L. Neil Smith's
Number 272, May 23, 2004

The Most Pathetically Incompetent Empire in History

Reply to Lorrey
by L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to TLE

A little while ago, somebody named Mike Lorrey wrote to The Libertarian Enterprise, accusing me, in effect, of lying, and taking me to task for assigning (he doesn't say to whom) what he imagined was collective guilt in my recent TLE anti-war article, "Torturing the Truth".

I gather that his letter will appear elsewhere in this week's TLE and our readers will be able to judge it—and him—for themselves.

The issue, of course, was the horrific but somehow unsurprising news coming from Iraq that United States military personnel have been abusing and humiliating prisoners at the Al Graib prison, and in other places, including Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Cuba. I'd just written a piece on Cuba the week before, and was pretty worked up about the situation.

I'm still worked up about it, and about subsequent attempts to whitewash the atrocities and create "rip-stops" between the minions who did the actual dirty work, and the individual who bears ultimate legal and moral responsibility for it, the President of the United States. For some time it even appeared that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might take the fall, but it's important to remember that the whole thing happened (is probably still happening) on George W. Bush's watch.

I've reexamined my article several times, guided by the portions Lorrey quoted from it, and the only section I can find that could be misinterpreted as assigning collective guilt consists of a couple of paragraphs summarizing relations between Moslems and non-Moslems over the past thousand years, and concluding that it was people I called "Europanoids" (to include Americans) who initiated force in the Middle East.

Naturally, I stand by this conclusion because it is the truth. Any inference a reader might draw (however incorrectly) with regard to collective guilt can be eradicated by removing the word "we" from the ninth paragraph. What I meant by it—and perhaps should have spelled out for the benefit of readers like Lorrey—is that what's been done to Moslems over the past millennium has been done, for the most part, in the name of people like you and me who were helpless to prevent it. People exactly like us today who are forced at gunpoint to pay for it, and are given only candidates to choose from who will continue doing it in our name tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

But there's a great deal more to be learned about Lorrey from his letter. The first is that he seems unaware that Afghanis and Iraquis had nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001, events that he (and the Bush Administration) use to justify what's being done by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, things they'd love to do in Syria and other countries they hate if they thought they could get away with it.

Lorrey says that he "was fully in favor of making the rubble bounce all over Afghanistan" and implies that I managed to talk him out of it—on the grounds that he was assigning collective guilt for a crime committed by individuals. I rather doubt that (I think it's far likelier that he's been brooding about being taken down a notch in public, and waiting for an opportunity to do the same to me), but even if it were so, it doesn't seem to have lasted very long, since he goes on in his letter making assertions that only demonstrate his ignorance and prejudice in general, and about Islam and the Middle East in particular.

He doesn't know what the word "fascism" means, for example, and doesn't understand that World War Two wasn't fought between noble, cleft-chinned champions of freedom and decency on one hand, and vile, lurking beasts on the other, but between competing brands of national socialism.

Lorrey seems to believe that it is perfectly acceptable, ethically speaking, to drop nuclear weapons or incendiary bombs on hundreds of thousands of human beings who never did anything to you—as the US did during Roosevelt's war—and still regard yourself as one of the goodguys, instead of what you really are, simply another murderous thief who has quarreled and fallen out with his fellow murderous thieves.

This sort of thing was never clearer than in Iraq, where "our" murderous thieves found a local murderous thief and put him in power. Saddam Hussein never did anything "our" politicians haven't yearned for the power to do here, which is to silence us, disarm us, take everything we have, everyone we love, then saddle us and ride us like ponies.

Lorrey attempts to make the case that, "The problem with L. Neil's piece is that it spouts the same sort of principle of collective guilt, only against America, Americans, and Western Civilization in general."

What utter crap. The whole point of my article—which he somehow seems to have missed—is that Western Civilization is a very good thing, but that it's being threatened at this moment in history, not by mysterious and malevolant forces from beyond the Levant, but by an administration whose policies and practices are straight from the Dark Ages.

From this point on, he begins to ramble incoherently, more or less deliberately (I think) confusing libertarians with liberals. This goes on for some time, until we smack right into the point that he really wanted to make all along: " ... many fellow Libertarians I come across these days, are acting, it seems, in willful ignorance of the Laws of War, the Geneva Conventions, and the glaring facts about illegal combatants ... "

Okay, hold on right there. To work backward through this sloppy tangle, there are no "glaring facts about illegal combatants". The phrase was only invented a few months ago, by a Bush Administration desperate—just like any other oppressive regime in history—to delegitimize and criminalize those who oppose their imperial will. Presumably, legal combatants are those who would give up without a fight.

Geneva Conventions? What Geneva Conventions? The US itself was never signatory to any such agreements. It only pays them lip service when it benefits those in power. Fully-jacketed bullets, for example, are mandated by such accords, supposedly for humane reasons. However since they also create more wounded than dead, consuming more enemy resources than would otherwise be the case, the US willingly complies. When such agreements stand in the way of what those in power want to do, however (for example, in the matter of the humane treatment of prisoners) they make up stuff like "illegal combatants" to get around them.

Last but not least, a lawfully-fought war is a fantasy. War is the ultimate "lifeboat case", one of the things that happen when the rule of law breaks down completely, which is an excellent reason to avoid it.

But having failed to prove any of his claims convincingly, Lorrey then demands that we agree with his statist assertion that "Illegal Combatants are simply NOT protected by ANY Constitution, any Treaty, any International Law, Convention, Agreement, Protocol, or any other standard accepted or adopted by any government anywhere at any time in history.


No, more like a question mark. For starters, who the hell voted on all this? I was certainly never asked to, therefore, I reserve my right to regard it as bullshit and deal with it accordingly. Rights, somebody should tell this pocket Mussolini, do not derive from the state or from anything it does. Historically, states are the enemy of rights and always will be. Their failure to respect a right, their maniac hunger to suppress it, are irrelevant to whether it exists or not.

Perhaps more importantly, as a civilized people ("Here Smith goes with that 'we' stuff again, Martha!'), we do not protect the rights of helpless individuals—including our prisoners—for their sake, but for our own. We refrain from murder and torture and abuse, not because of any damage it may do to them, but because of the damage it does to us.

Even when it's "actual known members of the Hussein regime".

In addition to the collectivism of "we", there is another kind of collectivism, the collectivism of "they". Lorrey treats us to as fine an example of it as I've seen since September 11, and, along the way, attempts to twist my words beyond recognition. "Islamists" (which is another term I never heard until a couple of years ago, and then only from neoconservatives, whose views and opinions don't count) hate us Americans and respond violently toward us because of our enlightened secularism and our culture of freedom—also our bluejeans and our Coca-Cola.

We've heard this mantra before, from those who are unwilling to admit to the violence that western governments and corporations have visited on Moslem countries over the past century. It plays especially well with tiny, shriveled souls who've been deprived, by civil rights laws and political correctness, of people they can hate here at home, and desperately need someone to fashionably hate, even if they're far away.

Over the past couple of years, I've heard ugly things said about Moslems, Arabs, and those (like Turks and Iranians who get mistaken for Arabs) that would make the speakers blush if they were said about black people, Asians, or Jews. My mother once told me—trying to explain racism to a five-year-old son—that some individuals feel so bad about themselves that they have to have someone else to look down on.

I guess my mistake is that I went to school with Arabs, ate with them, partied with them, sat up long hours in the night talking with them, and as a result, I still see these "diabolical foreigners" as people. Am I interested in converting to Islam? No, not any more than I am to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or the worship of Elvis. Since I was eight, religions have all seemed equally ridiculous to me. If I weren't happily married I might consider worshipping Lexa Doig.

Do I want to treat the women in my life the way Moslem women are traditionally treated—they're usually not welcome at parties, for example. No, I like my women—oops, better make that "my woman"—sparky and opinionated. Life is a hell of a lot more enjoyable that way.

Do I actually condone what was done on September 11, 2001? No, absolutely not. But I understand it, just as I understand Oklahoma City. If you frustrate people so long, thwart their peaceful attempts to achieve justice, they will eventually strike back. And so would you.

So here's something else to get your head around, Lorrey—and anyone else who doesn't get it: guerrilla warfare is what you resort to when you've been kept small and weak and just can't take any more. Americans may not like it, especially when half their earnings are stolen to build billion-dollar aircraft carriers and stealth fighters that are now being rendered useless (just like Soviet helicopters and tanks) by a bunch of Third Worlders armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Third Worlders are willing to die, not because they hate Mickey Mouse and Betty Crocker, but because they want to be left alone to direct their own lives as they wish, even if the Americans don't approve.

Lorrey wraps it up by asking, "[How] do you justify defending a woman ... against rape, but refuse to stand up for the basic liberties of peace-loving people (not despotic insurgents) around the world? I distinguish between the two because they need to be distinguished between."

Of course they do, because if you don't succeed, there's nothing to prevent everyone in the world from seeing that you're not standing up for anything or anybody—at the involuntary expense, I hasten to point out, of people at both ends of the process who want no part of it.

It's you who are the rapist and the despot.

And we wouldn't want that happening, would we?

Saddam Hussein was no paragon, to be sure. But he did head the most secular and progressive state in the Middle East. When he was running Iraq, women could drive, have jobs, vote, own property, and go about their business in broad daylight with their faces uncovered. Iraquis could go to gunshops in the cities and buy more or less any weapons they chose, with less government interference than Americans suffer.

Thanks to American interference, Islamic fundamentalists may be able to reverse that progress now. And when American troops began going house to house, taking guns away, it became clear to anyone with half a brain who the badguys—the Imperial stormtroopers—really were.

Al Graib, like Guantanamo, only confirmed it.

Best regards,

Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org. Autographed copies may be had from the author at lneil@lneilsmith.org.

Neil is presently at work on Ceres and Ares, two sequels to his 1993 novel, Pallas, a decensored and electronically published version of his 1984 novel, Tom Paine Maru, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May. A 180-page full-color graphic novel version of The Probability Broach will be released this summer.

Hope, by Aaron Zelman and L. Neil Smith

Publication date: August 2001 from Mazel Freedom Press, Inc.; distributed by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Inc., PO Box 270143, Hartford, WI 53027.

Order Hope from JPFO via this link. (Find more information and endorsements on that page as well!)

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