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Why the Founding Fathers Opposed the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA

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If you want to see why our nation’s Founding Fathers opposed a national-security state, including a standing army, just take a look at what is happening in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Vicente Maduro is now the supreme dictator of the country and behaving like one. He has crammed the judiciary with his cronies who, in turn, have shut down the legislature. The media controlled by the government and no one is permitted to criticize Maduro. He has also been shutting down protests and killing protesters. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Maduro presides over the nation’s socialist economic system, which, not surprisingly, has thrown the country into a permanent state of chaos and crisis, with people verging on starvation.

There is something important to note about Maduro’s dictatorial actions, however. It’s not really him personally that is doing all these things. Instead, it is his national-security establishment — i.e., it is his military, police, and intelligence forces — that is doing these things to people on Maduro’s orders or with his approval.

Venezuela, like post-WWII United States, is a national-security state. That means that it has a giant military establishment, a national police force, and secret intelligence forces that spies on the citizenry, just like Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA here in the United States. Like here in the United States, everything in the nation revolves around the need to protect “national security.”

Thus, when the U.S. media reports (and laments) Maduro’s dictatorship, what they inevitably omit is the critical factor in any dictatorship: that it’s not Maduro that does the things that are dictatorial and tyrannical. He just gives the orders. It is the troops, the federal police, and the intelligence agencies that actually carry out the orders. It is they, not the ruler, who do the shooting, the raping, the kidnapping, the torturing, and the incarcerating, all on orders or with the approval of the ruler.

America’s Founding Fathers clearly understood this principle. That’s why they opposed standing armies, national police, and secretive intelligence agencies. The following quotes reflect the sentiments of most Americans at the time the Constitution called the federal government into existence:

Patrick Henry: “A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny…

Henry St. George Tucker in Blackstone’s 1768 Commentaries on the Laws of England: “Wherever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

Commonwealth of Virginia in 1788: “… that standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty….

U.S. State Department website: “Wrenching memories of the Old World lingered in the 13 original English colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America, giving rise to deep opposition to the maintenance of a standing army in time of peace. All too often the standing armies of Europe were regarded as, at best, a rationale for imposing high taxes, and, at worst, a means to control the civilian population and extort its wealth.”

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the existence of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA all violate those sentiments that guided the founding of our American republic. The U.S. national-security establishment, which came into existence after WWII and became a semi-permanent part of our federal governmental structure, like the national security establishment in Venezuela, is a classic example of the type of governmental structure that our American ancestors opposed.

Why was there such a prejudice against national-security states among our ancestors? For the reasons stated in those quotes: a standing army provides the means by which a ruler carries out his tyranny, just like what is happening in Venezuela. Without a standing army, a federal police force, and a national intelligence agency, a tyrant has no way to enforce his dictatorial decrees. With no troops, national police, and intelligence agencies, who is there to take control over the media, to shut down protests, or shoot, incarcerate, torture, or rape protestors and dissidents?

The president himself is unable to do it. That’s where a standing army, a federal police force, and an intelligence agency come into play. They’re the ones who take control of the newspapers and radio and television stations. They’re the ones who put down the protests and demonstrations. They’re the ones who do the rounding up, kidnapping, raping, abusing, torturing, spying, incarcerating, assassinating, executing, and disappearing.

Of course, here in the United States people say that such a thing would never happen here in the United States because the president is democratically elected.

They forget something important: Maduro was democratically elected in the last presidential election. To consolidate control, he packed the federal judiciary with his cronies, who then proceeded to shut down the legislature.

They also forget President Franklin Roosevelt’s infamous court-packing scheme, where FDR did what Maduro has done — packed the court with his cronies so that they would uphold the constitutionality of his fascist and socialist schemes.

Of course, Maduro isn’t the only ruler in history that has used crises to assume dictatorial powers. Hitler got the Enabling Act passed after the Reichstag Fire, citing both communism and terrorism as his justifications for extraordinary powers. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just been granted dictatorial powers in a special nationwide referendum, after a failed military coup created a crisis environment.

Some Americans say that such a thing could never here because the troops have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution. They ignore something important: Soldiers don’t pass judgment on the constitutionality of orders issued by the president; they simply carry out orders issued by the president, including those that violate the Constitution. After the 9/11 attacks, for example, they carried out orders to invade Iraq without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. They also carried out President George W. Bush’s and President Obama’s self-assumed dictatorial powers to assassinate, incarcerate, torture, and spy on Americans.

That’s the thing about standing armies that our ancestors understood and that present-day Americans do not understand: Ultimately, their loyalty is to the president they’re serving, not to the Constitution. When the troops obey their commander in chief, in their minds they are supporting and defending the Constitution. In fact, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Venezuela’s defense minister publicly announced yesterday the army’s loyalty to President Maduro, which was demonstrated by the troops hitting the streets to put down the protesters.

Keep in mind, after all, that these types of things always occur in a crisis environment, when “national security” is at stake and people are too frightened to protest. The crisis can be economic, as it is in Venezuela or as it was in the United States in the 1930s, or foreign-policy-related or terrorist-related, like after the 9/11 attacks, or communist-related, illegal-immigrant related, or drug-war related

The other danger of a national-security state is that the national-security establishment deems a president to be a threat to “national security” and instigates a domestic regime-change operation to “save” the nation. That’s not in the Constitution either and it inevitably ends up with a worse situation than before the coup or assassination.

For example, in the early 1970’s Chile was faced with a democratically elected president whose socialist policies, in combination with CIA actions, had created a crisis environment. To protect “national security,” the U.S. government instigated a domestic coup whose national-security state regime proceed to kidnap, torture, rape, abuse, disappear, or murder tens of thousands of innocent people, including two innocent Americans — all with the support or complicity of U.S. officials, who were providing money and training to the regime.

Could such a thing happen here in the United States after, say, another big terrorist attack, war with North Korea, China, or Russia, or a massive dollar/economic/financial crisis? Well, consider this: President Trump has just congratulated Turkish President Erdoga for his Enabling Act-like victory in Turkey. He also recently said that Egypt’s president al-Sisi, who presides over one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world, is doing a great job. Those are not good signs for the American people, who unfortunately might yet gain a deeper understanding of why our American ancestors opposed standing armies.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.