Peace is the happy, natural state of man; war, his corruption, his disgrace.
January 24 marks an important anniversary in my life. It was on that date in 1918 that the S. S. Tuscania shoved away from the docks in Hoboken, N.J. never to return. This Cunard liner, with 2,500 American troops aboard—including me—was torpedoed and sunk in the Irish Sea 13 days later.
I thank Heaven for my survival and for the countless blessings that have followed in these passing years. Not the least of them is a growing understanding of war and its causes and an awakening to how peace can prevail between nations and among men. Another blessing in these days of a growing authoritarianism is the privilege of still being able to share these findings with anyone who cares to listen—freedom of speech and press. I’ve also taken the liberty here of borrowing Tolstoy’s title, but believe he would approve.
The background: John and I were roommates in Big Rapids, Michigan, students at Ferris Institute. The fife and drum corps, with flags waving, stimulated our “patriotism.” Two months before high school graduation—April 7, 1917—the U.S.A. declared war, to “Save the world for democracy.” This mission obviously needed our help. So, we promptly hopped a freight train for the nearest Naval Recruiting Station in Grand Rapids. Both of us were rejected, and went back to finish school; but our desire to “Save the world for democracy” was undiminished.
We found jobs in Lansing that summer and fall. One day, while walking by the local Recruiting Office, we noted a sign to attract enlistments: “Join the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and go to France at once.” Of course, we applied. I was accepted, John rejected—and dejected. In a little over two months I was aboard the Tuscania.
Some of the Tuscania’s survivors were taken on Torpedo Destroyers to Liverpool but 500 of us were debarked at Larne, Ireland. Telegraphic services were out of order, so word of our rescue was delayed. We were listed in hometown newspapers as nonsurvivors. John, on reading of the loss of his friend, went immediately to Canada, joined the Canadian Infantry and was in the frontline trenches in two weeks. Six months later I had a letter from him saying he was in a hospital. Over the top for the first time, he received 12 shrapnel wounds, half of them still open. That was the last I heard from John! Bless his wonderful soul and to hell with war!
It is one thing to despise the hell of war and quite another to understand and explain the blessings of peace. But I will try.
When Edward Thomson declared that “Peace is the happy, natural state of man,” he assuredly meant the what-ought-to-be—man’s Manifest Destiny. “War his corruption, his disgrace” has characterized far too much of human history, and still does.
The Reads have quite a war record. My great-great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather were in the Revolutionary War, my grandfather in the Civil War, I in World War I, my two sons in World War II. It has taken this background and all these years for me to see the light.
What I see is that the cause of war is authoritarianism; the blessings of peace, on the other hand, flow exclusively from the freedom of everyone to act creatively as he or she pleases. There is a single word around which the issues of war and peace revolve: Creation! War thwarts it; peace makes way for it.
Who are those who thwart Creation at the human level? They are the millions wielding political power who do not understand the destructive nature of that power. As a consequence, they function primarily as wreckers of civilization. These runners-of-our lives subscribe to the crude and primitive definition of government: “to exercise authority over; direct; control; rule; manage”—bureaucratic despotism!
But are those now in office the sole authoritarians? Why are they there? Is it not because countless millions seek special privileges which the powermongers promise and provide? Those with a lust for power dream of schemes that appeal to blocs of voters with a lust for confiscated wealth. Who then are the generators of war? The political despots obviously, but also their partners in evil. To the extent that anyone seeks, encourages, supports special privilege, to that extent is he a party to a mass assault on human life.
Admittedly, this conclusion would shock these millions of partners. Unquestionably, most of them participate innocently in their wholesale depredations. For instance, do the businessmen who demand restrictions of competition think of themselves as partners in evil? Or labor union leaders? Or proponents of government monuments? Or farmers who demand subsidy? Or other “welfare” recipients? Not one in a thousand! Theirs is a naivete founded on politico-economic errors of the primitive past, an unawareness of new truths revealed.
What has been revealed is the formula for “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Those who really understand this formula, and so order their lives, are not here to run our lives but rather to lay the foundation for life. Founded on what? A revolutionary concept, the very essence of Americanism:
. . .That all men are . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Until 1776, men had been killing each other by the millions over the age-old question as to which form of authoritarianism should preside as sovereign over man. The argument had not been between freedom on the one hand and authoritarianism on the other. This revolutionary concept was at once spiritual, political and economic. It was spiritual in that the writers of the Declaration proclaimed the Creator as sovereign; political in that it unseated government as sovereign; and economic in this sense: If one has a right to his life, it logically follows that he has a right to sustain his life, the sustenance of life being the fruits of one’s own labor.
The Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights more severely limited government than ever before in history and that limitation accounts for the American miracle. We have experienced the greatest outburst of creative energy ever known—Creation at the human level!
When government is limited to invoking a common justice—permitting anyone to do anything and everything that’s peaceful—men are free to try. This makes possible Creation at the human level. Its essence: freedom to pursue one’s own uniqueness, be it inventing or learning or whatever; freedom to bargain for wage or price; freedom to produce and to trade voluntarily with others in this or any other country.
Those who accept the sovereignty of the Creator—Infinite Wisdom—are never know-it-all’s. As Edison phrased it, “No one knows more than one-millionth of one percent of anything.” Where then lies the wisdom that accounts for the American miracle? Definitely not among the despots who would run our lives! Coercion, a physical force, can only stifle, restrain, inhibit, prohibit, penalize. Never has it been, nor can it be, creative. This is why government should be strictly limited to defending life and livelihood.
The wisdom that accounts for our unprecedented welfare may be found in the free and unfettered market. It is a configuration of tiny bits of expertise, a coming-together so fantastic that it must be taken more in faith than clear understanding. It is to be found in a totality of free-flowing coordination. Paraphrasing Edison, it comes from millions of individuals, each with his one-millionth of one per cent of something. Trillions of little think-of-thats coming together when free to flow!1 Why has this been such a secret? It’s like trying to explain Creation!
Reflect on the trillions of cells that compose this most remarkable form of life—the human being. The cell has no awareness of the phenomenon of which it is an indispensable part. Yet, no cells, no man. This is somewhat analogous to the problem at issue here.
Consciousness is the reality. Begin with the oyster—none whatsoever! Move up the scale through higher levels of consciousness to the chimpanzee and then to the ultimate earthly level: Man. But man possesses only finite consciousness, no more than a drop in the bucket compared to Infinite Consciousness—Creation. Further, man’s perception is but an infinitesimal fraction of Infinite Wisdom; and your wisdom and mine are but infinitesimal fractions of earthly wisdom. Here is the truth we need to grasp: The wisdom that can potentially grace mankind is the result of untold minuscule enlightenments freely flowing into an overall enlightenment. In other words, freedom and creation at the human level!
As noted, until 1776 men had been killing each other by the millions. But to our disgrace, we have been doing much the same since—the Reads included. In view of the U.S.A.’s glorious achievements, why this corruption? Where lies the error? My answer: Authoritarianism where freedom should reign, resulting in war instead of peace!
While our Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights were superior politico-economic documents, they were not perfect. Perfection is not within the grasp of man.
The most flagrant error was a failure to do away with slavery. Slavery is as anti-freedom as any evil of man. Why did our Founding Fathers allow this error? It was their overriding desire to bring into the Union the states that allowed slavery. Political expediency, the result of which was The Civil War!
The Constitution contains several anti-freedom propositions, each founded on the false assumption that elected officials have the wisdom to run our lives. This reflects, in turn, an unawareness of the wisdom in the free and unfettered market.
To regulate Commerce. This explains the early tariffs, quotas, embargoes—denials of freedom to trade, presumably to protect our infant industries against the European giants! But observe how this error has been magnified during the past four or five decades. Today there are so many regulations that no one knows what they are. And many a business is in bankruptcy because of these regulators.
To coin Money, regulate the value thereof. The chickens of this error are coming home to roost. The money supply in the late thirties was about $35 billion. Today? Over $300 billion! If it continues to escalate at the same rate, the dollar will soon be useless as a medium of exchange. The sole remedy? Divest government of this power, and leave money to the free market where the wisdom is.2
To establish Post Offices and Post Roads. Government mail delivery deteriorates day by day; yet postal rates mount, as does the Department’s annual deficit. Until the recent oil crisis, brought on by the political interventionists, every four pounds of oil was delivered from the Persian Gulf to our eastern seaboard—half way around the world—for less money than government will deliver a one-ounce letter across the street in your home town! The remedy? No more approval by Congress to “finance” Post Office deficits, and repeal the law prohibiting first-class delivery by free market enterprisers. Result? Government will be out of the mail business overnight.3 As to post Roads, they, too, should be left to the market.4
To promote the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts. Alexander the Great’s artist, on the completion of a painting, would put it on public display, stand behind and listen to comments by passers-by. On one occasion, a shoemaker criticized the shoes. The artist complimented him. Whereupon the shoemaker began a criticism of the whole portrait. Shouted the artist, “Shoemaker, stick to your last.”
Let us say to government officials, “Stick to your business of keeping the peace.” They are no more capable of promoting the progress of science, art, education or whatever than I am of promoting the skills of portrait painters or the talents of a Bach or Beethoven, an Einstein or Edison!
Nothing better demonstrates this error than government “education.” Coercive? Indeed: compulsory attendance, government dictated curricula, and the forcible collection of taxes to pay the bills. “Education” today is a national disaster. Coercion should no more be applied to education than to religion. What to do? Leave education to the market where the wisdom is!5
Finally, why all the wars? It is because political appointees are our international emissaries. With few exceptions since the U.S.A.’s founding, these bureaucrats haven’t had the slightest idea of how the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life, with its moral and spiritual antecedents, works its wonders. Not only do they believe they are wise but they are unaware of the remarkable wisdom that blooms from the free and unfettered market. And this know-it-allness is, of course, but the product of earlier errors, some of them noted above. Wars are caused by assigning international tasks to wielders of power.
What is the formula that will assure peace on earth, good will toward men? Freedom to produce and exchange with anyone, anywhere. Free traders are the only ambassadors of good will! With the exception of the Civil War—that pitiful error founded on a horrible evil—note how peaceful are the relationships between the residents of our fifty states. Why? Our Republic is the largest free trade area on this earth. Indeed, unless one observes road signs, there are no observable border lines except on maps. No ports of entry, no gendarmes, no passports, no visas. And instead of wars between our states there is peace, and for one reason: Freedom!
I, a New Yorker, trade as freely with an Oregonian as with a local shopkeeper. When I exchange 30 cents for a can of beans, it is because the grocer values the 30 cents more than the beans. He says, “Thank you!” I value the beans more than the 30 cents and I say, “Thank you!” Why this peace and good will? Enhanced value on the part of each! ’Tis the free and unfettered market at work.
To extend this peace and good will on an international scale requires only that all who freely choose to do so, as freely exchange with Frenchmen, Japanese, Argentineans or whoever as I do with the local shopkeeper or with Oregonians. The obstacle? All of them have trade barriers excluding such free exchange.
What to do? Remove our own barriers—all of them. What will be the result if we set such an example? In no time at all foreign producers will enter the U.S.A. with their goods and services. Observing the efficacy of free entry and free exchange, they’ll soon follow suit by removing their own barriers. Ambassadors of good will crossing borders of nations as freely, peacefully and unconsciously as we cross our state borders. Someone has to initiate what’s right. Why not Americans—right now!
Away with wars and their ignoble causes! “Peace is the happy, natural state of man.” And the key to peace is freedom.