Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Protecting American Values – An Open Letter to our Troops

“The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

This blog post is an open letter to America’s military troops, firefighters, emergency responders and police officers.  As a military veteran, I’ve had a strong interest in military matters since I left the Army in 1968.  Even though I considered the violation of my individual rights to be wrong (I was drafted into the Army), I still felt that I was involved in a struggle to protect Americans.  During this time, I saw the Soviet Union and Communist China as clear threats to our liberties and I was convinced that only the United States had the power and ability to stop the advance of totalitarianism. Because of this, I undertook my service with the same patriotic attitude as anyone who had voluntarily joined the military.  I believed that our country was still worth fighting for; that it represented freedom around the world against two encroaching tyrannical enemies.

Many service members distinguish themselves by their willingness to sacrifice for others.  They take seriously the idea that a moral life is one spent in service to others.  They agree with Einstein that

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” [1]

But I dissent from this view.  Today, as a much older and experienced veteran, I challenge the concept of duty that is being taught to members of our protective services.  I’m convinced there is a better concept that enables them to express their benevolent natures.  I don’t think that the decision to protect Americans is a sacrifice.

Most young people today are unaware of the ideology surrounding the concept of duty and its negative aspects.  They see themselves as practical people who understand how to protect and they see sacrifice as an effective way to create good outcomes.  Yet, although they have spent their student years listening to teachers and theologians who support sacrifice, they have not been taught about the contradictions implicit in the act.  The first contradiction is that sacrifice is an obligation, not a freely chosen option; there is no choice about sacrificing.  The second contradiction is that sacrifice should be total; one must sacrifice all of one’s time and money for others.  As Dr. Tara Smith has observed, “If individuals owe one another their services, they can be licensed no freedom to shirk that obligation.”[2] 

These contradictions imply some important questions about altruism’s role in society.  Many take it to be benign and even beneficial.  Yet, Dr. Smith asks: “If the paramount altruist objective is to serve others, what is the need for freedom?  Its role is hardly obvious.  Why shouldn’t the altruist simply seek to install rulers who will dictate peoples’ activities, seize their output, and reroute the proceeds to those in need?”[3]

Indeed, history’s most brutal periods were those in which that premise dominated.  According to this view, government officials are authorized to decide men’s actions for them and people with guns will be responsible for making it happen.  This means that the instrument for implementing sacrifice on behalf of the government will be soldiers and police officers.  These professionals will be responsible for coercing citizens rather than protecting them.  Is that proper in the land of the free?

Few service-members are aware of the exploitive nature of the moral philosophy known as altruism, the philosophy behind the injunction to sacrifice.  Neither have they realized that our nation was the first to liberate people to pursue happiness not sacrifice.  So for service members, the questions are “If Americans should be free to live in freedom, why should you be the instrument of forcing them to sacrifice?” and “How can a protector of freedom and self-interest be required to sacrifice his life and/or limbs while doing his job?”

Let’s see if we can understand this contradiction more fully.

When the United States was created, a new idea, an anti-sacrifice idea, challenged centuries of moral thought.  When the Continental Army fought against the British, our soldiers did not see their American Revolution as a sacrifice; they saw it as a struggle for their own freedom.  They did not want to live under a tyrannical king and they knew that they had to put their lives on the line; they had to fight and possibly die so they could be free.  They knew that a tyrant demands nothing less than the lives of those who disagree with his policies.  The American Revolution was a matter of life or death for every revolutionary.

As our government was originally conceived, and because of the legacy of the Declaration of Independence, a professional soldier in the Armed Forces was different from any similar soldier of any other country.  This is because he was a protector of free people, not a protector of slaves.  It was not his job to coerce citizens and make them do things they would not otherwise do.  His job was to facilitate and protect the citizens’ freedoms.

The concept of duty, on the other hand, is centuries older than the concept of freedom.  It derives from prehistoric notions of human sacrifice where men were required to give their best children (or their own lives) to appease the gods of primitive religions. Eventually, human sacrifice became so onerous that men wanted to give up something of lesser value, their best cattle and/or agricultural products rather than their children.  Down to today, this idea of sacrificing for others has lost many of its bloody roots and has evolved into a more benign form of moral action ostensibly engaged merely to help others. 

Even as history moved forward, and as altruism evolved, men were sometimes required to give their lives for various social purposes such as war.  At other times, they may have been required to sacrifice their first crops of the year, or goats and other animals.  However, the distinguishing characteristic of all forms of sacrifice was the obligation that the individual give up a higher value for a lower.  Each sacrifice, whether it was a goat or money, meant additional work for the sacrificer so that he could make up for the loss. 

The best way to understand what a sacrifice consists of is to compare it with a mutual trade.  You do business with the grocer because he makes available products that provide nourishment to you.  The grocer charges you what it costs him to buy the product and he adds a markup which is his profit.  You are willing to pay the markup because otherwise, you’d have to spend your own time growing or making the product.  The benefit to you includes the benefits of consuming the product as well as the time saved in making the product yourself.  This is called a mutually beneficial and voluntary trade.  Both parties gain; you save time and effort and the grocer makes a profit that enables him to survive and keep providing products for sale.  If you take his profit away from him, you remove the incentive for him since he would not be able to feed his own family.  That profit is his paycheck.

If you persist in your demand that the grocer not make a profit, you have given him no choice but to use his produce to feed himself only.  He will no longer sell it to you; which means your demand that he sacrifice his profit has led to your starvation.  The next step is force and slavery.  You hold a spear to his throat and demand that he produce the products that will feed you.  You tell the grocer that it is his duty to serve you and that there is no choice about it.

Now, imagine a different situation in which government forces you to pay more than the average profit for this product.  Let’s assume that the grocer is given a monopoly by government and that you are forced by buy your groceries from him at double the price.  This would be a sacrifice on your part; in this case, you are required to give up more of your money than you would in a free trade and you are prohibited from making or growing the product yourself.  You’ll also have to work twice as many hours to earn the money to buy the product and you cannot spend that money on a less expensive alternative. 

Every sacrifice of this type is an immoral imposition on you.  It requires that you act in a certain way and that you lose a value that is more important to you than what you were gaining at the previous price.  It assumes that the tribe or state is the repository of morality and that it can decide what you can gain or lose.  It assumes that you are the property of the state and that your purpose in life is to do as you are told.  This is altruism in practice.  Who is getting the double price that you have paid? – The government, of course – a party that has not earned it.

As Harry Binswanger has pointed out:

“Average Americans naively take the morality of altruism to mean good will, generosity, and human decency. But stripped of that benign cover, the operative doctrine is that your life is not your own, that selfless service to the needs of others is the only justification for your existence.”[4]

According to this scheme, there is no such thing as a sovereign individual; the individual is a mere citizen whose purpose is to advance the will of the leaders.  These citizens will be fed a lie about a society where all citizens work together but this is mere propaganda designed to convince people that they are not being forced; that they are complying with the government willingly in order to create a better world. 

Throughout history, few have challenged the idea that sacrifice is moral.  They challenged only what made up a proper sacrifice and who should be made to sacrifice.  They never questioned altruism.  Yet, if we take a dispassionate look at the idea of sacrifice, we must ask, is the essential reason for sacrificing, to placate the gods, a valid reason for sacrificing today?  Was it even valid in the past? Haven’t we, as civilized people, moved past the ancient arguments for pre-defined and obligatory moral action?  Further, is the modern reason for sacrifice, the idea of helping others, a powerful enough reason to invalidate the choices and decisions of individuals?  Ayn Rand would tell us:

“It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”[5]

With the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, people fought, not to be sacrificial victims, but to be free.  They realized that they had the ability to decide for themselves without the interdiction of a king or ruler.  They could trade freely and build up their property while working free of expropriation by government.  This new idea was based upon the real life experiences of Americans living in the wilderness who knew that their lives could only be successful when they took freely chosen actions.  They were rugged, independent and they guarded their liberties diligently.  They saw any encroachment as morally reprehensible and they developed, without knowing the monumental import of it, a new morality for living on earth. 

Dr. Tara Smith has made an excellent argument for the fact that the call to sacrifice and the concept of individual rights are incompatible:

“…it is vital to respect freedom (including the freedom to do wrong) because a person can only do the right thing if she chooses right action.  Freedom is a necessary condition for morally right action.  Without freedom, individuals would have no chance to act morally...”[6]

“…my claim is rooted in a more basic conception of the nature of morally proper action.  An action does not become right until it is chosen and performed by a free person.  That choice is part of what makes an action right.”[7]

Surprisingly, none of the major advocates of sacrifice throughout history have offered a reasoned argument for why sacrifice is good.  Neither Jesus, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Comte, Marx; not even Stalin has offered an argument for WHY sacrifice is good.  They have merely relied upon an assumption that it is good.  Some have said that God says so, that you will go to heaven, that society demands it and that it is practical but there has never been a tangible argument for why altruism is anything other than the giving up of a higher value for a lower one. 

In fact, the strongest (and still false) argument for altruism is determinism, that the individual is imperfect, that he does not have the ability to decide for himself; that he is evil by nature and that he can only be made good by being forced to do what is right; forced to give up something he values for the sake of society.

Determinism is not the philosophy of the Enlightenment; it is the opposite of the idea that man has volition and can determine his own actions and achieve his own happiness.  Determinism invalidates the human mind and makes individual human choices into immoral acts, into revolts against God or society.  It is an ancient and hateful view of man that justifies enslavement and dictatorship.  If you believe that man is a determined creature bound to sacrifice then you have no problem if millions of men are slaughtered because they had the “impudence” to have been born.  If men are determined and doomed by fate, the death of one or a million men is irrelevant.

In fact, altruism has been disproven by the enormous success of the United States that was built on a different moral mandate.  Haven’t we seen the validity of freedom and capitalism in the very lives we live?  Isn’t our clean, paved, strongly built and infrastructure-reliant society better than the dirt and hovels of other countries dominated by determinism and altruism?  Isn’t the reason for our success that we enable self-interest and choice, that people can chose to live clean, happy and self-confident lives?

When we look to the period of the founding of our society, we see that the enlightened view of man held that it was wrong to force men to do anything against their wills, that men had wills of their own and that they were not determined by any historical or universal premise.  The United States effectively outlawed the various forms of sacrifice that had devastated societies of the past.  In fact, this new form of society protected men in their pursuit of values.  It did not expropriate their belongings or demand that men give up things for the sake of others. 

This new society even developed a new form of loyalty.  Men were no longer required to be the dutiful slaves of kings or dictators.  And because freedom made people more prosperous, they realized, as a matter of self-interest, that this society was worth defending from attack.  They created a new concept of patriotism based upon love for a country that valued and protected self-sufficiency and individual rights. 

The beginning of the end for freedom started during the USA’s first decades when Europe exported the ideas of Immanuel Kant.  Kant made an assault upon reason (in the name of reason) and free will (in the name of free will).  For Kant, because man had the ability to deny his own self-interest, duty was considered a “categorical imperative”; unquestionable and built into the very concept of morality itself.  I won’t go into all the arguments made by Kant except to say that his philosophy is a massive fraud based upon unproven assertions and deceptions whose result was the institution of irrationality and, once again, force against the individual.   America had barely begun to build its economic power before someone tried to kill it.

Of all the evil arguments made for sacrifice, the most evil was Kant’s.  He claimed that duty was to be done without reward, without a love for man, without even the happiness of heaven as a reward; but simply because it was, in his mind, a duty.

At base, Kant asserted that “pure reason” (an idea that he concocted with leads from Plato) had to be totally disconnected from reality; that it consisted only of tautologies.  This perpetuated and amplified many of Plato’s mistakes and left the human mind incapable of reason.  The ultimate expressions of Kant’s views resulted in men who could not resist the call to sacrifice and became the fodder for the killing fields, the concentration camps and the mass graves that punished those who refused to sacrifice for the collective.

Certainly, you are going to say that Kant’s idea of sacrifice and the murder of millions is not what you think of when you think of altruism.  But, whether you realize it or not, that is what you mean.  The idea of human sacrifice has always meant that the best were forced to give up their highest values, their minds and even their lives, for the sake of others.  The 147 million people killed in Soviet Russia, Communist China and Nazi Germany were the best people in those societies; capitalists, small business owners, intellectuals, college professors, college-educated citizens; people who disagreed (on one issue or another) with their government. They died because sacrifice was considered to be a moral imperative and those who did not agree with it had to be removed so history could move forward toward a world of sacrifice.

The idea that sacrifice is the justification for murder seems incongruous today considering the positive view most Americans have of the idea.  Today, many people mistakenly think that hard work for the sake of reaching an important goal is sacrifice.  Politicians will tell you, when they are giving their resumes, about all the sacrificing they have done, as if their willingness to sacrifice makes them worthy of votes.  Others will downplay or even hide their success because they are afraid they will be thought of as selfish and not worthy of votes.  These are all examples of the influence of the idea that it is moral to sacrifice.

Yet, the idea that sacrifice is good includes the idea that not sacrificing is evil.  This is the basic reason that people do so much to advertise their past sacrificial actions.  These actions are like tickets to humanity, verification that someone is a good citizen (according to altruism).  Were it not for the demand that people sacrifice, people would not feel uncomfortable about exerting their self-interest.  Even Plato insisted that society should force men to sacrifice for the good of the whole.

I say this is all wrong.  A willingness to sacrifice does not warrant deep respect and votes.  In fact, a desire to succeed and enjoy life requires much more in terms of hard work and dedication.  It requires individual effort, thought, education, reasoning ability and a desire to succeed.  The hard work you do today to accomplish a high value or goal is not a sacrifice.  Hard work is the price one must willingly pay in order to accomplish a supreme goal. Hard work can only be a sacrifice if it is demanded of men by moral or physical force.  If a value did not require hard work and supreme effort, it would not be a high value.

As Craig Biddle writes, “Altruism is not about moral obligation as such; it is about a specific kind of moral obligation. Altruism does not call for a person to serve others if he has made an agreement or a commitment to do so—as in the case of a doctor who contracts to provide a patient with medical care in exchange for payment, or an employer who contracts to pay an employee in exchange for his work. Such obligations are chosen obligations, obligations stemming from mutually beneficial agreements, agreements in which both parties gain a life-serving value. Altruism is not about chosen obligations. It is about “unchosen” obligations or “duties.”[8]

To return to our discussion of the military, if the individual is voluntarily fighting for freedom, it is because he values freedom so highly that he is willing to risk physical damage or death.  It is a chosen obligation that he takes on as a free individual.  Therefore, the protector of American lives is being highly moral and pursuing his highest values when he must go to war.  He is not sacrificing.  He is protecting the right of people to be free and moral.  And since he is a human being seeking to live a moral life, he is fighting for his own freedom above all.

Anyone who tells you that sacrifice should animate your life is doing a disservice to you and to the principles which guided the Founding Fathers in creating this country.  They ignore the basic reason why people live in a free society.  They ignore the requirements of human survival.

How do people survive in this world?  Certainly, they have to identify their true needs and find ways to meet them.  But before this, they have to do something much more profound; they have to conclude that life is worth living; that it presents the individual with an opportunity for enjoyment and good living.  In other words, people have to choose to pursue values.  Then they have to think about how to pursue those values.  They realize that they have to be productive, do good works and earn the money necessary to survive; they have to engage in a process of reason.

If life did not have the possibility of happiness, there would be little incentive to produce and trade with others.  Like the grocer forced to sacrifice his profits in our earlier example, there would be little incentive to develop technologies that lighten work and enable more production.  In fact, without the possibility of happiness, it is unlikely that people would want to pay other people to protect them and their property.  There would be little need for an army, a police force, firefighters or even society.

Since men must use reason in order to survive, this brings up the need for people to respect each other’s rights to engage in reason, to produce and keep the results of their work.  To steal or legally expropriate production would restrict and make impossible the thought and work necessary to survive.  Property rights are the first step in creating civilization.  By respecting the property of other citizens, we make it possible for people to thrive and flourish.  As Ayn Rand wrote,

“Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”[9]

With all this said, I would like to propose an American approach to doing your job.  I think you should consider yourself a professional who honors your own life and that of others.  Your chosen profession to protect people is a means for accomplishing your values and goals; your love of life and your love of freedom.  Since freedom makes a good life possible for Americans, why not be a protector of freedom paid by those who have hired you to do it?  This makes your career a means for engaging in trade with other citizens rather than a mere sacrifice.  Further, it eliminates the performance of your job as a duty and turns it into the performance of your job as a life-serving career.  It also eliminates your acquiescence to the false idea that society has a right to demand your sacrifice or that your job is about forcing people against their wills.

To clarify this, ask “What value do I provide when I do my job?”  Certainly, the answer must be that you protect individuals, their freedom to live and their properties.  In an advanced society such as ours, someone should provide such services and be paid for it.  You save peoples’ lives, their properties, their freedoms; and your presence in society is needed.   You help people live profitable lives so you should also profit from the performance of our job.  It is honorable to earn a profit.

Now, let’s imagine that you have a great ambition to be successful.  If the level of service you provide is higher than that provided by others, then you should be able to demand a higher price for your services or attain to a leadership position and receive higher pay.  Certainly, you must keep your prices competitive, but if you want to earn more business, you will need to add value to your services.  You might undergo advanced training, or take additional classes in self-defense, or find the best new technologies, more advanced weapons or surveillance equipment.  You may even add new services to your capabilities that are difficult for your competitors to duplicate. 

You may also want to remove as much danger as possible from the performance of your job.  You may want to use bullet proof vests or other safety equipment.  These would make you safer and enable you to plan a long life, get married, have children and plan for their futures.  Because of your expertise, you may even be able to invent new tools or technologies to help protect you and your customers.  By making yourself more efficient, you increase your chances of survival.  You secure your long-term happiness; you honor your values, perform work you like, help people secure their lives and improve society.


As you can see, altruism is the opposite of self-interest.  Altruism leads to dictatorship while self-interest requires political freedom.  Altruism demands that men be forced to sacrifice.  Freedom enables independent thought, free will, capitalism and human survival.  Given these facts, what is the proper perspective on doing your job?    


The job of the military in the United States is to protect the country against attack by foreign invaders who would enslave the citizens.  It is not the job of the military to accomplish social goals such as building roads and bridges unless they are needed to help win wars and end conflicts.  It is also not the job of the military to force citizens to act against their wills.  As an agency of protection, the military should be called upon only when the nation or its interests and possessions have been attacked.  As a defensive agency, it is not responsible for the deaths and rights violations that are the collateral damage for the enemy in war.  A free nation places the blame for these deaths squarely on the party that engages in aggression.  The US military makes it a point to exact retribution from and punishment for all aggressors and their agents.

The solder is not a sacrificial tool for the social goals of his leaders.  Your time and training should be focused on making you into the best and most lethal fighter in the world so that no other country would dare attack us.  A good military strategy prepares the country so well for war that the cost of attacking America will be visited upon our enemies many times over.  Your job should be to kill the enemy and do it fast so the war is over quickly and the enemy is removed as a threat.

Further, your job is to protect the Constitution of the United States.  This document has given you a special mission unlike any mission of any soldier from any other country.  Our nation is the first and still one of the few that is based upon freedom.  In defending the Constitution, you are defending the freedom of Americans to live their lives as they decide. 

Even today, almost every American “service-person” loves his life; and he knows that only a free person can truly enjoy it.  By extension, he also understands the importance of freedom for every individual in society.  Perhaps, he even understands that freedom, as Dr. Smith states it, “…is necessary for reasoned action.”[10]  He or she may not agree with everything free people do in their lives, but he knows that freedom makes it possible for a rational person to live and enjoy his or her life.  As a lover of life, an American soldier is uniquely situated to be a defender of the highest values.

Finally, as an indication of the immorality that is created by altruism, many military people are required to sacrifice their lives by utterly irrational rules of engagement.  When a soldier must refuse to defend himself for the sake of “non-combatants”, he is not only needlessly putting his own life in danger, but he is also allowing the enemy to escape and fight another day.  These rules of engagement politicize the fighting of wars and destroy the military’s ability to fight and/or win wars.  Other issues, such as using the military to build civilian infrastructure and to create talking points for political elections, tarnish the military and its mission.

Police Officer

The same principles described above apply equally to police officers who fight crime.  Like members of the military, police officers are equally special because of their dedication to values and their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect people.  The difference for a police officer is that he must interact both with law-abiding citizens and law breakers.  This gives him a different relationship with the Constitution because he must know the difference between peaceful citizens and those who violate their rights.  He must also recognize his responsibility to maintain the Constitution by upholding the rights of all citizens and maintaining high standards of integrity in the performance of his duty.

For instance, a police officer cannot violate a citizen’s right to privacy.  He cannot insist that citizens keep silent about any issue, he cannot come into their homes without a warrant and he cannot arrest or detain someone without probable cause that a crime has been committed.  He can neither harass citizens nor defame them.  He must treat them with respect and maintain the principle that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty.  These rules place a special burden on police officers and ensure that they are protectors of rights and not violators of them.

Firefighter and other Emergency Services

Firefighters and emergency services providers save lives and property from fires and other emergencies and have a special connection to the community.  At any moment, they may be called upon to have a direct impact on the lives of family, friends and other citizens.  When the emergency services professional is not saving lives and homes, he is often training to stay in shape or improve skills.

Although the connection to the Constitution is further away for these individuals, they are equally committed to the values of America and her communities.  They value life and operate within the auspices of society in a way that seeks continuity, safety and security, all of which are values derived from freedom.  By preserving property and life, they contribute to the values of America.

Generally speaking, military personnel, police officers, firefighters and other emergency response professionals have a strong love of life and they feel a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that their careers help people live better, healthier and more secure lives.  It is not surprising that some of the best people choose these rewarding and fulfilling careers. 

I believe that having concern for others is not a bad thing and it need not involve the sacrifice of higher values for lower.  It is a natural extension of the idea that you love life, that you honor it and that you respect the freedoms and uniqueness of every human being.  Freedom, self-sufficiency, love of life and family are valid American values that are worth protecting not only because you want to enjoy them in your own life but because you see them as an extension of the greatest idea in history, the United States of America. 

Thank you

[1] Interview, 1932, The Journal of Young Israel – also New York Times
[2] Moral Rights and Political Freedom, Dr. Tara Smith, Paperback, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Page 78
[3] Ibid
[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/harrybinswanger/2012/09/10/obama-hears-your-whining-and-hes-here-to-help-you-out/2/
[5] Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
[6] Moral Rights and Political Freedom, Dr. Tara Smith, Paperback, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Page 78
[7] Ibid
[8] http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2009-fall/creed-of-sacrifice-vs-land-of-liberty.asp
[9] The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
[10] Ibid