Category Archives: Postings

WAR: The United States attacks Tripoli, Again

“From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles, in the air, on land, and sea.”

- Official Hymn of the U.S. Marine Corps

Without a formal declaration of war by Congress, the President sent U.S. warships to bomb Tripoli. The Americans lead an international force to confront the pariah nation that is terrorizing the region. Dodging enemy fire, the United States’ bomb laden ships seek to blast Mediterranean nation into submission. Sound familiar? The President was Thomas Jefferson and that attack was during the First Barbary War, 1801–1805.

Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli, 1804

President Obama launched an allied attack against Libya over the weekend, in response to Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal suppression of the North African nation’s pro-democracy movement.  WIth a United Nations mandate, rather than a formal U.S. Congressional one, President Obama has launch hundreds of cruise missiles at Libya’s air defenses and other military targets in order to establish a “no fly zone” (and for you budget hawks out there, estimates on the cost of each Tomahawk Cruise Missile range from $600,000 to $1.5 million a pop). The U.S., U.K., and France were joined by Arab states in seeking to halt Gadhafi’s attacks on his people. The coalition leaders have called for the dictator to resign and wish to pave the way for democracy in the nation.

President Jefferson did not have such lofty goals for Tripoli. He wanted to stop pirates who had been harassing American commercial shipping. The U.S. lacked the funds to bribe the pirates to cease and Jefferson wanted to teach them a lesson. Although he lacked a formal declaration of war, Congress did authorize him to seize the ships of Tripoli and “to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.” Flexing the muscles of the recently formed U.S. Navy and very first Marines, Jefferson pounded Tripoli into submission. It took the Americans a couple of years using wooden boats, crude guns, and hand to hand combat rather than cruise missiles and jets.

How long will this attack take?

St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 1776

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

- Benjamin Franklin (or at least commonly attributed to him)

Americans all over the country celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow. The Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick spread Christianity throughout Ireland during the 5th Century. As he battled the Druids for the hearts of the Irish people, he used the shamrock as a symbol of Christianity. He changed Ireland – and, in turn, America – forever.

British Evacuation of Boston, March 17, 1776

The Irish have done much to shape the country. Many were ardent patriots during the Revolution, with eight Irish Americans signing the Declaration of Independence. And since then, 22 Presidents, including Barak Obama, have touted at least some Irish ancestry. In fact, about 12% of Americans reported Irish blood on the 2008 Census. And they celebrate their heritage along with their “honorary Irish” friends each year at parties and parades. One of the oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the country is held in Boston.

While the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade is said to date back to 1737, perhaps its most memorable one was on March 17, 1776 – when the British evacuated.

After the start of the Revolution, tens of thousands of irate American militiamen swarmed from the all over New England to confront General Howe’s British forces. They pinned the 11,000 British soldiers in Boston and Congress sent Washington to the scene. After months of battles, the British were trapped. When Washington finally set up cannons to bombard the city, Howe decided it was time to flee. Along with 1,000 American Loyalists, the British forces paraded through the streets of Boston and onto ships awaiting them in the harbor. When the sailed away to safety in Canada, the overjoyed Americans reclaimed the city.

So while you celebrate the festivities this year, remember our nation’s roots. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

Debt & Democracy

“Mobs of rioters and demonstrators threatening banks and legislatures . . . . Strikes and unemployment . . . . Bankruptcies everywhere. Court dockets overloaded . . . . The wheels of government are clogged, and we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness. No day was ever more clouded than the present. We are fast verging on anarchy and confusion.”

- George Washington

The United States faces staggering debt. John Avlon’s CNN Commentary discusses the Senate’s attempts to rise to the challenge. The piece presents some frightening facts about our current crisis:

“Every day the United States adds $4 billion to our national debt. We need to raise the debt ceiling this spring or America will default on its payments to creditor nations like China, which is using U.S. interest payments to fuel its rise while we borrow money to just pay for benefits to an aging population. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen has described our national debt as the greatest national security threat facing our nation, and it’s easy to see why: The world’s biggest debtor nation cannot remain the world’s sole superpower indefinitely.”

Ironically, our current government was created to help solve our country’s dept woes. One of the impetuses of the Constitutional Convention was the fledgling United States’ inability to pay its postwar debt.

After winning the Revolutionary War, the country was in dire economic straits. The fragile nation was not only deeply indebted to her French allies but also owed vast sums to her own American patriots who had given their guns, rations, and even blood in service to the war effort. However, despite the country’s terrible need for these funds, Congress had little means of obtaining them. The national government had little power and proved ineffective in getting the states to work together. The states were like little quarrelsome nations and Congress was unable to organize a united approach towards solvency. Instead, Congress and the states tried to print more money to pay off the debts, but this sparked massive inflation and more economic chaos. Finally, this crisis contributed to the Founding Fathers’ decision to write a new Constitution, which set up the government we have today.

While the Founding Generation was forced to scrap their government and create a new one, we need not go to such an extreme. We can thank our Founding Fathers for leaving us with a democratic system that can be used to combat our fiscal woes - again. We can work with their same incredibly adaptable Constitutional processes to fix our debt today.

Perhaps we can learn from our founding fathers: deliberate and decisive action is needed in order to make American thrive.

Military Commissions – Here We Go Again

The Blood of Tyrants chapter 4′s discussion of military tribunals just became a whole lot more current: minutes ago, President Obama announced that the United States will resume military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. The President had previously suspended the use of these commissions, which provide the accused with few of the rights and protections afforded in trials. Now they are back.

The Aftermath of John Andre's Commission

This announcement is sure to be lambasted and praised by both sides. It portends that commissions are going to be a permanent part of the legal landscape. While the commissions and the context have certainly changed over the years, the basic idea behind these military proceedings has been around since our nation’s start.

Washington held military commissions during the Revolution. These military proceedings traditionally served as a “quick and dirty way” to eliminate the due process protections used in courts-marital and criminal trials to protect the accused. Commissions did not necessarily provide any fair trial protections to the defendant. Washington’s military commissions were not even meant to administer justice, they were only designed to merely examine. And after this brief examination, the accused was typically swiftly hanged.

While other trials were held under rules passed by Congress, commissions were held according to the Commander-in-Chief’s discretion and did not necessarily provide the accused with any protections whatsoever. The procedures of the trial – if one could even call them that – were largely left to the whims of General Washington. And his decision was final.

America used commissions in our struggle to found the United States. Should we still be using them now?

The First First Lady

“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself.”

- Martha Washington

A 209 year old letter from Martha Washington has surprisingly turned up in Concordia, Kansas, of all places. It is unclear how the letter made it so far west to this town of just 5,700, but it was found in the drawer of an old filing cabinet at the town’s museum. It was postmarked January 27, 1793 in Philadelphia – the country’s capital at the time. She was writing about a family member’s sickness and how she just wanted to go home. Like Washington, she yearned for Mount Vernon. In fact, Martha had so opposed her husband’s running for the  President of the newly-formed United States that she refused to attend his inauguration.

Martha Washington

First ladies of the modern era certainly do amazing work: they have fought drugs, promoted literacy, and often made fashion statements.They certainly help to promote their husbands and have stuck by them during hard times. But none have gone to their husband’s war camp. Martha did just that. She was so eager to be with her husband, that she often went to stay with him as the Revolution raged. She even spent that infamous winter at Valley Forge, where she stuck by Washington’s side and helped to promote morale.

In one colorful instance, she helped to settle Washington’s hesitation over the smallpox vaccine. Many doctors warned Washington that the vaccine might lead do further sickness. But Martha seemingly took it upon herself to go get vaccinated without really asking Washington. Washington watched her condition with alarm and when she fared well, it helped to convince him of the vaccine’s safety. This ended up saving thousands of Americans from the disease and possibly tipping the war in the United States’s favor.

And how much does Christie’s estimate the letter from this intrepid lady is worth? $40,000.

First American Superstar

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.”

- Benjamin Franklin

Watching the Academy Awards last night (hey, even warmongers watch), got me thinking about American celebrity. Today, we place a great deal of emphasis on people’s ability to entertain us. People are famous for acting well or – in the case of the Jersey Shore crew or the Kardashians – not even that. Back in Washington’s day, people became famous for, some might say, loftier reasons.

Benjamin Franklin makes a fashion statement

Benjamin Franklin was famous. He was a world-renowned scientist and diplomat who had not only greatly advanced human understanding of electricity, but also invented the lightning rod, Franklin stove, and odometer. During the Revolution, the wily gentleman had used his guile to charm the French Court – particularly the female contingent. Through parties and chess games, he wore down France’s resistance to involvement in the fight against the British. He masterfully persuaded the French to send aid to the American cause and eventually declare war on the Britain, which proved decisive in the American victory.

Washington was famous too. In fact, he was perhaps the first American celebrity superstar. His inspirational bravery and leadership during the Revolution won him great admiration. America had him to thank for defending them from the British and founding their democracy. As such, even just a rumor of Washington passing through a town was enough to elicit spontaneous merriment and parades.

What are your thoughts on American celebrity today? Is it as deserved?

Citizens and Spicketts

”The framers of our Constitution would have disapproved of the arrest, detention and harsh confinement of a United States citizen as a ‘material witness’ under the circumstances, and for the immediate purpose alleged, in al Kidd’s complaint”

- Judge Milan D. Smith,  9th Circuit

On the heels of Padilla’s loss, we have another American taking legal action against former U.S. officials. U.S. citizen Abdullah al Kidd (formerly known as Lavoni T. Kidd) is looking to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Al Kidd was detained in 2003 as a material witness in an anti-terror investigation. Al Kidd was taken into custody at an airport and then interrogated before being shipped around detention facilities in Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho for the nest two weeks. He never ended up testifying and the suspect – about which the authorities believe Al Kidd had information - was eventually acquitted. Al Kidd is not happy. And he wants retribution.

The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, 1774

“Al Kidd’s attorneys contend these arrests exceeded Ashcroft’s lawful authority because they were being used, without probable cause, to detain and investigate suspects rather than compel testimony. The attorneys say this violated the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Ninth Circuit has agreed with him and now the Obama is attempting to overturn them at the Supreme Court.
As I have discussed before, General Washington was very careful to defer to the civilian authorities when dealing with Americans. While he could have his way with foreign nationals, Americans were a different story. But this is not to say that the civilian authorities treated the American traitors nicely, however. Loyalists were often beaten, tarred and feathered (which may seem funny but could cause disfiguring burns, blindness, infection, and even death!), and “spicketted.” Spicketting was a torture tactic in which a giant screw was driven into the Loyalist American’s foot as a crow spun him around on it. Al Kidd was kept in detention centers with the lights on day and night. That sounds awful. I guess it may have been worse if this was 1776.
So, my fellow civilians, Washington would want you to have your say: what do you think about Al Kidd’s treatment? How do you think the Supreme Court should/will rule?

Padilla Seeks Justice

“Resolved, That General Washington shall be, and he is hereby, vested with full, ample, and complete powers to . . . arrest and confine persons . . . who are disaffected to the American cause.”

– Resolution of the Continental Congress, 1776

Jose Padilla lost again. Padilla was the American accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack. He was detained and allegedly mistreated while in U.S. custody. While the Bush Administration originally sought to keep him out of civilian courts, it relented and eventually allowed Padilla a civilian trial. Padilla was found guilty of “conspiracy to support Islamic terrorism overseas” and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Jose Padilla at the Navy Consolidated Brig

Most recently, he filed a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other Bush administration officials, alleging that they had violated his constitutional rights. But U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel dismissed his suit.

George Washington had plenty of experience with saboteurs. And he dealt with many of them ruthlessly. However, he acted differently depending upon the prisoner’s nationality. While British enemy combatants like John Andre were subject to the military’s discretion, Washington deferred to the civilian authorities when faced with an American like Joshua Hett Smith. While there are certainly arguments to be made that such cases were different than the norm since they dealt with spies rather than typical soldiers, the general messages seems clear :as the Commander in Chief, Washington believed he had great control over the fate of foreigners but not Americans.

It seems that Washington would likely have referred Padilla to the civilian authorities from the start. Would you?

Washington’s Birthday

Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.”

- George Washington 

The earliest authenticated portrait of George Washington, 1772

Peter Roff wrote a brief opinion piece today on Presidents’ Day. He traces the slide from great reverence for the Father of Our Country to just lumping his celebration in with the other Presidents and sticking it on some Monday. He points out, “after several decades of increasing political correctness, the sense of reverence we once felt for our nation’s founders has diminished to the point where some people find the mere idea of it laughable.”

The National Archives also provide some interesting tidbits. It explains, “George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which placed Washington’s birth on February 22, 1732.” Washington’s birthday was long celebrated on February 22nd but became a legal holiday until January 31, 1879 . It was not until  in 1968 Congress that passed the Monday Holiday Law in order to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays” with the stated goal of ”bringing substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.” Strangely enough, since Washington’s birthday was to be observed on the third Monday in February, it ensured that the holiday would never fall on his actual birthday. This year (the day before Washington’s birthday) is as close as we can get! The article concludes by pointing out “[c]ontrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.”

Washington deserves our utmost respect and we should take a day a year to remember his great legacy. In fact, maybe we should shoot for a four-day weekend this year.