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The National Security State: The Biggest Mistake in U.S. History


REMINDER: FFF’s blockbuster conference, “The National Security State and JFK,” is this Saturday, June 3, at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott Hotel. Speakers: Oliver Stone, Ron Paul, Stephen Kinzer, Jeffrey Sachs, Michael Glennon, Doug Horne, Peter Janney,  Michael Swanson, Jefferson Morley, Jim DiEugenio, and Jacob Hornberger. We still have a few seats left and so if you able to make it, register at our website at fff.org. If not, both FFF and C-SPAN are recording the entire program and so you will be able to later watch all the talks on your computer or television.

The title of my talk is” “The National Security State: The Worst Mistake in U.S. History.”

When the Constitution was ratified, it brought into existence a limited-government republic. That meant a government whose powers were very limited — limited, that is, to those powers enumerated in the Constitution itself.

After World War II, that all changed. U.S. officials told the American people that while the Allied powers had been victorious against Nazi Germany, that did not mean, unfortunately, that Americans could rest. The United States, they said, now faced an enemy that was arguably an even bigger threat than Nazi Germany. This new enemy, they said, was America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, which was ruled by a communist regime.

They said that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the world, including the United States. That conspiracy, they said, was based in Moscow, Russia. U.S. officials convinced Americans that, to use the title of a movie that came in 1966, “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.” Most everyone became convinced that the United States was in grave danger of going Red, with commies ending up running the IRS and the rest of the federal government.

In addition to this supposed threat from communist Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union, Americans were told, was the threat from communism itself, which was a philosophy that entailed having government take care of people, as compared to a society in which people take care of themselves. U.S. national-security state officials viewed communism as a political and economic narcotic that, once imbibed by people, would inevitably seduce them into wanting more.

To combine this twin treat of communists and communism, U.S. officials said, it was necessary to convert the federal government from the limited-government republic on which the country was founded to what is called a national-security state, which is a type of governmental structure that characterizes totalitarian regimes. The big difference between the two governmental structures is that in a republic the government’s powers are limited while in a national-security state they are not.

The national-security state consists of a massive, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment (i.e., the Pentagon and what President Eisenhower called the military industrial complex), a secretive agency with the power to assassinate, kidnap, detain, and disappear people (i.e., the CIA), and a surveillance agency with the power to secretly monitor people’s activities (i.e., the NSA).

In the name of protecting America from communists and communism, the national-security state totally upended American principles and values. For example, the CIA secretly brought in former Nazi officials — the officials that worked for the government that America had gone to war against in 1941— to help it wage what became known as the Cold War. It also began engaging in medical experimentations on people — MKULTRA — that were no different in principle from those that had been employed by the Nazis. The FBI, CIA, and Pentagon began surveilling, abusing, smearing, blackmailing, infiltrating, and destroying people and organizations who were suspected of promoting communism, socialism, leftism, liberalism, or progressivism.

The CIA also began specializing in the art of assassination — that is, the extra-judicial killing of people who were deemed to be threats to “national security,”  the two words that would quickly become the two most important words in the political lexicon of the American people. It wasn’t long before people who were suspected of being communists or who were deemed to be threats to national security were targeted for assassination.

When the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly ended in 1989, Americans did not get their limited government republic back. Now deeply embedded in American life, the last thing that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA were going to permit was a dismantling of the national-security state governmental structure.

Instead, they went into the Middle East and began killing people, starting with the Persian Gulf War and continuing through the sanctions on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of children. When the inevitable terrorist retaliation came, the national security establishment said, “You see, you need us more than ever to keep you safe from the terrorists,” which later morphed into “the Muslims.”

Through it all — both during the Cold War and after the Cold War — have been the regime-change operations, which entailed violently removing unsatisfactory foreign rulers, oftentimes democratically elected, and replacing them with brutal dictatorships, mostly military ones. Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and Afghanistan come to mind.

Also, there have been the many partnerships with extreme and brutal dictatorships. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Chile (under Pinochet) come to mind.

Today, we live under a government that now wields the power to incarcerate, torture, and assassinate American citizens. The federal courts, running for cover, have upheld these powers, not daring to interfere with what is obviously the most powerful section of the federal government.

Finally, there is the out-of-control spending and debt that have accompanied the national-security state, spending and debt that are threatening our nation with bankruptcy.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, this is not the type of government our ancestors intended to bring into existence. A necessary prerequisite for restoring liberty, prosperity, and harmony to our land is the restoration of the limited-government republic that they bequeathed to us. It’s time to dismantle America’s experiment with national-security statism.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.