Playing With Fire

Robert E. Lee once said “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”  That seems to me to be a hard lesson our leaders in Washington have forgotten.

Hundreds of times over the recent decades US armed forces have been called upon to block, impose sanctions, punish or otherwise persuade by force enemies and potential enemies.  The pace of intervention is increasing. From full scale war, to drone attacks to no-fly zones, to surgical strikes, to training boots on the ground, it really does seem that the USA is everywhere all the time calling the shots, so to speak. The shock and awe of it all is exceeded only by how little it appears to have cost us.  The trillions in bills spent on defense never seems to come due, nor have the military casualties, as tragic as they are, been so heavy that there is any general public outcry about it.

For better or worse, the USA is in a continuous state of war.  Conflicts of all types have gone on for so long that  our youth lives with constant war as just another feature of growing up.  The latest example is in the decision by the President to send training troops to the Ukraine, currently in a state of civil war, which may embroil us with its neighbor, Russia.

You can be complacent about a lot of things, but certainly war is not one of them.  Someday the bills will come due for this country, the war will come home, and the casualties will become painful. It is just a matter of time.

But just as easy money has a very strong appeal, so do easy military victories.  The intoxicating power of the best armed and most professional military force in the world can turn the head of the most demure President and Congress leading us down paths that are not in our long-term interest.  When the military option becomes as painless as it seems to be, it becomes easy to begin thinking that common interests and diplomacy have no place.  If things aren’t going our way, simply use the military to fix it.   The President orders it and Congress automatically pays for it.  This kind of thinking, of course, is playing with fire.

Paradoxically, it also leads to a weakened military.  Military strength is not static.  It takes continuous injections of money that can bankrupt the biggest treasury.  It costs lives.   War is the King’s gamble, and the line between acceptable and unacceptable casualties cannot be exactly calculated. .  What could be the effects of a further two trillion dollars in debt for war on Russia followed, perhaps, by casualty lists like losing an aircraft carrier with 5000 sailors?  Will the average citizen keep on supporting such interventionist policies when those lost are their neighbors and their wealth is gone?

The never–ending War on Terror has had other effects too.  US government officials have admitted to authorizing torture on prisoners, and using the military to do it.  Our Presidents have used military drones to kill suspected US citizens overseas without public evidence or a trial. Men like General Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, and John Brennan, head of the CIA, have been caught in bald-face lies to Congress, and they are not prosecuted for it. When such behavior is accepted, slowly, ideas like privacy, free travel, the right to property, free markets, the value of the individual, separation of powers, and due process become as quaint as great-grandma’s pantaloons. There is now a whole generation of young people in the USA who have not known a world without an unconstitutional TSA or without government surveillance.  Will our soldiers fight for unlimited debt, fewer liberties and endless war?  Will we still value the Bill of Rights?  It is this kind of devil’s calculus that Washington isn’t considering.

Maybe the Federal Government needs to go back to school and learn the hard lessons of those who have gone before.

But why do that when you can simply blow your problems away?

Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

Too Much Is Never Enough

Crab Island, it seems, is now in the sights of the Destin City Council.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said that the island-that-is-not-an-island is “…dirty.  There’s feces in the water.  There’s lewdness.”  She’s on record for greater regulation of the water recreation spot, and the Destin City Council is thinking about making it part of the city to supposedly combat the bad behavior. Representative Matt Gaetz is also involved and will hold a “brainstorming session” town meeting on 16 January.  True to form with just about every aspect of life in the USA today, the shadow of government intervention is creeping its way across the Destin inlet.

That’s a pity.  It seems to me the desire to “regulate” Crab Island clearly threatens something that is unique to Destin.  Crab Island is a testament to what used to be the normal way of life in America.  Years (decades?) ago a bunch of boaters found a pleasant sand bar, and through word-of-mouth, white sand, emerald water, and a common desire for fun, this place became a popular summer rendezvous. No government was required.  On its own, it became famous, and it is actually listed as a vacation attraction in tourist guides even though it is nothing more than a spot in the water.  To top it off, all those people spend money. Crab Island helped make the Destin of today.

But to some, especially those in government, Crab Island has to be targeted because it is a raucous party haven.  The personal freedom it offers threatens the sense of security of many folks.  These people would rather that a government entity, by force, impose new controls on people in a place that lives in the spirit of volunteer, non-violent cooperation.   Dirty water and lewd behavior are valid concerns, but ultimately are red herrings.  The law already prosecutes violent behavior between people even if they are on the water.  If people are dumping sewage or behaving in a publicly lewd fashion, the law covers these crimes too.  To me, simple police law enforcement is a better option than the bigger government caused by annexing the area to the city.

It also seems to me this action stems more from a knee-jerk desire by some government officials for control than it does from a respect for people and their rights.  Sometimes that means leaving them alone even when they do non-violent things you do not approve of, which may include partying on the water.   One of the hardest things for government officials to do is just mind their business.  Government is here to protect your rights, not to assume more powers for itself.    Government mission creep is scary.

Still, like a vengeful parent, Ms. Ramswell is leading the charge to make that sand bar a part of Destin and bring its denizens to heel.  I speculate, if the idea passes, that before you know it, there will be additional special city permits for businesses to service the Crab Islanders (all at a city fee of course), special requirements over and above normal boating regulations to those who visit the Island (no on-board toilet, no anchoring, for example), calls for new taxation to cover the costs of services, and Crab Island will be made, in general, more the way Ms. Ramswell thinks outdoor events should be like.  How special.   This will be at the expense of the vast majority who do not soil the water or exceed the limits of propriety, but still like to live the way they want to.  You can also bet that Crab Island will be less popular with the public.  This will have predictably bad follow on effects for the Destin business community as a whole.

Milton Friedman once said “If you put government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand.”

Anyone care to guess what Destin is going to get when the City Council is in charge of Crab Island?

Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chairman of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party