LLR Pages

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sheldon Richman: 'War Is A Government Program'

In case anyone really believes that war is necessary to bring about peace and/or stimulates the economy, they ought to read Sheldon Richman's recently-penned op-ed at the Future of Freedom Foundation website, in which Richman lays out the argument that war "is a government program."

Here's a snip of his FFF op-ed:

It is always amusing to hear conservatives complain — as they are complaining now and used to complain during the Vietnam War — that if it weren’t for the politicians, the generals could win America’s wars. Those with this mindset believe the politicians are always getting in the way by subordinating military considerations to — ugh! — political considerations. Politicians, leave those generals alone!

This is amusing for a couple of reasons. First, these same conservatives claim to worship the U.S. Constitution, which, the last time I read it, subordinated the military to civilian authority.

Second, those who make this complaint seem willfully blind to the nature of war. At its most fundamental level, war is no more a military phenomenon than it is a scientific phenomenon. True, militaries fight wars, and military tactics is a meaningful discipline. But war also requires weapons that make use of the principles of physics. Does that mean wars are fundamentally the province of scientists? No, and neither are they fundamentally the province of generals.

Wars are political phenomena. You’d think the armchair generals and word-processor pilots would know that. It’s been 175 years since the publication of Karl von Clausewitz’s posthumous book, On War, which stated,

[War] is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.

War is politics.

Unless they are also heads of state, generals don’t start wars. Politicians start wars. In fact, generals have been known to oppose wars, having a more realistic sense than politicians of what wars really entail.

Politicians start wars for political reasons. (This is not to imply that economic reasons aren't involved.) They may seek to control resources or a foreign population. Or they may seek to secure existing interests that could be at risk without the war. The mark of a global empire is that nothing can happen anywhere in the world without its potentially involving the interests of the imperial power and requiring, under the appropriate circumstances, war to protect those interests. This well describes the United States for the last half-century at least. The military is the means to a political end. The politicians cannot be concerned with military matters exclusively because that might cause them to ignore important political considerations, both domestic and foreign.