“We shall nobly save, or meanly lose the last best hope of earth” — Abraham Lincoln
The United States was born 240 years ago with a shield that proclaimed, “Peace, Independence, Liberty.”
It marked an inflection point in the human narrative. For thousands of years, mankind had exalted warriors and nations who turned children into orphans, wives into widows, and had fathers bury sons rather than sons bury fathers in chronic wars for the sake of power, riches and the adolescent thrill of domination.
Our forefathers, in contrast, risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to give birth to a nation whose glory was liberty and whose march was the march of the mind. The ultimate goal of the United States would not be power, domination or conquest; it would be a fair opportunity for citizens to develop their faculties and pursue their ambitions free from domestic or foreign predation. President Thomas Jefferson elaborated in his First Inaugural Address: “[P]eace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Julius Caesar’s notorious, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” was sharply repudiated.
Through the singular genius of James Madison, the United States generally honored the sacrifices of Lexington and Concord for more than a century. The sage father of the U.S. Constitution entrusted to Congress alone (Article I, section 8, clause 11) responsibility for crossing the Rubicon from peace to war—a euphemism for legalizing murder. The legislative personality, he understood, was highly risk-averse, and would accept responsibility for the scourge of war only in self-defense. Confirming Madison’s wisdom, Congress has declared war but five times in 227 years, and only in cases of actual or perceived foreign aggression against the United States.
But for the last 70 years, we have crucified the Constitution on a cross of multi-trillion dollar gratuitous presidential wars that have crippled liberty; empowered the President to assassinate citizens at will based on secret evidence; impoverished the people; turned genius from production to destruction; and, awakened enemies who would otherwise self-destruct in internecine warfare. At present, we are engaged in nine (9) presidential wars in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and against ISIS and Al-Qaeda everywhere on the planet. Their collateral damage has included making children orphans, wives widows and fathers dig graves for their sons. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s worst nightmare of a multi-trillion dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex bestriding the corridors of power has come true.
Madison did not foresee that his constitutional handiwork would not be self-correcting. He did not foresee a Congress controlled by craven, narcissistic, invertebrate, pygmies exhibiting complacency in the face of constitutional peril indistinguishable from waltzing on the Titanic as the iceberg neared.
Only enlightened citizens can save the republic from self-ruination. It will include wars with China and Russia and a plunge into bankruptcy precipitated by an unsustainable multi-trillion dollar national debt.
Citizens must first exercise the vote to exclude from Congress any candidate unpledged to impeach, convict and remove from office any president who begins or continues war without a congressional declaration.
They must also inculcate a repudiation of war except in self-defense. To borrow from Abraham Lincoln:
“Let opposition to war not in self-defense, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;—let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let is become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its alter.”
We should not be starry-eyed. The probability of failure is as great as that faced by the unknown heroines who first denounced slavery and the subjugation of women thousands of years before their prohibition or amelioration. Although the heroines were instantly exterminated by slave owners or misogynists, they deserve votive offerings as saints. Where would we be now if they had not spoken truth to power?
The human condition improves when men and women honor the motto: “If it’s the right thing to do, do it.”