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Syria and Standing Armies

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syrian-policeby Jacob G. Hornberger

The brutal military crackdown in Syria confirms the wisdom of our Founding Fathers’ opposition to standing armies. The Syrian military is loyally obeying the orders of their commander in chief to suppress the protests sweeping the country by opening fire and killing peaceful protestors.

That is one of the big problems with standing armies, as our American ancestors repeatedly emphasized. Standing armies are among the greatest threats to a free society because of their willingness to obey whatever orders are issued to them by their commander in chief.

People might say, “But our Founding Fathers were wrong, at least with respect to a standing army in the United States. Standing armies might loyally obey whatever orders their commander in chief in Syria might issue but not here in the United States. America’s standing army takes an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. Its loyalty is to the law, not to its commander in chief.”

Nonsense. As a practical matter, U.S. soldiers owe their fealty and allegiance to the president, who is there commander in chief. They know that when they join the standing army, they are agreeing to do whatever the president orders them to do. They know that the minute they join the standing army, they are surrendering their consciences and their personal judgments on what the president is ordering them to do. They are agreeing to go wherever the president sends them and kill, maim, kidnap, incarcerate, torture, or abuse anyone anywhere in the world.

In their minds of those in the standing army, loyally obeying the orders of the president is synonymous with supporting and defending the Constitution, defending the rights and freedoms of the American people, and protecting the national security of the United States. This is especially true when the president cites some big threat to national security when he issues his orders, such as terrorism, communism, drugs, or weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It is ingrained in U.S. soldiers that their job is not to question or challenge or even think about whether the president’s orders to them are constitutional, wise, or just. To them, those are issues for Congress and the federal courts to debate or adjudge. In the minds of military personnel, their job is simply to carry out the orders of their commander in chief. That’s where their loyalty lies. And that mindset is precisely one of the main reasons our Founding Fathers opposed standing armies.

Indeed, every military personnel in the standing army knows what will happen to him if he refuses to carry out an order of the president on the ground that it is unconstitutional or immoral. Recall the case of Army Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused orders to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that President Bush’s war was illegal (a war of aggression), unconstitutional (no congressional declaration of war), and immoral. His superiors arrested him, incarcerated him, and prosecuted him for a grave criminal offense, to wit: refusing to obey the orders of his commander in chief. That helped to ensure that no other member of the standing army followed Watada’s lead.

Consider President Obama’s war on Libya. There is no declaration of war, as required by the U.S. Constitution. Yet, not one soldier is refusing order to participate even though every soldier takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Not one soldier is trying to resign from the army in protest. Everyone in the standing army is going along. They’re all loyally obeying the orders of their commander in chief.

Consider the standing army’s military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which the president ordered his standing army to establish with the express intent that it be a Constitution-free zone and a zone free of federal-court interference. Did America’s standing army refuse to participate in the establishment of that camp? Did any military personnel attempt to resign the standing army in protest? Did any soldiers publish op-eds showing that the camp violated the Constitution they had sworn to support and defend?

Of course not. If they had, they know that they would have been prosecuted criminally and severely punished. In the minds of those who serve in the standing army, the fact the president issued orders to the military to set up the Constitution-free camp was all that was necessary. The fact that the president cited “terrorism” and “national security” provided a further guarantee that the standing army would loyally obey his orders.

In fact, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Syrian president uses the same tactic to ensure obedient loyalty from his standing army. According to the New York Times, the Syrian military is citing terrorism as the reason for its brutal crackdown.

One of the most disturbing aspects of America’s standing army has been its willingness to partner with, associate with, and support the standing armies in U.S.-supported dictatorships in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the common knowledge that such dictatorships have long been oppressing their own people with brutal practices, the U.S. standing army has continued working with the standing armies in those dictatorial regimes.

Even more disturbing is the fact that America’s standing army shares many of the same values as the standing armies in such foreign dictatorships. After all, when America’s standing army received orders to create a prison camp and a judicial system at Gitmo, it rejected the U.S. Constitution as a model and instead copied the type of systems employed by those foreign dictatorships it has been working with (e.g., arbitrary arrests, indefinite incarcerate, torture, hearsay, kangaroo tribunals, extra-judicial executions, etc.)

America’s Founding Fathers were right to reject a standing army for our country. They understood a standing army is among the biggest threats not just to liberty but also to a nation’s financial and economic well-being, not to mention the constant threat of terrorist blowback that results from the activities of the standing army overseas.

The Syrian standing army is confirming that our ancestors were right.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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