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L. Neil Smith's
Number 656, February 5, 2012

"It's always been a police just never noticed."

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Rational Defense in a World Gone Mad,
An Excerpt from Down With Power*
by L. Neil Smith

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Always attack in perpendicular fashion, from an unconventional and unexpected (but relevant!) direction. The enemy will be unprepared; you can strike him with your full strength while he finds nothing to attack effectively.
—L. Neil Smith

Sooner or later, libertarians are going to get stuck with the leftovers.

Just as a long and dismal history of repressive, unconstitutional legislation once threatened to leave potential libertarian office holders with an enormous crime rate to deal with—until the highly libertarian solution of simply letting everyone be armed who wishes to be changed everything, by reducing violent crime rates in double digits—so another unbroken record of incompetence on the part of Democrats and Republicans has created a necessity to assure onlookers with regard to libertarian views on the maintenance of national security.

No other issue—with the possible exception of abortion—has so continuously absorbed libertarian intellectual efforts (not to mention rhetorical energies), nor so frequently threatened to divide us.

Until its 1977 national convention, the Libertarian Party's policies could have been described as "quasi-conservative", suspicious toward the Soviet Union and other nations, reluctantly supportive of a massive deterrent machinery. In 1977, however, led by the LP national platform committee, the party line switched to "quasi-leftist", holding communism as a paper tiger and the United States the principal villain of recent world history. Neither line, derivative as they were of established (and establishment) opinions, satisfied rank-and-file libertarians.

Compare this mess with the LP's treatment, at the time, of the issue of forced busing for racial balance in the nation's schools. Here, the LP took a principled stance against both racism and bayonet-backed social experimentation, demanding abolition at the root of the problem: collective ownership of the public school system, an entirely new slant that no other political philosophy was capable of taking. Nor was there discernable controversy within the party about it.

Unfortunately, through a series of extremely bad choices, the LP has since rendered itself irrelevant, but the movement continues. Any libertarian national defense plan needs to be exactly as singularly appropriate as the busing solution. As a philosophical anarchist, I'm more than willing to substitute the term "territorial defense", meaning nothing more (and nothing less) than individual self-defense cooperatively facilitated. I am not particularly concerned with the survival of the nation-state itself, but with the lives, property, rights, and culture of its inhabitants. I do not concede that other nations are no threat. If anything, I'm even more paranoid in this regard than most, as I hate and fear every government on the planet, and wouldn't trust the least of them to leave a defenseless neighbor unmolested.

However, a stateless order cannot be achieved overnight. The best we can realistically hope for is a "phased withdrawal" of government from our lives, during which the various arms of the octopus will wither away at varying rates. The sad truth is that the Pentagon will likely be among the last government agencies to evaporate, whatever we do.

Yet the present defense establishment is a far greater threat to Americans than it is to any potential foreign enemy, having repeatedly proven itself too massive and clumsy to deal well with human-scaled reality, but more than willing to "break things and kill people". The two million-odd individuals in uniform today must be regarded as a giant welfare scheme (never forgetting the corporate welfare lavished on the defense industry) or as a means of controlling an increasingly restive civil population should the need be perceived by those in power.

Any intelligent security plan must depend on libertarian virtues like individual enterprise, massive decentralization, and the technological superiority we can expect them to engender. In applying them to this problem, there are three basic categories to consider: (A) conventional warfare, the technical and tactical ambience that persists despite Hiroshima, Werner von Braun, and Robert S. McNamara; (B) strategic deterrence, generally taken to mean nuclear weaponry and its supporting hardware; and, (C), so-called "asymmetrical warfare", including covert attack modes, until 9/11/01, a sort of garbage can for items which fit neither previous category, but which I have long believed will grow in urgency as we effectively dispose of the other two.

Conventional Warfare

From our Revolution through Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, history demonstrates beyond debate that there is only one practical method for purely defensive conventional warfare: the way of the guerrilla. Accordingly, the heart of this proposal is to reduce and fundamentally reorganize the present defense establishment, while increasing its legitimate efficiency. Understand that such an undertaking would occupy no more than a tiny portion of the ongoing business of America; it is by no means a "national priority " or a "crash program", but simply a gradually implemented series of common-sense practical adjustments.

The plan's principal elements are these:

1) An immediate end to American military presence in the Middle East.

2) Withdrawal of all American personnel from the more than 150 countries in which they're based, and closure of all overseas bases. This would enormously reduce current defense expenditures and also the risk of being drawn into a war over some irrelevant local dispute. Such bases serve no function in the guerrilla defense of the United States.

3) Combining all branches of military service into a single, cost-effective unit. This is clearly necessary, if only to reduce expensive redundancy. The Army, Navy, and Marines, for example, each maintain their own air forces. Moreover, the traditional distinctions between these entities no longer operate as they once did, and the supposed efficiency that competition normally sparks is nowhere in evidence.

It's psychologically important here to discuss the elimination of all but a single, practical military uniform for the professional military, a consideration less trivial than it may seem. It would tend to reinforce the above-mentioned unification (traditions might well be preserved through distinctive hats or unit markings), and act as a constant reminder that our soldiers are performing a positive, market oriented, division-of-labor service, exactly like beekeepers, UPS drivers, and filling station mechanics, who also wear task-specific garb.

I first suggested decades ago the military work-clothes be simple fatigues without a hint of traditional military decoration, because police studies over the preceding decades in California and elsewhere had shown that preoccupation with spit-and-polish discipline, besides wasting valuable person-hours, actually undermines both the combat effectiveness of a unit and the survival chances of its individual members. Similarly, there is no rational excuse for military rituals like 4:00 A.M. bugle-blowing, obsessive bed-making, aimless marching, sadistic shouting, hazing, and brainwashing. Twenty-first century America needs intelligent specialists, capable of thinking for themselves.

The single element around which all training revolves should be weapons expertise. Over the last century, the number of rounds expended per enemy casualty has increased logarithmically. During World War I, Americans had a reputation among German troops as fiendishly accurate one-shot-one-kill sharpshooters. In Vietnam, American forces spent a million rounds per enemy casualty. Today, no organization trains people to handle guns as poorly as the American military, nor, in the opinion of this retired gunsmith and former ballistician, supplies its personnel with such miserably inadequate weapons.

4) Reduction in professional soldiery to training-cadre levels. Every nasty, difficult, and dangerous school in the current military curriculum should be combined into a continuous program and all personnel, regardless of age, rank, or physical condition be required to graduate or retire from service. Those who make it through Green Beret, Ranger, and paratroop training, qualify to use explosives, climb mountains, endure arctic, desert, and prisoner-of-war survival training—each with its own terrible attrition rate—would become charter members in the new American military. The primary effect would be a drastic reduction in forces to between 20,000 and 30,000 men and women, winnowed and toughened volunteers, intelligent professional killers further selected for their ability to teach their skills to others.

An integral and supremely important aspect of their training (fully as critical, in the end, as weapons expertise), would be their understanding and acceptance of the libertarian principle of non-aggression—as a substitute for the irrational mystiques which have been an important part of traditional military life. Philosophy or not, with their numbers limited to five figures, such a force could offer no threat to civil liberties or civilian government. Few, if any, among the present Pentagon-level command would make it through the selection process. The salaries of selectees could be increased tenfold or a hundredfold without affecting the current military budget.

5) Denationalization of the militia is the intermediate end which all the above is meant to serve. Defined in law as all able-bodied persons of arms-bearing age and physical ability, the militia under these principles would be limited to willing participants. Since the primary advantage of the guerrilla is intimate familiarity with his or her own territory, once the "National Guard" is taken out of federal hands, it must be reorganized, not on a state-by-state basis, but county-by-county, similar politically and socially to volunteer fire departments and mountain rescue units. It would also train for and perform purely civil tasks like emergency snow-removal and brushfire fighting.

The professional military cadre, on the other hand, would travel around the country singly or in extremely small groups, educating the local militia volunteers in the latest techniques of cooperative self- defense. The professionals would find serving 3130 counties, parishes, boroughs, and independent municipalities a stimulating full-time occupation.

6) The next step: liquidation of conventional capital-intensive military hardware. When it becomes possible to destroy a multi-million dollar cruiser or aircraft carrier with a $20,000 missile, or a multi- hundred thousand dollar tank with a three dollar hand-held rocket, it's obviously time to stop cruising and tanking. Small mortars proved far more mobile and effective in Vietnam than clumsy, crew-served gunnery, and could usually be carried by a single individual on a bicycle.

The sale of military white elephants to other countries might help capitalize our newly-forged system, based on cheaper, smaller, more effective weapons suitable for guerrilla use. The largest item might be armed hovercraft—a 250 mile-per-hour navy and cavalry combined against which submarines and tanks would be so much helpless scrap metal.

7) Domestic military bases should be eliminated except for one in each of four or five major ecological zones. Even these would be severely reduced, serving only to maintain the combat-effectiveness of the professional cadre. Present military reserves should be sold to support the program or turned over to their rightful owners where possible.

8) All gun control laws must be repealed, official weapons- registries at all levels of government destroyed, and currently warehoused weapons distributed throughout the populace. Historically, the first places taken over during an invasion or a coup are local police stations, so that lists may be obtained of those who own weapons.

Assuming a still functioning Department of Defense (collecting and spending money), arming the citizenry might require a hundred billion dollars—enough to make even non-libertarians gasp in protest. On the other hand, limited-government libertarians consider it a legitimate function of the State to provide for the physical security of the country. Arming individuals is by far the most efficacious means of achieving that end. These weapons would be handed over permanently (returning some fraction of what the government has stolen from taxpayers) and would be a one-time effort, stretching out over at least a decade, replacing vastly more expensive and less-efficient programs.

The government already holds vast arsenals of weapons, some dating back to the Spanish-American War. (We recently learned of 850,000 Korean War pieces—presumably M-1 Carbines, M-3 submachine guns, and Garand rifles—excellent weapons that the White House refuses to release to the public that paid for them.) Many of these guns would have little or no application to a guerrilla-style defense system, but their sale to collectors would help fund a more effective distribution plan.

Furthermore, the 11% excise tax on every gun sold in this country (the National Rifle Association's not-so-bright idea to ingratiate itself with establishment media by supporting wildlife conservation, as if hunting were the only reason for buying a gun) would be eliminated. If uniform hardware could be agreed on by a majority of militia units, the resulting production volume would greatly lower costs.

Before going further, it is important to note some differences between this proposal and the defense system of Switzerland which it may seem to resemble. Although participation would presuppose personal ownership of adequate weapons, membership itself would by no means be compulsory. Nor would it be limited to males. Nor would I consider (as Robert Heinlein once proposed) membership to be a condition for the franchise or any other civil right. There is one thing to admire about Switzerland's system though: they haven't had to fight a war for 400 years.

Physical requirements would be less stringent for the militias than for the professional cadre. Basically, if you could roll your wheelchair up to the firing line and shoot, there would be a place for you.

Some may be anxious to assure the ethical and informed use of mass-distributed weapons. To any extent which it can be assured, this would be a function of the training cadre—another reason why their libertarian values must be deeply implanted. It is unfortunate that liberals—who have struggled so long to prove that the trouble with sex is not that we have the capacity, but that people must be educated in its exercise—cannot see that the same holds true for our violent capabilities.

Strategic Deterrence

Strategic defense, no less than conventional, is susceptible to the same principles of low-cost decentralized voluntarism. I have always opposed international disarmament treaties because, at whatever level, gun control never works. Medieval knights, forbidden by their Pope to use the newly-invented crossbow, simply ignored the Papal prohibition, establishing a thousand-year tradition in this area of legislation.

It is too late to control nuclear weapons because they are already obsolete. For decades, the U.S. military has possessed lasers capable of knocking down an airplane. If more powerful models do not already exist, they soon will, consigning bombers and missiles to the junk-heap of military history. Linked with early-warning radar, they will, in effect, generate an "umbrella" against any merely mechanical method of attack.

Lasers suffer from atmospheric attenuation—air and water vapor dissipate the beam. Not so, however, at the mid-flight altitudes of intercontinental missiles. Under libertarian economic policies, a vastly-richer private sector can place permanently inhabited structures in orbit for research, communications, manufacturing, recreation—and defense. Unlike ballistic missiles, lasers can be used over and over again (greatly lowering the number of necessary installations) and, in peacetime, would have numerous civilian applications.

Possibly including weather control.

Even lasers can be improved upon. "Particle beam weapons" employ heavier subatomic constituents and presumably suffer less atmospheric attenuation. Such energy weapons offer the hope of an effective, inexpensive, non-nuclear defense, an end to decades of the special kind of international terrorism that superpowers practice. Americans can take their entire atomic arsenal and dump it in the Philippine Trench.

Backyard SDI

The "Backyard Strategic Defense Initiative" is a notion first discussed in the 1980s by a certain science fiction writer—the one writing this book—and his friend Steve Heller, a software engineer, based on a World War I German artillery piece called "Big Bertha" or the "Paris Gun". The explanation below closely follows a dialogue written for the political novel Hope by yours truly and Aaron Zelman, founder and head of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

The Paris Gun—there were a pair of them, actually—were mounted on railroad flatcars, and could throw shells more than 75 miles by shooting them up into the stratosphere where there's less air resistance, drastically elongating the shape of their parabolic flight-path. The Germans had meteorologists on their firing teams. The first shot, from German turf, destroyed a church full of people one Sunday in Paris. The French were terrified. They thought they were being bombed by a dirigible flying so high up that it couldn't be seen.

Unlike Big Bertha, however, Backyard SDI can only be employed defensively. It can't be used for aggression. Instead of 2000-pound bronze shells full of explosives, it will use lightweight fiberglass shell containers filled with 800 pounds of BBs—a million of them—and a tiny explosive charge, designed to reach about 100 miles above the Earth's surface and burst in front of oncoming intercontinental missiles, leaving about one BB per cubic meter, forming an effectively impenetrable—if very temporary—shield. Compared with the nuclear missiles coming in at about 18,000 miles an hour, each BB will be stationary.

When it strikes the missile (or when the missile strikes it) it'll make a BB-sized hole going into the weapon, and an incandescent Volkswagen-sized hole coming out. That's the end of a multimillion dollar missile, for the price of a World War I cannon and a bushel of BBs. Or make that 3130 cannons, owned and operated by 3130 county militias.

A friend of mine and advisor is skeptical about BackYard SDI. He doesn't think the system could hit a missile hardened for re-entry, coming in at several times the speed of sound. I appreciate his doubts, but as I said, 800 pounds of BBs comes to a million stationary objects in a single shell, designed, at the critical moment to deploy into a million cubic yards in front of the missile, each occupied by a BB.

Make the cannon automatic, firing 60 to 100 rounds into space per minute.

Now imagine 3130 counties, parishes, boroughs, and independent municipalities, all shooting at the same time, directed by Cheyenne Mountain, or by manned satellites high above the fray (and armed with their own defense systems which may look a lot like the Navy's Phalanx guns).

If you build it, they won't come.

The Paris guns were makeshift, jury-rigged devices, consisting of a medium-bore barrel shoved through the stubbed-off breach of a larger gun and supported by cable truss; many improvements could be made on such a system, including polygonal progressive rifling that squeezes the projectile tighter and spins it faster the closer it comes to the muzzle, prolonging the peak pressure of the gases (which will require more modern metallurgy) and greatly increasing the velocity of the projectile.

When the remaining 999,999 BBs that didn't hit the missile come back down, their terminal velocity—the maximum speed that a .177" diameter sphere can achieve free-falling through the atmosphere— should be too low to hurt anything or anybody it hits. One of them might make an interesting souvenir, though, a BB that's been up in space.

The missile fragments should disperse and burn up on re-entry.

Although militias will own the big guns and be in charge, there will be some cooperation with government, which already maintains a missile early warning system. It can tell militias where to aim their cannons and when to fire. In time, cheap orbital technologies, developed by private corporations, will allow some giant BB guns to be based on manned space platforms. Meanwhile, the total cost of the Backyard SDI militia program will be roughly eight hundred million dollars, mostly not from the federal budget. Quite a difference from the 25 trillion that the Reagan "Star Wars" program was supposed to cost.

In the meantime—which is likely to be fairly long, because the American people need to be convinced, and then they will have to convince the Congress—America will have her missile submarine fleet and aircraft carriers to protect her. Backyard SDI will completely change the order of things where foreign policy and the military are concerned.

Covert Attack Modes

Viruses and toxins delivered by missile or plane can be taken care of by orbiting energy weapons or even the so-called "Phalanx" system of radar-guided Gatling guns that defend naval vessels from cruise missiles. But what about vials of horror brought into the country in a briefcase? It is even legendarily possible to create an atomic chain reaction by piling enough fissionables together. What if fanatics were to import components (in lead-lined briefcases) and assemble them by hand?

As unlikely as these contingencies may appear, the irony is that they may be employed precisely because a libertarian society's conventional and strategic defenses are so well taken care of. Nevertheless, we must should resist and ultimately eliminate the elaborate and repressive security measures that have been erected around us by a government taking full advantage of the attack of 9/11/01.

An ethical solution must be found to the problem. At present there is no adequate answer—one point: terrorism is most effective in large gatherings of strangers; it won't work in small communities where everyone knows everyone else—although a lot of time and money could be spent trying to devise one, and worse, a good many liberties could be trampled trying to implement it. In the end, simply getting our troops out of other people's countries should take care of the problem.

One difficulty remains. If you've read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which Lunar convicts win political independence by "throwing rocks" at the Earth, and if you're familiar with the idea, put forward by Luis and Walter Alvarez, that mass extinctions, notably that of the dinosaurs, are the result of other rocks— meteors and asteroids—hitting Earth, you can appreciate why, if it's up to current authorities, or successors of the same mindset, they'll never let ordinary folks into space. And you can bet that if they've thought of "throwing rocks" at others, they worry about others doing it to them.

Pax Americana

One final measure will virtually assure a total and permanent end to international hostilities: in time of declared war or invasion, the government must dissolve and disband, a provision that would guarantee nightmares and migraines to any potential enemy. With nobody empowered to surrender, the country would have to be taken square foot by square foot. We the people use up two billion (2,000,000,000) rounds of .22 rimfire ammunition every year. In the end, the enemies of freedom, foreign or domestic, will have to face a lethal wall of tiny, lethal bullets.

Capture Washington? Congratulations, pal, now you've got a swamp in Maryland. New York? Swell, you can take over the bankruptcy proceedings!

War is the consequence of bad statesmanship. If Congress faced mass unemployment as a punishment for such incompetence—and especially if they were the first to go fight—peace might eventually break out.

In summary, then: withdraw overseas troops; combine all branches of service; reduce the professional military to training cadre status; denationalize the militia; liquidate all military white elephants; and arm the populace. For strategic security, rely on advanced non-nuclear technology.

The principal advantage of such a program is that it will allow us to change security from a continuous ongoing crisis and debate, within both the libertarian movement and the United States, into a simple job, a solved problem, that can be done with, taken care of once and for all.

Then we can move on to something more important.

* Published by Phoenix Pick, Down With Power is available at,, and many other outlets, in both "dead-tree" and various electronic reader formats. Volume discounts are available from the publisher.

We also recommend you read "How the Swiss Opted Out of War" by Bill Walker at

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