Editor’s note: In the comments of some blog posts here at Free Advice, Joseph Fetz alluded to his experiences in the U.S. military and his discovery of Austrian and libertarian ideas. I asked him to write up his thoughts more concretely, which he has done below. –RPM
by Joseph Fetz
“All warfare is based on deception,” — Sun Tzu
“Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the U.S. military machine to turn.” — John Stockwell
“If some peoples pretend that history or geography gives them the right to subjugate other races, nations, or peoples, there can be no peace.” — Ludwig von Mises
I never in my life would have thought that I would I enlist in the military. Sure, there are a great many reasons that people do enlist, some want money for college, others want a change of pace, yet others had dreamed of it since they were a kid. None of these reasons explains why I joined. In many ways it would dictate my fate.
I grew up in a middle-class Ohio town, went to college for a year, quickly realized that it just wasn’t for me, and began working for a records management service as a delivery/pickup driver pulling in about $27,000 a year. Sure, that isn’t much to some people, but it was pretty good back then for a 21-year-old with no education. I certainly didn’t love my job, but it paid the bills.
On September 11, 2001 all of that changed. I remember where I was when the planes hit, and I remember seeing those scenes of the towers falling, crying and hugging complete strangers in order to console each other in the devastation and horror that that event brought with it. It was at this time that I began talking to a Marine recruiter, but I had not yet made a commitment. When I lost my job that following January, I no longer had anything to prevent my choice. I called my father and told him about my plans. He agreed that it would probably be a good thing, but he had warned against joining the Marines, instead recommending that I join the Navy. That is just what I did.
Off to Bootcamp
I left for Navy Bootcamp in the afternoon of February 26, 2002 and arrived at Great Lakes Recruit Training Center later on that night. There is no describing how much of a change of pace one experiences in bootcamp, and there really is no amount of preparation to really make you ready for it. While it is indeed physically demanding for many, the bulk of bootcamp is entirely mental, it is their job to “train the individual out of you” and to prepare you for service with your Navy’s combat team, to follow orders without hesitation, and to put the needs of your nation ahead of any notion of self. In short, it is eight weeks of brainwashing and it is quite effective.
After I graduated from Great Lakes RTC I immediately flew to San Diego, California to learn my job as a Sonar Technician at Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center (FLEASWTRACEN). While the daily routine is not as strict as that found in bootcamp, the daily life at a military training center is certainly very strict by any civilian standard. Most of your day is planned out for you and the training schedule is one of the most mentally challenging that the Navy offers for an enlisted rating. To put it another way, those that washout of the Navy’s ‘Nuclear Power Field’ tend to be put into the next most challenging field, the Navy Sonar program.
I did very well while at FLEASWTRACEN, and was first in my class in my “A” School. Being the “honor-man,” I was given the choice of either a meritorious advancement to E3, or an opportunity to sign on for the Navy’s ‘Advanced Electronics Field.” I got both thanks to a First Class Petty Officer who saw my potential.
I was once again first in my class in my ‘Sonar Operations’ course, and received the ‘Admiral Sides Award’ for academic excellence. I came in second place in the ‘Digital Electronics Training’ part of my training pipeline, narrowly getting beat out by a former NUC program student and electrical engineer; he and I were always running neck and neck in our courses up to this point, but we had to split ways in our training pipeline after this class. I went on to Towed Array Sonar AN/SQR-19/OBT/LAMPS Mk III training, and he went onto Mk-116 Fire Control training.
In the final leg of my sonar training pipeline I choked on my first test of this ten-month course, leaving the two top spots to a former Naval Veteran (who reenlisted) and a computer scientist; I was in last place. Throughout those ten months I went from 14th place to 3rd place, thus allowing me to have 3rd choice of available orders. Since I loved San Diego, I chose orders to the USS John Paul Jones DDG-53 stationed in San Diego. By all measures and accounts I was one well squared-away sailor, and I was ready to go to the fleet.
To The Fleet
I arrived for duty on the USS John Paul Jones in August of 2003 as an E4 and attended further tactical oceanography and system-level training with my newly acquired shipmates. Though I was new, it became apparent that I was quite good at my job and that I was surrounded by some truly outstanding sailors, so much so that we had in fact come in second place to the prior best score in that training scenario. Not only that, but I was getting along quite well with the men in my division, and it seemed that everything was coming into place.
My ship’s crew was to go on deployment in October of 2003, but this was not to be any normal deployment, rather we were to be a part of an experimental program called “SeaSwap.” In this program there were three ships and their respective crews, the USS Higgins, the USS Benfold, and my ship, the USS John Paul Jones. The idea is that the USS Higgins would sail to the Persian Gulf, and instead of another ship taking the journey across the Pacific to relieve it, that the crews would merely be swapped. The crew of the USS John Paul Jones was to be the third and last crew to take over the reins of the USS Higgins, and after that deployment was over, the USS Higgins would become our ship and we would sail it home.
Seeing that we were going to be leaving our ship the USS JPJ to another crew, it was extremely important that we gave them a fantastic ship to work with. We repainted the entire interior/exterior, we ensured that all systems were fully operational, and we compiled turnover logs of any information that we could think of to better prepare the Higgins crew of the subtleties of the John Paul Jones systems. We left nothing out, and did our best to ensure an effortless transition. During all of this hubbub, I also found time to study for my advancement exam for E5. Not only was I painting, doing maintenance, and coordinating with a small contingent of the Higgins turnover crew during the day, but I was spending my nights digging through the classified “Secret” safe in order to be better prepared for the exam. I took the exam in September, just a few weeks before we were to take a 24-hour flight to Dubai to take the USS Higgins as our ship.
We arrived in Dubai, UAE in October of 2003 and sat along the luggage turnstiles to pick up our belongings. All of the other travelers’ luggage in the airport consisted of a few grocery bags tied together with some string or twine and were marked with permanent marker, then came our big green “seabags” rolling on the conveyor; I can only imagine how those people felt.
We were to stay in five-star resort hotels while the USS JPJ crew did their turnover with the USS Higgins crew, but some confusion came as a young Seaman decided to hang himself in the Aft-IC space. We were all told that he did it because he didn’t want to leave “his” ship, but I knew better than that, this explanation stunk of propaganda. Our turnover only ended up lasting half the time that we were told, and we ultimately took responsibility of the USS Higgins with only a small fraction of the information needed to be up to speed, and we were “underway” with almost no knowledge of the status of the shipboard systems. All in all, our turnover was entirely cut in half, and the information needed was nil, we were on our own.
Our first tactical mission was to sail out of the Persian Gulf (or, the Arabian Gulf as the Navy fittingly likes to call it) and guard the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz and monitor all entering/exiting ship traffic. As soon as we got underway, each and every one of us was on a ship that was entirely foreign to us, one that we had no intimate familiarity with, and one that was so disheveled that it is amazing that we were able to get it up and running. We were now the crew of this ship that was ridden hard and cast aside like an old pair of underwear, but she was now our home.
Haze Grey and Underway
Once we got underway it soon became apparent that all of our combat systems had major casualties which required the flying in of equipment and civilian contractors to repair (my equipment wouldn’t be 100% until ten months later), and that we were extremely unprepared to defend ourselves against any comparable foe; the ship even had a huge dent in its hull caused by a supposed “rogue wave.” We transited the Straits of Hormuz with the only primary defense being our .50 caliber machines guns mounted on the fore and aft. This is quite a scary scenario when you are being told that you will be traveling in an Iranian missile envelope while you are so close to Iran’s shores that you can literally see the buildings and people with a pair of binoculars.
Our primary mission at this early stage of the deployment was to board and inspect all ships coming in and out of the Persian Gulf. This is done using VBSS (vessel board search and seizure) teams who use a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to pull alongside a vessel and board it. We had four teams on our ship, and these teams were in operation 24 hours a day, and would perform this duty throughout the entire length of our time in the Persian Gulf.
It really is quite odd that the United States does not see the complete disregard for property and feel that they can board any boat or ship in international waters, take control of the vessel, search through all of its contents, and seize any property that they deem “contraband,” but every destroyer and cruiser of the US Navy does this on a regular basis. Our ship even ran into some trouble during that deployment and caused an international incident when two of my shipmates decided to steal jewelry, electronics, and other personal effects from the sailors of a Philippine merchant vessel. While this is most certainly a horrible crime, how is this any worse than taking control of a man’s vessel and holding his crew hostage while you rifle through everything on-board?
After a few weeks of guarding the Straits of Hormuz and delaying shipping traffic to one of the world’s busiest waterways, we were relieved by another ship. Our next duty was to guard the Iraqi oil terminal called ABOT (Al Basrah Oil Terminal).
We were all told that the purpose of our mission was to prevent “terrorists” from destroying ABOT and disrupting the flow of oil, the oil that was supposedly meant to help rebuild Iraq and keep the Iraqi people sustained through the war. Hmm, I wonder why the “terrorists” might want to destroy their own oil terminal. Only later did I find out that Iraq had no control over the oil flow, did not receive all of the income from the sale of this oil, and that the flow of this oil was brokered between the US and other nations such as Russia. So, in hindsight it is no surprise that as I sat there on my .50 caliber machine gun mount, I saw that every single ship that pulled alongside ABOT to fill their storage holds had US, Japanese, Australian, and Russian flags on their masts. When people say that “Iraq was all about oil,” this scene that I witnessed everyday for three months only lends support to that claim, as does the fact that billions of the dollars that were transacted cannot be accounted for.
There was also something very peculiar happening to the sailors on my ship: They were beginning to refer to the Arabs as “Hadjis,” a derogatory word very reminiscent of those used in the wars of the past. It seemed that the mission to ensure Iraqi freedom was being confused in the minds of the military, that any and all people in this area are “Hadjis” and are thus the enemy. We would watch footage of bombs and missiles destroying Iraqi targets, and everybody would clap and cheer without regard to who was actually being killed. You could show them footage of an elementary school blowing up, and they would still hoot and holler that they “f**ked them ragheads up,” or that “those Hadjis don’t know who they’re f**king with.” Never mind that the people dying often had no ill-intent toward us, they were now all the same, they were now less than human.
This deployment will be forever etched into my mind as one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life. With the equipment casualties, the six-month backlog of maintenance, standing .50 cal watch every ten hours, and the fact that some people in my division were being taken for other duties, most of us were averaging only 2-3 hours of sleep per night for four months straight, only catching up when pulling into Bahrain or the UAE every couple of weeks. The only good thing that I had to take from this deployment is that I had made E5 in only one year and ten months from my time of enlistment, something that usually takes 4-6 years, but there wasn’t much to celebrate. When we finally left 5th Fleet, we all gave a deep sigh of relief as we spent some much-needed liberty in Fiji and Australia on our way back to California.
We got back to San Diego in April of 2004 and all of us were looking forward to spending two weeks of leave with our family and friends. We had just spent 6 months on one of the roughest deployments that anybody could remember. While this my first deployment, even the old salts were saying that they couldn’t remember a deployment being this difficult and arduous. So, it was like a slap in the face when our Captain declared SeaSwap to be a gleaming success. It seems that he was only speaking in terms of money, because when it came to morale and operational readiness, this deployment was an abject failure. Guys who were “short” couldn’t wait to get the hell out, guys that were “long” were beginning to question just what in the hell they had gotten themselves into, and those that had spent many years in Naval service were beginning to question whether putting in their twenty years was worth the retirement. This crew was broken down and weary, they had all lost a bit of their heart for the Navy.
For me, probably the worst thing was the fact that we were coming home to an entirely changed America. We had spent that six months being almost entirely shielded from the outside world, with only our Chain of Command and the Armed Forces Network to supply us with information. When we got home people were talking about the lack of WMD evidence, that the intelligence was wrong, and that our leaders just may have lied us into a war with Iraq. While I had never supported the idea of pre-emptive war, this was only putting the icing on the cake. Also, documents starting coming to light that the plan for regime change in Iraq was already put together as early as 1998, and that many of those in the White House’s administration were part of those plans. Further, it was becoming abundantly clear that getting Osama Bin Laden, the guy that many of us had joined the military to help capture, was no longer a top priority.
We also came home from that deployment to find that the government, and most especially the executive branch, was beginning to wield more and more power. I could not tell you how deeply troubling it is to learn that while you are “fighting for American freedom” that those freedoms are becoming fewer and fewer. We all took the oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, only to find that those who are giving you those orders are disregarding entire portions of that document and calling is “just a piece of paper”; this represents quite a problem. Just what exactly was this whole thing all about?
I remember that when we would pull into port in Bahrain, Jebel Ali, or spend time in Dubai, it was my habit of talking to the local people. Shoot, I even read the Qur’an in order to better understand the Muslim religion (I am an atheist). I would often get into discussions to more fully understand the Arab people, as well as the Muslim faith. In these talks, the subject of the conflict between Americans and Arabs would often arise, and I was very interested in its cause. It came as quite a surprise to me that this history goes back about sixty years to the forming of the State of Israel. The Arabs see Israel as illegitimate, because it was formed by annexing the Palestinian lands for a Zionist State. I can understand the anger of Palestinians. But, that still did not explain the “Jihad” against America from the Arab community. What I did not know is that America was part of the forming of Israel, and that America continues to support the Israeli State through arms, material, and financial support. The picture was beginning to become a little clearer.
In my talks with the Arab peoples and my study of history it became clear that America has been imposing its will upon the people of the Middle East for a long time, has been propping up tyrannical dictators, and has more or less been stirring up a rage amongst the Muslim peoples. It is no wonder that they refer to us as “the Crusaders,” because from their point of view that is exactly what it appears to be; a crusade. Even the fatwas of Osama Bin Laden explains this quite clearly, they don’t hate us for no reason, they hate us because we have been THERE, and we have made their lives a living hell. Every time their overlords gain more power, it is done with the blessing of the United States and its dollars. Every time a bomb drops or a bullet flies, it has “made in the USA” stamped on it. The Arab people only want what everybody else in this world wants, to live a prosperous life, to raise their children, and to enjoy their time here on this earth. Coming to the realization that you are part of the reason that they cannot do that, or that you are enabling the murder of innocent people, is one of the most horrible things that one could ever come to understand.
It is one thing to come to these realizations while being an American civilian, it is quite another to do so when you are a Second Class Petty Officer in the United States Navy. The military is not like any other job in the world, you can’t just quit without some real consequences. The military always tells you that if you get kicked out that you will never be able to get a job (e.g. “you won’t even be able to work at McDonald’s”), that you will never be able to own a home, that your family will forever be disappointed in you, or that you will regret it for the rest of your life; there is a lot of pressure to stay in. But, a person has to have a conscience about what he’s doing, and to believe that what he’s doing is right. I began to lose that belief in late 2004 and decided to go UA (unauthorized absence). But, as I drove eastward toward my hometown, the words of warning that the military gave me began to fester in my brain and I turned back. I went before the Captain where he punished me with restriction to the ship and extra duty, but the realization that what America was doing is wrong never left my mind.
I was not the only Sailor on my ship that felt that maybe we were on the wrong side of things, many were beginning to see the light but could not voice their opinion. People handle stress in many different ways, and the way I handled it was by questioning every single thing in an outspoken way and refusing certain orders. My immediate Chain of Command understood that I was having a conflict of conscience, so they would often insulate me from the higher ups. Trust me, it is a very odd thing for your superiors to take that kind of action, and probably the only reason that they did so was because they liked me, that I was good at my job, and that they had some of the same problems with the state of things as I did. Unfortunately, when you’re on 500 feet of steel floating in the ocean, you can only hide for so long, and during my second deployment I once again had to face the Captain and take my punishment of more restriction and extra duty. This time, however, the “old man” also restricted my liberty. I was told that if I went in front of the Captain again that I would be kicked out of the Navy. When we got back from my second deployment, the conflict in my mind came to a head, and I finally decided that I was not going to follow any orders. We were doing a weapons offload in Seal Beach when I decided that I was going to go out and have fun some with friends, come in late, and then sleep the day away. That is exactly what I did, and the very next day I was told that I was no longer needed by the Navy. A few weeks later in April of 2006 I was demoted to E4 and was separated from the Navy with a ‘General (Under Honorable Conditions)’ discharge. I was free.
Of Liberty and Peace
Shortly after I was discharged from the Navy I soon learned that everything that they told me was a lie. There were no limits to my employment, and in fact my time in the military only served to increase my job prospects even with a General discharge; employers can’t care less what it says on your discharge papers. There are no limits to my getting credit, and if fact, I am still a veteran and am eligible for the VA Loan, as well as all veterans benefits. As far as the opinions of my friends and family, they were all extremely happy that I was out, because they also believed that what we are doing is wrong. I cannot tell you how happy it made me that when I told my father the full story, that I stood with my conscience, that he turned to me and told me, “I have never been more proud to call you my son.” My father is not a man to hand out compliments, so to have him say this to me is one of my happiest memories in life.
About a year after my discharge the presidential campaigns began to get into swing. Never before had I paid any attention to political candidates or their platforms, but this time I was all ears and one candidate immediately caught my attention—this candidate was Ron Paul. Everything this man was saying made complete sense to me and I knew that he was correct about our foreign policy. But, what also caught my attention was the fact that the man did not care if other people agreed with him, he stood with his conscience and principles, and that was all there was to it. He was talking about liberty, he was talking about blowback from our foreign policy, and he was talking about the Constitution and the rule of law. It is no surprise that he got more support from veterans and active duty military than all of the other candidates combined, because he was saying the same thing that they knew to be right and just. He always maintained that he never had any real hopes of winning, that he was merely trying to spread ideas and stand on principle. I don’t know if he will ever know how successful his campaign really was, how many people he influenced and how he began a movement that may just be an historic event in American history. One thing that I will always remember him for is the fact that he introduced me to libertarianism and Austrian theory.
I began to read the articles on LewRockwell.com and Mises.org, I began to buy books written by Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, Menger, Hoppe, Hazlitt, etc, and I began to come to a fuller understanding of the world around me as I never had before. There simply is nothing like having all of the questions that you have been asking yourself being answered and explained to you in such a logical way. Aside from studying economics and political philosophy, I began to study history and began to see that what we are experiencing today is inherent to the State, that it is not something new or unknown, that the State acts in the interests of those who control it and will lie, and will even kill, to get what it wants. I also learned that the business cycle is not something inherent to a capitalist economy, but is rather caused by the effects of inflation and artificially low interest rates on the capital structure. Even the simple libertarian principles of private property and non-aggression show how certain actions of the State cause disruptions in both the economy, as well as society. I could now see how collectivist ideas could result in the nationalism that brought us into war, the racism that pits group against group, and the false worship of the state apparatus. Simply put, finding libertarian philosophy and Austrian theory was probably the biggest “aha” moment in my entire life, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to one lone Congressman from Texas for introducing it to me. I just wish that other Americans and I didn’t have to pay such a hefty price to find it.
The Battle Begins
Today we are mired in probably the worst economic depression that the world has ever faced (it is not over) and we are war-weary after having been the occupiers of two nations for the past 10 years. The time for the American people to come to grips with reality and realize that there is a better way is now upon us. As more and more people see our accelerating imperialist policies spreading to nations like Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and beyond, the more these people will open their eyes and minds to a policy of liberty and freedom. However, this realization does not come without its hardships. As things progressively worsen and people question their government’s actions more and more, and assert their power as the people of America, then the more that the government will clamp down on its citizens. We are seeing this already when we go to the airport, when we watch the videos of police brutality, when we see our natural rights being stripped away, and as “we the people” become the target of the “war on terror.” If anybody thinks for a single moment that the horrendous actions of governments in places like Bahrain could never happen here, then you are completely ignoring the history of governments throughout all time: governments have only one goal, to increase and retain their power over the people. Once they start to lose that power the people become the enemy.
I look back on my time in the Navy and ask myself, “What was it all for?” Today, veterans are the number one target for possible “domestic terrorism” while at the same time being praised as “heroes” by those looking to further their own political career. Many of these veterans will have to deal with nightmares and mental disorders for the rest of their lives, while still others are missing limbs or are living on the streets, all due to the self-interest of those who control the levers of power in Washington. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of “new meat” to be pushed through the military system because of our wrecked economy. Do these kids know what they are getting themselves into? No, they don’t. Will they come to learn that they are being used for the benefit of a few? Maybe a few will.
The only benefit that I can find from my military service is that it made me open my eyes to the real world around me. It showed me that we are all looked upon as pawns to further the interests of our overlords, that there is no limit to the lies and distortions that they will create in order to benefit themselves, and that they will pit the pawns against each other to further those aims. It’s funny, when people find out that I am a US Navy veteran, they often say to me, “Thank you for your service.” My reply is always, “service to whom?” Some people give me an odd look when I say that, but more often, many people are today beginning to understand exactly what I mean. This gives me hope.