On Saturday I attended FreedomFest, the annual gathering of investors, libertarians, and hard-money guys in Las Vegas. The crowd and speakers are always an interesting mix, and this year was no exception. A Saturday morning panel on the future of the liberty movement included Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute, direct mail guru Richard Viguerie, Steve Forbes, Gary Johnson, and Tom Woods, in that order from left to right (in more ways than one). The first question, about the prospects for the Tea Parties this year and beyond, elicited a lot of GOP cheerleading until Johnson and Woods got to speak. Woods received great cheers from the audience as he told the panel that it would be madness to put the Bush GOP back into power — madness being defined as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. After that, the other panelists began to strike a more skeptical note: Blackwell and Viguerie agreed that the GOP leadership, at least, had to change.

Woods led the rest of the panel on foreign policy as well; his remarks about the immorality and financial insanity of the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted the other panelists to modulate whatever support they might have for these misadventures, with Viguerie announcing that he was firmly opposed to nation-building. The exception here was Steve Forbes, who took the opportunity to suggest that there were right ways and wrong ways to run a counterinsurgency campaign — the right way, he insisted, was revealed in the works of Max Boot and by the shining example of U.S. intervention in the Philippines.

Licking up to Boot is bad enough; we’ve seen plenty of that recently with General Petraeus’s groveling before the armchair commando. But the Philippines? A clearer example of murderous humanitarianism could not be imagined. It’s true that U.S. counterinsurgency efforts “worked,” they just required the extermination of perhaps a few hundred thousand Filipino civilians. There are other contenders, but the Philippines war would offhand be my pick for the most dishonorable conflict the United States have ever prosecuted, a bloody imperial campaign which saw torture and internment camps routinely employed by kind-hearted, democracy-loving Americans. It turned the stomach of Mark Twain, who wrote of “our uniformed assassins” enjoying “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”

Chances are it would make no difference, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where millionaires with political ambitions read Mark Twain instead of Max Boot?