As Antiwar.com’s Student Coordinator, I have spent the last nine months helping students across the country find speakers and direct them to local activist events. When I receive emails that ask “What can I do?” I tend not to reply: “Run out in the streets and protest.” Rather, I first recommend a less vocal approach: self – education. I believe that the best antiwar activists (i.e. those who can change the minds of the undecided and get the ear of opponents) are those who understand current events, can recite important facts, express emotion without vulgarity and engage in principled arguments. I admit, for many students, this is too much to ask. However, by the looks of recent “protests” in San Francisco, this approach to student activism may receive more attention. Despite my propensity for “less active” activism, I felt compelled to participate in a rally at my university this week, which was staged in reaction to the beginning of the war on Iraq.
First, the signs A sampling from the Left: “F$#@ this S%!#”, the classic “No Blood for Oil,” (note: the neocons had an interesting rebuttal “No Blood for French Oil”) and “Instead of War, Invest in People.” My fellow libertarians brought in their own mix of signs: “War is to Liberty as Death is to Life”, “War is the Health of the State,” “Capitalists Against Aggression,” and the ever-popular “Make Profits, Not War.”
The speeches ranged from “unilateral = bad” to belligerent swearing directed at “the Man.” A semblance of sanity arose when a conservative student and a liberal student, editors of the conservative and liberal newspapers (respectively), stood up and pronounced their mutual distaste for this war, followed by a student reading John Quincy Adam’s speech from 1821.
What follows is what I should have read to the rally that day:
I stand before you today an antiwar activist of a unique type. My politics seek dramatically different ends than many of the placards before me. Nonetheless, my perspective of this war and its effects appeals to all.
More than a humanitarian disaster, more than a wasteful allocation of resources, “War is the Health of the State.” Namely, when it feels threatened, the State circles its wagons and increases its coercive power over the citizenry. War is the State’s penultimate reaction to a perceived or real threat. Increases in State power – exponential during times of War – necessitate less social freedom, economic freedom and civil liberties normally enjoyed during peacetime. Under the guise of “emergency,” war introduced the income tax, the Sedition Act and the rounding up of Japanese nationals. Currently, we have the Patriot Act, its omnipresent second version (which mentions ’emergency’ fourteen times!), increased taxation and a host of lost liberties that followed the War on Terrorism.
These costs of war affect Americans of all ideologies. For without liberty and freedom, our varying aspirations will go unfulfilled and forgotten. So I ask you all today to fight against this war of aggression as, dare say, selfish friends of individual liberty. In practical form, this approach involves protesting war not through advocating further government actions, but with a understanding that the State is the ultimate source of plunder and of death. View war as a destructive vehicle for increasing the means of the State’s coercive power. Finally, let us hope that Randolph Bourne was not prophetic, when he writes:
The moment war is declared the mass of the people, through some spiritual alchemy, become convinced that they have willed and executed the deed themselves. They then, with the exception of a few malcontents, proceed to allow themselves to be regimented, coerced, deranged in all the environments of their lives, and turned into a solid manufactory of destruction toward whatever other people may have.
We should heed to this warning. Also, beware, for when this American State can arbitrarily decide how to define who are the tyrants and who are not, we, the malcontents, must prepare ourselves for that same arbitrary power to fall upon our heads. Recognize that this agenda stretches from Left to Right and from it may emerge a principled and intelligent opposition to war and perhaps a solution to the conflict before us.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric spewing from the majority of antiwar rallies ignores these real costs of war. I rely on Ludwig von Mises to summarize my point:
Whoever wishes peace among peoples must fight statism. (Nation State and Economy, pg. 77)
This advice applies to both sides of the political spectrum. Each are selective when declaring the “proper” role of government and each are adamant that their choice is the safest for freedom and liberty. However, limited government in all spheres of life is the best route for peace and prosperity.
Finally, I was posed the following question by an indifferent bystander at the rally: “Why protest the war when it has already started? You can’t turn the troops around.” This caused me a brief pause. Indeed, I feel quite helpless reading the continual reports of troop movement and bombings. Nonetheless, there is a place for ex post activism and protest. This is no longer a battle to stop a war…but to save a nation: America. The desire for Republic has been replaced by a demand for interventionist foreign policy, while the Constitution is ignored because of the “annoying hindrances” it creates for the executive and its “solutions” for a tanking economy and failing bureaucracy. These are the new battles, the battles that will rage as Baghdad is occupied, the world grows more resentful and Americans pay the price of Empire. So I will fight on!