The Loss of a Friend
by L. Neil Smith
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Any writer of fiction worth his salt will do his workmanlike best to finish his stories by tying up all the “loose ends” that he may have generated, by accident or deliberately, over the course of taking his characters from “Once upon a time” to “And they lived happily ever after”.
Alas, real life consists of practically nothing but loose ends. There is an entire universe of questions, out there and in here, that each of us will die never having found answers to. This, I think, is the important difference between real life and fiction, and why it’s healthy to indulge ourselves in the latter occasionally. As the saying goes, reality is a crutch for people who can’t cope with science fiction.
A while ago, I wrote an article in which I said (not for the first time) that, assuming we accept the government’s “account” of what happened on September 11, 2001, it can’t be regarded as an act of war, justifying the invasion of two countries that had nothing to do with it and had never done us any harm. An act of war is something that one nation-state does to another. The 9/11 hijackers had been acting as individuals.
This made them criminals and conspirators, not soldiers of some enemy government. Had we pursued the surviving plotters as such, our economy might not have been wrecked, our prestige among nations would not have been irreparably damaged, the structure of our civilization would not now be on the edge of collapse, and it would have saved thousands of lives, rather than simply adding them to the 9/11 body count.
Some time after that article appeared, I found a message in my Inbox from a friend and widely respected fellow freedom fighter whom I had known, not particularly well, but for a number of years. Had I actually meant to say, he asked, what he had read in that article, basically that the 9/11 hijackers were criminals rather than enemy combatants.
Yes, I answered him, that’s exactly what I had meant, adding my belief that our nation (not the state, which is something entirely different) would be immeasurably better off if we had acted on that basis.
I had expected that my friend would want to argue with me about that, and I was well prepared. He considered himself a libertarian—albeit with one foot in the conservative camp—and both history and the fundamental principles of libertarianism are clearly arrayed on my side.
Instead, I never heard from him again.
How unhappy this has made me, I can’t begin to tell you. What was I supposed to do, lie to him about the conclusions I have reached with regard to 9/11? (He’d have been unhappier if I’d told him what I think really happened that day.) My friendship with this fellow was rooted, originally, in politics and ideology, in certain eternal and immutable values we shared; should I have contaminated all that by shading the truth?
Over the years I had been urged many times to do exactly that, for the sake of my income and career. My first publisher, Judy-Lynn del Rey, once told my agent “Neil could be a great writer if he’d just give up this libertarian nonsense.” But I had news for Judy-Lynn—if my agent had ever had the cojones to convey it: I already was a great writer, just one who was unwilling to purchase the whole-hearted support of his publisher (which I was supposed to have anyway) at the cost of what some might have called his soul. I have given up a great deal—and my family a great deal more—for the sake of maintaining a reputation for independent, individual judgment. I have done my best never to lie about what I think, or step back from what is ethically obligatory.
Should I have started now?
Is the loss of a friend truly the price of integrity?
The worst was that it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Several years ago, an individual I had worked with, often on a daily basis, for more than a decade, a man I would have been proud to call my brother, one of the few great men I have ever known, suddenly stopped communicating with me and wouldn’t tell me why. I asked him several times and never got an answer. I asked his other friends and associates, and if anybody knew, they wouldn’t tell me. He died, and now I’ll never know. That’s what I meant about loose ends.
More recently, I began a conversation with an individual I admire who manufactures some of the best tools and edged weapons in the world. I had planned, as writers will, to talk him out of one knife in particular in exchange for featuring it prominently in a forthcoming novel. After two or three exchanges, he abruptly stopped communicating with me, and I am left to assume that he saw something about me online—I’m not shy at all about telling the world what I think—that clashed with what he believes. In the end, I found a better knife anyway.
It isn’t my purpose here to call the two surviving people out, to embarass them in any way, or resume communications with them. I don’t intend to name them or identify them further than I have already. What has struck me most about these episodes, aside from their underlying sadness, is the inability of these great big, rough and tough right wingers to tell me straightforwardly what their beef is. Instead, they run away like little girls, apparently afraid to object to whatever they disagree with, or even tell me how I have offended them. Understand, I have been blacklisted, more or less, by northeastern liberal publishers who clearly hate and fear the things I say. I have come to expect that kind of thing from so-called “progressives”. And yet even they have had the good grace, at least, to offer me lame excuses.
No wonder, although they outnumber the left 2-1, they’re always losers.
It’s true, I have my differences with conservatives. But we’re not talking about open borders, here, or what they call national security, or Judaeo-Christian tradition, or even abortion, we’re talking about what may be the biggest change in human history our species has ever undergone.
The Age of Authority is ending, and along with it, the geographic, political, and economic entities we call nation-states. But after six thousand years of government, some people have trouble imagining that any event can take place that doesn’t involve it. However—except to the extent that it was a backlash against nearly a century of evil, insane, and just plain stupid American foreign policy—9/11 was just such an event, conceived and executed by individuals and organizations that have nothing to do with any existing nation-state. The inability of western society’s leaders to get their tiny reptilian minds around that simple truth has so far cost us thousands of lives and a trillion dollars.
All of it wasted on ideas that have been dead for forty years.
Please believe that I am not changing the subject when I say I have to laugh—or at least grin ruefully—whenever I hear some two-for-a-penny Marxist accuse the Koch brothers of Wichita of being the radical right-wing masterminds behind such political phenomena as the Tea Parties. (For all their fine talk about anarchism over the years, the left can’t conceptually handle the idea of statelessness, either.)
However I knew Charlie Koch, back when we served together on the Libertarian Party national platform committee in the late 1970s. Where it came to ideology, the poor guy was strictly from Samsonite—all soft sides and rounded corners—whimpering like that little girl I mentioned against adopting any hard-edged definition of libertarianism (a grave strategic blunder that continues to plague the Libertarian Party to this day) or any extension of libertarian ideas into the future.
Charlie’s brother David ran for Vice President on the same ticket—with Ed Clark playing the Lost Kennedy Brother—that moved me to leave the LP in disgust for 13 years and ultimately write books on my own.
If the Koch brothers had been anything like what the left makes them out to be today, if they hadn’t scrupulously evaded defining libertarianism, if they’d been able to see that the concept of liberty is a technology that can be improved on, if they’d understood the value of painting pictures for the public of what a libertarian future might look like, then by now, speaking ideologically, the ice would be broken, the air would be cleared, and the Libertarian Party might actually stand for something, instead of having spent the last three decades practicing the pusillanimous me-threeism that it’s best known for.
The reason I have to laugh—or at least grin ruefully—is that the Kochs were afraid of offending anyone, yet in the end, despite all that, and everything it cost, they are viewed by the media today, and advertised by their enemies, as figures of villainy second only to Nixon.
There’s an important lesson there for anyone who hasn’t buried his head in the sand, or somewhere else the sun doesn’t shine. What did the fabulous Koch brothers accomplish by soft-pedaling the message of libertarianism?
Yesterday morning I heard an idiot on the radio asking listeners if Iraq, which we are supposed to be leaving soon, had been worth it. Had it been worth the blood and gold? Had we won or had we lost? The talk inevitably meandered to Afghanistan, then to Iran, Syria, and then to Israel. Also inevitably, it got so stupid I had to turn it off.
America has fared as badly in Iraq—and in Afghanistan, as well—as it did in Vietnam and before that in Korea. And for all the same reasons. We have no legitimate driving political or economic interests in the middle east. There is no shortage of oil, that’s propaganda to maintain the price and keep us engaged—against our actual interests—half a world away. Oil is the second most abundant liquid on the planet. We can drill for it and refine it right here, or we can make it out of garbage for less than it costs to drill for it and refine it.
Or maybe you think it isn’t about oil, but about something else. But if we have nuclear weapons and delivery systems ourselves, in all equity and logic, why shouldn’t Iran? (If you have trouble getting this ethical equation through your head, you have more problems than I can help you with.) Please do not attempt to convince me that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is any crazier than Barack Obama and his wacky cartoon pals.
Maybe it isn’t oil or even nukes, but simply a matter of honor, keeping our word, assuring the security of our good friend and ally Israel. But I was never asked to give my word, were you? And Israel is not our friend, it’s a police state that systematically limits the liberties of those it disapproves of. Nor is Israel our ally; it has set spies on us and then expected them to be treated like miscreant celebrities.
In 1967, Israeli warplanes deliberately attacked and crippled our unarmed Navy radio ship the U.S.S. Liberty, killing 34 sailors and injuring 173. Today, Israel treats Arabs and Muslims the same way we treated American Indians and the Nazis treated Jews. No amount of blustering or whining can get around those facts, which are not anti-semitic in character (Arabs are Semites, too) but political and economic.
No amount of blustering or whining.
With the exception of the nasty little pup-tent proletarians and Che Guevera groupies demonstrating on Wall Street and elsewhere, most Americans bear no ill will of any kind toward Jews. They can still be horrified to the core, contemplating what happened under Hitler’s rule in Germany. A great many are fully cognizant of the uncountable and valuable contributions that Jewish people have made to American culture.
But Americans are tired of carrying Israel’s water. Happily, the Israeli state and the Jewish nation—the sixty-three year old government and the 3500 year old people—are entirely different entities.
As Edith-Ann used to say on Laugh-In, “And that’s the truth.” So I ask the question again: should I have pulled my punches? What’s more important, valued friendship or personal integrity? Who do you trust more, somebody who will tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may turn out to be, or somebody willing to lie to you to keep you happy?
Better make up your mind—if you haven’t already—because we have a lot of unpleasant truths to deal with, if we want to save America.
The nation, not the state.
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