President Trump’s warning to state governors that he is prepared to send his military forces to quell violent protests in cities across the land serves as another reminder of why our ancestors had such a deep antipathy toward standing armies. They knew that giant, professional, and permanent military establishments constitute the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry.
When it comes to shooting American protesters, make no mistake about it: Soldiers will do their duty. They will follow Trump’s orders. Their loyalty is to the president. In their minds, anything the president orders is constitutional because he has been elected pursuant to the Constitution. If their commander-in-chief orders them to fire on protesters, they will fire on protesters.
Keep in mind, after all, that not one single U.S. soldier refused President Bush’s order to deploy to Iraq and to kill Iraqis, notwithstanding the fact that Congress had not declared war on Iraq, which the Constitution expressly requires before the president can legally wage war through his army.
A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about a Chinese military veteran named Jiang Lin who witnessed the massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. For three decades, Jiang has kept quiet about what she saw and only now, for the first time, is detailing what she witnessed.
At the time, Jiang was a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army. She said that several military commanders were ardently opposed to using military force to stop the protests. Nonetheless, on the day of the massacre, which Jiang witnessed, the Chinese government had more than sufficient troops who were willing to obey orders to fire on the protesters.
It would be no different here in the United States. If some soldiers balked at carrying out Trump’s order to fire on protesters, they would be quickly punished and replaced with ones who would willingly follow orders.
The conversion of the U.S. government to a national-security state, which necessarily entails a giant, permanent military force, after World War II was the biggest mistake that the American people ever made. That conversion was even more instrumental in the destruction of American liberty than the conversion of America’s economic system to a welfare state.
In fact, if the delegates at the Constitutional Convention had told the American people that the Constitution was going to bring into existence a national-security state, which included a vast and permanent military establishment, a CIA with powers of assassination, and a NSA with powers of secret surveillance, there is no possibility that they would have ever accepted the Constitution. That would have meant that America would have continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental system under which the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.
But the Constitution didn’t bring into existence a national-security state. It brought into existence a form of government called a limited-government republic, one whose powers were limited to those enumerated in the Constitution itself.
As part of this limited government republic, our ancestors called into existence a basic army designed to protect settlers and communities from attacks by Native American tribes. They intentionally kept it relatively small because of the concerns and fears they had about big, permanent standing armies.
To get a sense of the antipathy toward standing armies held by the people who started our country, take a look at this page, which contains a collection of quotes by early Americans on this subject. A good sample is one by James Madison, the father of the Constitution:
A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.
In his Farewell Address as president, Dwight Eisenhower, who had served as the supreme commander of allied military forces in World War II, issued a remarkable warning to the American people. He said that the “military-industrial complex,” which was the new and alien form of governmental structure that America had brought into existence after World War II, posed a grave threat to the liberties of the American people and the democratic processes of the nation.
Under President Trump, the American people might yet experience the hard way what the Framers, our ancestors, and President Eisenhower were so concerned about.