Will Grigg: Against the Police State (29m)

This episode features an interview of journalist Will Grigg from 2014 by Jeff Deist, host of the Human Action podcast. They discuss how the once embryonic American police state became overt, how military equipment, personnel, and mindsets increasingly find their way into local law enforcement agencies, and why there are more than 100 SWAT deployments every day in America. Purchase books by Will Grigg on Amazon here.

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War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea

On May 16, 2008, near the town of Baiji in Iraq, 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, US Army, murdered a prisoner.  That was the verdict of the jury in his 2009 court martial, anyway. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but paroled in less than five. On May 6, 2019, US president Donald Trump pardoned Behenna.

As I write this, news reports indicate that Trump intends to celebrate Memorial Day by pardoning several other Americans convicted of (or accused of and not yet tried for) war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a horrible idea for several reasons.

One reason is that it’s morally repugnant to excuse the commission of crimes, especially violent crimes, for no other reason than that the criminal is a government employee.

A second reason is that it is detrimental to the good order and and discipline of the US armed forces to excuse violations of law by American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

That phrasing is not random: “[D]isorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces” are themselves crimes under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Yes, Trump has absolute power to pardon under the US Constitution, but this would be an abuse of that power that conflicts with his duties as commander in chief.

A third reason is that pardons of this type essentially beg other governments to take matters into their own hands where allegations of war crimes by US military personnel arise.

Among the US government’s excuses for refusing to join the International Criminal Court, and for forcing agreements by other governments to exempt American troops from prosecution under their own laws, is that the United States cleans up after itself and holds its troops to at least as high a standard as would those other governments. These pardons would give lie to that claim and expose US troops to greater risk of future arrest and prosecution abroad.

Don’t just take my word for these claims. Here’s General Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the US Marine Corps:

“If President Trump issues indiscriminate pardons of individuals accused — or convicted by their fellow servicemembers — of war crimes, he relinquishes the United States’ moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield.”

And here’s General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.”

After World War Two, the US and other governments which participated in victorious alliance versus the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan tried and punished — up to and including execution — German and Japanese soldiers accused of war crimes and the political leaders who ordered, encouraged, or excused those crimes.

If the US doesn’t hold itself to at least as high a standard, eventually someone else will.

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A US War on Iran would be Evil, Stupid, and Self-Damaging

“If Iran wants to fight,” US president Donald Trump tweeted on May 19, “that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”

The “threat” Trump appears to be responding to is a statement from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that “[w]e are certain … there will not be a war since neither we want a war nor does anyone have the illusion that they can confront Iran in the region.”

Some “threat,” huh? Let’s seek a little clarity as to just who’s threatening whom here:

In 1953, US and British intelligence operatives orchestrated a coup d’etat, overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected government and promoting Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from constitutional monarch to (increasingly absolutist) dictator.

Twenty-six years later, the Iranian people rose up and toppled the Shah. Over the next few years, Islamists led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini defeated rival factions and consolidated their power over the country, replacing the monarchy with an “Islamic Republic” — more of a democracy than western propagandists acknowledge, with a representative parliament, but with extensive power residing in a Shiite “Supreme Leader” and associated clerical councils.

The US government never forgave the Iranian people for overthrowing its puppet regime. For decades, US foreign policy toward Iran consisted entirely of demonization, sanctions, and calls for “regime change.”  US atrocities of the period include the murder of 290 Iranians (including 66 children) aboard Iran Air flight 655, shot down by the USS Vincennes in 1988.

It wasn’t until 2015 that US president Barack Obama began slightly warming relations between the two countries, offering to lift the worst sanctions and return some frozen Iranian funds in return for Iran ending a nuclear weapons program that, according to the Iranians, the International Atomic Energy Agency, US intelligence, and Israel intelligence, didn’t even exist.

Enter Trump, claiming during his 2016 presidential campaign that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a “bad deal,” and as president ultimately deciding to violate it (not “withdraw” from it — it’s codified as UN Security Council Resolution, so the only way to “withdraw” from it is to withdraw from the United Nations). Now Trump is escalating yet again because the Iranians finally said “okay, if you’re not going to abide by the deal, we won’t either.”

Perhaps the most serious fiction at play here is the claim that the US seeks “regime change” in Iran because Iran is a brutal Islamic theocracy. If that was the point, the US would also seek “regime change” in, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is at least as brutal, just as Islamic, and more of a theocracy.

The US seeks “regime change” in Iran because Iran goes its own way and refuses to take marching orders from the US.

Iran is three times as populous and has a more modern and motivated military than Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which the US has successfully brought to heel.

A US war on Iran would take top prize in the “evil,” “stupid,” and “self-damaging” categories when it comes to recent American wars.

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Triggering a Debunker

I’ve had an interest in UFOs since I was a kid. In fact, I know exactly when my interest started: in 1973.

That year– and I know what year it was because I moved a lot as a kid and know where I lived when this happened–  a classmate told me and others that his grandfather had told him of the time he saw pieces of a crashed “flying saucer” when they were brought to the military base he was stationed at in Ft. Worth, Texas, following its crash in New Mexico.

This was my first introduction to the story of the 1947 Roswell UFO crash… even though the kid never mentioned Roswell, but just said: “New Mexico” (I knew of the town of Roswell for other reasons).

Recently, including on Quora just a few days ago, the standard debunking approach has been the claim that after the initial buzz and headlines, the Roswell “crash” was satisfactorily explained and forgotten until the late ’70s or early ’80s, when it was revived and sensationalized to sell books and TV shows.

Back to the Quora “debunking”. An ex-military guy was explaining away the story and dredging up the tale about it not being spoken of again after July 1947, for 30 years or so.

I replied that I knew, first-hand, that this wasn’t true, and told what I knew from 1973.

The guy almost flipped out on me. He said this wasn’t “first-hand knowledge” at all, that I had been fooled by the conspiracy theory like everyone else.

Never mind that I clearly stated that I wasn’t saying the debris was extraterrestrial or anything, just that I knew when I had heard the story and it didn’t match the debunkers’ claims. Maybe it was a weather balloon test dummy mishap Project Mogul balloon. Or not. That wasn’t part of my claim.

My first-hand knowledge is that I heard the story before the story was supposedly revived and sensationalized, so that specific claim can’t be true. That’s all. I have no first-hand knowledge of any other part of the event (or non-event). Yet this one small point triggered him.

I saw in his over-the-top reaction the same reaction I get from statists when I point out the errors in their thinking and claims. Any reality which doesn’t match what they are desperate to believe is met with hostile denial.

Of course, the guy’s Quora profile says he is “ex-military” so he may have an agenda to promote.

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“Politics Awaits”

Consider this scene from Quentin Tarantino’s WWII epic, Inglourious BasterdsGerman movie star (and war hero) Fredrick Zoller is trying to persuade Joseph Goebbels to switch the venue for his new movie’s premiere.  Zoller’s real motive is to impress his would-be girlfriend, Shosanna, who owns a small theater.

GOEBBELS: How many seats in your auditorium?

SHOSANNA: Three hundred and fifty.

GOEBBELS: That’s almost four hundred less than The Ritz.

FREDRICK:  But dear Goebbels, that’s not such a terrible thing. You said yourself you didn’t want to indulge every two-faced French bourgeois taking up space currying favor. With less seats it makes the event more exclusive. You’re not trying to fill the house, they’re fighting for seats. Besides, to hell with the French. This is a German night, a German event, a German celebration. This night is for you, me, the German military, the high command, their family and friends. The only people who should be allowed in the room, are people who will be moved by the exploits on screen.

GOEBBELS:  I see your public speaking has improved. It appears I’ve created a monster. A strangely persuasive monster. When the war’s over, politics awaits.

[Table chuckles.]

While this is all fiction, it’s profound fiction.  Ponder Goebbels’ last phrase: “Politics awaits.”

Fredrick shows zero understanding of policy.  Indeed, it’s hardly clear that he even understands the optimal way to plan a movie premiere.  So what has Fredrick displayed?  A talent for demagoguery.  He scorns foreigners – “every two-faced French bourgeois taking up space currying favor” and “to hell with the French.”  He panders to nationalist identity: “This is a German night, a German event, a German celebration.”  And Fredrick scorns and panders eloquently enough to bemuse the Minister of Propaganda himself.

When you watch Inglourious Basterds, Goebbels’ reaction to Fredrick’s appeal seems obvious, even banal.  Why?  Because Goebbels is speaking like a generic politician, not a Nazi.  And when he does so, we all nod, because deep down we know the ugly truth that demagoguery rules the world.  We’re just afraid to say it.

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Could Such a Man Care?

Nicolas Maduro now rules a land of chronic hunger, horrific crime, terrible fear, and mass exodus.  How does he maintain his dictatorship?  With a pact of steel between his ruling party, the military, the secret police, and on-site foreign allies – especially Cubans.  You would have to be mad to think that Maduro’s doing all this for the good of his people, or the good of the world.  His only credible motivation is power-lust gone wild.  Maduro is a pervert for power.

He’ll never admit this, of course.  He still claims he’s doing it all for the people and the higher good.  Here’s Maduro in an interview this February:

Venezuela is a country with dignity. We are patriots, revolutionaries. We have an ideology, that of Simon Bolivar. Our movement came from the depths from the Venezuelan people. We’ve been governing democratically for 20 years. Everything that we are, everything that we have, we have because of the popular vote.

Which raises a deeper question.  Namely: Deep in his soul, when did Maduro stray from the path of decency?

For Maduro’s former fans, it’s tempting to sigh, “Power corrupts.”  Power turns a good man bad.  He – like his mentor Chavez – started out as an idealist.  Yet ironically, he ended up a tyrant.

On reflection, however, this “ironic” account is absurd.  Think about the nicest, sweetest person you personally know.  Can you seriously imagine that this person, given power, would forge a brutal police state, destroy the economy, and cling to power with fire and blood?  I can’t.

Indeed, think about the average person you know.  You can probably imagine that this person would go along with great evil out of cowardice.  Still, would the average person you know take the initiative to commit these horrors?  That doesn’t make sense to me.

The lesson: Maduro was never an idealist.  Indeed, he was never an average person.  The average person in his shoes would have done far less evil, and relinquished power long ago.  What Maduro has done reveals what Maduro has always been: insatiably hunger for power.

So what?  Well, while this is all clear in hindsight, Maduro used to have millions of fans all around the world.  Millions of fans who took his rhetoric at face value.  Millions of fans who thought he was a noble man.  And these fans would have called me paranoid and unfair for calling their idol a power-luster.

The fans’ error would have been understandable if Maduro were the first politician to start with idealistic rhetoric and end in savagery.  In fact, however, history provides countless examples of this pattern.  Which means two things.

First, while extreme power-lusters are a small fraction of humanity, they are a large fraction of successful politicians.

Second, regular human beings are awful at the detection of extreme power-lusters.  When humans hear flowery words, their impulse is to take them at face value, instead of reminding themselves, “That’s just what a power-luster would say – and politics is packed with power-lusters.”

You could object, “Well, popular gullibility is for the best.  If the man in the street assessed politicians realistically, political progress would be almost impossible.”  The tempting reply is, “Yes, but political disaster would be almost impossible too.”

This reply, however, gives gullibility too much credit.  Imagine a world where people were ever-mindful of politicians’ proclivity for power-lust.  What would happen?  Politicians would compete for popularity by promising and doing things that power-lusters hate to do.  Things like: Respecting individual freedom, welcoming dissent, defining crime narrowly, heeding international criticism, avoiding even the appearance of demagoguery, and yes – shrinking government and cutting regulation.  And given the documented dangers of politicians’ power-lust, that is just what anyone who cares about human welfare should be hoping for.

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