Brad Edmonds: Yes, I’m a Patriot

Since 9/11, it has required more courage to be against total war than to be in favor of it. The man on the street, readers, neoconservative (and many leftist) columnists, and politicians all have jumped on the bombing bandwagon, and those of us who dare to ask difficult questions meet the same ad-hominem attacks: You’re being unpatriotic; now is not the time to criticize the government; those people must be punished, even if it means taking innocent lives abroad; if we don’t act decisively we can expect more attacks in the future. Commentators at and are among the precious few who have strayed from the government line on our warmaking in Afghanistan, and we have answered the above verbal attacks. Here are the answers: In reply to "now is not the time to disagree with government," we say that this is the most important time to disagree with government. When every citizen disagrees with any proposed self-expansion of government, the government probably won’t expand. It’s when citizens are largely in agreement with any aspect of government expansion that government expansion becomes the most extensive and the most likely to be permanent. We’re told "those people must be punished, even if it means taking innocent lives abroad." This implies that we don’t think the perpetrators should be punished, when in fact none of us has failed to insist that those responsible should be held accountable. Market alternatives to government punishment, such as large bounties for Bin Laden and his cronies, have been suggested. Our government is offering $25 million for Bin Laden; that’s too small to fund a mercenary effort to get him and his cabal. As to innocent lives, this is a matter of personal moral judgment. But remember that the innocent people being killed, however few, are someone’s fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. In addition to those killed by bombs, perhaps millions will end up being displaced and exposed to dangerous hardships. "If we don’t act decisively, we can expect more terrorist attacks in the future." First, we have to define "decisive" – why should "decisive" be synonymous with "government?" A few billions in reward money might well be more decisive (in the sense of "effective") than bombing; would indicate resolve; and would avoid the foreign-policy quagmire in which we find ourselves: Military decisions await diplomatic approval, much as was the case in our military action in Vietnam. Further, it can be expected that our current bomb-everything approach will increase, not decrease, the number of terrorist attempts against us. But most interesting is this one, which hasn’t really been discussed much: "You’re being unpatriotic." Are we? What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word "patriot?" Right – the guy wearing the long, tattered, blue coat with red piping, 300 buttons, tri-cornered hat, and musket. This figure consistently has been emblematic of heroism for all but the most leftist Americans for over 200 years. But the archetypical patriot considered himself a British subject. He was opposing his own government. And Americans were not unanimously opposed to British rule. So it was a courageous, and sometimes lonely, stance the early patriot took. It was hoped, at the time, that the patriot’s victory over oppressive government would be permanent. The framers built into our founding documents the notion that government should exist and operate only by the consent of the governed. Thus, responses to objectionable government were assumed to range from secession from the union to complete abolition of the central government. And these responses were meant to be legal (complete abolition of the central government would have been assured by secession from the union by all states – no violent revolution necessary, at least in theory). What we have now is not at all what our founding patriots envisioned. George Washington’s admonition to practice free commercial trade and complete political isolationism, along with the now-implausible notion of free and peaceful secession from the union, have been replaced by foreign-policy hamhandedness and its common inclusion of the constriction of not only our own commercial trade but that of other countries, as decreed by a central government that completely dominates the states. Our government chooses sides in civil wars around the world when doing so is deemed in our national interest, while it ignores civil wars and egregious human-rights abuses when the countries involved are not as interesting. The pressure we put on other governments to make their countries more like ours always seems to result in further entrenching the most detestable governments. And we make enemies every time we choose sides and give orders abroad. What we right-wing isolationists want is for everyone – worldwide – to be safe, healthy, happy, and comfortable; said another way: unthreatened by government. Worldwide free trade combined with political mind-your-own-businessism is the best hope for accomplishing such lofty goals. None of us imagines it would happen overnight, but it would be steady and pervasive. It would require courage: Many of us would have to get off the government dole, and to ensure security we’d all need to own firearms and be ready and willing to use them against (primarily ordinary) criminals. Roads, financial infrastructures, and other things the government has been building for us would become our responsibility. This is what we’ve been advocating, and it is in complete agreement with the sentiments of the original patriots. Now, who’s being unpatriotic?

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