America’s Warfare-State Revolution
By Jacob G. Hornberger
April 04, 2015 "ICH"
- It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of the warfare-state
revolution that transformed the federal government and American society after
World War II. The roots of America’s foreign-policy crises today, along with the
massive infringements on civil liberties and privacy and the federal
government’s program of secret indefinite incarceration, torture, assassination,
and extra-judicial executions can all be traced to the grafting of a
national-security apparatus onto America’s federal governmental system in the
Certainly, the seeds for what happened in the
post-WWII era were sown prior to that time, specifically in the move toward
empire, which, interestingly enough, occurred during the same period of time
that Progressives were inducing Americans to abandon their system of economic
liberty and free markets in favor of socialism and interventionism in the form
of a welfare state and regulated economy.
I’m referring to the year 1898, when the U.S. government
intervened in the Spanish American War, with the ostensible aim of helping the
Cuban and Filipino people win their independence. It was a false and fraudulent
intervention, one that was actually designed to place Cuba and the Philippines
under the control of the U.S. government. The result was a brutal war in the
Philippines between U.S. forces and the Filipino people, along with a
never-ending obsession to control Cuba, one that would ending up becoming a
central focus of the national-security state.
A national-security state and an empire certainly weren’t
among the founding principles of the United States. In fact, the revolution in
1776 was against an empire that the British colonists in America no longer
wanted to be part of. They were sick and tired of the endless wars and
ever-increasing taxes, regulations, and oppression that come with empire and
overgrown military establishments.
In fact, there was a deep antipathy toward standing armies
among the Founding Fathers. The words of James Madison, the father of the
Constitution, reflect the mindset of our American ancestors:
A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive
will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst.
foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among
the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was
apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of
defending, have enslaved the people.
For more on how 18th- and 19th-century Americans felt about
standing armies, see my article “The
Biggest Threat to American Liberty.”
What about foreign interventionism? The speech that John
Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the 4th of July, 1821, entitled “In
Search of Monsters to Destroy,” expressed the sentiments of our
predecessors. Adams pointed out that there were lots of bad things in the world,
things like tyranny, oppression, famines, and the like. He said though that
America would not send troops to slay these monsters. Instead, America would
build a model society of freedom right here at home for the people of the world.
In fact, if America ever became a military empire that would engage in foreign
interventionism, Adams predicted, it would fundamentally change the character of
American society, one that would look more like a society under dictatorial
That’s not to say that 19th-century America was a libertarian
paradise with respect to warfare, any more than it was a libertarian paradise in
general, as I pointed out in my article “America’s
Welfare-State Revolution.” But the fact is that there was no overgrown
military establishment, no CIA, no NSA, no conscription, no foreign
interventionism, and no foreign aid (and no income tax, IRS, Federal Reserve,
and fiat money to fund such things).
There was a basic military force but in relative terms it
wasn’t very large. There were also wars, such as the War of 1812, the Civil War,
and the Mexican War, and many military skirmishes, but with the exception of the
Civil War, the casualties were relatively low, especially compared with such
foreign wars as World War I and World War II.
Moreover, it was an established practice to demobilize after
each war. That is, a permanent war machine and perpetual war were not built into
the system. War and military interventionism were the exception, not the rule.
That all changed with the embrace of a national-security
establishment after World War II. In his Farewell Address in 1961, President
Eisenhower observed that the national-security state — or what he called the
military-industrial complex — constituted an entirely new way of life for the
American people, one that entailed what amounted to a new, permanent
warfare-state branch of the federal government, consisting of an overgrown
military establishment, a CIA, and an NSA, along with an army of private-sector
contractors and subcontractors who were feeding at the public trough on a
Most significantly, Ike pointed out that this
national-security apparatus constituted a grave threat to the liberties and
democratic processes of the American people.
This revolutionary transformation was justified in the name of
“national security,” which have become the two most important words in the
American lexicon, notwithstanding the fact that no one has ever been able to
define the term. The warfare-state revolution would be characterized by an
endless array of threats to national security, beginning with communism and
communists, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and others, and
later morphing into Saddam Hussein, terrorism, terrorists, Osama bin Laden,
al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and
even the Muslims.
In the process, Adams proved right. By grafting a
totalitarian-like structure onto America’s federal governmental system, the
United States began displaying the characteristics of a dictatorial society.
Assassination, torture, rendition, secret prisons, medical
experiments on unsuspecting Americans, the hiring of Nazis, indefinite
detention, partnerships with criminal organizations and foreign dictators,
coups, sanctions, embargoes, invasions, undeclared wars, wars of aggression, and
extra-judicial executions. When any of those types of things occurred in the
19th century, they were considered exceptions to the system. Now they have
become permanent parts of the system.
And look at the results of this gigantic warfare-state
transformation: ever-increasing infringements on liberty and privacy,
ever-increasing spending, debt, and taxes, and ever-increasing anger and hatred
toward our country. Yes, all the things that characterized the British Empire
that British colonists revolted against in 1776. How’s that for irony?
Meanwhile, like the welfare state, modern-day Americans
continue to remain convinced that their system of government has never changed
in a fundamental way. They continue to play like their governmental system is
founded on the same constitutional principles as when the country was founded.
It is a supreme act of self-deception.
The truth is that America has now had two different
governmental systems: One without a national-security apparatus and one with it.
It seems to me that it’s a no-brainer as to who was right and which system was
better in terms of freedom, privacy, peace, prosperity, and harmony.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of
Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his
B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the
University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also
was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and
economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director
of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education