In order to get our nation back on track, it’s important to return to fundamental principles, the principles on which our nation was founded. Let’s review how the Founding Fathers viewed the military and foreign policy in the context of where the United States is today.
Today, Americans view a military empire as their friend and protector. The projection of U.S. military power all over the world is viewed as necessary to freedom and national security.
That’s not the way our American ancestors saw things. They viewed empire, standing armies, and militarism as the greatest threats to the freedom and security of the American people.
Consider the words of 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.
What Madison means by “revolt,” was opposition among the citizenry to ever-growing taxes and inflation to fund the Roman military machine and its perpetual foreign military escapades. Whenever such opposition grew, the Empire would simply provoke a new crisis or war in some faraway land. That would be enough for people to rally to the government until the crisis or war was over. If the opposition among the citizenry became fervent enough, the troops would be available to suppress it.
Madison also points out that the Roman Empire would justify an enormous military under the rubric of “defense,” when in actuality it was an excellent instrument of tyranny. That was why the Founding Fathers firmly opposed a standing army for America — they considered it to be an enormous threat to liberty.
Patrick Henry wrote, “A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them?”
Henry is making the same point — that historically standing armies have become the instruments of tyranny at the hands of one’s own government. He’s asking: If they do become such instruments, how can even well-armed citizenry resist their overwhelming force?
In ratifying the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Virginia stated that “standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided.”
The Pennsylvania Convention stated: “As standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up.”
In their article “The Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History William S. Fields and David T. Hardy summed up the mindset of our English ancestors:
The experience of the early Middle Ages had instilled in the English people a deep aversion to the professional army, which they came to associate with oppressive taxes, and physical abuses of their persons and property (and corresponding fondness for their traditional institution the militia).
Madison pointed out why advocates of big government embrace war and especially perpetual war:
Of all the enemies to 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.
In a July 4, 1821, speech, John Adams summarized U.S. foreign policy:
But [America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty toforce…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
Finally, we should remind ourselves of the ominous warning of President (and former Army General) Dwight Eisenhower:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
As the U.S. military (and the CIA) continues to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, killing and maiming more people every day, as it continues ramping up the drug war in Mexico and other Latin American countries where tens of thousands have been killed, as it continues operating more than 700 bases in more than 100 countries, as it expands its killing program to Yemen, Somalia, and other places around the world, as it continues kidnapping, torturing, and abusing people, as it continues inciting anger and hatred for America around the globe, as it continues sending our nation into bankruptcy with ever-increasing military spending, as it continues operating secret prison camps and kangaroo military tribunals in foreign lands, as it continues holding America in a state of permanent crisis and war, as it is now targeting Americans for assassination, wouldn’t this be an appropriate time to reflect upon the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and the warning of President Eisenhower?