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Goering and Madison on War

December 10th, 2007 No comments

Having just stumbled across places where Lew Rockwell and others have done me the honor of posting three of my favorite quotes on war, I’d like to repeat those quotes here in the hope of increasing the likelihood that others might see them.

My favorite quotes on war are from Hermann Goering and James Madison:

Hermann Göring (dialog with interviewer Gustave Gilbert while the Nuremberg Trials were pending):

“‘Why, of course, the people don’t want war …. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.’

“‘There is one difference,’ I pointed out. ‘In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.’

“‘Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.'”

Gustave M. Gilbert, The Nuremberg Diary, 1947.


James Madison:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
—James Madison, Constitutional Convention [June 29, 1787]

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be
dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War
is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the
many under the domination of the few.
In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.  No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” 

–James Madison, from “Political Observations,” April 20, 1795 in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, Volume IV, page 491.

I first mentioned these on a Mises blog thread (in reaction to Lew Rockwell’s “Blood on Their Hands” piece,; he separately posted these quotes on his website (

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