The great Robert Higgs writes:
Yesterday I posted on my Facebook page several horrifying photos related to the actions of the U.S. foreign legions in recent decades. Some of my FB friends objected that these posts merely appealed to emotion and failed to provide factual documentation and other context for the photos (notwithstanding that nearly all of them are familiar from the news and commentary of the past decade).
First, Facebook is not the American Political Science Review or, for that matter, a scholarly outlet at all, and therefore it is unrealistic to expect that the same standards of argument and documentation will be upheld on Facebook as in scholarly discourse.
Second, as for the context in which one might sensibly have understood the images and the commentaries I posted with them, consider that yesterday was Memorial Day, a holiday on which hundreds of millions of Americans are exposed to and many wholeheartedly embrace the state-propagated myth that the U.S. armed forces, by means of their endless foreign wars, have protected and continue today to protect our liberties and that, absent these endless foreign wars, we would all have been enslaved long ago by Mexicans, Filipinos, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Afghans — merely to list a few of these alleged menaces to our liberties is to reveal the myth’s absurdity, even if you know nothing about military force projection and logistics.
Moreover, the mythology, which intrudes on sporting events, commercial dealings, and countless other social occasions, is itself nothing if not an appeal to emotion, a filthy trick to turn the senseless deaths and injuries of people’s friends and relatives into a phony-baloney celebration. The holiday would be stupid enough in light of this trick alone, but it becomes monumentally stupid when we look squarely — and my photos were intended to inspire such looking — at the millions of innocent people whose lives have been ended or ruined by the actions of the members of the U.S. armed forces in their endless foreign wars.
Yes, I do feel emotions on Memorial Day, but they are anything but the emotions our masters and their willing victims would have me feel. For me, disgust, revulsion, and horror dominated my emotions yesterday. I trust that the rest of you had a nice day and that my appeal to emotion on Facebook did not disturb anyone’s delicate sensibilities.
I’ve covered this kind of phenomenon — the inability of most people to look dispassionately on their country’s military adventures — quite a bit in the past, so I won’t cover all that again (though you may find some useful resources over on my page War: Big Government’s Best Friend).
But here’s another feature of it: the public is raised to believe that the absence of the U.S. government’s intervention somewhere would have been unthinkable. It’s the same error we see in domestic policy: why, without Government Program X, where would we be? Without Foreign Intervention Y, bad guys would be everywhere, etc. As if there are no other relevant considerations, no negative effects of the intervention, no unintended consequences.
One of the stumbling blocks I used to find with students is that — so infrequently had they been invited to entertain an independent thought — they could not seriously engage in contrary-to-fact analysis. They implicitly held one or both of the following: (1) Everything had to turn out the way it did; (2) The way things turned out is the best possible way they could have turned out.
So, for example, you could never ask: “Was the American Revolution inevitable?” The answer was always yes. Everything that occurred was inevitable. The answer to “Was X inevitable” was yes, always, no matter what the value of X.