Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

“If America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry,” Dr. Tyler Cowen writes at marginalrevolution.com. “And that culture is not going to be Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism, or George Kennan’s Letter X, or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War. [ED: links added.] Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.” Before I address Dr. Cowen’s theory linking gun ownership and martial culture, bad elitist! Bad elitist! That said, Dr. Cowen’s got it mostly right and a lot wrong. First, a bone to pick . . .

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

Make my case? Who died and appointed Dr. Cowen the final arbiter of what motivates the body politic? If that’s the way Nobel Prize winners talk to non-Nobel Prize winners, include me out! Assuming I was ever in. Anyway . . .

If you disarm Americans, you deprive them of their sovereign citizenship. That’s how disarmament works: it makes citizens reliant upon, and thus, subservient to, the State. The all-powerful State goes about happily sacrificing its citizen’s rights – indeed their very lives – to maintain power. The State becomes fundamentally, profoundly, powerfully, proactively corrupt. It becomes a militarized police state.

This transition doesn’t curb the State’s appetite for foreign entanglements. Quite the opposite. As we saw with Nazi Germany, the unchecked State inevitably seeks to expand its power outside its borders. If nothing else, it wants to pillage its neighbors to increase its wealth and power. At the same time, the State gladly jumps into bed/cut deals with any foreign power that operates according to the same principles (or lack thereof). ISIS? Sure, why not?

Cohen doesn’t get that. Instead, he divides the country into four main groups: anti-gun modern Democrats; radical, anti-war, the anti-military industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left; libertarians, who “hate martial culture on the international scene,” and “right-wing conservatives” (scare quotes and all). Guess who’s responsible for American interventionism?

They support a martial ethic, they support America’s active foreign policy abroad, and they are anti-gun control for the most part. And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South. Like the old anti-war Left, their positions are consistent, and their positions are rooted in a cultural understanding of the issue.

They see the gun control movement as a war on America’s greatness, America’s martial culture and the material embodiments of said culture. They don’t understand why “the world’s greatest nation” should give up its superpower role, and its supporting internal martial culture, all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides and maybe stopping a few shootings too. To them it’s not close to being worth it.

While many of TTAG’s readers are small “c” conservatives who see no contradiction in being anti-gun control and anti-foreign intervention, Cowen’s got this one right. Although America’s unsuccessful military campaigns have made millions of gun owners gun-shy of foreign entanglements, especially campaigns aimed at “nation building,” the majority of gun-owing American conservatives are ready to gird their loins for battle, as and when they see fit.

For example, millions of gun-owning Americans believe it’s time America deployed its armed forces to the Middle East to destroy ISIS. Considering ISIS’s followers’ terrorist attacks within the county, considering the high likelihood of an ISIS operative using a nuclear or biological weapon against our citizens, many if not most gun owners believe we should send our military into the Middle East to eliminate this threat.

I know that seems simple-minded to those who think military intervention increases the chances of terrorist attack. So be it. You don’t have to read Clausewitz to know that waging war on ISIS makes perfect sense. But if you do, there it is. The military theorist argued that nations should wage war to “achieve limited aims” and “to render [the enemy] politically helpless or militarily impotent.” What part of that conflicts with crushing ISIS? What part of the American public doesn’t understand that?

I assume, as Cowen does, that gun-owning Americans are more likely to favor “limited” war because they’re more likely to be part of its “internal martial culture.” In other words, they’re more likely to understand that Americans fought and died for the peace and prosperity they enjoy. The know that this battle never ends. There know there will always be people who want to destroy their freedom, both individually and collectively, both internally and externally. And they’re not OK with that.

I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms.  But if you read something by a “really stupid conservative” on gun control, the more emotive and manipulative the text the better, it is often pretty close to the mark on the actual substance of what is at stake here.

I reckon gun control advocates use emotion and manipulation to make their arguments, while gun rights advocates rely on logic and reason. Be that as it may, Dr. Cowen rightly predicts that the American schism on gun control will color the coming debate over when and how we should go to war – by which I mean fully engaged military conflict – against ISIS. Because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

38 Responses to Random Thoughts About Gun Ownership and Military Action

  1. “I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms.”

    Pro-gun control Libertarians? Well, if they claim the be Libertarians, and also to be pro- gun control, then by definition they cannot be Libertarian.

    Merriam- Webster’s defines “Libertarian: as a person who believes in the doctrine of free will”

    Supporting the gov’t having sole control over the personal right to self defense doesn’t fit the free will doctrine.

    • I don’t think he meant “pro-gun-control” to be an adjective to “libertarians” there. It would have been more clear if written as “libertarians and pro-gun-control Democrats”.

      • Given the exact wording of that passage, I agree.

        However, it appears that overall Cowen’s trying to have it both ways. He characterizes libertarians as hating the martial culture on the international scene. He also equates the so-called martial culture domestically with gun ownership, the ethic supported by conservatives and not libertarians. He further identifies martial culture domestically as a precondition for a martial culture internationally, which he claims libertarians hate. He even argues that libertarians are themselves inconsistent and should be more pro-gun control.

        So, according to Cowen, if the libertarians are averse to martial culture internationally, and that requires a martial culture aka firearms freedom domestically, then the libertarians must be against that, too, and hence be pro-gun control.

        The gist of Cowen’s high-minded effluence of non-thought, is that Americans are stupid in general, conservatives are stupid and mean in particular, and that the terrorism will stop just as soon as we disarm domestically and internationally. Well.

        I can glean that typical hateful, fanciful message from the comment section posts on any of a thousand leftist shill sites. I don’t need another over educated, effete America-hater quoting Clausewitz to give that same stale shtick a mantle of legitimacy.

        • “…the terrorism will stop just as soon as we disarm domestically and internationally…”

          This comment is EXACTLY correct – and is the basis of Islam. The word itself means “submission”, or “to submit”. As soon as we all disarm and submit to Islam the terrorism will stop, assuming we submit to the proper sub-sect of Islam, that is.

  2. One picture tells me the center of all troubles in the middle east. The Toyota truck. Without it they’d be on foot.

    Let’s get a UN resolution to ban the sale of Toyota vehicles to any predominately Muslim nation.

    • Maybe we should call them “assault vehicles.” That’ll get ’em banned.

      On second thought, the comparison might be too apt. They have real HiLuxes and Prados, while our “modern sporting vehicle” alternatives in the U.S. are less capable Tacomas and a neutered Lexus SUV with some limited parts commonality.

      • Those Toyota 4X4s really shone when Libya kicked one of their neighbor’s asses but good with cheap Japanese 4X4 with an anti-tank gun mounted in the bed knocking out Soviet armor.

        30 years on, now we see the ISIS ‘Technicals’…

    • Ironically that may be an ideal way to track down some of their prime financiers. I notice that almost all of those trucks are brand spanking new, probably not captures. Would it be that hard to track the purchase history if a few were captured?

    • I believe we have the technology, if not the Commander in Chief, which would render these pretty trucks useless. From Wikipedia:

      “The electromagnetic pulse from NNEMP weapons must come from within the weapon, while nuclear weapons generate EMP as a secondary effect. These facts limit the range of NNEMP weapons, but allow finer target discrimination. The effect of small e-bombs has proven to be sufficient for certain terrorist or military operations. Examples of such operations include the destruction of electronic control systems critical to the operation of many ground vehicles and aircraft.”

      On the other hand, a flight of A-10s would be much more satisfying.

  3. I find your comment very telling in the mention ofAmerica’s ‘failures in foreign entanglements’ Clausewitz’s “Total War” can be fought by us and our enemies would kill their children then themselves before allowing us to do it, we haven’t EVER done so, but we’ve also not “lost” any recently either. We’ve had our JV team time and again suck defeat from the rectum (yes victory made it that far through the digestion system of the war beast before being sucked) of victory. Further “AID & COMFORT TO THE ENEMY” is meaningless if Ohole hasn’t done it, for he has done for the enemy in ountless ways, what our enemy could never pissibly do for themselves.

    There is no “small c” Conservatism. If you are even slightly liberal, you have broken the dam on liberalism. “GUNS” ain’t the only problem with liberals/liberalism, and that’s just one of TTAGs. Liberals/Progressives are just Fu<king communiists. They shift names when public scrutiny becomes too great and loathing geats heaped upon them. Liberals/Progressives/communists are POS and should be hunted around the globe. We already have a crapload of war memorial cemetarues in America with good blood spilled on that front, and giving a nod to ANYTHING liberal is defacating on that sacrifice.

    Further to the OP's other statements, Clausewitz in "On War" (and the other authors' mentioned -on their contemporaries) had a super hero fan crush on Napolean, but still marveled (MARVELED!!!) at the populaces of France, Germany, Prussia, who, while the tide of war raged around them and toppled the governments fighting the wars, took up weapons themselves and not only protected their own lives but contributed to the resolution of the various conflicts. Cluasewitz ABSOLUTELY, espoused the notion that the BODY POLITIC at 'end game' WAS THE INDIVIDUAL, and that, at THAT POINT, all bets are off as to defining possible motivations and resulting actions as they are wholly containes and defined WITHIN THAT INDIVIDUAL!

    IMHO the take away is, no one can tell you when liberal-communist (D)heads are going to F things up and sh_t-can your country (it's amazing and a testament to only GOD, that America has withstood them so far). I.E., NO ONE CAN GUARANTY HOW LONG AMERICA WILL LAST (those who attempt to are LYING)
    KEEP YOUR GUNS FOR THE END OF AMERICA. SO THAT YOU CAN HAVE A CHANCE OF A SAY IN WHAT COMES NEXT. AND, so you can visit whatever grief you want on those who you feel are responsible.

  4. Mr. Farago – People who are prepared to defend themselves in their daily lives support defending themselves internationally — who would have suspected this? As to your question, “What part of the American public doesn’t understand {war is used to cast a pall on the plans of people who intend you harm}?” I suggest you look in Cowen’s first two groups: (1)”anti-gun modern Democrats”; (2) “radical, anti-war, the anti-military industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left.” These folks believe in other people paying for their lifestyles, and other people paying to insure their survival is simply an extension of this concept. This would lead me to despair were it not obvious which group is going to fare best if the civil order they are attacking should disappear.

    • The two biggest recipients of MIC money during the current campaign cycle are #1 NeoCon shill Hilary Clinton and #2 NeoCon shill Teddy Cruz.

    • >> Mr. Farago – People who are prepared to defend themselves in their daily lives support defending themselves internationally — who would have suspected this?

      The problem is that pretty much all of the scenarios that were actually proposed so far are basically the global politics equivalent of taking your gun out and rapidly shooting at the attacker in the middle of a large crowd of bystanders. It may take care of the immediate problem (taking out the guy who was a threat), but you’ll have a bigger problem when some of the people in that crowd take offense and start shooting back at you. The only good part is that the analogy ends here – there’s no worry about what happens when the cops arrive.

      Sure, you can deploy military to Iraq (again) and Syria, and steamroll Daesh in a week or two. Then what? It won’t stop the terrorist attacks – they don’t really need a full-fledged state as a base of operations, a cave somewhere in Pakistan (or even in, say, Colorado) works just fine. It won’t even stop the Caliphate project – as soon as troops leave, it will be reborn from the ashes again.

      Permanent occupation? Fine, but how long are you willing to pay for it in practice, in both dollars and lives? Twenty years? Might still not be enough. More like fifty, if I had to give an educated guess. And it would have to involve literally every single state with a significant Salafist underground, not just those where these guys act in the open. This means occupying pretty much all of Sunni Middle East (including “allies” like Saudi Arabia), as well as Pakistan and large parts of Central Asia (which would also set US on a collision course with Russia and China, both of which consider that in their sphere of influence). Large parts of Africa, too. Possibly even Turkey and Indonesia.

      Unless you are ready and willing to sign up for that, and are sure that the majority of your co-patriots are, too, it would be smarter to leave your metaphorical gun holstered. Otherwise you’ll just spend an inordinate amount of effort for nothing, coming back to the same exact thing in another 20 years.

  5. And yet last night Hillary was once again on stage shilling for foriegn intervention, despite having previously declared gun owners and their supporters to be her personal enemies.

    By the way, before even bringing up the idea of using direct military action against ISIS, why don’t we talk about ending the practices that are supporting ISIS, such as arming the “moderate” (isis aligned) Rebels and doing our damndest to topple the Assad government so they could come in and take control?

    • Why don’t we leave them and Russia alone to kill each other? When we arm somebody, the arms end up in ISIS hands, when we send troops to help someone, that someone shoots our troops in the back. They already have a circular firing squad, why should we interfere?

  6. What if a war happened and nobody showed?
    The government would come to your house and escort you to the front.

    I don’t think the right is responsible for our international adventures any more than the left is. While the ownership of guns might give us different views on war and crime, or what it means to serve your nation, it’s not what makes the decision to send the military someplace.
    Once that decision is made the powers that be will find a way to fill the boots.
    That will never change.

  7. A policy of military adventurism abroad and disarmament at home constitutes the essence of tyranny.

    Even a Nobel prize winner can figure that out

  8. “And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South”

    Are you kidding me? I live in Houston, TX, the largest city in South, the fourth largest in the country (soon to be third largest). We’re so laissez faire, que sera sera, and definitely not martial or war-like, that we don’t even have municipal zoning restrictions! We’re so live and let live that you can run your pet hotel/restaurant/fitness center right next door to my auto dealership/tree farm/daycare if you want, and nobody even notices the strip club across the street.

    His entire premise equating firearms ownership with a martial mentality is fundamentally flawed. American gun owners are so for many, many and varied reasons. A major one is to serve as a bulwark against tyranny in our own country. That’s nowhere near the same thing as being constantly willing to march to invade others or even to control through force our countrymen.

    The entire orientation is toward self-defense, not dominance, but Poindexter here misses that completely. These 300 million or so firearms in private hands, what some deluded and dismissive people regard as “weapons of war”, are more accurately described collectively as weapons of mass protection. Even support for expeditions against ISIS et. al. are not rooted in warrior class blood lust. That too is self-defense against enemies who’ve either attacked us already, or else repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to carry out the the deadly threats they’ve sworn.

  9. Bring all our troops home, close our borders to all immigration for at least 50 years, deport all non citizens and all dual citizens, problem solved and no need to waste American blood and gold policing the world.

    • Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi & Dan Akroyd) of Blues Brothers fame (Saturday Night Live) said that 40 years ago, listen to their album.

      Buy MORE guns! Don’t forget, get a case of ammo for each.

  10. My only thoughts on military action and ISIS is that, if you use the last 14 years as a model, having boots on the ground sure kept them preoccupied. ISIS has been allowed to fester, like a nasty ingrown hair, and now it has to ability to spread that infection to other places.

    I’m not calling for our men and women to go there, as I won’t be one of them, but you have to admit, since we left, Islamic terrorists have definitely increased their attacks abroad.

    • The idiotic “invade the world” policy of the last 100 years including “boots on the ground” is what caused ISIS to come into being. Bring our troops home and let Russia and Iran clean up the mess made by Saudi, Turkey and Israel, the three main supporters of ISIS.

      • There are plenty of blood drenched corners of the world inhabited by ISIS-like monsters, where no U.S. presence exists, but please, do proceed with your blame-America-first thesis. It’s fascinating.

        • Feel free to explain any hypothetical scenario where ISIS comes into existence without the US invasion of Iraq and American anti-Assad meddling in Syria.

        • 1400years of history with only a brief interruption (due to American/Western power) in their barbarianism during the 18-1900s?

          Get out more and learn to read.

        • I would suggest anyone read up on the history of ISIS, our terrorist boogeyman du jour. It’s not even debatable that they exist as a direct result of our invasion of Iraq. We’ve been bombing the middle east for going on a couple decades now. Things getting better? You know the definition of insanity don’t you?

        • >> There are plenty of blood drenched corners of the world inhabited by ISIS-like monsters, where no U.S. presence exists

          Sure, and that has always been the case, historically speaking. But why should it concern US?

          Or do you want to sign Americans up for dealing with all of the world’s bad guys in perpetuity?

          If so, may I suggest that you guys start with Saudi Arabia? You know, the state where beheading, crucifixion, quartering and stoning are official methods of execution for such heinous crimes as adultery, blasphemy and witchery.

          Oh, sorry, I forgot. The oil must flow. Let’s go invade Afghanistan again instead, it’s always a hoot.

        • Islamic horror has existed since nearly 1000 years before America was discovered. The “blame America first” meme doesn’t work here, examine your sources, you’re being lied to.

  11. “…all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides…” – Cowen hasn’t heard of ‘means substitution’ , among other things…

  12. The military-industrial complex and their neocon cheerleaders is the cause for the recent US war crimes. The fact that some civilian gun owners are gullible idiots who buy into neocon propaganda is just a coincidence.

  13. Ummm. No. Well, yeah, I like a lot of what Dr. Cowen has to say, but mostly no.

    No: we do not have an obligation to be “The World’s Policeman.” Note: this does not preclude foreign intervention and foreign military adventuring in my mind *as long as those military actions have a direct bearing upon American interests.*

    No. It’s not “gun culture” or “US Martial culture”, it’s American culture.

    What is commonly miscalled “the Gun Culture” these days was simple American culture up to and through when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. And then it wasn’t. And we really need to reverse that mindset and get back to where it is once again: to where a kid growing up with a .22 from age 8 and a .410 from age 9 – and all of the values and responsibilities that go along with that – is just a part and parcel of the experience of being an American.

    That culture and mindset includes what Dr. Cowen is referring to as the “martial culture.” They’re indistinguishable and inseparable.

    “I assume, as Cowen does, that gun-owning Americans are more likely to favor ‘limited’ war because they’re more likely to be part of its ‘internal martial culture.'” – Robert Farago

    No. You are wrong about that. Dead wrong.

    An awful lot of us favor the “Don’t start a fight, but do *finish* one,” philosophy.

    There ain’t no such thing as a “limited war.” We are slow to go to war, but when war is inevitable and called for – it should be war to the knife.

    Fight to win, and fight to make the enemy determined to not ever fight you again – either because he’s unwilling to pay the costs, or completely unable to do so.

    Or don’t fight at all.

    There’s no middle “limited war’ ground there between the two. War to the knife, or don’t play.

    • >> No. It’s not “gun culture” or “US Martial culture”, it’s American culture.

      In this case, it’s not even American culture. It’s just common sense. Why go five miles away from your house just to find a hornet nest and stir it, then spend several hours burning it up while getting stung?

  14. I think he is missing some of the major reasons why the U.S. acts like a world “police” power and it has a hell of a lot less to do with civil gun ownership than he seems to think.

    Quite simply put it is a matter of national interest. You can not act on a global stage without being involved somewhere. Before and after WWI we were largely an insular nation with little interest in most of the goings on of the rest of the world. Sure we had some interests abroad but nothing like what came after WWII. After WWII with the cold war, the increase in trade and just general interests by Americans in the outside world we had to look beyond our borders.

    When you start to have so many interests that lie beyond your borders you suddenly have a need to protect those interests. You do things like send your Navy out to keep the trade routes clear of pirates or nations that might wish to do your commerce harm. You use your military to protect nations from whom you gain resources/technology/expertise from aggressors. If you find yourself in a situation that was the Cold War you do not give your adversary the field and wait for them to come knocking on your door. You also have to play in the field with them or find yourself in a position of weakness when they have your surrounded, outnumbered and probably outgunned.

    None of this is because I, my dad, grandfather or great grandfather had a gun. It is because at many different levels we decided to play on the world stage in terms of business/trade, politics, cold war and even a bit of desire to shape the world that we wanted to live in (for better or worse given that we aren’t always good at it).

    I suppose I could go quite a bit further with all of this but this is long enough as it is and to be honest, a person could easily turn out several books on just how we have gotten where we are only looking at WWII on. Even that wouldn’t cover it though, not even close.

  15. These are totally different topics: individual liberty of American citizens and a busybody foreign policy. I love the first and hate the latter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *