Developed nations should assist poorer states by doing no harm. Washington should end government-to-government assistance, which has so often buttressed regimes dedicated to little more than maintaining power and has eased the economic pressure for needed reforms. The United States should stop meddling in foreign affairs which matter little to America; the result is usually to stir up conflict, raise expectations, and leave nations worse than before. At the same time, the United States should improve the access of poorer states to the international marketplace—including its own. Most importantly, it should clearly state that foreign countries, not the West, ultimately control their own destinies.

        —from Doug Bandow,
“Down the Rathole: Where Foreign Aid Goes,” June 2000

The Confederates had never sought to cause the Government of the United States to “perish from the earth.” It was the Union that was seeking to cause the Confederacy and the governments of the 11 Southern states to “perish.” Had the South wanted the government to “perish from the earth,” the Confederate army could have marched into Lincoln’s capital after the First Battle of Bull Run in June 1861, when the Union army had been sent up the road to Washington in wild retreat. The South did not want this; the South only wanted to be free.

        —from Patrick J. Buchanan,
“Mr. Lincoln’s War: An Irrepressible Conflict?” October 1997

So we end up with all the key political words turned inside out, and once that happens, as Confucius wisely noted, no state is governable since the people cannot understand their rulers and the rulers cannot understand themselves, much less the people. Meanwhile, we must preserve the free world (actually unfree; we have elections but no politics) from—let’s see, Kim II Sung’s son and his atomic armada; and then there is Haiti, where we must restore order and justice and freedom as we did when Franklin Roosevelt invaded the island (he was in the Navy Department at the time, and one of the bizarre lies that he liked to tell ever after was how he, personally, had written the excellent constitution of Haiti). Perhaps Gulf War II might be useful, to justify the military budget and the taxes that now go almost entirely for “Defense” (Social Security income and outgo are separate from the budget, a fact that is kept permanently secret from the taxpayers who are supposed to respond in a Pavlovian way to “wasteful people programs”).

        —from Gore Vidal, “Cleaning Our Stables,” June 1995

Is it too far-fetched to imagine a time when intervention might be justified if a country fails to provide three branches of government, along the American model, with a Supreme Court administering a plastic Constitution aided by Harvard and Yale professors? Could we justify armed intervention any time women have second-class status, as is still true in many Islamic and African nations? . . .

Statecraft has always required prudence, particularly where there are no clear abstract principles for guidance. If sovereignty is to be preserved, there will be a great need for such prudence, and a great need to resist the temptation to abuse our military power in the pursuit of chimerical and dangerous ends. We must learn that we cannot seek to overturn every injustice, that there are at least two sides to every argument, and that the opportunities for disinformation and falsehood have multiplied exponentially in our “information age.” Accordingly, we ought to proceed with extraordinary judgment, restraint, integrity, and an attention to our classic constitutional values, the most important of which are the protection of property and self-government. The risk of generating harmful precedents is horrific, and the costs of inconsistency are dreadful.

        —from Stephen B. Presser, “The Living Constitution and the Death of Sovereignty’,” July 1999

So it was on that most chaotic night of all nights of those years, August 4, 1964, when Washington decided to go to war officially. Just before midnight, I had been the eyewitness (with the best seat in the house) to an action that had been reported as an attack by North Vietnamese FF boats against the American destroyers Maddox and Joy. It was in fact a false alarm brought about by the destroyers’ phantom radar contacts and faulty sonar operation on a very dark, humid, and stormy night. This was realized during the event by the boss of the destroyers at the scene, and by me, the boss of the airplanes overhead. Corrective messages were sent instantly to Washington: “No PT boats.”

A few hours later, I was awakened to organize, brief, and lead Anthony Harrigan (I) shares a drink with Adm. James Bond Stockdale, the first air strike against North Vietnam, a reprisal for what I knew to be the false alarm. It was true that I had helped repulse an actual attack three days before and that I thought it likely that another real one would occur in the future. But what to do, knowing that hours before Washington had received the false alarm messages and that it would be none other than I who would be launching a war under false pretenses.

I remember sitting on the side of my shipboard bed, all alone in those predawn minutes, fully conscious of the fact that history was taking a major turn, and that it was I, Jimmy Stockdale, who happened to be in the Ferris-wheel seat that was just coming over the top and starting its descent…. There was no question of getting the truth of that night out: that truth had been out for hours. I was sure that there was nothing I could do to stop the “reprisal” juggernaut pouring out of Washington. My course was clear: to play well the part I had been given. The Author had cast me in a lead role of a Greek tragedy. Who else to lead my pilots into the heavy flak of the city of Vihn and blow the North Vietnamese oil storage tanks off the map?

        —from James Stockdale, “Epictetus in Uniform,” March 1987