Learning the Lessons of WWII

So now that it’s the 60th anniversary of the Second World War, it’s time for what you might consider a truly shocking argument. We are constantly told that WWII was fought against tyranny, in order to secure our own freedom. However, like almost all assertions that come from the State, it is put forward without any kind of definition.

The great enemy was Nazism, of course. Very well. What was it about Nazism that was so objectionable? It was an expansionistic dictatorship, we are told. And what did that mean? Well, that the Nazi government had too much power, and invaded other countries. Very well. Thus, if the Nazi government was evil because it had too much power, and we were fighting for freedom, then surely the power of our own governments should not have grown during the fight against government power.

This is only logical. If you are fighting against State power, then your own State should not grow in power during that conflict. If it does, then you have lost the fight before you have even begun.

(During this essay, I will use the term ‘State’ for the Allied governments, and ‘Nazi’ for the German government.)

Given that the power of the State grew enormously during WWII, it can hardly be said that State power in itself was the enemy. What was the problem with the Nazis? Was it that they killed their own citizens? Given that the Western States all instituted the draft during WWII, that argument seems extremely hollow. Do you fight arbitrary power by enslaving men and forcing them to kill and die? Of course not. That’s like fighting cancer with murder.

Did the Nazi genocides so offend the Allies? Impossible, since the Holocaust was not confirmed until very late in the war, when the Allies were rolling across Germany. Also, if genocides were so terrible, then why did the Western governments not declare war against the Turks for their murders of the Armenians? And what about Stalin’s mass starvation of his people in the 1930s? What about the slaughter of the Chinese by Mao after the war? Why ally with Russia at all during WWII, if genocidal dictatorships were so evil? On what possible principle could Stalin be considered ‘better’ than Hitler?

But let’s cast these objections aside for the moment, and look at the true growth and destruction of Hitler’s power. Initially, he overran smaller and weaker countries – and then was stopped short in the West by the Channel in 1940. After losing the Battle of Britain, he gave up on England, and turned to Russia. Once he sent his forces into Russia, he was doomed. He faced growing revolts at home, and decimation of his forces in Russia. After 1942, what long-term threat could he have been? He might have lasted another decade, perhaps, but his empire would have fallen, as all brutal empires in history have always fallen, because they destroy the free market, and so consume their wealth quicker than it can be replenished. They kill the goose that lays the golden egg, then eat the goose – and then starve. The Soviet empire eventually committed suicide – and China is currently liberalizing itself without requiring fire-bombing and nuclear bombs.

We need to look at what was occurring before and after WWII, so that we can understand the real effect of the war. However, for reasons which will become clear later, we shall look at the post-war period first.

So – what happened after the war? Well, the Soviets took over almost all of Eastern Europe. Millions of people fell into the abyss of communist slavery. Poland – which England originally entered the war to liberate – was caught in Stalin’s grip. Sure, some Western European countries were freed from Nazism – but the millions then enslaved by Russia more than made up for everyone who was freed. And China soon followed.

And what of the Allied governments? Well, during the war they gained the power to withhold taxes from their citizen’s income – the end of any possible control citizens might have over tax increases. The State had experimented with price controls, rationing, deficit financing, the forced internment of naturalized citizens, and many other totalitarian tricks. The US government, for instance, was many times larger in 1945 than it had been in 1939 – even after the New Deal expansion of the 1930s. And it was about to embark on the great reeducation of the masses through the GI bill.

Two other cultural shifts occurred during WWII – the first was that the State was now considered the first port of call for solving social problems – after all, if it could defeat the Axis powers, surely it could solve poverty! The second was that Western staggered under a massive injection of relativism. Hitler was bad, Stalin was good – fascism was bad, communism was bad, socialism was good, government power was bad (national socialism), government was good (state control of the economy) – who could make any sense of that? Absolutism was utterly broken, and ‘flavours’ of government power became fashionable. The intellectuals’ embrace of communism in the 1930s accelerated.

The onset of the Cold War coincided with the creation of massive aid programs to Russia – which made no sense. If Hitler was bad, and we had to fight him, then why were we giving wheat and money to Stalin? As we had seen from Eastern Europe, Stalin was even more expansionist than Hitler.

(The real difference, of course, was that Stalin soon had nuclear weapons, which can kill Western leaders – and so they had no interest in provoking a war.)

Finally, throughout the Western world, government power increased radically throughout the post-war period. Now, on the 60th anniversary of WWII, we have about half of our income stripped from us, and labour under hundreds of thousands of petty, dangerous and claustrophobic regulations. Is this the freedom our fathers died for? Of course not.

Ah, but aren’t we more free than the Germans under Nazism? Of course we are – but that’s irrelevant. If you fall off a cliff, the fact that you haven’t hit bottom yet is scant comfort. The fact of the matter is that we were far more free at home before we began fighting tyranny overseas.

The final – and perhaps most important – question is: what is the state of our society relative to the pre-Nazi period in Germany?

The Weimar Republic was characterized by massive expansion of State power, spending and deficits. Regulation, trade-unionism, protectionism, cronyism and corruption were rampant throughout the vaguely-civilized civil war that defines a ‘mixed’ economy. The tearing collapse of social norms that always accompanies unlimited majority rule was a key factor in catapulting Hitler into power. Thus it is hard for us to say that we have won the battle for liberty, when by radically expanding State power, WWII helped push us off the cliff into our current free-fall toward dictatorship.

If we look before WWII, into the black abyss of WWI, we can get an even surer sense of how the expansion of State power further feeds the expansion of State power – whether victor or vanquished. How was WWI possible, given that it was so horrendously expensive? Why would not a tax revolt simply have shut it down? Well, WWI was possible because Western governments had created a State-controlled central bank, which allowed the massive deficit financing that wars always require. Now that governments could easily borrow against the future taxes of their citizens – especially the new income taxes – fiscal restraint and voter control of the State became a thing of the past. This allowed for wars of massive destruction to occur, which formerly would have proven impossibly expensive. Once governments have the power to print money, they can hire all the goons they want to terrorize the rest of the population – and pay the soldiers abroad to boot. Voters no longer have any say in a war, since governments no longer have to go to them for war money – and so a tax revolt will not end the conflict. Two developments in the 19th century – government education of the young, and the introduction of government-run banking, set the stage for the horrors of the 20th century. From such innocuous beginnings does Hell itself spring.

Finally, if the US had not entered WWI in 1917, the unbalanced and inflammatory peace of Versailles would have been impossible, since the existing combatants were fighting themselves to exhaustion. Thus the expansion of State power in the US helped set the stage for WWII.

What does all this mean for today? We now have a War on Terror that is directly deploys the imagery of WWII. The current war in Iraq is paid for through deficit financing, since State-run banking has lifted all fiscal restraints. State education has taken care of the ‘story’ (Hitler = evil), and propaganda has taken care of the connection (Hussein = Hitler). The end of the Soviet Union has taken care of the direct nuclear threat to the leaders, and so there is no further barrier to endless war. In fact, the only chance that we have of seeing an end to the current War on Terror is for the terrorists to start targeting Western leaders and their families – which would quickly end all foreign interventions, invasions and occupations. Sadly, however, that will never happen, since terrorists need the War on Terror as much as the Western leaders do.

What can we learn from the lessons of WWII? If there is ever to be an end to war – the greatest boon that real freedom could ever grant mankind – then the steps are largely dull, undramatic, and pedandtic. First, a tax revolt must break the desire of investors to lend to governments. Second, parents must start opposing the propaganda of State schools – and third, economists must strenuously make the case for the end of the government-run banking system. From such innocuous beginnings does Heaven itself spring.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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June 2024

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