Q & A with Ayn Rand on the Death of Innocents in War
The following are excerpts from Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of her Q & A, edited by Robert Mayhew. As Mayhew states at the end of his Introduction to the book, "I believe I have done a good job editing this material. Nevertheless, no one can guarantee that Ayn Rand would have approved of editing she herself did not see. For this reason, however fascinating and useful, these Q&A should not be considered part of Objectivism."
Ford Hall Forum 1972: "A Nation's Unity"
Q: What do you think about the killing of innocent people in war?
AR: This is a major reason people should be concerned about the nature of their government. The majority in any country at war is often innocent. But if by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overthrow their bad government and establish a better one, then they must pay the price for the sins of their government, as we are all paying for the sins of ours. And if people put up with dictatorship—as some do in Soviet Russia, and some did in Nazi Germany—they deserve what their government deserves. Our only concern should be who started the war. Once that's established, there's no need to consider the "rights" of that country, because it has initiated the use of force and therefore stepped outside the principle of rights.
Ford Hall Forum 1976: "The Moral Factor"
Q: Assume the Soviet Union started a war of aggression; assume also that within the Soviet Union there are individuals opposed to communism. How do you handle this conflict?
AR: I'll pretend to take the question seriously, because it's blatantly wrong. The question assumes that an individual inside a country should be made secure from the social system under which he lives and that he accepts—willingly or unwillingly, because he hasn't left the country—and that others should respect his rights and succumb to aggression themselves. This is the position of the goddamned pacifists, who won't fight, even if attacked, because they might kill innocent people. If this were correct, nobody would have to be concerned about his country's political system. But we must care about the right social system, because our lives depend on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it.
If we go to war with Russia, I hope the "innocent" are destroyed along with the guilty. There aren't many innocent people there—those who do exist are not in the big cities, but mainly in concentration camps. Nobody has to put up with aggression, and surrender his right of self-defense, for fear of hurting somebody else, guilty or innocent. When someone comes at you with a gun, if you have an ounce of self-esteem, you answer with force, never mind who he is or who's standing behind him. If he's out to destroy you, you owe it to your own life to defend yourself.
Hall Forum 1977: "Global Balkanization"
Q: Can you defend one country attacking another?
AR: The source of this kind of statement is the idea that nations do not exist, only individuals, and if some poor, noncommunist blob in Soviet Russia doesn't want an invasion, we mustn't hurt him. But who permits governments to go to war? Only a government can put a country into war, and the citizens of that country keep their government in power. This is true in the worst dictatorships. Even the citizens of Soviet Russia—who did not elect the Communists—keep them in power through passivity. Nazi Germany did elect its dictatorship, and therefore, even those Germans who were against Hitler were responsible for that kind of government and had to suffer the consequences. Individual citizens in a country that goes to war are responsible for that war. This is why they should be interested in politics and careful about not having the wrong kind of government. If in this context one could make a distinction between the actions of a government and the actions of individual citizens, why would we need politics at all? All governments would be on one side, doing something among themselves, while we private citizens would go along in happy, idyllic tribalism. But that picture is false. We are responsible for the government we have, and that is why it is important to take the science of politics very seriously. If we become a dictatorship, and a freer country attacks us, it would be their right.