Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Consummate Fallen Angel


The Consummate Fallen Angel

by Robert Higgs

The devil is agile and quick on his feet
He fought at Gettysburg
From beginning to end
And never got a single scratch

At Verdun and the Somme back in ‘16
He displayed his great flair
For adding large numbers
Of young souls wickedly squandered

Dulce et decorum est, he shrieked,
As the Brits and the Yanks
Stoked the fires of hell at Hamburg
In Operation Gomorrah

A master linguist, he spoke fluently in
Vietnamese, French, and English
Amid fetid fields and burnt villages
Fouled by napalm and rotting flesh

He never tires and needs no maps
Finding his way through the world with ease
As if he has visited each place
Many times before, since the dawn of time


this poem is reposted with the permission of the author. It originally appeared on the blog The Beacon at the website of the Independent Institute. 

Catholic and Killing for a Living

I received this email today from an “R.”:

I recently read this scandalous article in the National Catholic Register. I’m just so overwhelmed I can’t even think of how to articulate good arguments. I know this is flawed many levels and doesn’t do justice to the gravity of war nor of the importance of discernment. Its flippant headline makes me want to puke.
Could you possibly post something in response to this?
Thank you for this website. There were times when I thought I was alone in this country what I believed about militarism and was so glad to see that some fellow Catholics actually put into words what I hardly dared to think for fear there was something wrong with me.

This was in part my response:

Dear R.,
I received your email at Catholics Against Militarism. I will indeed try to write something about the sniper article. When I started this site, I felt like I was trying to catalog some of the things I was seeing in the Catholic Church creeping up more and more. But now, I feel like I see these things with such frequency, I can hardly keep up with it. There is not enough time to digest each one, and write about it, before the next one hits me, like a ton of bricks. When I saw that article, I did the exact same thing you did. I was at a loss for words so I forwarded it to someone, aghast, and said, “Will you please write something about this?” But yes, I will try to write something soon. Thank you for getting in touch.

“Necessary” for the “Greater Good”

How We Learned To Kill, by Timothy Kudo, The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2015

This article by Timothy Kudo is one of the more honest accounts of the way killing works in war. It would be a great article if not for the punt at the end, which sails right over all of the deep and serious questions he manages to raise. He ties everything up at the end with a cheap bow, offering us predictable and banal justifications: “It’s all necessary for the greater good” and “We live in a state of nature.”

This is a larger pattern I’ve noticed in the mainstream media, the willingness to publish pieces that at first seem critical of the War on Terror, but inevitably swing back around to a position of confidence and assurance that what we are doing is if not good then at least necessary, and thus right, or a shrug like, “What else can we possibly do?” These essays give the appearance of a free press, the cursory impression of a questioning mind, and the illusion of an earnest public debate. These articles are usually written by military folk who, at the risk of sounding harsh, often seem lacking in moral imagination; after all, they have been trained to prevent their moral qualms  from leading them to undesirable conclusions. Your job is to act. Leave the thinking to someone else. And if what you are doing is wrong, it’s not your fault; you’re just taking orders.

Whether this pattern is a sign of censorship (mainstream media outlets are too afraid of the government to publish anything that seems to oppose our foreign policy) or just proof that the military does a very good job at demolishing the capacity for critical thinking on the part of their subjects, or whether it is just a sign that a person tends to cling to rationalizations for their own choices and actions in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, I don’t really know. Maybe a combination of all of the above.

The insinuation at the end that nobody is responsible for the state of affairs in this country because everyone is “just taking orders” –even the President– is downright scary, reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Who is the Commander-in-Chief taking orders from? Oh, right: us. This bizarre accusation holds up only if you still believe what the United States government taught you in the fourth grade: that the United States government is a government of, by, and for the people.

He is essentially saying, “This is what the people want, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening. So it’s your fault.” This echoes a theme from an article he wrote for The Washington Post in 2013 in which he seemed to imply that our country goes to war because every day citizens don’t understand how awful it is, and if the citizens of this country had any idea, then there wouldn’t be so many wars. And of course there is some truth in that but it strikes me as an attempt to abdicate responsibility.

The Times would not have run the article without the punt in the last two paragraphs. If you want to be able to say you’ve been published  in The New York Times, so you can have one more impressive credential on your LinkedIn page, or more followers on your Twitter account, and if you want to write about a current American war, you can be as honest as you want as long as you include some kind of “but in the end it’s worth it” message. You can be as honest and truthful as you want about the ugliness of war as long as you don’t go so far as to imply that it stop.  We wouldn’t want to piss off the government now would we. I simply don’t believe this article would have been published if the author’s wrestling with moral issues led him to file for conscientious objector status or to some decisive turn against the war.

Kudo seems to have a bit of a chicken-egg problem when he writes: “If this era of war ever ends, and we emerge from the slumber of automated killing to the daylight of moral questioning…” The assumption here is that the war would have to end before we can begin to morally question the war. What comes first, the end of a war or the moral questioning that puts pressure on political leaders to end a war? Let’s not forget: If that public process seems too tedious, the soldier can always choose to cut out the middle men, the “people” and the politicians and the electoral process, and simply say “I quit.”

How We Learned To Kill, by Timothy Kudo, The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2015