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March 30, 2003

Don't Mention the W**


by Joseph Stromberg

Following the lead of Basil Fawlty, I shall be doing my best to not mention the w**. There are a number of reasons for taking this path. One is, that the high-toned mongers – and I have shortened the word so as to leave out an offending syllable – have once again issued their Directive on Good Manners and W**time Punctilio. According to the ***mongers, it is very, very bad form to keep on debating these matters, once the bombs have begun falling.

Naturally, one must fall in line and shout agreement with this incontestable principle, even if there are some problems built into it.

For example, how are we to know when the Thing that we are not discussing has officially come about? Falling bombs cannot supply a proper boundary, in this case, since the bombs have been falling, off and on, for eleven years. In a sense, the Thing we can't mention has been going on since 1991. Does this mean we shouldn't have been mentioning it for twelve years?

Maybe not, as we have been "allowed" to discuss it up until last week. Apparently, bombs or no bombs, the Thing has begun once the President says it has. From that moment on, we must All Shut Up until such time as the President says it is over.

And when will that be? What if he never says it is "over"? This would be a dandy way to suspend the Constitution, but never mind.

The official doctrine of the self-appointed patriots is that if US forces are sent on a fool's errand, the fools who sent them must be immune from criticism until such time as the same fools announce the ending of the errand. For all I know this is the very essence of political truth, but I have never seen anyone cite a convincing constitutional text for it. Instead, hands are sometimes waved in the general direction of a vague and unseen Thing called "the war power"; hoary old references to the statutes of Henry VIII and Cecil II the Fat come forward to fill in the gaps.

Still, we are said to have a First Amendment, and that says, rather unequivocally, "Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…." (I have left some bits that are not to the point.) Good Heavens! We can't take that literally, can we? If we did, who would suppress speech during a w**?

I suppose the several states could, depending on whether or not they have bills of rights, but how inconvenient it would be, should the entire glorious federal government stand powerless to suppress speech during a w**.

Naturally, the lawyers went to work on this very early, explaining how this could not possibly mean what it seemed to mean, and how "Congress shall make no law" respecting X, Y, and Z, actually meant that Congress could make a law respecting the same, provided we take into account wagonloads of allegedly applicable English precedent (e.g., Henry V, Statute for the Suppression of Animal Food Trough Wipers). Perhaps the Straussian lawyers can explain this to us, since this is arguably the First Straussian War in that ever-popular series, the Wars of Soviet Succession.

Perhaps there really is an unfathomably Big Thing called "the war power." Perhaps the hoary old English precedents do apply. Might be. Who knows?

Of course this renders the entire theory of our Constitution completely idle, but that is another matter.

In the meantime, you must not mention, question, or debate the Thing we are not mentioning, until such time as permission is granted by the Proper Authorities, including but not limited to National Review, 33rd Degree Straussian Adepts, and the President, in no particular order.

Achtung!

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    Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He was recently named the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His column, "The Old Cause," appears alternating Fridays on Antiwar.com.

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