American Exceptionalism

by Don Boudreaux on May 4, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Cooperation, Current Affairs, Trade, War

I disagree with Holman Jenkins’s thesis – expressed in today’s Wall Street Journal - that the killing of Osama bin Laden “vindicates” American civilization.  However necessary or just it was to kill Bin Laden, a civilization’s value is never measured by the skill and alacrity with which its government kills even the most deserving victims.

Secular and spiritual authorities have killed people for millennia.  And these authorities have often employed impressive organizational talents and state-of-the-art techniques both to gather intelligence on the whereabouts of their prey and to perform the actually killings.  In taking down Bin Laden, the U.S. government did what governments throughout the ages have regularly done.  Success at this task does nothing to distinguish America from any of hundreds of other societies – societies present and past, good and bad, great and contemptible, civil and uncivil.

What does distinguish America and the west from most other civilizations (including the primitive one championed by Bin Laden) isn’t our élan for, and skill at, martial deeds, but our embrace of individual liberty – liberty that clears space for peaceful and creative commerce.

Our civilization is vindicated by our supermarkets full of food, by our shopping malls full of clothing, by our homes with solid floors and solid roofs and air-conditioning and automatic dishwashers, by iPads and smart phones and aspirin and antibiotics and Amazon.com, by the globe-spanning cooperation that makes these things real – and by the freedom from central direction and mind-numbing, soul-shriveling superstitions that have made so many other ‘civilizations’ sanguinary and hellish.

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{ 101 comments }

Frank33328 May 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

Ahmen

Ken May 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

Don,

“Success at this task does nothing to distinguish America from any of hundreds of other societies…”

This is incorrect. Most of societies throughout history target political dissidents and generally unfavored groups, also, not just cold blooded murderers. One of the defining characteristics of American greatness is killing only those who pose a mortal threat to American citizens. Before everyone piles on saying that others get killed as well, I admit it is true. But this is unfortunate side effect of war, not a matter of policy.

We have the martial capabilities to essentially take over the world, but we don’t. THAT is, also, in addition to our embrace of liberty, one of the defining characteristics of American greatness and exceptionalism.

Regards,
Ken

Don Boudreaux May 4, 2011 at 11:20 am

My claim is in response to Jenkins’s claim that Bin Laden’s killing shows how great U.S. society is because we used high-tech, costly, complex methods to track down and finally to kill the S.O.B. I did not say that American civilization (or even Uncle Sam) is indistinguishable from other civilizations (or governments); what I said – or meant to say – is that Uncle Sam’s killing of Bin Laden does nothing to distinguish Uncle Sam from other governments throughout space and time.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Don,

“Uncle Sam’s killing of Bin Laden does nothing to distinguish Uncle Sam from other governments throughout space and time.”

I guess it’s unclear to me what you are getting at. Are you simply saying that all governments in history go to great length to kill those they want to kill? If so, I believe that is a tautology. Of course any government bent on killing someone will use a ton of resources to hunt whomever down and kill them.

However, it seems as if you are implying that all killings are equivalent. Do you believe that? Do you think that the US government using all those resources to kill Osama is somehow equivalent to Osama and Al Qaeda using all the resources they used to drive two planes into two buildings?

I don’t think that’s what you mean and I know clarity on this issue is hard because no one wants to say that there is a group of people that it is right to kill. The reality is that there is such a group. The tragic nature of humankind pretty much dictates that there are those who will give into their evil impulse and gratify those impulses in terrible ways. And as awful as people may think it is to say, it is right to kill these people.

Identifying the members of this group and killing them and only them is an admirable goal, which admits greatness. Doing a terrible job because it needs to get done, not because it brings joy or because you succumbed to bloodlust, is indeed great.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I don’t think that’s what you mean and I know clarity on this issue is hard because no one wants to say that there is a group of people that it is right to kill.

Funny, they same pretty much the same thing about us.

Defining the enemy as evil is another thing people around the world tend to do. Nothing exceptoinal there.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Sam,

“Defining the enemy as evil is another thing people around the world tend to do. Nothing exceptoinal there.”

If that’s all that’s going on, sure. But I’m pretty sure that Osama Bin Laden was our enemy because he was evil. We don’t classify him as evil because he’s our enemy.

Regards,
Ken

yet another Dave May 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm

…Osama Bin Laden was our enemy because he was evil.

This may just be blogging shorthand, but I think you oversimplify here. He was our enemy because he coordinated an attack that killed thousands of innocent Americans. IOW, it was his actions, not his evilness that made him our enemy. I think the distinction is important in light of the tendencies of some to advocate US military action wherever evil is found.

I suspect your intended implication is he wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t evil (and I’d agree), but that doesn’t undermine the distinction. There are plenty of evil people in the world who are not our enemies unless and until they take certain actions.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

YADave,

“I suspect your intended implication is he wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t evil (and I’d agree)”

I think the only way to judge whether or not someone is evil is by their actions. People who commit evil acts are by definition evil. This is why even a doctor who has save thousands of lives should go to jail or even be executed for committing first degree murder. I guess someone can define someone as being evil without committing evil acts, but what would that mean?

I suspect though that what you’re saying is that being evil isn’t sufficient to be considered an enemy of the US. However, directing your evil towards to US, as Osama did, is sufficient. For example, Fidel Castro, I believe, is at least as evil as Osama, but he’s not considered an enemy the way Osama is (though still he is an enemy of the US). I think JKF screwed up the Bay of Pigs. He should have given full support and taken down that bastard.

However, I am much more hawkish than the average Cafe reader and authors. I think Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, Chavez, Mugabe, and many others are enemies of the US, as was the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and the Baathist party. I supported and support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If I thought Obama were in it to win it (instead of leading from behind), I’d support our actions in Libya too.

I am also aware of the possible contradictions at being a (staunch) libertarian, but supporting these large government interventions over seas. I haven’t worked these things out, yet, but I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. That said I think there are many situation in which violence is the best, and sometimes only, course of action.

“There are plenty of evil people in the world who are not our enemies unless and until they take certain actions.”

I understand this sentiment, but think that ALL evil people are enemies of the US. Certain actions, though, changes the priority list and the means with which to deal with these people.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

You keep telling yourself that and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

You realize that the law isn’t about good and evil, it’s about lawful and unlawful.

“Evil” is an emotive term useful for manipulating people indoctrinated to respond to it.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Sam,

“You realize that the law isn’t about good and evil, it’s about lawful and unlawful.”

The purpose of many laws is to define evil actions and outlaw those actions. If the law wasn’t about good and evil, but simply some sort of word game to determine what is lawful and unlawful, then it wouldn’t be very useful as only semantics would care. However, since most people care about the law, it isn’t just about being lawful and unlawful. It is about good and evil.

“‘Evil’ is an emotive term useful for manipulating people indoctrinated to respond to it.”

Wrong. Evil is a very recognizable action, quite apart from emotion. The law is what is manipulated to obfuscate what is and isn’t evil, despite efforts to make it otherwise.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Now I have to ask you to define evil.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Sam,

“Now I have to ask you to define evil.”

Of course you do. I mean it’s super difficult to see that rape, murder, lying, and theft are evil isn’t it? As Bryan Caplan has said “Sensible moral reasoning begins with concrete, specific cases.”

Someone as sophisticated as you, though, would need to see if there was a law against these things to determine whether they were lawful or unlawful, right? After all, you can’t be burdened with emotion. Too messy.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

OBL claimed he was our enemy because we stationed troops in Saudi Arabia, supported bribe-able dictators, overthrew democratically elected government of Iran and installed the Shah, etc.

Pretend for a while that you are a citizen of a middle eastern country and consider what you would think of a country that acts as the U.S. has in the mid east (and other areas).

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I mean it’s super difficult to see that rape, murder, lying, and theft are evil isn’t it?

I don’t think the U.S. government has raped anyone, but I’m pretty sure it has murdered, lied, and stolen.

And I wasn’t talking about how I look at the world, but about how government operates in the world.

Does the U.S. government value democracy?

Only when it suits strategic purposes, otherwise it would not “befriend” so many dictators.

Does the U.S. government act as though individual rights are important outside the U.S.?

Only when it suits strategic purposes.

I laud you for your moral considerations, but I question your willingness to project your values on your government.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Sam,

“Pretend for a while that you are a citizen of a middle eastern country and consider what you would think of a country that acts as the U.S. has in the mid east (and other areas).”

I have. Let me know when the US sponsors global religious terrorism and becomes an oppressive regime requiring those not of a particular religion to be at best second class citizens and that Saudi Arabia becomes a country based on freedom and individual dignity. Then I’d imagine that I would be grateful to have Saudi troops in the US to prevent or dampen that oppression. If I didn’t, I would simply be another evil person.

Now, I’d like for you to pretend you are a Christian in a middle eastern country in which you and your fellow christians are regularly and violently persecuted and killed. What would you think of the actions of the US to bring Western civilization to your country, which includes religious tolerance.

“I don’t think the U.S. government has raped anyone, but I’m pretty sure it has murdered, lied, and stolen.”

I’m pretty sure officials and soldiers have done all the above, including rape. I never claimed othewise. My claim is that that US officials and soldiers do it less often than the typical government “throughout the ages”. Yes, the frequency matters. As does the response. The US typicall punishes those that commit any of the above.

“And I wasn’t talking about how I look at the world, but about how government operates in the world.”

So when you said “You realize that the law isn’t about good and evil, it’s about lawful and unlawful.

“Evil” is an emotive term useful for manipulating people indoctrinated to respond to it.” you were talking about how governments work, not what you personally think?

“Does the U.S. government value democracy?”

More than any other government “throughout the ages”.

“I laud you for your moral considerations, but I question your willingness to project your values on your government.”

Unless you think “that the US government using all those resources to kill Osama is somehow equivalent to Osama and Al Qaeda using all the resources they used to drive two planes into two buildings”, then I am not projecting anything. If you see these situations as different, with the killing of Osama as better, then you also agree that the US government, despite it still being a government, acts better than those “throughout the ages”.

My moral considerations come from western civilization. Western civilization more than any other criticizes itself because of Werterner’s better understanding of individual dignity. I think Don’s criticism is necessary to form “a more perfect union”, but I want to clarify that making a moral equivalence between American soldiers killing Osama Bin Laden and the killing of 3000 people planned by Osama Bin Laden is disgusting and said by people who have lost their moral compass.

Don did not claim moral equivalence there, but he did claim a moral equivalence between the US and “governments throughout the ages”. I think he’s wrong. All of what Don claims to make us great are indeed things that make us great. But our willingness to hunt down and kill those that should be hunted down and killed also makes us great. This is a terrible deed that still needs to be done. The fact that we do it because it needs to be done, even in light of the fact that hunting and killing another human being is terrible is also what makes us great. Shrinking from necessary, but terrible, would make the US government like any “throughout the ages”. It takes strength and courage to do the necessary, but terrible.

It is easy to abuse as history teaches. Since “governments throughout the ages” did the terrible, but unnecessary, simply because they could be done or for sport. “[G]overnments throught the ages” operated on might makes right. The fact that we don’t does separate the US from all others in history.

Regards,
Ken

PS: Sorry for writing so much. I don’t like long posts like this and try not to write them.

vidyohs May 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

@Ken,
From your reply to Sam:“This is a terrible deed that still needs to be done. The fact that we do it because it needs to be done, even in light of the fact that hunting and killing another human being is terrible is also what makes us great.”

These are my sentiments except that I don’t think it makes us great, it just makes us practical, and being practical was once pretty much natural, until the looney lefties began to screw with the public mind with their political correctness.

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Now, I’d like for you to pretend you are a Christian in a middle eastern country in which you and your fellow christians are regularly and violently persecuted and killed. What would you think of the actions of the US to bring Western civilization to your country, which includes religious tolerance.,

This would be relevant if I thought it was appropriate for the U.S. to be the world’s self appointed policeman, but I don’t.

People around the world used to admire the U.S. as a land of opportunity, but it seems the government has spoiled that sentiment by propping up dictators and installing over 700 military bases around the world.

Who’s in charge of foreign policy anyway?

Ken May 5, 2011 at 12:16 am

Sam,

“People around the world used to admire the U.S. as a land of opportunity,”

People still do. Immigration vs. emmigration confirms this.

“but it seems the government has spoiled that sentiment”

Maybe, but by doing it’s level best to destroy many aspects of our freedoms, particularly our economic ones, not by “propping up dictators and installing over 700 military bases around the world”. Still the US seems to be the best place to make a living, but time will tell how long that lasts. I’m hopeful, but will not be surprised if things remain the same.

“Who’s in charge of foreign policy anyway?”

The president.

Regards,
Ken

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 11:32 am

Hello? Branch Davidians. Not saying this is common, but it happens.

And the political persecution you don’t think happens is more common and becoming more widespread than you think. It’s just not overt. Yet. Not saying we’re a police state, but the trajectory should at least make us wary.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

Methinks,

I am not unaware of political persecution and it is not “common and becoming more widespread than you think.”

The Branch Davidians, along with Ruby Ridge and many other instances in American history, are a black mark on our national history. While those instances are tragic, should never be forgotten, and efforts should be made to eliminate them does not in any way deter from the fact that the frequency with which these things happen in the US is smaller than in any other country. That infrequency (and they become more infrequent with time) does separate us from other countries.

Regards,
Ken

vidyohs May 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Ken, to which of the dead Branch Davidians was their being burned alive just a tragic event? You might suppose that the words horrible needless slaughter of innocents could be used? All on the need to justify the ATF remaining as an independent agency. The resultant cover up of the facts, and the lying whitewash job by Congress, just a tragic event?

Methinks is correct, events predicated on the exact same formula used by the ATF to attack the Branch Davidians are growing more common today, it is just fortunate that none have reached that scale since. Police forces have been militarizing for decades and many of them, many of the individual members of those squads can’t wait for the day they actually get to use their skills against a “wrong-doer”, they froth at the mouth in anticipation.

You seem to be totally unaware of the fact that an attitude of “us against them” has developed in agencies of the various governments that rule us.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

vidyohs,

“… just a tragic event?”

Are the deaths cause by the ATF NOT tragic? Or are you trying to be clever by using the word “just”. The definition of tragic is:

1. Causing or characterized by extreme distress or sorrow.
2. Suffering extreme distress or sorrow.

The deaths of the Branch Davidians fits that description. It is tragic.

“Methinks is correct, events predicated on the exact same formula used by the ATF to attack the Branch Davidians are growing more common today…”

Do you have evidence of this? Or are you just more aware of these events due to the rise of 24 hour news cycles and the internet? When Columbine happened everyone was convinced that high schools were becoming more dangerous, but a quick look at the data proved otherwise. I think if you look at the history of the government, you’ll probably find the same thing.

As corrupt as police and many government agencies are today, they are less so today than just 50 years ago. It is because of the spot light that things like Waco and Ruby Ridge and more recently Omar Grant and Erik Scott that this is so. The spotlight wasn’t nearly as bright 50 years ago, providing many more dark corners in which to hide back then.

So please if you’re going to say things like “are growing more common today” provide rates of occurrences for the relevant timeline about which you are talking.

Regards,
Ken

vidyohs May 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm

@Ken,
Maybe you’re just younger than me, but through the simple act of reading and remembering I am aware of the things of which I speak. No I do not have websites or URLs to give you, much less actual links to reports because so many of them predate the internet. If nothing else, by reading Reason Magazine, and Liberty Magazine I have been seeing reports of home invasions, property seizures, insane forced prevention of land usage, things that fly under the radar of the MSM, and they have been going on since back in the Nixon days. And, yes they are getting worse, and no I do not save links to each particular event that I learn of, as I expect others to show the same curiosity and remembrance that I do when I encounter those things.

You’re hiding your head in the sand if you’re denying that the government you have most to fear is your own.

vidyohs May 4, 2011 at 8:22 pm

@Ken,
Tragic event is something you talk about as one who was subject to it, it is politician speak, divorced from reality; to the women and children in the bus buried under the Branch Davidian compound that fire was much more than a tragic event. Seeing the flames and feeling the flesh destroying heat had to be extremely horrifying beyond our ability to imagine, and to know it was your own government that was doing it to you…more than tragic.

Imagine your a young woman and you’ve seen your husband shot dead in the field outside your home as he tried to get back to be with you, and to see his body left to lie there by his killers for over 24 hours simply to taunt you is a tad more than tragic, it is horrifying, and to know it is your own government that is doing it is horrifying.

To try and flee the fire that was caused by stupid government agents and find that as you reveal yourself in the doorway Delta Force soldiers begin to fire at you with their weapons and drive you back into the inferno is a tad more than tragic, it is horrifying, and to know it is your own government doing it to you….well where do you go from there, Ken?

Ken May 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm

vidyohs,

I think arguing over the word tragic vs horrifying is a useless endeavor. Whichever one you choose, it is appropriate. The words we can use to describe such events can be sad, tragic, horrifying, disgusting, awful, etc. It doesn’t matter. For me tragic encompasses what happens. If you feel the need to denigrate my use of that word, in preference of another, fine.

As to these events occurring more often, they may be, but I remain as skeptical of those claims as I do of any claim made that things are getting worse. I read Reason as well. Radley Balko does a nice job of rooting out corruption and cover ups and the thick blue line of silence at the local levels mainly, but at the federal levels as well.

You can say that I have my head in the sand, but that’s not really a persuasive line of argument. If you think these events are occurring more often, fine. Until either one of us comes up with actual data from a source both of us trust (for example do not cite Krugman) neither one of us will change our minds, but don’t try to persuade me by appealing to your memory.

I know how full of holes my memory is and I have a terrific memory. I also know about confirmation bias and how often I am a victim of it. I don’t think you’re any better at remembering or avoiding confirmation bias. You must know how unpersuasive it sounds to read “through the simple act of reading and remembering”. You wouldn’t be persuaded if I wrote that would you?

I’m inclined to believe that much of what seems to be worse today is simply the overwhelming barrage we get when anything awful happens. You may not like that sentiment, but I don’t like your appeal to the authority of your memory, rather than a verifiable data base containing these types of statistics.

Regards,
Ken

vidyohs May 5, 2011 at 6:23 am

@Ken

Fair enough point about memory and I am not surprised you made it.

Confirmation bias does exist, but it is not always a bad thing if we know we are subject to it.

But please tell me what the opposite of confirmation bias would be. I believe there are many people (perhaps a majority in America) that refuse to see even the things that are right in front of their eyes. Even if they see it, they forcibly deny it and push it out of their conscious mind. I am not saying you are one of these; but, tell me again why most law enforcement agencies in America have become militarized, or formed combat units within their agencies, over the last 3 decades, and don’t try to lay it off on the “war on drugs”, that is too convenient an excuse.

Abe Lincoln said after the civil war was over, “There is no power on the face of Earth that can drink from the Ohio River, if we do not give permission.” He was that confident of the power of the Union forces at the completion of that war.

I’ll take that thought and tell you, Ken, I live in Texas and there is “No power on the face of this Earth that can reach in and do me harm, if my government does not give permission.” No government but my own is in a position to harm me. The question is, would it? Let’s see if we can get an answer from Randy Weaver, David Koresh, and countless others just simply too numerous to name.

Government at best is detrimental to a free man’s health, wealth, and welfare: Government run-amok is downright evil.

Do we have “government at best”? Or do we have “government run-amok?”

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

We have the martial capabilities to essentially take over the world, but we don’t.

Actually, we don’t. Such an endeavor would bankrupt us very quickly.

Economiser May 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Correct. We can’t even fully control Iraq or Afghanistan, two relative backwaters.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Sam,

“Such an endeavor would bankrupt us very quickly.”

Only if we act as we do today. However, acting as all other conquerors in history, by treating the conquered as slaves and serfs, it wouldn’t bankrupt us.

Regards,
Ken

Don Boudreaux May 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm

THAT way of doing things would bankrupt us faster and more deeply.

No society (such as ours is) built on the dignity of the bourgeoisie can maintain that dignity if it tolerates enslaving and enserfing others. The mindset, culture, and institutions required to make such enslaving and enserfing succeed on their own merits – even if ‘our’ slaves and serfs exist only in foreign, conquered lands – would eat away like a fast-acting cancer at the heart of our society’s uniqueness and key to our success: our bourgeois virtues.

We succeed by trading with people who wish to trade with us; not by enslaving people (not even those who don’t wish to trade with us).

Ken May 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Don,

“No society (such as ours is) built on the dignity of the bourgeoisie can maintain that dignity if it tolerates enslaving and enserfing others.”

Fine. I was thinking more along the lines of British India and other colonies, rather than outright slavery and enserfing, but I was not excluding those either. If not for changing attitudes, brought about no doubt from bourgeois dignity, how long could the British empire have lasted? Did it collapse due to bankruptcy or did the British actively withdraw?

“We succeed by trading with people who wish to trade with us; not by enslaving people (not even those who don’t wish to trade with us).”

That has been my point all along. That we do this distinguishes us and the US government from historical countries and governments. With our current technology and martial strength we CAN conquer much if not all of the world, but we don’t, something that cannot be said of any other super power in history.

Regards,
Ken

Ken May 4, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Don,

In fact, the US actively prevented European powers from conquering and colonizing China.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

The British Empire collapsed because Britain couldn’t afford to continue maintaining it.

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Can you see “us” acting any different?

Ken May 5, 2011 at 12:20 am

Sam,

“Can you see “us” acting any different?”

Are you asking in response to my statement “Only if we act as we do today”?

Yes, I think that is a possibility. I think it’s entirely possible that Americans can collectively change their behavior and act differently from the way we act today. In fact, I expect it. I just hope it’s more in the direction of more liberty, less government, and more recognition of the importance of the individual. But that’s not guaranteed.

Regards,
Ken

Hosni Mubarak May 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

What about me? I was supported by you guys for 30 years. Many of the weapons I used to suppress dissent were ‘Made in the US’.

Pinochet May 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Don’t forget about me!

The Shaw May 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm

What am I? Chopped liver?

vikingvista May 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

George Bernard? Robert?

Sandre May 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

VIking,

He is just old troll Mao’s dung.

Sandre May 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Mao,

What about Saddam or even OBL at one time. What about Al Saud Family?

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Are you the “Shaw” from The Shawshank Redemption? ‘Coz the dude from Iran was the Shah.

The Sha(h) May 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm

“Are you the “Shaw” from The Shawshank Redemption? ‘Coz the dude from Iran was the Shah.”

Damn, I hate when the point is lost because of a single letter… especially by those with whom you agree.

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Well, Sha(h), I don’t know if you know that dude Hosni up at the top of the thread, but you may want to tell that crazy walking mummy that America did not prop up his dictatorship. America provided training and other aid to the military as per the 1978 (’79?) peace agreement and the military was never a tool of repression – which is why the peeps love ‘em. The Egyptian police were, though, and favoured crude torture techniques such as good, old fashioned electrocution of testicles .

During the January revolution, he did call out the 37th Camel Cavalry (armed with whips), to ride into Cairo, but I don’t think the camels or whips were made in the U.S.A. :)

Hosni Mubarak May 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

@Methinks

Over $1,000,000,000 per year for “training and other aid to the military”?

“During the January revolution, he did call out the 37th Camel Cavalry (armed with whips), to ride into Cairo, but I don’t think the camels or whips were made in the U.S.A.”

I don’t know about the camels or whips, but…

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&sugexp=ldymls&xhr=t&q=made+in+the+usa+egypt&cp=19&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1056&bih=529

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Yes, you pre-embalmed freak! And it’s closer to $2Billion. Almost all of the military officers are trained in the U.S.

I’m sorry, I’m just going to need more evidence than a picture of a masked man with something that says “made in the U.S.A” on it as proof that you were systematically provided with weapons to turn on your own citizens in order to repress them. American weapons are expensive. You usually used the cheap stuff.

Dano May 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

“This is incorrect. Most of societies throughout history target political dissidents and generally unfavored groups, also, not just cold blooded murderers. ”

It is interesting that you write this on May 4th., the 41st anniversary of the death of 4 students at Kent State..

Ken May 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Dano,

The national guard was not sent to Kent State with the purpose of killing the student protesters. They were sent there to contain a protest that seemed like it would get out of hand, which it did. And unfortunately, the guardsmen had very little training or experience with crowd control and used lethal force unnecessarily.

Perhaps you’d like to ask the Iranians if Ahmadinejad deployed troops to control a volatile situation or if those troops were sent in to kill protesters.

Five days after the Kent State shooting, 100,000 marched on DC without incident. In Iran the shots were fired continuously until the protesters were crushed. In other words, dissidence was not oppressed in the US during the Kent State shooting; however, the same cannot be said of Iran.

Yes the US government has overreached on several occasions, but to say it is the same as overreach by a standard government in history, of which current Iran is much more representative, is grossly misrepresent US politics and world history.

Regards,
Ken

STATISTICULOUS May 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Unfortunately Ken, you’re arguments on this subject are not based on principle but degree. i.e. The bad things we do aren’t evil cause they’re not as bad as the bad things the Iranian government does. That’s silly. It’s a circular argument: the bad things I do aren’t evil cause I do them and I am not evil.
You are taking a walk on a slippery rock when you talk about evil- from many folks perception we are the embodiment of it and unless you think we have some better way of discerning it than they do, you need to be careful.
You’re hawkishness is indeed totally inconsistent with Libertarian values and quite perplexing.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Stat,

I am arguing against Don’s statement: “the U.S. government did what governments throughout the ages have regularly done.”

“The bad things we do aren’t evil cause they’re not as bad as the bad things the Iranian government does.”

This is definitely not a silly statement. Degree matters as much as principle. Certainly, you can see that, on principle me slapping you in the face and gutting you like a pig with a knife are wrong because they are unwarranted actions of violence. But unless you are willing to say that the punishment for both should be the same, then you acknowledge that degree matters.

“You are taking a walk on a slippery rock when you talk about evil- from many folks perception we are the embodiment of it and unless you think we have some better way of discerning it than they do, you need to be careful.”

I have been careful. I have no doubts that, while I am wrong about certain things, I am better at discerning what is and is not evil than those who adhere to Sharia law. I have no doubts that I am better and discerning what is and is not evil better than Osama. I have not doubt that he thought he was doing the right thing when designing the 9/11 catastrophe. Nevertheless, I have not doubt that he was wrong in thinking it was the right thing to do.

“You’re hawkishness is indeed totally inconsistent with Libertarian values and quite perplexing.”

Perhaps it’s because not only do I believe in people’s goodness to do the right thing given the right incentives (as is typical in the West), but I believe that these same people are capable of indescribably awful actions given the wrong incentives. After all, I no doubt that most of the German army officer corp from 1933-1945 thought they were acting with honor and integrity, all the while it was clear to nearly anyone else looking objectively at the situation that they were the causing deep misery and committing great evil.

Regards,
Ken

Justin Bowen May 4, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Ken,

You’re delusional if you think that “we” only kill those who are a mortal threat to Americans. “We” kill people who challenge American hegemony abroad – not people who pose a mortal threat to American citizens. If what you were saying was actually true, the government would be just as aggressive when it comes to protecting Americans from each other since American citizens are many times more likely to be killed by other American citizens than they are by any foreigner (more than 5 times as many Americans die at the hands other Americans each year than the entire number of victims on 9/11 (though though 6 times as many Americans die from murder, I’m allowing for a sixth of Americans to have been killed by illegal aliens, which is probably a far higher percentage than the actual percentage)).

Also, if you actually believe that ObL and his few foot soldiers are simply cold-blooded killers then it is only reasonable to assume that you, who I’m sure would object to being called a hypocrite, also believe that presidents and congressmen (and congresswomen) and members of the military are also cold-blooded killers. If, however, you believe that the latter are not cold-blooded killers but rather patriots because they kill in the name of an ideology, then it is only reasonable to assume that you, who, again, I’m sure would object to being called a hypocrite, also believe that the former are not cold-blooded killers but rather patriots for their cause since they, too, kill in the name of an ideology.

And one more thing. You greatly overestimate our military capabilities and greatly underestimate our military weakness. First, to actually subdue anyone we’d need to have an effective ground force in place. We don’t have anywhere near the amount of ground troops that would be necessary to take over Asia, let alone the rest of the world. Second, our abilities to deploy anywhere in the world in very short time and to effectively control the battlefield are completely dependent upon our ability to “see” what’s going on and to talk to our air, sea, and land forces. Not only are we completely dependent upon satellites, which the Chinese have already proven are capable of being disabled, but we are completely dependent upon information technology, which someone (nobody knows for sure who that someone is) has already proven can be completely disabled with the Stuxnet virus. For the time being, our military dominance is assured only because other countries are unwilling to come together to challenge it. In other words, our military dominance is assured only because of politics.

Ken May 5, 2011 at 12:40 am

Justin,

“You’re delusional if you think that “we” only kill those who are a mortal threat to Americans.”

I admit I misspoke when I said “killing only those who pose a mortal threat to American citizens”, when I meant “[striving to kill] only those who pose a mortal threat to American citizens”. My point, if you bothered to read the entire above thread and ALL of my comments is my objection to Don’s obviously false assertion that the US government is simply a typical example of every government “throughout the ages”. Sure it has happened that, again, if you bother AT ALL to read ANY of the above thread that the US government has killed those not a mortal threat to Americans, like the Weaver family, Waco, and the Kent State shootings.

The difference is that the US government met fierce criticism, accepted those criticisms and changed due to those criticisms. Something that is NOT characteristic of “governments throughout the ages”. Iran’s and Libya’s handling of criticism characterizes “governments throughout the ages”, whereas the US distinguishes itself by not killing dissidents as a matter of policy.

“if you actually believe that ObL and his few foot soldiers are simply cold-blooded killers then it is only reasonable to assume that you, who I’m sure would object to being called a hypocrite, also believe that presidents and congressmen (and congresswomen) and members of the military are also cold-blooded killers.”

Of course I’m not a hypocrite on this point. Only a fool would think that no US president or US soldier is a cold blooded killer. The most obvious presidential example is Andrew Jackson, who coolly killed a couple of people in duals.

“I’m sure would object to being called a hypocrite, also believe that the former are not cold-blooded killers but rather patriots for their cause since they, too, kill in the name of an ideology.”

I am not a hypocrite because I know what bullshit multiculturalism and cultural relativism are. Osama killed Americans, it didn’t matter who as his targets clearly show, because Americans do not submit to Allah and Sharia law. Americans killed Osama because he was trying to kill us. There is no moral equivalence between the two types of killings, even if the Americans that took Osama out are cold-blooded killers.

“You greatly overestimate our military capabilities and greatly underestimate our military weakness.”

Since I work daily with the military, I’m quite sure this is untrue.

“In other words, our military dominance is assured only because of politics.”

This is completely untrue.

Regards,
Ken

yet another Dave May 5, 2011 at 11:08 am

…Don’s obviously false assertion that the US government is simply a typical example of every government “throughout the ages”.

That’s clearly NOT what Don said – you should go back and read what he wrote more carefully. What he said was the act of hunting down and killing bin Laden did not distinguish America from other societies. You’ve expanded well beyond the scope of what he wrote.

Ken May 5, 2011 at 11:57 am

Fair enough.

anonymous May 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Osama killed Americans, it didn’t matter who as his targets clearly show, because Americans do not submit to Allah and Sharia law.

This is the cartoonish reasoning given by US state officials and right-wing pundits, but it is nonsense. OBL plainly explained his actions as being a reaction to US involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. “Sharia Law” and “they hatez our freedomz” are absurdities that the mindless eat up.

J Cortez May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am

I will be crucified for these remarks, but I think it’s the truth. So. . .

I think if anything this episode shows how barbarous we are, as a people and as a government. I am happy the man is dead. He was an evil scumbag and helped commit an atrocity. His leadership was a cancer on the planet. What I take issue with is the unlawful nature of it. I would have preferred a capture and a trial that then ended in a death sentence.

I think this event is an example of how the people of the world views the US. The world sees a bunch of people that send soldier/assassins anywhere and everywhere, without regard to law. Because make no mistake, this action is against the law. It violates US laws as well as international treaties the US government has entered into.

I think Dr. Boudreaux is correct that our best and defining attributes are the exact opposite of killing. If people want to hold this up as some great achievement, that’s pretty sad. More than a hundred thousand deaths—most of them civilian, entire cities destroyed, trillions spent, civil liberties at home being eroded, and several on-going wars with no end in sight. All to catch a group of stupid and insane men who have no country and number fewer than a couple thousand. If this is exceptionalism, I’d say it’s pretty lame.

True US exceptionalism is in the market, where as Dr Boudreaux said, peaceful globe-spanning cooperation and innovation prevails. If, hundreds of years from now, historians are speaking on the merits of the US, I would rather they focus on that as opposed to militarism and killing.

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

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We remind you that you must email your selections to us by the ides of May. Good luck! We certainly hope to enjoy your time on the cross!

Ken May 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm

+1

Richard Stands May 5, 2011 at 12:54 am
Justin P May 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I have to agree with you.

To me it’s all about consistency. Do the anti-death penalty Left cheer the death of Osama by a government entity? I’ve seen a lot that are cheering.

I’m more skeptical that Osama is dead. Our JSOC are the best in the world and if they wanted him alive then he is alive. The best cover story for capturing Osama is to tell the world he is dead. And what did they tell everyone? Now they are talking about not releasing the photographs? Only a handful of people really know the truth and they will take it to their graves.
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2011/05/gates-clinton-advising-president-to-not-release-obl-photograph-obama-increasingly-concerned-no-good-.html

First thing anyone should know about the intelligence community is that nothing “official” is ever the truth. This is coming from the same people who tell you Sgt. So and So died in a “training” accident when in reality he was black ops KIA. And also if someone says they were a Seal, then you know they are lying already.

Ryan S May 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm

You don’t know that he for sure helped commit anything. That’s the whole point of a trial.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Try not to be a total tool, there is no trial for an enemy on the battlefield, and in this case none needed to establish guilt since the guy took responsibility for several terrorist acts.

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Kyle, I think Ryan is pointing out that it’s ridiculous to ask for a trial if you’re going to demand a particular conclusion. Isn’t the whole point of a trial to establish guilt or innocence? If you know he’s guilty and you’re willing to act on that knowledge, a trial is pointless.

I don’t know law. I’m curious what laws the U.S. broke with this action.

Economiser May 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I’m no expert in international law, but we conducted a military raid on another country’s sovereign territory. That’s an act of war (even though it likely won’t escalate).

Methinks1776 May 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oh, right. Thanks. Is it still illegal if the U.S. did it with the consent of the Pakistani gov’t?

Gil May 5, 2011 at 1:26 am

Does single enemy soldier has to be catched alive and be required to stand trial? Should OBL and his pal have tried to capture GWB and put him on trial?

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

“Try not to be a total tool, there is no trial for an enemy on the battlefield, and in this case none needed to establish guilt since the guy took responsibility for several terrorist acts.”

Do you think you could make an exception for a particularly high-ranking one? We probably have some questions, at the least.

Gil May 5, 2011 at 1:24 am

Thank you! Apparently you’re also the only one who tell the difference between a war versus a crime and enemy soldiers versus criminals. Then again police are not obliged to bring a suspect back alive at all costs.

vidyohs May 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Excellent post, Sir Don.

CRC May 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Another thing that would distinguish a truly civilized society (whether this is exclusive to America is a different question) is its tendency to throttle its own emotions, anger, rage and frustrations with those who are believed to have done evil and give them a fair, public, open, transparent and objective trial to find them guilty and then dispense appropriate punishments…instead of taking the route of simply executing someone we “know” is guilty and evil because that’s just faster and easier.

Ryan S May 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I completely agree with this. Even most people who are a little more civilized and also think he should have had a trial still say things like, “I’m glad he’s dead. He was evil. Blah blah blah. But it’s not worth rejoicing the death of a sick man. And he still should have been taken to court.” I guess everyone just magically knows that he’s guilty of everything. If everyone is so omniscient, we should just skip trying people and go straight to the sentencing them.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

See my reply to CRC, you are really being silly here, there was no guilt to establish. The man bragged about the lives he took.

Besides, this was a military action, he and his organization were a war with us. He is the one who used those very words. wagging war with the great Satan. Get real.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

waging, not wagging.

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm

“See my reply to CRC, you are really being silly here, there was no guilt to establish.”

If that was the case then we made an even bigger mistake than I thought…

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm

you know what I meant, no need to establish guilt, since he admitted to and bragged about the crimes.

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Then the trial should be a sure-thing; so what’s to worry about?

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Incorrect, that is only true about a criminal which you are capable of bringing to trial. An enemy combatant however, is removed from any such burden of proof.

Besides, there was no need to establish guilt with Bin Laden, he was happy to take the full credit for a whole host of atrocities.

You are being a little too cute and clever trying to draw some sort of moral equivalence.

Ryan S May 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

You are completely wrong. Even a person who confesses has to be taken to court and tried. What the US did here was flat-out illegal. There was no war declared and they attacked him and did not kill him in self defense. There is just as much a reason to believe he falsely confessed to the crimes as to believe that he actually did them. You seem to have little awareness of jurisprudence.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm

no I am NOT wrong, you are talking about a person who falls within the jurisdiction of the USA, not an enemy combatant in a war zone. I seem to have a much better grasp of jurisprudence than you.

Besides which, we don’t have just his confessions, THERE IS LITERALLY NO DOUBT AMONG ANYONE SANE. That Bin Laden was the mastermind and leader of AL Queda. Nor has anyone ever made an accusation to the contrary.

Your starry eyed, pie in the sky, sensibilities would be a disaster to any nation. That is why even a very, very liberal President did not follow that naive way of thinking.

Ken May 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Ryan,

Is this true? If a person confesses and pleads guilty, is a trial still held? I think not. What is still done, though, is for a judge to pass sentence.

Also, Osama’s actions certainly can’t be considered criminal, even if you don’t consider them an act of war. I consider them to be acts of war, for which there are a completely DIFFERENT set of rules regarding actions taken and who takes those actions.

If his actions aren’t war acts, they still aren’t criminal acts, so they must be something else. That something else has very ill defined rules as to what actions must be taken. Over the past 10 years, as you can imagine, a LOT of effort has been done to make these rules for these situations a lot less murky.

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Why didn’t they just shoot Saddam Hussein?

Gil May 5, 2011 at 1:31 am

An enemy invader would quickly overrun a Libertarian society if they require every enemy soldier and officer a trial instead of fighting on the battlefield.

CRC May 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Now we’re just playing with words: “criminal” vs. “enemy combatant”. We’re losing the forest of the morality of the actions for the trees of the technical legal definitions and language.

As for his confessions…here all we’ve seen are videos released by the US government.

Finally, as Ryan points out even confessors are tried.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm

In matters of legality, you might have a leg to stand on, if you bring it into the realm of morality, then you are even more wrong than Ryan.

There is no morality in allowing the head of an international terrorist organization at war with you to remain in place. Literally, there is NO morality in that position.

STATISTICULOUS May 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I’m impressed, you have morality figured out completely. Please tell me more of your enlightened moral philosophy. . .

Gil May 5, 2011 at 1:37 am

Actually if you can’t tell the difference between various words and terms then you shouldn’t sign a legal document. There’s no war on drugs. If there the U.S. was in a state of war then the U.S. military can come down on drugs dealers, habeas corpus can be suspended, corrupt officials can be executed for treason, etc..

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm

While some other nations have something equal to a bill of rights, the United States was the first republic to ever base the entire rational for government on the political contract of guaranteeing human rights.

That is what American exceptionalism is.

CRC May 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

And now we have all kinds of ways the US finds exceptions in protecting and upholding said rights. The NEW American Exceptionalism.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm

sophisty. We do the best we can in balanceing rights and freedoms with security and the rights of others.

Keith May 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

That’s a funny sentiment you spout. I sounds nice, but I think that maybe people of indigenous and african decent would disagree with you that any rights were guaranteed.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Truly a tendintious statement, devoid of any understanding of history.

If we did not have that character to our founding then perhaps black people would still be slaves today.

We had a beginning that was noble, it was not perfect, humans are not perfect. People like Howard Zinn and Noam Chompsky seem to think that because we were not perfect, and because we acted over time, and with a great struggle, to right some of our wrongs, then that makes the USA illegitimate.

Of course that does not stop them from living and making money in this horrid place.

Keith May 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

“Truly a tendintious statement, devoid of any understanding of history.”

It’s curious you say that because your previous blanket statement about the constitution’s guarantee of human rights.

Zinn and Chomsky, however incorrect they may be on social policy, are correct in pointing out the abuses that happened in US history. My statement was not claim anything about legitimacy or illegitimacy—I was just pointing out, correctly, if human rights were guaranteed as per the constitution, there wouldn’t have been government sanctioned genocide and slavery.

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

“While some other nations have something equal to a bill of rights, the United States was the first republic to ever base the entire rational for government on the political contract of guaranteeing human rights.

That is what American exceptionalism is.”

Firstly, the Bill of Rights were amended to the Constitution – and we had an arguably freer country (loosely defined) under the constitution previous to that one.

Secondly, if American exceptionalism is defined by the foundations of a freedom-protecting framework and we’ve had an even greater propensity to increasingly ignore it, I think the cry of “exceptional” might fall on deaf ears.

kyle8 May 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Sure, you see thing as you want to see them, but there is a reason that over the two plus centuries people have moved here in huge human waves and continue to do so.

BTW, you are factually incorrect to say that people were free-er under the articles of confederation. States had more rights under the articles, not the same thing.

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm

“Sure, you see thing as you want to see them, but there is a reason that over the two plus centuries people have moved here in huge human waves and continue to do so.”

So I’m now under the impression that you believe this is the first time in history this has happened…

“BTW, you are factually incorrect to say that people were free-er under the articles of confederation. States had more rights under the articles, not the same thing.”

Yes and no. It certainly allows for a broader context of freedom (that’s the whole argument for supporting federalism). But it’s true that individual states can be just as tyrannical. I suppose, more properly, I should say a greater opportunity for freedom exists in that context. How much more free one actually is would (and still does) largely depend on where one lives.

crossofcrimson May 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

“is” in my last sentence = “has”

DG Lesvic May 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Wonderful essay.

Sam Grove May 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Radley Balko has been documenting the increase of the abuse of citizens by the legal system in the U.S.

He has an interesting post on Osama bin Laden here:http://reason.com/blog/2011/05/02/osama-won

john May 5, 2011 at 5:49 am

American Exceptionalism was (past tense) based on the fact that our country was founded as a republic with a written constitution starting an experiment in individual liberty. Unfortunately, the vision of the founders and what made our nation exceptional has eroded away, first with Lincoln’s force, then with the income tax and direct election of Senators, Wilson’s “the founders were wrong” ideas, the new deal, Johnson’s medicare, medicaid and now with the latest health care, crony capitalism and Keynesian fiasco and regulations taking most if not all our freedom away. And 77 trillion + $ of unfunded future obligations. It sounds like we are just like all other post western countries to me. If we don’t get back to the original founding vision soon our country will be on the trash heaps of history. Killing definitely doesn’t make us exceptional…

Manuel Álvarez May 8, 2011 at 6:55 am

I agree with Don.
Here is another article very similar by Robert Higgs.
http://manuelalvarezlopez.blogspot.com/2011/05/killing-man-does-not-testify-to.html

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