For the last several weeks I have taken a break from commenting on what has been happening in the good old US of A. But like a racehorse at the starting gate, I have been ready to charge down the track as soon as the bell would ring, even while I vowed to keep still for these weeks. Instead, I have been diving through a stack of neglected books. Among them have been documents from our nation’s early history. The Federalist Papers were basically penned in 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and others, in which they interpreted the proposed Constitution, supporting its ratification by the 13 States. Opposing ratification were The Antifederalists papers, produced by William Penn, Patrick Henry and others. This was an intelligent, literate debate vigorously engaged in by scholarly politicians on both sides.
There were two dominant issues. First was the size and power of government in the projected Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation dominated by sovereign states. Second was the failure of the framers to spell out appropriate individual rights. Both of these problems were in response to what was seen as the despotic English system under the unlimited power of King George. Both involved the fear of a big government. But what was meant by big government was far different than what America’s right wing is currently describing. It had nothing do with the Federal government’s support of the “general welfare” or the building of a durable infrastructure. It was rather the despotic use of military power.
The Declaration of Independence spelled out the British tyranny from which our founders sought to distance this new nation.
Among the charges against King George:
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation.
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.
For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.
The new Constitution sought to ensure a small governable military, not a massive standing army. If the founders objected to English troops in the colonies, what would they make of the current overseas deployment of our military with more than over 700 bases in 120 countries? (See Chalmers Johnson, "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.")
In addition, we have deployed in the United States over 1.2 million active and reserve troops, and an annual military budget of well over a trillion dollars. If you want to talk about BIG Government, that’s it! What is more, the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us against is not only alive and well but the dominant power in the American economy.
What has this BIG government given us? In addition to the trillions of dollars spent—largely responsible for the nation’s debt—and tens of thousands dead Americans, it has provided us with intervention in a Vietnamese civil war—which tragically we lost; a yet uncertain outcome in Iraq, with the virtual destruction of a once beautiful, history-strewn civilization with a thousand killed in July of this year; an endless war in Afghanistan with no clear goal and no exit strategy. The Constitution explicitly states that Congress can declare war, and none of these ventures has been so declared.
Our BIG government has not made us any safer—just the opposite.
The undeclared war against terror is now a worldwide conflict, and promises to continue for the entire century. What our BIG government has produced is disastrous on very clear pragmatic grounds of the wars pursued and the worldwide blowback which has come in the wake. And this devastation may lie at the heart of the American malaise.