Jacob G. Hornberger
The brutal military crackdown in Syria confirms the
wisdom of our Founding Fathers' opposition to standing
armies. The Syrian military is loyally obeying the
orders of their commander in chief to suppress the
protests sweeping the country by opening fire and
killing peaceful protestors.
That is one of the big problems with standing
armies, as our American ancestors repeatedly
emphasized. Standing armies are among the greatest
threats to a free society because of their willingness
to obey whatever orders are issued to them by their
commander in chief.
People might say, "But our Founding Fathers were
wrong, at least with respect to a standing army in the
United States. Standing armies might loyally obey
whatever orders their commander in chief in Syria
might issue but not here in the United States.
America's standing army takes an oath to support and
defend the U.S. Constitution. Its loyalty is to the
law, not to its commander in chief."
Nonsense. As a practical matter, U.S. soldiers owe
their fealty and allegiance to the president, who is
there commander in chief. They know that when they
join the standing army, they are agreeing to do
whatever the president orders them to do. They know
that the minute they join the standing army, they are
surrendering their consciences and their personal
judgments on what the president is ordering them to
do. They are agreeing to go wherever the president
sends them and kill, maim, kidnap, incarcerate,
torture, or abuse anyone anywhere in the world.
In their minds of those in the standing army,
loyally obeying the orders of the president is
synonymous with supporting and defending the
Constitution, defending the rights and freedoms of the
American people, and protecting the national security
of the United States. This is especially true when the
president cites some big threat to national security
when he issues his orders, such as terrorism,
communism, drugs, or weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
It is ingrained in U.S. soldiers that their job is
not to question or challenge or even think about
whether the president's orders to them are
constitutional, wise, or just. To them, those are
issues for Congress and the federal courts to debate
or adjudge. In the minds of military personnel, their
job is simply to carry out the orders of their
commander in chief. That's where their loyalty lies.
And that mindset is precisely one of the main reasons
our Founding Fathers opposed standing armies.
Indeed, every military personnel in the standing
army knows what will happen to him if he refuses to
carry out an order of the president on the ground that
it is unconstitutional or immoral. Recall the case of
Army Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused orders to deploy to
Iraq on the grounds that President Bush's war was
illegal (a war of aggression), unconstitutional (no
congressional declaration of war), and immoral. His
superiors arrested him, incarcerated him, and
prosecuted him for a grave criminal offense, to wit:
refusing to obey the orders of his commander in chief.
That helped to ensure that no other member of the
standing army followed Watada's lead.
Consider President Obama's war on Libya. There is
no declaration of war, as required by the U.S.
Constitution. Yet, not one soldier is refusing order
to participate even though every soldier takes an oath
to support and defend the Constitution. Not one
soldier is trying to resign from the army in protest.
Everyone in the standing army is going along. They're
all loyally obeying the orders of their commander in
Consider the standing army's military prison camp
at Guantanamo Bay, which the president ordered his
standing army to establish with the express intent
that it be a Constitution-free zone and a zone free of
federal-court interference. Did America's standing
army refuse to participate in the establishment of
that camp? Did any military personnel attempt to
resign the standing army in protest? Did any soldiers
publish op-eds showing that the camp violated the
Constitution they had sworn to support and defend?
Of course not. If they had, they know that they
would have been prosecuted criminally and severely
punished. In the minds of those who serve in the
standing army, the fact the president issued orders to
the military to set up the Constitution-free camp was
all that was necessary. The fact that the president
cited "terrorism" and "national security" provided a
further guarantee that the standing army would loyally
obey his orders.
In fact, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the
Syrian president uses the same tactic to ensure
obedient loyalty from his standing army. According to
the New York Times, the Syrian military is
citing terrorism as the reason for its brutal
One of the most disturbing aspects of America's
standing army has been its willingness to partner
with, associate with, and support the standing armies
in U.S.-supported dictatorships in the Middle East.
Notwithstanding the common knowledge that such
dictatorships have long been oppressing their own
people with brutal practices, the U.S. standing army
has continued working with the standing armies in
those dictatorial regimes.
Even more disturbing is the fact that America's
standing army shares many of the same values as the
standing armies in such foreign dictatorships. After
all, when America's standing army received orders to
create a prison camp and a judicial system at Gitmo,
it rejected the U.S. Constitution as a model and
instead copied the type of systems employed by those
foreign dictatorships it has been working with (e.g.,
arbitrary arrests, indefinite incarcerate, torture,
hearsay, kangaroo tribunals, extra-judicial
America's Founding Fathers were right to reject a
standing army for our country. They understood a
standing army is among the biggest threats not just to
liberty but also to a nation's financial and economic
well-being, not to mention the constant threat of
terrorist blowback that results from the activities of
the standing army overseas.
The Syrian standing army is confirming that our
ancestors were right.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The
Future of Freedom Foundation.