One of the things I love most about the nonaggression principle is its consistency. As a Quaker, I try to live into the peace testimony completely, and I stand firmly against any and all outward wars, for any purpose, including in our own national defense. That being said, in a free society, I understand that to try to force my views on others would be, in and of itself, an act of aggression. I believe that a free individual has the right to choose for themselves whether or not they are willing to kill another human being in self-defense. I also understand that in a free society, an overwhelming majority of people would support their country in war if it were acting in its own legitimate defense. As long as I have the right to conscientiously object, I would not dare try to take away someone else’s right to act in what they feel is self-defense.
Nonaggression is not necessarily the same as nonviolence, but as an organizing principle in a free society it fits perfectly with my Quaker values. The basic principle is that nobody (including government) has the right to act out in aggression towards any other, especially if that aggression violates an individual’s natural right to life, liberty, or property. There are no exceptions. Unless an individual is acting in their own self-defense, or government is acting in defense of their natural rights, the use of force is prohibited. This principle is to be applied equally in all instances.
While the state may be well within its rights to respond to an attack with force, it does not have the right to act aggressively towards any person, group, or country. Acting in this manner is a clear violation of the natural rights of others. The Second Iraq War is a prefect example. Our nation attacked another country that had not attacked us, and only did so in order to prevent a perceived future threat (which, of course, turned out to be false). Thousands were killed as a result of this aggression and it can also be directly linked to the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), which over the past few years has spread even more violence and fear across the region.
We need not go to war in order to be aggressive. The mere presence of our military in other countries sends a signal of aggression to the rest of the world. Over time, our nation has used the military to expand our sphere of influence with imperial style. Politifact reported in 2011 that the United States currently operates 662 military bases in 148 countries worldwide (not counting bases in Iraq or Afghanistan). It is undebatable, in my view, that the United States is a global, imperialistic, military empire. Do we really need to be in all these countries? Do we really need all these bases? Are we supposed to believe that it’s in our national interest to have bases in all of these countries? Is the existence and constant expansion of our military empire done in our own self-defense?
No, of course we don’t need to be in all of these countries. In fact, we don’t need to be in any of them. In fact, we shouldn’t be in any of them. America has become the very thing it fought against in its war for independence; an oppressive foreign government. And, while its true many governments around the world welcome our military presence, the sentiments of the people those governments represent are often quite different. Case in point; Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government welcomed our military presence during the Gulf War, and allowed the United States and its NATO allies to use its airfields for bombing runs over Iraq and Kuwait. However, as the years passed, most Muslims who lived in the country (which is home to the two holiest sites in Islam) did not feel equally hospitable. A majority of Saudi nationals felt the continued US military presence was unwelcome and worsened their view of the United States. Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, had previously expressed that he viewed the presence of the US military in Saudi Arabia as an act of aggression towards Islam, and that it was his greatest motivation for carrying out acts of violence against the United States.
America should not be a nation that spreads its military might all over the world. Every military base that currently sits on foreign soil should be closed immediately, and all military personal currently stationed abroad should be sent back home. Of course there’s the question of what to do with our servicemen and women once they get here, and to solve that problem (and although I’m against it), the US government could build those bases on American soil, signaling a defensive posture instead of an aggressive one. Their services could be utilized nonviolently in our local communities during weather emergencies and natural disasters. But, perhaps many of them would opt out of re-enlistment in favor of other employment. Many of them might feel called to public service in seeking elected office. The benefits of bringing our soldiers home so far outweighs whatever benefits we’re supposedly enjoying by keeping them overseas that the inaction on the part of our elected officials to do so seems a lot more like criminal negligence and a lot less like expertise in matters of national security.
All of us, as Friends, ought to think about adopting the principle of nonaggression when advocating for any and all government action, whether it’s in regard to the military, or the IRS. There is no difference between aggression on the part of the CIA in overseas intelligence gathering and aggression on the part of the FBI enforcing unconstitutional drug laws here at home. However, when it comes to the principle of nonaggression, returning the military to a defensive force has to be a top priority. The Bush Doctrine ought to be rejected by all, and we as Friends can continue to play a big part in convincing our neighbors that it’s the right thing to do.