I’ve mentioned before that I firmly believe the best way for libertarians to win over statists is to fearlessly tackle the “hard” issues, rather than easy ones. Railing against drones and the NSA is like shooting fish in a barrel – it’s easy to get people to concede that a Presidential “kill list” and government agents snooping on grandma’s e-mails are probably not the greatest things in the world. On the Internet, where the audience is younger and comprised mainly of socialists, liberals, and libertarians, tirades against wasteful spending by the military-industrial complex are a dime a dozen. Other than a small minority of neocons, almost everyone agrees that the military spends entirely too much money and that our nation would greatly benefit from a dramatic change in the size and scope of its armed forces.
But there’s one area of military spending that everyone seems to absolutely love – humanitarian aid missions. Every time something goes wrong in some backwater, third-world country, you can bet that United States Sailors and Marines will be on-scene within hours, handing out free goodies and assisting in relief efforts. These missions are almost universally applauded and supported, and the increasingly unpopular DoD is on to this. In public relations, the military seems to be focusing more on its humanitarian missions and less on its core function (you know – killing people with flying death robots). Think of the recruiting ads you see on TV. These days, you’re much more likely to see images of soldiers handing out boxes of food to poor children than you are to see them kicking in doors, shooting militants, or dropping bombs on terrorist camps. This change in messaging is entirely understandable – combat operations are generally horrible and often politically controversial, but who could possibly oppose humanitarian operations?
You guessed it – I do. The reasoning is pretty simple, and you can probably guess that too: The government has no business spending American tax dollars on goodies for foreigners. This should be fairly obvious. In and of itself, it’s not that controversial of an opinion.
But people tend to get a little emotional and have their judgment clouded by shocking images of devastation on television. They see the victims and think, “My God, someone needs to help these people.” How fortunate that the U.S. Navy is ready to do so! Then, they see the images of the ships pulling in with the giant red crosses painted on them. They see Sailors in spiffy looking uniforms handing out drinking water and wrapping bandages on injured children. They engage their sense of belonging and identity as part of a collective “America” and begin to feel better about the situation, perhaps even feeling as if they themselves played a role in the relief effort. People say things like, “It’s really great that we are helping these people.”
Of course, utilizing the collective “we” in that situation is probably more accurate than they may realize, because the money that pays for all of these humanitarian efforts has been stolen. It was obtained through taxation, a forceful, involuntary transfer of property. Regardless of whether you approve of the money being spent that way or not, it was stolen all the same. The money that pays for the flying death robots is the same money that pays for medicine for children. Anyone who supports humanitarian operations should ask themselves one simple question: “Would I be willing to hold a gun to my neighbor’s head and steal from him in order to supply drinking water to foreign disaster victims?” That is what taxes are. If you wouldn’t personally steal from your neighbor to provide water to Filipino flood victims, then you shouldn’t allow the government to do it on your behalf. It is equally wrong.
Aside from the occasional sociopath, compassion and empathy are universal human characteristics. When confronted with suffering, we all desire to help. When faced with others in pain, we desire to ease their pain. But it’s important to never lose sight of the tradeoffs, the true costs, of helping. It is morally wrong to steal, regardless of whether or not you will then use the stolen money to ease pain and suffering. Anyone who truly desires to help victims of natural disasters should do so voluntarily, through charitable organizations. Donate privately. Spending your own money to ease the suffering of others can be a noble and righteous accomplishment. Stealing from others to do it is sickening and perverse.
According to USA Today, aid for the victims of the recent typhoon in The Philippines is going to cost over $20 million. You can bet that the Pentagon will celebrate this figure. The mainstream media will tout it, and the establishment will point to it as evidence of the kindness and virtue of the American people and the United States government. This will probably work. The average person will probably agree that this is a great thing that “we” should all be proud of. But stealing is not a noble and virtuous act. There is nothing to be proud of here. Taking money from others against their will is wrong. In all circumstances. I encourage everyone to help spread this unpopular message. Do what you can to try and get people to really think about it. Challenge them to consider whether theft suddenly becomes acceptable if the profits are used to help the less fortunate. This is a very critical issue with very wide-ranging implications. Get someone to concede that military humanitarian operations aren’t justified, and virtually the entire justification for having a government at all disappears. Almost everything government does is based on the premise that stealing is in fact okay, so long as the stolen money is used for supposedly noble purposes. It is only by challenging and defeating this idea that we can truly challenge the power structure that seeks to restrict freedom and dominate our lives.