- Paperback: 450 pages
- Publisher: Transaction Publishers; 2 edition (November 30, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765804875
- ISBN-13: 978-0765804877
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories 2nd Edition
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"The Costs of War... ranks among the best collection of articles ever assembled on the history of United States wars that built the state, shredded the Constitution, and raised up an empire."—Free Market
“[C]ontains a number of well-written and well-argued essays that address various aspects of a crucially important but currently neglected subject for libertarians.”—Mark Brady, Liberty
“[An] insightful and provocative collection of essays.”—Dwight D. Murphey, Conservative Review
“The Costs of War is easily one of the most important books to emerge from American conservatives in a generation.”—Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Modern Age
“The Costs of War offers a devastating critique of Washington’s interventionist tendencies.”—Doug Bandow, World
“This book is the most convincing attack on the warmongering state to appear since the end of the Second World War.”—Gerard Radnitzky, University of Trier
About the Author
John V. Denson is a partner in the law firm of Samford, Denson, Horsley, Pettey & Martin, vice chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and a trustee of Auburn University in Alabama.
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But a preliminary question first demands attention. Granted the manifest horrors of war, does it follow that all wars are morally forbidden? Such a course would quickly ensure disaster, since a people that totally renounced war would be ripe for invasion. As Hilaire Belloc's couplet puts it, "Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight;/But roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right."
Murray Rothbard answers our question with characteristic insight: "My own view of war can be put simply; a just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them" (p. 119). In order fully to bring out Rothbard's doctrine, one needs to add a corollary: "A people ought to fight only in just wars." (This corollary is needed because, in Rothbard's definition, a war can fit neither the just nor unjust class.)
But an obvious objection arises to Rothbard's account; and we can see much of The Costs of War as a response to that objection. Few besides pacifists will doubt the justice of defensive wars, but many think that other wars also count as just. In particular, is not war sometimes needed to bring down tyrants who violate human rights? What of the Southern slaves in antebellum America, or the Jews persecuted by Hitler? Surely war was needed to rescue these oppressed groups.
So, at any rate, conventional textbooks tell us; but our contributors dissent. Wars allegedly fought on moral grounds (other than defensive wars) fail to help the oppressed. Quite the contrary, they make matters worse for them. But how can our authors say this? Did not the Civil War, e.g., end slavery? Clyde Wilson, our foremost authority on the thought of John C. Calhoun, has an answer: "And of what did freeing the slaves consist? At the Hampton Roads conference, Alexander Stephens asked Lincoln what the freedmen would do, without education or property. Lincoln's answer: 'Root, hog, or die.' Not the slightest recognition of the immense social crisis presented to American society by millions of freedmen. The staple agriculture of the South, the livelihood of the blacks as well as the whites, was destroyed" (p. 165).
Well, however badly off the ex-slaves, were they not at least free? No doubt; but very likely slavery would have soon ended without the need for war. After all, slavery was brought to an end everywhere else in the Western Hemisphere except Haiti on a peaceful basis. Further, the war brought with it an immense consolidation of power in the central government. This took place under the aegis of Abraham Lincoln, who, John Denson informs us, "has been termed 'America's Robespierre,' not primarily for the conduct of the war toward the South, but rather for his unconstitutional and tyrannical treatment of American citizens in the North" (p. 26). And of course the casualties of the war, the bloodiest in our history, must be weighed in the balance against the alleged good results of it.
The case against the Civil War becomes even more decisive when one challenges a premise we have for the sake of argument let so far pass unquestioned. Contrary to its latter-day apologists, the war was not fought to end slavery. Preservation of the tariff, by which the North exploited the South's economy, ranked foremost in Lincoln's calculus of reasons to launch the war, and emancipation of the slaves not at all.
If the Civil War does not support the argument of the "humanitarians with the guillotine," in Isabel Paterson's apt phrase, what of that universal example in moral philosophy of the worst possible case? I refer of course to Hitler. Was not armed intervention necessary to thwart his murderous policies?
Ralph Raico takes up the challenge in his brilliant essay, "Rethinking Churchill." Raico poses a question that at once suffices to overthrow the conventional wisdom on this topic. "A moral postulate of our time is that in pursuit of the destruction of Hitler, all things were permissible. Yet why is it self- evident that morality required a crusade against Hitler in 1939 and 1940, and not against Stalin? At that point, Hitler had already slain his thousands, but Stalin had already slain his millions.... Around 1,500,000 Poles were deported to the Gulag, with about half of them dying within the first two years" (p. 277).
Yes, no doubt Churchill turned a blind eye to Stalinist tyranny; but did he not at least rouse the world against Hitler? But at what cost? Hitler's appalling massacres and massively extended concentration camp system were the result of the war, not its precursor. And Churchill did not shrink from atrocities of his own, including saturation bombing of civilians. The fire- bomb raids over Dresden, a city without military significance, are a grim commentary on the "moral crusade." Just as in the Civil War, armed intervention worsened a bad situation.
And Raico's essay points up another parallel between the two wars. Lincoln did not begin the Civil War in order to end slavery. In like manner, Churchill was no humanitarian moved to act by Hitler's ruthless cruelties. "It is curious how, with his stark Darwinian outlook, his elevation of war to the central place in human history, and his racism, as well as his fixation on 'great leaders,' Churchill's worldview resembled that of his antagonist, Hitler" (p. 260).
Unfortunately, politicians such as Lincoln and Churchill do not stand alone in their avidity for war. As Murray Rothbard documents to the hilt in "World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals," the self-styled "advanced thinkers" are quite willing to impose suffering and death upon others, if doing so will advance their mad schemes. As Rothbard notes: "War...offered a golden opportunity to bring about collectivist social control in the interest of social justice" (p. 225).
John Dewey, the eminent pragmatist philosopher, is a prime example of Rothbard's thesis. "Force, he declared, was simply 'a means of getting results,' and could therefore be neither lauded nor condemned per se" (p. 225). Why not use the war to advance the cause of a planned society? Those who sought to interpose natural rights as an obstacle to these plans say, the right not to be killed merely to advance the goals of an addlepated professor were defenders of outmoded absolutes. Ethics is contextual; and alleged rights fall before the "end in view" in this case the need to overcome the menace of German philosophical idealism. (Those who suspect I am guilty of caricature should examine Dewey's broadside, German Philosophy and Politics.) It will come as no surprise that Dewey ardently endorsed U.S. intervention in World War II.
Readers of The Costs of War will be struck not only by the malign influence of intellectuals in promoting war and statism, but also by the importance of particular arguments in that endeavor. Robert Higgs presents an example of vital significance in his fine essay "War and Leviathan in Twentieth-Century America: Conscription as the Keystone."
He points out that the exigencies of war have often been used to justify the inroads of the state. Conscription in particular provides the excuse for despotism. "The formula, applied again and again, was quite simple: If it is acceptable to draft men, then it is acceptable to do X, where X is any government violation of individual rights whatsoever. Once the draft had been adopted, then, as Louis Brandeis put it, 'all bets are off'" (p. 313).
One might add to Higgs's analysis that Oliver Wendell Holmes played an especially important role in propagating this argument. And as Holmes used it, the argument was by no means restricted to wartime. Rather, Holmes's view was that since the state rightfully asked men to sacrifice their lives during war, it could require lesser sacrifices during peacetime, should dire social need require it. This is precisely the way Holmes justified sterilization of the feebleminded in Buck v. Bell.
Let us end where we began, with the Civil War. In "Rethinking Lincoln," Richard Gamble shows the influence of another bad argument. When the southern states seceded from the Union, Lincoln argued that they had acted illegally. On what basis did he claim this? To Lincoln, the union preceded the states: in his opinion, "the union was not only
Like two other books that grew out of conferences hosted by the Mises Institute -- "Secession, State, and Liberty" (1998) and "Reassessing the Presidency" (2001) -- these essays are uniformly challenging, thought-provoking, and unashamedly "revisionist" ... which is to say, they question the accepted thinking of both liberal and conservative received wisdom. While all twenty contributions are worthwhile, I personally found three of them particularly rewarding: Joseph Stromberg's piece on the Spanish-American War and two essays by Ralph Raico, "World War I: The Turning Point" and "Rethinking Churchill." As a long-time student of Winston Churchill, I particularly recommend the latter. Far more than other so-called revisionists like Irving or Charmley, Raico's piece in "The Costs of War" raises questions that any intellectually-honest student or fan of WSC absolutely must confront.
Though I found those three essays particularly good, it's hard not to single out others as well. Murray Rothbard's two essays -- his important "America's Two Just Wars" and a reprint of his classic "World War I as Fulfillment" -- are, of course, up to the author's always-high standards. Justin Raimondo's chapter on the history of the anti-war Right highlights a theme he's been emphasizing again in recent months. As a former navy dependent, I was fascinated by Allan Carlson's survey of "The Military as an Engine of Social Change." And this weekend, it was more than a little surreal to look up from Eugene Sledge's memoirs of his World War II combat service, or Paul Fussell's meditation on "The Culture of War," to see the new Iraq war unfolding in real-time on my television.
Each of these essays gives the reader much to think about. But there's another thing I should warn about. As with the two other books I mentioned before, this title points the reader to many, many other books worth hunting down and reading. Mises Institute authors tend (to their credit) to love their footnotes, and I would bet reading "The Costs of War" has revealed at least three dozen more books on related topics I'll need to add to my must-find-time-to-read list.
Unabashedly pro-freedom, this book will open the reader's eyes to elements of history and political science she may well never have confronted before. And even if you already are a confirmed member of the Mises-Rothbard school of thought, the ideas, arguments, and points of scholarship contained here will stretch your intellectual muscles and arm you for future study and debate. In our time of war, as well as in what passes for "peace" these days, I recommend this title very, very highly.