Monday, April 25, 2011

What is the Moral Purpose of America's Military?

In a recent Forbes column, historian Paul Johnson argues for “The Moral Logic of Interventionism”. He writes:

But if a great nation such as the U.S. believes in freedom, practices democracy, accepts a Judeo-Christian sense of morality as an ideal, honors human rights, and deplores and denounces all the evils of the totalitarian state--imprisonment without trial, torture, suppression of all freedoms and the slaughter of opponents, their womenfolk and children with artillery, tanks and bombers--then that nation cannot allow a dictator, before the eyes of the world, to violate all the principles of justice and humanity if said nation has the means to prevent it.

Which brings us to the second point. President Obama, in the recesses of his curious worldview, may not like the fact, but America is a great power and is likely to remain the only superpower for some time. It has the aircraft and troops, positioned in bases throughout the world, as well as the immensely powerful fleets of aircraft carriers and landing craft, whose operational reach covers thousands of miles, to undertake almost any kind of mission. These forces are provided at huge expense by the American taxpayer and are staffed by thousands of dedicated young American men and women whose express purpose is to protect civilization from barbarism. That, as they see it and have been taught to see it, is precisely what America stands for; it is the principal moral justification for their nation's immense power and riches.

With due respect to Mr. Johnson, I can not imagine a more destructive foreign policy than one based upon the premise that the “express purpose” of America’s military forces “is to protect civilization from barbarism” because “That … is precisely what America stands for; it is the principal moral justification for their nation's immense power and riches.”

As the Founders understood, the purpose of government is to protect its own citizen’s individual rights. By logical extension, the only moral purpose of a nation’s military is to protect those citizens and their property from foreign military threats. Mr. Johnson’s view, however, is a prescription for a continuation of the endless series of no-win welfare wars such as those that this country has become mired in since Korea. It is welfare statism extended globally.

The moral principle underpinning the “America as world policeman” doctrine, as Mr. Johnson correctly states, is Judeo-Christian ethics, which is rooted in altruism. This ethic must be challenged, because it politically translates into rights-violating governmental impositions of unchosen duty on private citizens. The moral justification for America’s riches, including the military power those riches pay for, is that Americans – each to the extent of his individual productive efforts – earned it. Just as no government should ever be empowered to force any American to pay for the satisfaction of his neighbor’s needs, so no government should send its soldiers into sacrificial humanitarian excursions – or force its citizens to pay for it through taxes. America need not justify its achievements through sacrificial service to the world.

The moral principle that should guide America’s foreign policy is rational national self-interest – which is derived from American citizens’ right to live free and in accordance with their own individual rational self-interest (properly understood: see philosopher Ayn Rand’s ethical teachings). America’s military should be confined to cleanly neutralizing and/or destroying objectively demonstrable physical threats to American lives and property wherever they arise, and leave humanitarian efforts such as Libya to those who would voluntarily pay for and/or voluntarily serve in international military or civilian operations.

Finally, one must ask, what are the “human rights” that Mr. Johnson speaks of? Mr. Johnson calls upon the American government to force its citizens who fund and man its military for the purpose of bringing freedom and “democracy” the world over. In other words, morality dictates that we must bring rights to people the world over at the price of the violation of the rights of Americans. What can justify such a contradiction?

There is a concrete lesson here that serves as further proof of an incontrovertible truth: Altruism, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, is incompatible with ”human” – i.e., individual – rights.

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