The Art of Democratic Warmaking: A Recipe

We recently received a copy of this top-secret letter about how to run the perfect war, and we thought we should bring it to your attention!

Dearest Democratic Leaders,

In 1950 President Truman changed the Great Seal of the United States so that the eagle’s head faced the olive branch instead of the arrows. Truman was onto something. He was desperate for peace, but as the man who had authorized the use of the first atomic weapons, he knew that one could look toward the olive branch while still shooting plenty of arrows.

You are engaged in the most noble of activities, waging war under the star-spangled banner of freedom. The goal is peace. But like Truman, you know that sometimes peace requires war. The only way to beat a bully is to hit him back harder than he hit you.

But our war today is not the war that Truman or your grandfathers faced. The breadth of today’s challenges—Russia, Hamas, Iran, China, North Korea, Syria, etc., etc.—require creative thinking, a careful mix of euphemistic framing and authoritarian control, all in the name of individual freedom, of course. Here is the recipe for your success.

  1. Win hearts and minds at home. Be sure to sweeten the message to counter the bitter taste of death and destruction. Sweeteners include repeated discussions of existential threats to domestic life and the idea that the national-security elite is the source of freedom and peace. If debate is particularly bitter, the use of broad, emotive words like “freedom,” “tyranny,” and “global peace” can make even the most repugnant policies palatable.
  2. Silence dissent. This step must be completed as quickly as possible. Consider questioning the patriotism of your detractors, highlighting sexual deviancy or alluding to mental illness. “Nuts and sluts” is an excellent complement to this recipe. Consider this simple question, which can be applied to almost all situations—“Are you Churchill or Chamberlain?” These powerful five words will disarm the strongest objectors!
  3. Control information. Talk of transparency is crucial, of course, to uphold the image of democracy, but you must carefully curate the information available for public scrutiny. Transparency and accountability are luxuries that cannot be afforded during war. But just as most people can’t tell the difference between good wine and bad wine, most people won’t know the difference between truth and lies. (Note: If engaged in a forever war with no clear answer to the question “How will it end?” you will need to go heavy on obfuscation.)
  4. Spend money. The key is to spend like there is no tomorrow. If you don’t, there will be no tomorrow. Deficits are something you can worry about during peacetime (which really means never since perpetual peace requires perpetual war!). There are no fiscal conservatives in foxholes. Spend and borrow, borrow and spend. While this will require printing money and inflation later, you can easily blame this unfortunate byproduct on corporate greed.
  5. Embrace the military-industrial complex. You must constantly advocate increasing the military budget while promoting government entanglements with private military firms. Invoke the logic of military Keynesianism—war creates jobs and prosperity! Free-market rhetoric is wonderful, but peace and freedom require Big Government and cronyism.
  6. Prepare to break some eggs. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. In war the eggs are civilians. These deaths are unfortunate but necessary for peace and human dignity and freedom. The key is to downplay these deaths either by ignoring them altogether or by using creative rhetoric such as “collateral damage.” Realize, however, that these deaths are inevitable. Peace requires war, and war requires large-scale death; there is simply no other option.
  7. Ignore international law. While you might think these laws are critical to a foreign-policy recipe for a “rules-based order,” you’re mistaken. Think of them as “guidelines.” You, as leaders of the most powerful country in the world, can choose what rules to follow and when. Use international law to justify your actions, not to restrict them. Never forget—as the source of global order and peace, you are ultimately above the law; you are the world’s police, jury, and judge.

Once mixed, place in the already preheated oven that is the U.S. war machine and bake until your preferred degree of doneness. You may be baking forever, but that is okay. Some people like their food well done—it’s how Truman preferred his steak!

Abigail R. Hall is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and an associate professor of economics at the University of Tampa.

Christopher J. Coyne is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and a professor of economics at George Mason University. They are coauthors of the upcoming book How to Run Wars: A Confidential Playbook for the National Security Elite (Independent Institute, June 2024)
Beacon Posts by Abigail R. Hall and Christopher J. Coyne
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