The last month, like those before, was rich with events reflecting the irrationalities and horrors of statism in the United States and abroad. President Nixon's continuation of the Viet Nam war is just one example illustrating this—more so, perhaps, in the light of his recent and very confusing visit to Red China. Another less widely noticed and less spectacular case in point is the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to deport singer/composer John Lennon on grounds of his criminal record, namely his conviction in 1968 of possession of marijuana. This happened in Great Britain, where incidentally the officer who arrested Lennon has since been dismissed on grounds of having planted grass on his victims. The Viet Nam mess and Lennon's difficulties with the law show very well the stupendous and monstrous confusion of American foreign policy.
We are told that the United States government is fighting against communism in Viet Nam. Very often that fight is justified on the grounds that it aims ultimately to protect the principles of freedom and individual rights in the "free" world, principles threatened by the enemy in Southeast Asia.
The implementation of these principles—without which the idea of protecting them must be a hoax—would mean the repeal of laws which violate individual rights. Mr. Lennon's deportation and past conviction are thus the manifestation of the very same kind of actions against which our involvement in Viet Nam is supposedly directed. In fact, then, the sacrifice of thousands of forced (military) laborers, conscripts, operates to violate rather than to protect freedom and individual rights. The emerging picture is bizarre! Any sensible person ought to recognize the injustice of what is happening to Mr. Lennon, not to mention the irrationality of our Viet Nam policy. And everyone ought to do his own to foster some sense for America's foreign policy lest we be utterly destroyed by the unchecked insanity of Nixon and his superstate.
The aim of one's objection need not be Nixon's recent decision to mine North Viet Nam's harbors. That move may not be in everyone's capacity to evaluate rationally, since few of us are versed in military strategy, 1972 style. It is easily imaginable that a just war would involve the mining of the enemy's harbors. And citizens' attacks on specifically military decisions have frequently been ignored by citing the privilege of expertise, special access to enemy secrets, and similar evasions. To be effective, protests must be based on principles.
What we need is to utilize these instances of policy announcement and the incoherent, knee-jerk reactions to them by most people, for purposes of fostering a recognition of the overall immorality of our Viet Nam involvement. Clearly this involvement cannot be criticized on the standard left-wing grounds that the U.S. is stymieing the legitimate, honorable goals of a country of free people (North Viet Nam). Nor, however, can the spokesmen of the American state defend their actions by reference to "our responsibility to carry out an obligation or promise" which, if it ever existed, was ill conceived, presumptuous, and impermissible for any government to assume (since it violates by implication the individual rights of those made to serve and fund the military operations involved).
The Viet Nam involvement must be criticized as an instance of the overall irrationality of our foreign policy. A quick glance at the way the U.S. government behaves vis-a-vis the governments and people of other cultures provides one with sufficient knowledge of that fact.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Reason and American Foreign Policy".