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Aug 20, 2009 11:23 pm

Occupation and Empire

With reference to the excellent letter, cited by David Beito below, by the 5 Congressmen questioning the notion that increasing the size of our occupying forces in Afghanistan will lead to eventual victory, I am always surprised at Americans ignorance of their own history, as noted by Jane Shaw in an earlier posting during the last week.

Perhaps the best contemporary history of the American Revolution, along with that of David Ramsey, is by Mercy Otis Warren, a cousin of Abigail Adams, and sister of James Otis, who coined the phrase, “taxation without representation is tyranny,” and wife of James Warren. Not only was Mrs. Warren a historian, but also perhaps our first great playwright. Finally, her view of the Revolution is best appreciated in the light of the fact that she later became a staunch Anti-Federalist, rather critical of what she saw as John Adams “monarchical” tendencies.

Most importantly, she dated the beginning of the Revolution from that dreary October day in 1768 when British troops disembarked from troop ships in Boston Harbor, before a sullen crowd of angry Bostonians.

In an age when America’s “standing armies” are stationed not only in this nation, but in hundreds of bases abroad, it is difficult for contemporary Americans to comprehend the “radical” worldview of the generation that made the American Revolution.

A residue of the English Revolution of the previous century was the “no standing armies” in England act of 1694. Today, Americans cannot understand the importance of the Second Amendment outside of this long tradition of opposition to standing armies.

Faced with an opposition in both Ireland and the American colonies, British politicians and military leaders skirted such laws, much as today’s Neocons have done through elevating the power of the presidency, by placing a large standing army in Halifax, Nova Scotia, part of the fruits of the victory over the French in Canada.

At the apex of the North Atlantic Triangle, this “Rapid Deployment Force,” to use Jimmy Carter’s later imperial phrase, the “standing army” could be sent either against the relatively unarmed Irish, or the unruly Americans. It was this army to which Patrick Henry was referring when he asked what enemy the King had in this hemisphere that a standing garrison of 10,000 troops was necessary?

The Bostonians had soon enough found out. That occupation would soon lead to such events as the Boston Massacre in 1770, an inevitable consequence of such occupations whether in America then, or Iraq and Afghanistan today.

And, like those in the Middle East today, the Americans were “a people numerous and armed,” and unlikely to submit to an unending occupation by a standing army of British troops.

If President Obama wants to learn more about the hazards of ongoing military occupations, perhaps a good place to start is Mrs. Warren’s History of our own Revolution, which began as an opposition to the occupation of Boston, and escalated later against the notion that British troops could also control outlying villages such as Lexington and Concord! That 1,300+ pp. History is on the Internet, and can even be accessed from his beloved BlackBerry. It just might have some relevance to Afghanistan today!

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RickC - 3/12/2009

Dr. Marina,

Sir, I'm having difficulty reconciling the position you've taken on this and other posts, and the comment you posted 6 Mar 09 in response to Dr. Hummel's Presidential Rankings post and to Dr. Stepp's commments. So much so that I've half convinced myself that someone else posted the Mar 6 comment under your name.

I posted my own comments there in response to a couple of your points and I'll add a couple of new ones here.

"I do not like either the Draft or the Income Tax, but to call these "involuntary servitude" is nonsense on top of silliness. Voters, in the light of the Vietnam fiasco, caused the dropping of the Draft, and, if voters really wished, the Income Tax could be eliminated as well." Marina - Mar 6

A draft, when the government enacts one, and for the period it remains law, easily meets the criteria of "involuntary servitude." The fact is Lincoln's Administration began pressing men into "service" at a time when it wasn't legal under the Constitution.

But to my mind, even if a government declares conscription legal and a majority of citizens supports it during a war or in a time of peace, for the men and women pressed into service it is involuntary. They face imprisonment for failing to appear and death if they "desert" after being committed to the combat zone. A draft is one great tool for the empire, and a primary reason the Founders didn't include the power to conscript in the Constitution. That the polity rose up after a war to end the draft is hardly an argument that it was voluntary while it was in existence.

The exact same argument is true for income tax. The Founders did not include the power to tax income with reason. It remains a powerful tool for the increasing centralization of power, and hence in maintaining the empire. As far as repealing the 16th Amendment; there are too many powerful groups with vested interests in its perpetuation for it ever to be rescinded, though I continue to hope.

About Lincoln:

"The slave holding aristocracy had few qualms about sacrificing men, nor clouding the real issues of the War." Marina - Mar 6

Not really understanding how that's relevant. One could just as easily, and correctly write:

The merchantilists of the North had few qualms about sacrificing men, nor clouding the real issues of the war.

What were those issues? Slavery?Since slavery was Constitutional, even if an unmitigated evil, the argument that Lincoln went to war with the South to end slavery begs a lot of questions; questions that would have to be answered.

For instance, is it ever okay for a president to exercise a power not given him by the Constitution? Is it ever okay for a president to knowingly act in a way that not only ingores the Constitutional limitations on his power but instead to act openly to expand his powers; to subvert the constitution itself? Lincoln's abuses of Executive powers and the Bill of Rights make Bush's and the neocons' abuses seem trivial. The same is true of Wilson and FDR.

Can you furnish any transcript from a speech, letter or executive order of Lincoln's prior to his sending the first troops into battle where he states that the purpose of the war was to end slavery? Can you do this for any time before the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation? I will not touch on the fact that the Proclamation didn't free all the slaves anyway.

That the issue of slavery was a motivating factor for the South's secession is clear, and beyond dispute. It is a stain on the southern cause. That Lincoln took the country to war over slavery is a whole different argument, and one I haven't seen supported well.

That Lincoln had a sacred duty to maintain the union is, I think, another untenable and entirely unsupportable issue. The simple fact is that secession was viewed by all the states as being within their rights at the time. Many states in the North and South had seriously entertained the idea prior to Lincoln. That is historical fact.

So, even if one would agree with Lincoln about the central importance of the union, the fact that he took the country to war when the constitutional issues surrounding secession were unclear and undecided can only be looked on in horror. It is the great tragedy of our history and it surely casts Lincoln in role of tyrant.

The rest of my questions and response are posted on Dr. Hummel's article.

Thank you sir.