To Support and Defend

What are they teaching future military leaders at the United States Military Academy (a.k.a., West Point) these days?  The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published a paper from Arie Perliger, discussing the violent tendencies of the American political right. Perliger is the director of Terrorism Studies at the center and an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences.

In his introduction, he divides the “far-right” into three sub-groups, one of which are anti-federalists. Of them, Perliger writes, “They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government.”

Individual freedoms?! Oh no! Anything but that!!!

West Point is of course a military academy. More than that, its prestige makes it one of THE military academies, responsible for training future leaders on the US Army. Its mission statement (from its webpage) is “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.”

A military organization isn’t exactly a place that encourages individual or independent thought.On a battlefield, orders must be followed. Freedoms are more restricted in a military organization. We understand this. But we hope that some part of learning to be an officer in the US military branches includes a discussion of the values and principles of being a free people.

The US Constitution is a document about establishing limits for the national government. The Bill of Rights establishes limits of the federal government with respect to its citizens. The rest establishes limits for the federal government with respect to the state governments and the balance of power between the three branches of the federal government.

All members of the US military must swear or affirm an oath of allegiance before assuming duty. The oath is not loyalty to the federal government, not even to the President of the United States. The oath each military members swears is to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”

So it’s our sincere hope that West Point’s educators would invest some time teaching their cadets about the principles and values that the US Constitution establishes.

They might also teach their cadets about the reasons that America fought a war to separate ourselves from Great Britain in the first place. The Declaration of Independence eloquently states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

So if it seams that an “anti-federalist” believes the federal government has taken too much power and tramples the rights of the states and individual citizens and is expressing that concern via “civil activism” toward the end of self-government or individual freedoms, that’s the point.

We do not encourage violence in our quest to raise awareness of freedom issues. But we do believe that the federal government has indeed become somewhat tyrannical in its dealings with the states and with individual citizens. But advocating for awareness and greater citizen activism and a belief that individual freedom ought to have a higher value than government or collective freedom doesn’t make us terrorists. It makes us Americans.