppose Paul the Younger had to learn this all on his own. I think I’ll send him a copy of Swords Into Plowshares: it couldn’t hurt.
A looming sense of apocalypse hangs over Ron’s narrative – he thinks we’re living in the shadow of the biggest financial crisis yet – but congruent with it is also a shining sense of optimism. I can’t quite explain how these two tropes can coexist in the same narrative without breaking its spine, and yet they do and the spine of this book is all the stronger for it. On the one hand, Ron sees the difficulties inherent in trying to change the direction of US foreign policy:
“Public opinion is a powerful tool, if not the ultimate tool, for changing policies of the seemingly omnipotent political leaders. The greatest danger is an apathy that allows for evil to thrive when bad people rule over us and provoke nationalistic and patriotic fervor that intimidates many into compliance.”
Yet Ron speculates that a political and cultural change is in the air, and poses the possibility that we are evolving beyond the mindless violence that has marred human history since the beginning of civilization. And although this is taking a very long view, he holds out some hope that we are beginning to see a change. He writes:
“Yes, we know that the war propagandists have the edge, with help from the government bully pulpit, the media, and, to a degree, Hollywood. But, today we have the Internet with which to compete.”
Yes, we do have the Internet, and it is an invaluable tool. It’s how Antiwar.com gets past the “mainstream” media and reaches over the heads of the Establishment to make the case for a more peaceful and rational foreign policy. But we can’t do it without your help.
You may have noticed that, on our front page, our end-of-summer fundraising drive is beginning today. We do this four times a year: since we aren’t funded by some eccentric billionaire, and the big foundations aren’t interested either, we are totally dependent on you, our readers and supporters, for the funding we need to keep going. As Ron Paul points out in his book, the War Party has the tremendous resources of the Establishment media constantly pumping a steady diet of war propaganda into our brains – including the young brains of students imprisoned in the public school system, which teaches the War Party’s version of “history” and promotes State-worship as a matter of course.
If the younger generation is to break free from this State-imposed ignorance, then the only hope lies in the Internet – and that’s where Antiwar.com comes in.
We’ve been debunking the War Party’s mendacious narrative since 1995 – yes, since the very earliest days of the Internet. If we’re going to win the battle for public opinion in cyberspace then Antiwar.com is an absolute necessity – but we can’t continue doing it without your support.
As a special inducement to our supporters and potential supporters, we’re offering a copy of Ron Paul’s Swords Into Plowshares with each donation of $100 and over. And it’s all tax-deductible.
The above review doesn’t even begin to describe the sheer value of this book: it’s chock full of the intellectual ammunition you need to make the case for peace to your friends, family, and associates – and it’ll expand your own understanding in most unexpected ways. I thought I knew a lot about the history of this country’s wars and the case for a noninterventionist foreign policy, but Swords Into Plowshares was a real lesson for me: Ron Paul’s years of experience at the center of the national debate is a value that can’ be measured in monetary terms.
And the same, I think, goes for Antiwar.com: the value you’re getting from this site really can’t be calculated, because what we’re doing is giving you a glimpse into the future – news of wars and rumors of wars before they happen. Because that’s what the people need in order to win the fight for peace.
Antiwar.com is reaching more people than ever before: we now have a Drudge link, which is a tremendous help, and we’re being cited in the “mainstream” media on a regular basis. Yet we still lack the financial resources we need to keep from worrying about where our next dollar is coming from.
I wish we could afford to hand out Swords Into Plowshares for free – but unfortunately we just can’t. Antiwar.com doesn’t even come close to having those kinds of resources – not when we’re being outspent by the War Party by a factor of 10,000 to one. This is your chance to help level the playing field.
No, your contribution doesn’t have to be $100 or over – most of our donations don’t rise to that level. The book premium is an inducement for those who can afford it to give more. We’re happy with what you can afford to give; you can be sure it will be greatly appreciated.
Our small and greatly overworked staff is toiling day and night to make sure the American people are informed about what their government is doing overseas in their name. The darkness of that task very often weighs us down: it’s a lot to carry on our shoulders. Yet we are buoyed up by the hope that we can change our foreign policy if only we let the people know and present them with an alternative. Please help us carry out this important work: make your tax-deductible contribution today.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.