By Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence
Nevada State Controller and Assistant Controller
As fathers, we teach our children to assume most folks are good and to begin relationships by extending respect, friendship and generosity unless they have clear reasons to do otherwise. As relationships progress, they should respond to others in ways reflecting the accumulated mix of good and bad a person has demonstrated.
As libertarian-leaning conservatives, we believe that most people, while reasonably self-serving, are not malevolent, but instead respond rationally to the incentives they face. Market freedom, under a rule of law that clearly defines, protects and adjudicates property rights, channels man’s self-serving instincts into actions that are fruitful and productive for society at large. With all that, plus personal liberty and individual (not group) rights, people do remarkable things without government interference.
We also believe most societies, peoples and nations are collectively self-interested in non-pathological ways. So, foreign policy and international relations mostly should be conducted in the same spirit as interpersonal and socio-political-economic relations – albeit with different means and protocols reflecting the difference in relations of governments versus those among persons and between people and government.
All these points reflect an optimistic, sanguine view of human interaction and the way the world works and can work better – a characteristic of limited-government libertarian conservatives, but not modern liberals, progressives and other statists. We are not naïve about any of this, however; instead, we observe certain nuances and caveats.
For example, we diverge from some of our extreme libertarian friends who believe individual rights, economic prosperity and human flourishing can be realized with no government protection of economic and individual rights. And unlike the Obama administration, we harbor no illusions that foreign governments are never malevolent but instead always pursuing legitimate aspirations; or that we often fail to understand them and deal with them unfairly.
A recent visit by the Knecht family to the Pearl Harbor memorials inspired thoughtful discussion between us of international conflicts past and present.
Imperial Japan was driven by a pathological notion of the superiority of the Japanese people and the destiny of its military empire to subjugate and exploit other peoples. War in the Pacific began with the Rising Sun’s invasion in 1931 of Manchuria, followed by its occupation of greater China in 1937.
Instead of overcoming its very modest natural resources endowment via exchange, industry and positive relations with other countries, as many nations had done, Japan’s government sought to build an empire through military aggression and harsh subjugation of people it conquered.
Driven by its notion of ethnic superiority, Japan was as rapacious as even the worst European imperialists. Despite the wise counsel of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto not to provoke the world’s most economically powerful and peaceful major nation, Hideki Tojo, leader of the government and military of Japan, directed him to plan the Pearl Harbor attack.
Such irrationality coupled with military hyper-aggression has not disappeared one bit from the world. Today’s conflict in Syria started from the long-term enmity between the Syrian Alawite and Iranian Shiite axis on one hand and the Saudi and other Sunni gulf states on the other. But the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has arisen among the Wahhabi extremists after the decline of al Qaeda making ISIS an enemy to all major factions and directly or indirectly at war with over 60 countries because it seeks to impose a Caliphate ultimately on the whole world.
Evil was widely afoot in the world before Rome’s annihilation of Carthage in 146 BC and after Nazism and communism, including 1990s genocide between the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and concurrent conflicts in the Balkans. And atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks that killed more Americans than the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.
Many ethnic, nationalist and religious movements, governments, political ideologies (especially) and just plain terrorist movements lure individuals into a dangerous, xenophobic and antisocial collectivism to inflict violence on others.
Evil persists. So, even though war and similar conflict are unspeakably terrible and to be avoided if reasonably possible, we must always be prepared to defend ourselves militarily even as our initial offer to others is fairness, cooperation and peaceful commerce.
We teach our children to be respectful, friendly and generous, but also the necessity of opposing bullies.