By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, October 7, 2022
I’ve just read In Search of Monsters to Destroy by Christopher J. Coyne. It’s published by the Independent Institute (which seems dedicated to untaxing the rich, destroying socialism, and so forth). The book begins by citing as influences both peace advocates and rightwing economists.
If I had to rank the reasons I want to abolish war, the first one would be avoiding nuclear holocaust, and the second would be investing in socialism instead. Reinvesting even a fraction of war spending in human and environmental needs would save more lives than all the wars have taken, improve more lives than all the wars have worsened, and facilitate the global cooperation on pressing non-optional crises (climate, environment, disease, homelessness, poverty) that war has impeded.
Coyne criticizes the war machine for its killing and injuring, its expense, its corruption, its destruction of civil liberties, its erosion of self-governance, etc., and I agree with and appreciate all of that. But Coyne seems to think that pretty much anything else a government does (healthcare, education, etc.) involves the same evils only at a reduced level:
“Many skeptics of domestic government programs (e.g., social programs, healthcare, education, and so on) and of centralized economic and political power held by private people and organizations (e.g., corporate welfare, regulatory capture, monopoly power) are entirely comfortable embracing grandiose government programs if they fall under the purview of ‘national security’ and ‘defense.’ However, differences between domestic government programs and empire are of degree rather than kind.”
Coyne, I suspect, would agree with me that a government would be less corrupt and destructive if military funding were moved to societal needs. But if he’s like every libertarian I’ve ever asked, he’d refuse to support even a compromise position of putting part of war spending into tax cuts for gazillionaires and part of it into, say, healthcare. As a matter of principle, he wouldn’t be able to support government spending even if it were less bad government spending, even if after all these years of actual documented experience the theoretical evils of giving people healthcare have been disproven, even if the corruption and waste of U.S. health insurance companies far outstrip the corruption and waste of single-payer systems in numerous countries. As with many issues, getting to work in theory what has long succeeded in practice remains the major hurdle for U.S. academics.
Still, there is a great deal to agree with and remarkably few words to disagree with in this book, even if the motivations behind it are almost unfathomable to me. Coyne holds against U.S. interventions in Latin America that they have failed to impose U.S. economics and in fact have given it a bad name. In other words, they’ve failed on their own terms. The fact that those are not my terms, and that I’m glad they’ve failed, doesn’t mute the criticism.
While Coyne mentions the killing and displacement of people by wars, he focuses more heavily on the financial costs — without, of course, suggesting what might have been done to improve the world with those funds. That’s fine with me as far as it goes. But then he claims that government officials who seek to impact the economy will tend to be power-mad sadists. This seems to ignore how relatively peaceful the governments of far-more-government-controlled economies than the U.S. have been. Coyne cites no evidence to counter what seems the obvious reality.
Here’s Coyne on the pervasiveness of “the protective state”: “[T]he activities of the protective state influence and affect almost all areas of domestic life—economic, political, and social. In its ideal form, the minimal protective state will only enforce contracts, provide internal security to protect rights, and supply national defense against external threats.” But what he warns of seems pulled from an 18th century text without regard to centuries of experience. There’s no realworld correlation between socialism and tyranny or between socialism and militarism. Yet, Coyne is perfectly right about militarism eroding civil liberties. He provides a great account of the abject failure of the U.S. war on drugs in Afghanistan. He also includes a good chapter on the dangers of killer drones. I was very glad to see that, as the things have been largely normalized and forgotten.
With every anti-war book, I try to discover any hints as to whether the author favors the abolition or merely the reform of war. At first, Coyne seems to favor only reprioritization, not abolition: “[T]he view that military imperialism is the primary means of engaging in international relations must be removed from its current pedestal.” So it should be a secondary means?
Coyne also doesn’t seem to have worked out a real plan for life without war. He favors some sort of global peacemaking, but no mention of global lawmaking or global wealth sharing — in fact, only celebration of nations deciding things with no global governance. Coyne wants what he calls “polycentric” defense. This appears to be smaller scale, locally determined, armed, violent defense described in business-school jargon, but not organized unarmed defense:
“During the civil rights movement, African American activists could not reliably expect monocentric, state-provided defense to protect them from racial violence. In response, entrepreneurs within the African American community organized armed self-defense to safeguard activists from violence.”
If you didn’t know that the Civil Rights movement was principally the success of violent entrepreneurs, just what have YOU been reading?
Coyne gratuitously throws in a celebration of buying guns — without of course a single statistic, study, footnote, comparison of results between gun-owners and non-gun-owners, or comparison between nations.
But then — patience pays off — at the end of the book, he adds on nonviolent action as one form of “polycentric defense.” And here he is able to cite actual evidence. And here he is worth quoting:
“The idea of nonviolent action as a form of defense may seem unrealistic and romantic, but this view would be at odds with the empirical record. As [Gene] Sharp noted, ‘Most people are unaware that . . . nonviolent forms of struggle have also been used as a major means of defense against foreign invaders or internal usurpers.'(54) They have also been employed by marginalized groups to protect and expand their individual rights and liberties. Over the past several decades, one can see examples of large-scale nonviolent action in the Baltics, Burma, Egypt, Ukraine, and the Arab Spring. A 2012 article in the Financial Times highlighted ‘the wildfire spread of systematically non-violent insurgency’ around the world, noting that this ‘owes a great deal to the strategic thinking of Gene Sharp, an American academic whose how-to-topple-your- tyrant manual, From Dictatorship to Democracy, is the bible of activists from Belgrade to Rangoon.'(55) Audrius Butkevičius, a former Lithuanian defense minister, succinctly captures the power and potential of nonviolence as a means of citizen-based defense when he noted, ‘I would rather have this book [Gene Sharp’s book, Civilian-Based Defense] than the nuclear bomb.'”
Coyne goes on to discuss the higher success rate for nonviolence over violence. So what’s violence still doing in the book? And what of a government like Lithuania making national plans for unarmed defense — has that corrupted their capitalist souls beyond redemption? Should it be done only at the neighborhood level rendering it far weaker? Or is national unarmed defense an obvious step to facilitate the most successful approach we have? Regardless, Coyne’s concluding pages suggest a move toward the elimination of war. For that reason, I’m including this book in the following list.
THE WAR ABOLITION COLLECTION:
In Search of Monsters to Destroy by Christopher J. Coyne, 2022.
The Greatest Evil Is War, by Chris Hedges, 2022.
Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages by Ray Acheson, 2022.
Against War: Building a Culture of Peace by Pope Francis, 2022.
Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military by Ned Dobos, 2020.
Understanding the War Industry by Christian Sorensen, 2020.
No More War by Dan Kovalik, 2020.
Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World Can Learn from a Tiny Tropical Nation, by Judith Eve Lipton and David P. Barash, 2019.
Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, 2019.
Murder Incorporated: Book Two: America’s Favorite Pastime by Mumia Abu Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, 2018.
Waymakers for Peace: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors Speak by Melinda Clarke, 2018.
Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals edited by William Wiist and Shelley White, 2017.
The Business Plan For Peace: Building a World Without War by Scilla Elworthy, 2017.
War Is Never Just by David Swanson, 2016.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015, 2016, 2017.
A Mighty Case Against War: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now by Kathy Beckwith, 2015.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran, 2014.
Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist by David Hartsough, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
From War to Peace: A Guide To the Next Hundred Years by Kent Shifferd, 2011.
War Is A Lie by David Swanson, 2010, 2016.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.
Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War by Mary-Wynne Ashford with Guy Dauncey, 2006.
Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War by Rosalie Bertell, 2001.
Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence by Myriam Miedzian, 1991.