My wife and I were in the middle of a three-month cross-country road trip in the fall of 2011. We had just driven for over three hours to a small community center in northwestern Iowa where I found myself shaking hands with a man who had transformed my thinking. I was nervous, and the only words I could get out for my big moment of meeting Ron Paul were “Thank you.” But maybe that was enough.
I grew up in a very conservative Christian home where timeless principles such as The Golden Rule were instilled in me at a young age. I didn’t get into fights, got along with pretty much everyone, and was known as a kind and honest person. That I would be drawn to Dr. Paul seems natural. Unfortunately, I spent the first few years of my adult life as an opinionated and vocal neoconservative (I had no idea what this meant), being mentored via talk radio by the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
One of the core principles taught to me by these supposed freedom lovers was the proud cheering of war and militarism. My lowest point was, as an undergraduate student, watching and rooting for “the good guys” in the war on Iraq as it unfolded live on FOX News like some televised gladiator game. Looking back on this, I am sickened and saddened by the fact that I sat in reverent shock and awe as bombs destroyed an actual city, blowing up buildings with real human beings inside. It was no more real to me than a video game.
Ron Paul blew my mind the first time I saw him on one of the talking-head shows. Some of it made perfect sense, but some of it sounded downright heretical. How could this man say such sensible things about taxes and the economy and then the next moment become a naïve lefty spouting nonsense like “peace brings prosperity” and “war is always destructive”? Didn’t this guy know that WWII ended the Great Depression? That Reagan beat the Soviets with an arms build-up? Jeez, didn’t he know that the U.S. waged war to beat slavery, and Nazism, and Communism? Peace through strength, man!
It was around this time that I slaughtered my first sacred cow: the war on drugs. It became clear to me that this war was economically foolish. The argument that “prohibition on alcohol didn’t work, prohibition on drugs doesn’t work” made logical sense. I realized that I could not possibly justify locking anyone in a cage for a victimless crime, particularly as I enjoyed a couple cold beers at home while watching politics on TV. I started to identify as a libertarian, and I began to suspect that if I could be wrong on such an obvious issue as this war on the American people, maybe I would need to rethink everything.
Dr. Paul’s heroic stand in front of a hostile crowd in the Republican presidential debates in 2007 reverberated in my head. What was “blowback”? Had our government really been doing countless things in other countries behind the scenes that were making us less safe and creating enemies? Was it possible that there were people who hated the U.S., not because we supposedly have so much freedom, but instead because our government meddles in the affairs of their countries? It came off as incredibly gutsy how this man stood up to Rudy “America’s Mayor” Giuliani on live television in a bid for the Republican nomination for president and knowingly said things that most ears had never, ever heard.
I began to change. I finally applied my longstanding distrust of the government and disdain for its central planning not only to its domestic policies but to its foreign policies as well. I wondered how it was that so many of us had been fooled into supporting a war on Iraq that was clearly fraudulent. I felt embarrassment and remorse for the cheering I had done as an undergraduate student watching that war on TV. I grieved for the thousands of soldiers who were sacrificed or mutilated or psychologically traumatized for a lie and for their families who desperately clung to that lie so they could deal with their anguish. I felt a deep sadness for the countless multitudes of innocent civilians who were slaughtered, their families violently ripped apart and their homes destroyed.
Then I began to read. I started to understand the anatomy of the State, and how war is so essential to its health and growth. I saw the military industrial complex for what it is, and recognized that war is an extremely profitable racket. I questioned all of the ostensibly noble wars that came before (always initiated by wise leaders with benevolent intentions and humanitarian motives, of course). I examined the costs of war — in lost human life, in vanished liberty, in destroyed property, in squandered wealth — and I concluded that I hated it.
When my wife and I set out on that cross-country road trip where our schedule was to serendipitously align with two of Ron Paul’s town hall appearances, we considered bypassing Washington, D.C., altogether, but we wanted to visit dear family in the surrounding area. Plus, I was morbidly curious to see how I’d feel returning with a completely different mindset than when I had come as a child with my seventh grade class. It was beyond what I could have imagined. Witnessing the shrines — the temples! — built for dishonest, power-mad rulers who had caused so much pain and destruction and suffering in our society and the world, gaudily strewn about this otherwise physically beautiful area was disturbing. The tragic list of over 58,000 names of people mostly younger than me who died in a senseless and unjust war on Vietnam was heartbreaking. The air was thick with propaganda and manipulation and the pursuit of power, and I could see clearly why Dr. Paul always spoke with such contempt for this place.
Ron Paul began a revolution in my mind that caused me to think critically about what I had been taught. He inspired me to read, to reevaluate, and to bring my political philosophy into line with my personal values. I realized that non-intervention was the only moral way to interact with the world, that Thomas Jefferson’s prescription of “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none” was the only practical and reasonable approach, and that true liberty and prosperity would both require peace to ever be achieved.
Through his boldness, his integrity and his perseverance, Ron Paul changed my heart and mind on war. For this I am truly grateful.