USS Clueless -- What are we fighting for?

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What are we fighting for?

Stardate 20010916

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

-- Fixin'-to-die Rag, Country Joe MacDonald, 1968

Clausewitz wrote that to really understand a war you have to understand the politics of all the participants in it. You can't talk about strategies or tactics or logistics without that; you can't know how you can fight if you don't know why you are fighting -- and why your opponent is fighting. A tactic which would be impossible for one side in one war (such as suicide attacks) may be routine for another side in another war.

So what are we fighting for? We're in a war, but what is this war about? It has to be more than revenge, and it is. We're fighting over the most basic and important issues there are. The war we are now in is actually centuries old.

All wars are about disagreements. Clausewitz, again, pointed out that a war happens because the participants have a disagreement which they can't settle by diplomacy. War is diplomacy by other means. The more important the issue, the more important (and savage) the war.

In this case, the disagreement is about the most important thing there is: how humans should live with each other and how they should be governed, and what they should be permitted to think.

As an American, my side in this war believes in freedom, diversity, liberty. This political movement began in the Renaissance; was nurtured in Northern Europe (especially in the Netherlands), blossomed in North America and now threatens to take over the world. (I think it will, though it may take a thousand more years to finally triumph.) It is already the most powerful political system there is.

It has faced many opposing political beliefs but all of them have this in common: they're all authoritarian. They believe in central control, in imposition of order and uniformity on their people, in the acts of a few making decisions for the many. Sometimes that control is politically motivated and sometimes it is religious or moral. Sometimes it was merely habit and tradition. But the central theme of this centuries-old war has been freedom versus authoritarianism.

By contrast, my side in this war believes that individuals and small groups should have as much power as they practically can. These are not black-and-white positions, usually; people living in authoritarian regimes can have some freedom, and people in my country put up with some degree of central control. It's more a matter of degree and fundamental philosophy: my country imposes central control only when nothing else will do; an authoritarian regime grants freedoms to its people only when that doesn't threaten the ability of its government to control by decree.

The ultimate test of the American system of government came in 1974. A sitting President had shown total contempt for Constitutional guarantees; he wanted to become an authoritarian leader such as led countries elsewhere in the world. And within two years he had been deposed and replaced, without anyone dying. No shots were fired; none were even threatened. No troops were mobilized. Good and conscientious men in the Senate and House of Representatives convinced him to resign by threatening to remove him from power through impeachment. Our system survived. And we didn't even punish Nixon afterwards; there was no need. He didn't even have to go into exile. This is unprecedented.

The first war actually about this issue was the American Revolution, which established my government. It's far from perfect, but when the US Constitution was written, and especially after it was amended with the Bill of Rights, it became the most radical experiment in government the world had yet seen. In my opinion, the First Amendment to the US constitution is the most profound and important single sentence ever written, in English or any other language:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That single sentence summarizes the core of the philosophy on which our nation was founded: that individual rights are of paramount importance, and that individuals must be able to communicate with one another without fearing retribution from the government. Even more, it establishes that individuals have the right to disagree with the government and to criticize it publicly. Nothing like that had ever been seen before; there had been places where free expression and dissent were tolerated, but never before a place where protection for such expression was formally codified into the very charter of the government.

And though the US system is flawed, and though it has continued to evolve, and though its progress through time has sometimes been shameful, on balance it has been a great thing. It hasn't totally fulfilled the promise of the First Amendment but it has done a far better job of it than any other nation that has ever existed.

The test of freedom is diversity. If you think you have freedom but you are not surrounded by diversity, then your freedom is an illusion. When someone says "You are free to be just like I think you should be" then you are not free. People vary; left to themselves they will follow radically different paths, think different things, live different life styles. If you don't see that around you, it's because it is being suppressed artificially.

No nation on earth is more diverse or tolerates more diversity than the US.

There have been forces within the US which have tried to suppress diversity. It's been an ongoing struggle over the entire history of the nation; and over time diversity has won, which proves that our freedom has expanded. This process is ongoing; it may never end. It is a paradox of freedom that part of the diversity it tolerates, even encourages, is people who oppose freedom. As long as they are not permitted to dominate and roll back diversity, freedom is not damaged. But they always attempt it, and the struggle will continue.

Who opposes us in this centuries-long war? Various forces who attempt to impose uniformity on their populations. Those who would reserve control and decision making to a favored few, and require that the multitude follow along with those decisions. Interestingly, they believe in freedom too -- but only for an elite. Their elite actually are more free than our elite, because freedom is a balancing act. If I am more free then you must be less so. If any single person is infinitely free than no-one else can be free at all. My system of government has as its goal the maximization overall of freedom for as many people as possible; the authoritarian regimes try to maximize the amount of freedom that an elite have, at the expense of the majority.

For their own good, of course. Many (though not all) authoritarian leaders genuinely believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of their people. They believe that their people are not wise enough to make decisions for themselves, and fear that if they are permitted to do so that they will make the wrong ones. This is both arrogant and contemptuous. My nation's system believes that people should be given the opportunity to make mistakes for themselves.

The first major war in this struggle pitted the forces of Freedom against the forces of authoritarian Monarchy. That was the American Revolution. Freedom won and gained its first opportunity to reign in a nation. (The British monarchy still had direct power of decree in the latter half of the 18th century; that wasn't lost for another fifty years.)

The second major war pitted the forces of Freedom against the forces in favor of Slavery, perhaps one of two ultimate manifestations of authoritarianism we have ever faced. (More on the other later.) In the system of slavery, many people have no freedom at all and can even be tortured or killed with impunity. It took a great war in which hundreds of thousands of men died or were wounded to settle that issue, and Freedom won that time, too.

Monarchy again reared its head and was definitively terminated by World War I. The democratic powers of the UK, France and the US faced the monarchial powers of Germany, Austria and Turkey and ultimately defeated them. Just to show how complex history is, the democratic powers were aided by the monarchies of Russia and Italy.

But the outcome of the war was unambiguous in this sense: within fifteen years of the end of World War I, no major monarchy in the classic sense existed anywhere on Earth. Austria was broken up; the monarchy of Germany overthrown, the monarchy of Turkey fell to a revolution as did the one in Russia. The monarchy of Italy, already weakened, lapsed into the "constitutional" model established by the UK. The monarchy of China was already gone before WWI; the monarchy of France fell in 1870. No world power in 1930 was ruled by a king; some still had kings but they were figureheads only, symbols but with little real power. Some real kingdoms still existed but they were politically unimportant. The only monarch who still had that kind of power was Emperor Hirohito in Japan, but he didn't use it and tried to reign according to the precedent set by Queen Victoria of the UK.

World War II pitted Democracy against Fascism; this was a straightforward fight against naked Authoritarianism. Again, the democratic nations of earth united against the Fascist nations and prevailed. And again, some authoritarian regimes allied with the democratic nations and emerged victorious, especially the USSR.

This is an interesting point: there is not to my knowledge a single case in history where two major democratic capitalist nations have fought a major war against each other, but authoritarian regimes oppose each other constantly. The direct conflict between Fascist Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, both authoritarian, is probably the single bloodiest war in history. Democracies can unite with each other because they accept diversity even among their own ranks and recognize that their interests lay in common. Authoritarian regimes come into conflict because their political philosophy ultimately excludes all other systems except their own, even excluding other Authoritarian regimes. Sometimes in history the Authoritarian regimes will ally with the Democratic regimes, out of self interest. In the long run it has never done them any good, and the USSR is the best example of that.

One reason why democratic nations don't fight is that their capitalist economies are invariably heavily cross-invested. A war between them would destroy the economies of both nations. This is no small benefit to the system.

Within three years of the end of World War II, where the USSR was an ally of the Democratic nations, the Cold War had begun. This pitted the Democratic nations against a coalition of Communist nations ultimately ruled from Moscow. Because of the advent of nuclear weapons, a straightforward battle between the two sides, which might have settled the issue in perhaps five years, wasn't possible. Such a war would have escalated into a full-blown nuclear exchange which would have destroyed both sides. So the Cold War was fought as a series of proxy battles, in places with names like Korea, Viet Nam and Afghanistan. The two sides never directly fought; the closest they came was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least one side in the various battles of the Cold war was always a lesser power representing one side; sometimes both sides were proxies. In 1980, President Reagan's administration finally realized that the Cold War was really an economic battle rather than a military one and this gave the US a dramatic advantage, since its economy was much bigger and more powerful than that of the USSR. So the US substantially increased defense spending and deployed new weapons at an unprecedented rate in "peace time". Those weapons were never used but they won the war; the USSR had to try to match those increases or risk losing military parity, but by so doing it destroyed its own economic base. This led to the collapse of the USSR as a nation within ten years, and the Cold War ended about 1990. Communism is defanged; it still rules, in name, in China but authoritarianism is crumbling there too.

And yet again, over the course of the Cold War, the democratic nations made alliances with some authoritarian powers against others. But the democratic nations never fought each other.

The reason that democracy and freedom are so powerful is because they are, ironically, more efficient than authoritarianism. Capitalism is the most productive economic system ever created, but it can only work in a free nation because it is the result of enlightened self-interest, Adam Smith's invisible hand. People will work harder for themselves than they will for some ideal indoctrinated into them, as the USSR discovered. People worked hard for Mother Russia during WWII, but not during the majority of the Cold War. The USSR fell because its economy couldn't keep up with that of the US, even though it had more people than the US and at least as many natural resources. US workers were then, and still remain, the most productive on Earth, and there is a direct correlation between how productive workers in a nation are and how free they are. For the last 150 years, God has fought on the side of the biggest guns; big guns are expensive, and Capitalism has more money than anyone else. Which is why Freedom keeps winning. Not every time, and sometimes after long struggle, but in the long run it does keep winning. Though there may be years-long setbacks, over the course of decades democracy has spread and prospered at the expense of authoritarianism.

The forces of Freedom emerged victorious, again, and became even more powerful than ever before. The Cold War was the last critical battle of this struggle. The Communist system was the last system in the world which actually had the ability to wipe out the democratic nations. Our future is now secure.

Now the democratic nations are challenged, again, and yet again the opponent is authoritarian. This time the enemy is Theocracy, and it is the last major Authoritarian movement remaining on Earth. It is not as powerful as Communism was, and it does not have the ability to destroy Freedom -- though it damned well intends to try. But it can destroy individuals, maybe thousands of them, in the free nations and that is enough to make a war worth fighting. Authoritarianism is on the run, but the war against it continues.

Christian Theocracy in Europe was defeated in the 300 years leading up to the American Revolution. By the end of the 18th century, the power of the Church to directly control government had vanished. In the 13th century, a monarch threatened with excommunication by the Pope would usually buckle under. By the 19th century, such a pronouncement from Rome would have inspired laughter even in Catholic nations.

Hindu Theocracy fell when the Indian sub-continent was conquered by the Europeans, and never rose again. Shinto theocracy in Japan fell at the end of World War II. These religions still exercise some political influence but no longer have direct control. No other religion has ever had that degree of political influence, except one.

Islamic theocracy is alive and well. And in its most extreme form, it represents a form of autocratic rule rivaling that of Slavery.

The attack which started the war we are now in was launched from within the most autocratic Theocracy on earth, against the largest and most powerful Democratic nation on earth. And not just against anything; its main target was a building complex whose very purpose was to celebrate and encourage economic and cultural diversity, and cross-investment between capitalist nations. It was a global meeting place for the world's capitalist powers.

Those are the lines which are drawn in the sand. Those are the two sides in this conflict. And yet again, the forces of democracy will be united, and the forces of authoritarianism will be divided with some of them siding with the democracies. And I truly believe that the democracies will win, yet again.

But as with all the other major wars in this conflict, this one will be long and expensive and painful. It will kill thousands. And it will be worthwhile. Fifty years after it ends, the people of the world will be glad it was fought and won, just as we are glad that World War II was fought and won.

The danger to freedom is that during times of crisis it must accept more centralized control; it is always in danger of becoming what it fights against. This must be resisted. Because the diversity of a free nation permits believers in autocracy to exist within it, those autocrats always pop out during times of crisis and try to grow from within that which our enemies outside have never been able to impose on us. We must stay alert to prevent this, and we will.

This is not a war against Islam, though most of our enemies will be Islamic. This is a war against the forces of Uniformity, against the forces of Authoritarianism. It is a war against those governments who try to control the lives and thoughts of the people in their nations -- and in ours. Some authoritarian regimes will ally with us but may be changed anyway, possibly through later wars or possible from within. If they adopt our economic system then they will inevitably be changed by that if by nothing else. In the mean time, the Democracies are pragmatic and patient; their aid will be welcome; their time will come. Anyway, we're not really evangelistic.

The progress and spread of freedom worldwide will continue; this war won't end for centuries. This is not the last flare-up of struggles by other political systems against Freedom. But the progress and expansion of Freedom is now assured, as long as it guards against collapse from within.

Consider the response of the US against three major authoritarian systems of the past: Slavery, Fascism and Communism. In all three cases, the US tolerated those other systems until they directly challenged the US and threatened it -- by secession, in the case of Slavery, and by direct attack in the other two cases (respectively, Pearl Harbor and the Berlin crisis). Once that happened, the US (and its democratic allies in the latter two cases) raised its power and fought as long and as hard as it needed to permanently settle the issue. The Cold War lasted 43 years. And so it will be here. The Democratic nations were willing to tolerate Theocracy -- freedom is about diversity -- but the Theocratic nations find the existence of Freedom intolerable, because it is infectious. Common citizens like our system better than any other, which is why it prospers. No-one ever asks to have their own freedoms taken away; it's always someone else's freedom that they want taken away, "for their own good".

Citizens in autocratic nations learn about how things are in the Democratic nations and begin to agitate for the same freedoms at home. Modern telecommunications makes it inevitable that they will learn. Autocratic nations adopt Capitalism (because they can't compete otherwise) and modern telecommunications, and then discover that you can't have Capitalism without freedom, and that this then challenges the Authoritarian government. It's not that the Democratic nations are actively trying to spread their philosophy as a deliberate political action the way that Communism tried to, and Islamic Theocracy is now trying to do; it's just that it happens naturally. Freedom happens because it is what the majority of people want. (There have been a few cases where the Democracies deliberately tried to foster such changes in other nations, but they are not common.)

Authoritarian regimes have always recognized that the existence of Free nations elsewhere was a threat to the Authoritarian system. The Free nations are not threatened by the existence of Authoritarian nations until and unless those nations attack in one way or another.

So the wars in this struggle since the American Revolution were always started by the other side. (Note that not every war the US has been in was part of it; for example, the Spanish-American war was not.)

And so it is this time. The mere existence of Free nations represents an intolerable threat to the Islamic Theocracies, and now one of them has attacked the US. The US and its allies will now crush not just that Theocracy but all the others which choose to ally with it, and all the independent political movements around the world which hope to create theocracies. And freedom will spread even further.

Once Islamic theocracy is crushed, Islam will be welcome in the community of free nations, just as Christianity is.

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