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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Nine Words That Forever Changed My Life

When my principle was rebuked, my philosophical compass began to crack.

I had heard enough nonsense. A healthy dose of common sense was desperately needed in this conversation. And I needed to believe that these people truly were – as I had been instructed for four years – the selfless public servants of the U.S. Air Force.

But when the words left my lips, rather than acceptance and gratitude, my idea was met with counter-punches of hostility and ridicule. That was after the brief, deafening silence and stares.

Ten years ago as a 23-year old Air Force second lieutenant, I spoke nine words that would forever change my life. Not the slightest bit poetic or insightful, but these words together carried a principled idea of integrity. When the principle was overtly rebuked, the first cracks in my philosophical compass became visible.

The First Fight with Leviathan

Before I unveil the words spoken, I need to paint a more detailed scene. The government’s fiscal year runs from October through September. By the time that June or July rolls around, there are frantic meetings to decide how to spend the remainder of the organization’s money before September.

Enter into this setting the young, naïve version of myself with only one year of military experience. The summer before I had been in training that covered how to be an officer, or essentially a 6-week mandatory, remedial course on what we should have learned in the previous 4 years in R.O.T.C. at our respective colleges and universities.

It was my first exposure to the military’s financial circus.So 2006 was my first exposure to the military’s financial circus while at an operational unit.

Which brings us back to this meeting and the moment that my world first began to unravel. The leading contenders to waste taxpayers’ dollars were some grand ideas: a new popcorn maker, new free weights for the gym (even though we had plenty that went unused), and new weight machines (though the existing ones sufficed). Surely, other fiscally inappropriate ideas were in the running, but I only remember these three. Probably because – spoiler alert – these ideas won.

In the midst of all this madness, I felt one of those in-the-pit-of-your-stomach, have-to-spit-it-out moments and said:

“We should give the money back to the Treasury.”

By the reactions, I was left looking around the room for my other two heads. Or checking my lone head to see if I had transformed into Medusa. Or, worst case, if my three heads had transformed into three Medusas.

There I sat, realizing that I was truly alone. And there I stared back at so-called stewards of taxpayer dollars, individuals who, with dozens of public sector experience behind them, had never considered my proposal.

As often is the case, key life events are best analyzed weeks, months, or years after the incident. Ten years ago that battle in the conference room, unbeknownst to me at the time, was my first small fight against leviathan. And courtesy of Dr. Ron Paul and the countless other individuals in the liberty movement of the last eight years, I would later learn that my idea to return the money to the Treasury would not have restored it to its true originator and custodian (that of course would be the Fed).

After this incident, it would still be three years before I resigned my commission and then a couple more until I became a full-fledged libertarian. Along the way, there was exposure to much larger financial follies than buying a popcorn maker and gym equipment. Each event furthered my disillusion with the state.

But in retrospect, this moment ten years ago is the one that I best remember. In the marketplace of my mind, this experience’s marginal value was – and, by economic law, will continue to be – unmatched. Those nine words were my stepping stone out of the military and a little closer to greater personal liberty.