One of the fascinating consequences of public (i.e., government) schooling is that it molds the minds of children in such a way that by the time they become adults, their minds inevitably mirror whatever narrative the authorities happen to be advancing at any particular time. In fact, the indoctrination is oftentimes so effective that most of them have no idea what has been done to them. They end up with consciences that are stultified, characterized by a lack of ability to recognize evil or moral wrongdoing within their very own government.
One of the major distinguishing characteristics of libertarians is that we have succeeded in breaking through this indoctrination. I recall the day that happened to me. It was the day I discovered libertarianism. As I was reading a series of pure, principled, unadulterated libertarian essays, I could tell that the several inches of thick indoctrination that encased my mind were shattering apart. Suddenly, I could see reality for what it was with respect to the nature of liberty and the role of the federal government in our lives.
A good example of this phenomenon is the crisis in Ukraine, and so I would like to key off that to demonstrate the big problem we face in America. It is a problem in which the conscience and consciousness of all too many people have been stultified and paralyzed, owing largely to what was done to them by the state for so many years in government schools.
In the days preceding the Russian invasion and then after the invasion itself, U.S. officials initiated a gigantic propaganda campaign in which they expressed great sympathy for the Ukrainian people and deep antipathy toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Almost on cue, American statists immediately adopted that mindset, vehemently coming to the support of the Ukrainian people and expressing severe opposition to Russia and deep hatred for Vladimir Putin. Americans from all walks of life suddenly and immediately began supporting any and all efforts by the federal government to assist the Ukrainians in their war against Russia.
What about Iraq and Afghanistan?
So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, except for one thing: the response of those same Americans was totally different when the Pentagon and the CIA did the same thing to Afghanistan and Iraq that Russia is doing to Ukraine. During those invasions, the U.S. government’s propaganda campaigns were oriented toward bending people’s minds toward supporting the invaders, not the victims of the invasions. On cue, people immediately came to the support of the troops. In fact, two of the most popular mantras in U.S. history, both of which were recited all across the land on practically a daily basis, were: “Support the troops” and “Thank you for your service.”
Just recently, I was boarding a plane at a domestic airport. The boarding agent called on active-duty personnel to board before most everyone else. Why? Because the airline was essentially honoring the troops and thanking them for their “service.” Would they do the same for Russian troops? Of course not. Yet, what the U.S. troops were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq was no different from what Russian troops are doing in Ukraine.
Recall that after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, any American who opposed such invasions was immediately besieged by vicious attacks by those who immediately came to the support of the invaders. The Dixie Chicks come to mind. So does Linda Ronstadt. Both of them were viciously attacked for daring to challenge the official narrative. Here at FFF, we were inundated with hate mail for opposing both invasions.
Permit me to share with you another personal example of this phenomenon. After the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. troops were wreaking untold amounts of death, suffering, impoverishment, and destruction, officials in my church would exhort the congregation on Sundays to “support the troops, especially those in harm’s way.” I would periodically send an email to my church minister asking why we were never exhorted to pray for the victims in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, there is no doubt that today, people wouldn’t hesitate to pray for the victims in Ukraine. Why not pray for the victims in Afghanistan and Iraq in the same way?
I never received an answer to any of my emails, but I am confident that my minister was totally befuddled over why I would ask such a question. After all, I am an American. America was at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wouldn’t any patriotic American support his own soldiers rather than the people those soldiers were killing and maiming? Why in the world wouldn’t any red-blooded American Christian support his own government’s troops?
In my new book, An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story, I have a chapter entitled “Deferentials.” This is a label I put on people who automatically defer to the authority of the federal government, especially the national-security branch of the government — that is, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. For deferentials, in matters relating to “national security,” there is never any challenging of the national-security establishment. Whatever narrative federal officials are putting forth is automatically adopted by deferentials. They are simply unable to engage in critical thinking and analysis which might lead them to challenge, question, or oppose at a fundamental level what their officials are doing.
Consider Iraq, for example. The minute that George W. Bush and the people in his administration announced that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was a former U.S. partner and ally, was preparing to unleash “mushroom clouds” over American cities, deferentials automatically supported his decision to invade Iraq. There was no critical thinking or questioning of the narrative. The notion that Bush and his people could be lying was simply inconceivable.
After it was discovered that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs at all, there was virtually no support for an independent investigation into whether Bush and his people had knowingly and intentionally misled the American people as a way to induce them to support his invasion of Iraq. The fact that countless Iraqi people had been killed, maimed, or injured or had their homes, businesses, cities, and villages pulverized was irrelevant.
In fact, it was actually worse than that. After what they called a “mistake” had been realized, U.S. forces remained in Iraq for several more years, killing, torturing, and maiming people and destroying their country. Yet, hardly anyone asked why Bush wasn’t apologizing for his WMD “mistake” and ordering the troops home immediately after the “mistake” had been realized. The new narrative became that the troops were bringing “freedom” to Iraq, and people’s mindsets immediately bent to that new narrative.
Consider what happened prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For more than ten years, the U.S. government was killing innocent Iraqi children through one of the most brutal systems of sanctions in history. When U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were worth it, she replied that, yes, they were “worth it.”
There was almost no moral outrage among the American people, either to her statement or to the massive death toll in Iraq from U.S. sanctions. I say “almost” because libertarians opposed the sanctions. So did a man named Bert Sacks from Seattle, who intentionally violated the sanctions by taking medicines and other supplies to the Iraqi people. The feds fined him $10,000 for daring to violate their sacred sanctions. They hounded him for years but in the end were not able to collect a dime from this heroic man, who obviously had a highly operating, well-formed conscience.
The narrative in Afghanistan became that the Taliban had “harbored” Osama bin Laden. Deferentials never challenged the Bush administration on what it meant by “harboring.” They just assumed that harboring meant that the Taliban regime was knowingly complicit in the 9/11 attacks, either directly or as accessories-after-the-fact. Yet, the reality was that there was never any evidence that the Taliban regime was complicit in those attacks in any way.
What the Taliban had refused to do was comply with Bush’s unconditional extradition demand, which they had every right to do, given that there was no extradition treaty between Afghanistan and the United States. Their legally justifiable refusal to comply with Bush’s demand was what the Bush people called “harboring.” Ever since then, deferentials have convinced themselves that it was okay for U.S. forces to invade Afghanistan and wreak untold amounts of death and destruction — much more so, in fact, than Russia has wreaked in Ukraine.
The White Rose
Of all the essays I have written over the years, my favorite is “The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent.” It is about a group of students at the University of Munich during World War II. It was led by a brother and sister named Hans and Sophie Scholl. They began secretly publishing and distributing essays that called on the German people to rise up against the Hitler regime, including by not supporting the troops. It was the first time that dissent had erupted publicly in Nazi Germany, and it was happening in the middle of the war.
What fascinates me about the White Rose is that the students, who were Christians, were able to recognize the evil within their own government and then have the courage to take a stand against it. Most other Germans were unable to do that, primarily because they were deferentials. In their minds, in wartime, the good citizen immediately comes to the support of his government (which they considered synonymous with the nation) and its troops. He certainly does not engage in any sort of critical thinking to figure out whether his government is in the right or the wrong.
The story of the White Rose is depicted in a movie called Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which I highly recommend. If you watch the movie, pay particular attention to the courtroom scene. You’ll see the presiding judge berating the members of the White Rose for being bad citizens who obviously had had poor upbringing. His mindset is 100 percent sincere.
Another good movie about the Nazi regime is Downfall, which was about Hitler’s final ten days before his suicide and revolved largely around Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge. At the end of the movie, I was stunned to see the real Traudl Junge (that is, not the actress who played her in the movie) appear on screen and say that after the war, she had discovered the story of Sophie Scholl, who had been about her same age. At that point, she realized that she should have engaged in the same critical thinking in which Sophie, her brother, and the other members of the White Rose had engaged.
Today, most every American would extoll the story of the White Rose. They would praise the insights and courage of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends.
But the problem is that when it comes to their own government, the mindsets of all too many Americans is the opposite of that of the members of the White Rose. Instead, their mindsets are the same as the mindset that most Germans had toward their own government during World War II.
In other words, it is easy to identify and confront evil when it exists in foreign regimes. The perfect manifestation of that is with respect to Nazi Germany. Americans can easily identify and condemn the evil of the Nazi regime. Another good example is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Americans can easily identify and confront the evil of what Russia has done, at least when that is the official narrative of the federal government.
But what many Americans are unable to do is identify and confront the evil within their very own government.
For example, at some point after the CIA was established, it knowingly hired people who had loyally served the Nazi regime. When that fact came to light, it was met by a collective ho-hum among American deferentials. There was no outrage or moral indignation. As far as I am concerned, when that was discovered, the American people should have risen up en masse and demanded the immediate abolition of the CIA.
After they hired those former Nazis, the CIA engaged in drug experimentation on people who didn’t know the CIA was doing that to them. Yet, when that secret program, which was entitled MKULTRA, came to light, along with the CIA’s knowing destruction of all MKULTRA records, the response among many Americans was one of indifference.
NATO, Ukraine, and Cuba
Let’s go back to Ukraine. While there has been tremendous moral outrage and indignation against Russia, there has been virtually no criticism of the U.S. government for its role in bringing about the crisis. Once again, deferentials are unable to do that.
At the ostensible end of the Cold War, NATO should have gone out of existence, given that the Soviet Union had been dismantled. Instead, led by U.S. officials, it embarked on a campaign of absorbing former Warsaw Pact countries, which enabled the Pentagon and the CIA to establish nuclear weapons, military bases, troops, and weaponry ever closer to Russia’s borders. For the past 25 years, Russia has been objecting to this eastward expansion and making it clear that Ukraine, which is on Russia’s border, was a “red line” for Russia, one that it would not permit to be crossed. U.S. officials knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally ignored Russia’s concerns and its “red line.” When U.S. officials made it clear that NATO was amenable to accepting Ukraine’s application for membership into NATO, Russia was placed in a position of choosing between permitting U.S. missiles, bases, troops, and weaponry to be established on its border or invading Ukraine to prevent that from happening.
Russia chose option 2. Not surprisingly, U.S. officials immediately began exclaiming that Ukraine, as a sovereign and independent nation, had the “right” to joint NATO if it wanted. The clamor was immediately adopted by deferentials, who, of course, never asked the obvious question: Even though Ukraine is a sovereign and independent country, is membership in a Cold War dinosaur entity like NATO worth the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people? In other words, in the final analysis, knowing for certain that Russia was going to invade, U.S. officials and their governmental counterparts in Ukraine placed a higher value on NATO than they did on the lives of the Ukrainian people.
In my new book, An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story, I examine the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout that crisis, the Pentagon and the CIA were pressuring President Kennedy to invade Cuba because the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles there.
But wait a minute! What about all that fancy verbiage about Ukraine being a sovereign and independent country? What about Cuba? Doesn’t the same principle apply to Cuba? Why doesn’t it have the “right” to make the same alliances with other nations that Ukraine does? If Ukraine has the “right” to join NATO and have U.S. nuclear missiles on Russia’s border, why doesn’t Cuba have the right to join with the Soviet Union or Russia and have Russian nuclear missiles 90 miles away from American shores? Yet, we all know for certain that the Pentagon and the CIA would never permit that to happen. They would immediately invade Cuba to prevent it from happening, just as Russia has invaded Ukraine to prevent U.S. nuclear missiles from being established on Russia’s border.
Those are the types of things that are never considered by deferentials. They simply are mentally incapable of doing any analysis that challenges the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA at a fundamental level. Their stultified consciences will simply not permit them to think in that direction, especially given that, in their minds, the Pentagon and the CIA have risen to the level of a god, one that can do no wrong when it comes to protecting “national security.”
Consider the dark-side activities in which the national-security establishment engages, such as assassination. When agents of North Korean communist leader Kim Jong-un, Russian president Putin, or Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman engage in assassination, every American can easily identify that as evil. But when the Pentagon or the CIA assassinate people, the mindset is totally opposite — their assassinations are automatically considered to be “good” because they are intended to protect “national security.”
The mindset is the same with other dark-side practices, such as torture, indefinite detention, secret prison camps, coups, indefinite detention, and mass secret surveillance. When the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Cubans, or Vietnamese do such things, they are evil. When U.S. officials do them, they are considered “good.”
The way out
Is there a way out of the crisis-filled morass into which our nation has been plunged, a morass that has recklessly gotten our nation closer to all-out nuclear war than since the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Yes, but what it requires is a giant breakthrough among the American people, one in which individual consciences begin operating at a higher level and in which Americans become aware of the consequences of having abandoned their founding governmental system of a limited-government republic and a non-interventionist foreign policy. If such a breakthrough were to occur, America would be well on its way toward restoring a society based on liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony with the people of the world.
This article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of Future of Freedom.