On Memorial Day, Americans honor those who died in their country’s wars. But the key to stopping deaths in wars—and the wars that regimes wage on their own citizens—is victory in the war of ideas.
The number of brave American soldiers who have died in war throughout the country’s history is sobering and appalling. The Civil War was the worst, with 630,000 dead. World War II saw over 400,000 Americans killed, followed by 116,000 in World War I, 58,000 in Vietnam, and 36,000 in Korea. For America, the price of freedom seems to be at least one and a quarter million lives and counting.
And freedom always seems to be under threat. Regimes today, as in the past, imprison, torture, and execute people for personal or religious beliefs, usually for just wanting to live their lives as they wish. The dead from dictatorial regimes surpass even the deaths in wars. The Chinese Communists caused the deaths of 60 million of their subjects. Soviet Communists killed at least 20 million. In addition to the 6 million Jews Hitler murdered, the Nazi regime systematically liquidated at least 4 million others such as gays and gypsies.
Memorial Day in America is important because it goes beyond such numbers, reminding us that each of these deaths is of an individual. Some took up arms at Lexington and Concord. Some stormed the beaches of Normandy. Some fought al Qaida in Afghanistan. A billion tears of family and friends have been shed over these honored dead.
And the best way to honor them is to fight the real battle to make deaths in wars and at the hands of tyrants an ugly memory of the past: we need to win the battle for individualism.
Ayn Rand observed that free market capitalism “is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the system only fundamentally opposed to war.” So if individuals committed to dealing with their fellows based on mutual consent, there would be no war or state-sponsored carnage. Instead of thinking of the United States always standing wary of war with Mexico or China, we’d think of individual Americans, Mexicans, and Chinese trading freely with one another.
But too many Americans are committed to the collectivist notion that we “belong” to one another and that we all must work first for one another rather than for our own goals and dreams. In other words, we are all slaves to one another. This is the explicit dogma of Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and a parade of pandering politicians. They will place wreaths at the graves of American soldiers today. But tomorrow they will return to waging war on their fellow citizens, attempting to regulate every aspect of our lives.
Rand again is relevant here. She observed that so long as men “hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force . . . there can be no peace within a nation and no peace among nations.”
So if you honor America’s war dead, fight the battle for individualism, a moral philosophy and social system that does not require death in wars but, rather, supports lives of peace.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.