Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Peace Of Defeat

Cyprus is filled with ruins from the many civilizations that have called the island home. There are Roman baths, Norman castles, and Ottoman hostels in almost every city. Walking through empty fields one can literally trip over old foundation stones.

In the 12th century the English King Richard I, Lion Heart, stopped at Cyprus for supplies before sailing for Jerusalem in the 3rd Crusade. While encamped near Limossol in the south he was betrayed by the mad "emperor" of the island. In response Richard sent troops marching north to the seaport of Kyrenia and seized the entire island.

When the Holy Land fell to the Muslim army of Saladin in 1187, Guy De Lusignan, the Christian ruler of Jerusalem, purchased the island of Cyprus from Richard and the Knights Templar as replacement. A few years later the Premontre Brothers of the Augustinian Order, also formerly of Jerusalem, founded the Abbey at Bellapais on the north side of the Pentadactyl Mountains overlooking Kyrenia. The monks held the abbey for centuries in spite of rumors that they had all taken wives and only allowed their children into the order.

However, in the 15th century Guy's lineage was forced to sell the island to Venice. The island saw a succession of owners and the village of Bellapais was soon abandoned. Under the Ottomans in the 16th century the decadent monks were thrown out and the church was given to Greek Orthodox priests. In the 1800's the British began dismantling the buildings for road stone before deciding it was too soft. Eventually English architect George Jefferey restored the church in the 1930's and led tours for wealthy visitors.

Until the 1960's the city was a fairly peaceful mix of Greeks, Turks, and foreign immigrants (including British colonists). However, the violent sectarian clashes and the final Turkish invasion of the 70's led to the withdrawal of the Greeks and the ruination of the city.

Today the town is held by the Northern Cyprus government under the protection of the Turkish military. Homes abandoned by Greeks have been restored by Turks or sold to British retirees. But they all live under the constant threat of Greek reprisal.

The Abbey's broken spines of yellow stones stand among tall green cypress and the odd palm tree. The crunch of a shoe against pea gravel sends large grey lizards running across the courtyards and straight up the crumbling walls.

The village of white-washed stone houses tumbles down the hill towards Kyrenia 10 miles away. But all the homes end just a few blocks above the abbey where steep mountains rise straight up to the fairytale crags of St. Hillarion's castle.

The name of the abbey and the town is French for Monastery of Peace and due to the travel embargo pushed by the South it is easy to wander all alone. In the dark basement you can imagine monks in white robes, torch waving Greek mobs, or Turkish soldiers with automatic rifles.

But back upstairs in the sunny courtyard you will only encounter a old man sweeping the stones flags under the shade of grape vines. A stray tabby cat may drag its tail against the legs of the rickety wooden tables while chickens cluck in a nearby apartment.

This is where English author Lawrence Durrell spent many hours drinking under the leafy Tree of Idleness before writing his novel Bitter Lemons. Legend holds that men who loiter under the tree become lazy and unwilling to work, but today the men are eager to work if only the tourists would come.

Nowdays the only visitors to Bellapais are the most intrepid of American tourists and a few British military personnel who are set on ignoring the current controversy. Some have bought or built homes in the traditional Mediterranean style in disregard of Greek claims. But the hotels and restaurants stand mostly empty even in July.

A few residents have titles that date to before the division and are safe from question. Lawrence Durrell's former girlfriend Guthrie McLean, a Scott, runs a small guest house beautifully overgrown with flowers and vines above the Abbey. It was built in 1952 and is hers outright.

However, her friend and neighbor Hikmet was chased from his home in Paphos in the Greek south and took over a pair of houses burned and abandoned by retreating Greeks. He had to defend his claim when the family drove up a few years ago and confronted him as he tended his newly planted garden.

Southern Cyprus was let into the EU on May 1, 2004 (even though the UN ordered them to reunify the island first) and has little reason to hurry reconciliation. Now Bellapais is a site of international heritage that is largely unvisited by the world (some 50k Brits visit the north each year compared to 1.5 million in the south).

Northern Cyprus cannot bring tourists into its airport and cannot ship its produce out of its seaports. If not for 30,000 Turkish soldiers it would be overrun tomorrow by the wealthier and more numerous Greeks to the south. Any immigrants who arrive from Turkey or anywhere else are declared invaders by the EU empowered Greeks.

The Abbey at Bellapais was built by the same stone masons that built Chartes Cathedral in France. It is quite grand with windows of delicate stone tracery under pointed Gothic arches. But now their work is a silent monument to ethnic and religious conflict on the Mediterranean and a warning to groups that today clash over shared land in places such as Israel/Palestine, Iraq/Kurdistan, and Serbia/Kosovo.

In Cyprus tourism and Euro dollars went to the victors and to the defeated was gifted the peace of defeat and a strangled economy.

The abbey.

The church.

The cloister.

The cafe looking over Kyrenia.

The downhill view.

The city tourist complex.

The tree of ideleness.

The road down the hill.

A fountain from the days of Queen Elizabeth I.

Guthrie's garden.

Quality details inside the home of a retired British officer.

Up the hill toward St. Hillarion's Castle.

Hikmet's garden.

Hikmet's figs and grapes.

A townhouse gussied up with Greek details.

Behind the new facades.

A local family raises chickens in the basement.

A Turkish girl and her prize rabbits.

All Photos: Copyright July 2006 by Sean LaFreniere

Sean: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 [+] |
Friday, July 20, 2007
Turkish Intervention

On July 20th 1974 Turkish soldiers landed on the north coast of Cyprus near the town of Kyrenia. Eventually nearly 30,000 soldiers would hold about 30% of the country from the walled capitol city of Nicosia along the Pentadactyl Mountains from Paphos to the Karpas Peninsula. Today the capitol and the island are still divided along this line and Turkish troops remain.

Turkey's stated reason for the invasion was to uphold the 1960 treaty by which Greece, Turkey, and Britain pledged to maintain the island's special form of democracy whereby one third ethnic Turks shared a government with more than twice as many ethnic Greeks about 40 miles off the Turkish coast, 60 miles from Syria, and about 600 miles from Greece.

The power sharing government was strained by more than ten years of ethnic tension, a military coup in Greece, and the expulsion or withdrawal of ethnic Turks from the Cyprus government in 1963. Eventually competing armed militias began forcing families from their homes and into enclaves in untenable situations and civil war ensued.

The Greek junta favored unification with Cyprus and supported the rise of an ethnic Greek military dictator, Nikos Sampson, on the island. Meanwhile the British decided against intervention and ordered its troops to remain quiet at their bases (Cyprus had been a British possession from the 1800's until 1960).

Many people who disagree on the "Cyprus Question" today accept that the first Turkish invasion was probably necessary in July. Their prompt rejection of the "greater Greece" movement is credited with collapsing support for the junta in Greece and the restoration of democracy, of a sort, in Cyprus and in Greece.

However, after negotiations failed to secure political and territorial guarantees for the Turkish minority in Cyprus, Turkey began a second military push on August 14th. This move was able to secure the city of Famagusta, where many ethnic Turks had been interred earlier, and part of the capitol of Nicosia.

This second intervention is widely criticized (by such respectable voices as Christopher Hitchens) as unnecessary to merely stop the violence. However, it may have been necessary to secure a political situation that would avoid future violence.

In 1983 the northern third of the island declared formal independence and was immediately recognized by Turkey. Under pressure from Greece, and now EU member Greek Cyprus, no other nation has recognized this new republic and it remains on economic and military life support from the Turkish mainland.

Today Turkey's membership in the EU is held up by the continued stalemate on Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots remain under defacto embargo by Greece and the EU - impacting everything from soccer competition to citrus exports. And neither the US nor the UK appear willing to embrace either position, pretending instead that the conflict does not exist.

While ad campaigns for tourism in Greek Cyprus are common on Danish television, recent campaigns by Greek Cyprus have frightened most Europeans away from the Turkish side of the island. Today British retired soldiers are one of the few markets for Northern Cypriot real estate and fish and chips can easily be found by Brits on holiday.

Last year I was to accompany Michael Totten on a trip to Cyprus and Lebanon to visit his old stomping grounds (he lived in Beirut during much of last year, while I was in Denmark). However, the Israel-Lebanon war trapped Michael in Amman, Jordan and I was left to wander Cyprus on my own.

I visited both the north and the south, spoke with residents and visitors, and questioned local politicians and soldiers on the state and fate of the island. Over the next week I will represent my trip and my impressions of the country, the people, and the politics. Today I would like to wish people on both sides of the island a good summer and a timely and fair solution to the division.

PHOTO: The landing zone memorial on the Turkish side of the island - Copyright Sean LaFreniere July 2006.

Sean: Friday, July 20, 2007 [+] |
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
European Christian Revival

My father first visited Europe in the early 50's as a recent college graduate with a Master's in geology and money from investigating a gold mine. He was amazed by the richness of European architecture and culture as compared even to NY City and to New England. He was so impressed that he returned to graduate school and earned a second Masters and eventually a PHD in French Intellectual History. My family traveled to Europe almost every year, or every other year, for decades after.

My father and I have long debated the religiosity of Europe. Although my father has great respect for the philosophy of St. Augustine, the agrarian stewardship of the Cistercian monks, and the literary works of Goethe and others... as a confirmed agnostic, leftist, and environmentalist he longs for humanity to eventually mature enough to do away with organized religion and the Christian message of dominion over nature. His best hope has always been Scandinavia with its reported 3% churchgoing population of well-educated and rational eco-socialists.

Last year I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark while studying urbanism with Swedish and Danish architects. Part of my daily commute was a walk through the cemetery of the local Lutheran chapel, a bus ride through the Muslim suburbs, and then a walk past the national Cathedral where the Prince was married and his son baptized. I took week long trips throughout Europe, including Scandinavia and Russia, but also the Middle East and North Africa for a full review of religious architecture and culture.

As I got used to my surroundings and to the people that I lived with, Christian German immigrants, I came to see the issue of religion in Europe as much more complicated. Despite expecting to arrive in a secular nation I was immediately struck by the abundance of religious structures, monuments, and decorations as compared to the US. Of course much of these are merely "left overs" from previous eras (similarly it is difficult to credit Europe with better urban planing as their best environs are also "inherited").

And yet, as an architecture student I was taken to see many new, "modern" buildings, and many of these were churches. Meanwhile, although the churches were not filled every Sunday they were used by nearly every family at some point in their lives, from weddings to funerals, and many national political events. The roots of Christianity are so deep in Europe that many people, on both sides of the Atlantic, often overlook the strength of its hold on the continent (similarly, it is as easy to ignore church teachings in Western Europe as it is to tolerate a garish modern building in the solid architectural fabric of a city like Paris or Vienna).

It is perhaps a simplistic analysis, but Europe gave me the impression a rebellious child. When the US assumed responsibility for economic and military security Europeans turned to the pursuit of sexual liberation and financial success. They responded to the imperialism of their past with multi-cultural tolerance (even adoration) of immigrants and neighbors. Meanwhile, the politicians pursued the abstract ideals of the European Union and International Law, enjoying new found moral authority and political clout, without real concern for backing up these ideas with force (when the Balkans ignited it was the US that tried to put out the fires).

I had frank and honest conversations with several Swedes who admitted that they felt comfortable not spending much on defense as they knew that if Russia ever caused them trouble the US would intervene and they considered Sweden simply to far north to be at risk from anyone else (Sweden has always had a modern military, quite competent, with sophisticated weapons systems... they stayed out of WWII and made a fortune resupplying Europe with manufactured goods). Meanwhile, although they are beginning to worry about their Muslim working class they still assume that their socialist paradigm will eventually absorb them (this faith is beginning to waver in recent years).

I began to suspect that distance from religion was proportional to an individual and a nation's distance from fear and from poverty. I also wondered if the rebellion from organized religion was similar to other rebellions of youth in that it was fleeting and prone to falter as the worries of life in the real world pressed in. As the "European Project" continues and global terrorism heats up I do not expect Europe's religious rebellion to continue much longer.

Another factor that I was aware of, but overlooked, is now being written about in the WSJ... Most European nations have given a monopoly, or at least state supported dominance, to one faith in particular. In Ireland, Spain, Poland, and Italy it is Catholicism (these nations also rank just as religious or more than the US). In England it is the Anglican church, while in Germany and Scandinavia it is Lutheranism. In the Baltics, the Balkans, Russia, and Greece it is the Eastern Orthodox church.

Some experts blame this constriction of religious choice for low attendance by the people (around 20%). They note that any monopoly eventually gets lazy and their poor service eventually drives away customers. They point to the abundance of religious options in the US to explain its continued high attendance numbers (around 50%) despite similar levels of modernity, wealth, and education as Europe.

They might also point out that Socialist governments actively discourage church attendance... as these regimes falter in the face of global economics and local demographics the church has been making a comeback. In Russia church attendance has boomed since the Soviet collapse. Churches have been retaking their lands and attendance has risen to near 70%. A quiet Christian majority was waiting for a better political climate in Russia and the same may be true in Scandinavia.

When a Swedish hotel chain pulled the Bibles out of its rooms a public letter writing campaign and boycott rose up in protest. Surprised, the chain took in over 10,000 Bibles as a gift from the Gideon Society and restocked its rooms. Eva Hamberg, a professor at Lund University (just north of Copenhagen, Denmark and where one of my instructors also taught), looks at recent data and concludes that although Europeans are deserting established churches, "this does not mean they are not religious."

Perhaps some European are "stealth Christians"... The family that I lived with in Germany wore no obvious Christian jewelry, nor did they decorate their home with symbols of their faith. They would have checked "do not attend" on national surveys of attendance in the state supported Lutheran Church. And yet they said grace before every meal, hosted weekly bible readings in their living room, and rarely missed Sunday services.

My host family were members of an American style "Christian" congregation. They met not in a church, but in an old theatre in a suburban business district. Many of their members were recent immigrants from other European countries and their numbers were growing. While I was there they bought their building and were looking to remodel it with a new sanctuary and several apartments for its members.

The most recent data from Europe finds that evangelical churches from America, such as the Pentecosts, are seeing a quiet surge. While they may not meet in the grand old stone cathedrals their members feel a deep connection to their faith and to their roots as members of Western Civilization. Visitors praise the new churches for an increased sense of energy and urgency, similar to their American counterparts, that draws attendance even when the old state churches do not.

Europe is facing an increased military threat from Russia - who just pulled out of the Conventional Forces Treaty that limited its troops on the European border. They will also soon face a severe economic recession brought on by an aging workforce and low birth-rates. Thus the traditional forces that once drove people to religion may once again be felt in the secular European states.

During my year in Europe angry mobs of Muslim immigrants burned cars in Paris, France and Berlin, Germany. In Denmark Muslim kids threw rocks and burning bottles at a school and told police not to enter "their territory" in the northern city of Aarhus. Several times I saw police in riot gear respond to immigration protests in the streets of Copenhagen. In the face of immigrants with a strong non-European identity the cultural appeal of religion may become an increasing draw.

The election of conservative governments in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France suggests that fear and poverty are once again European concerns. As these governments begin to loosen their hold on religion and exciting new versions of Christianity become available I wonder how long the European religious detour will last. All those empty church pews may begin filling with worried Europeans looking to reconnect with their national identity and their cultural roots.

From the WSJ article, these quotes:

"I was heavy with spirituality without knowing it. I was touched by the light of Saint Augustine," - Gerard Depardieu (French Actor)

"Lately, I have decided to consider myself a Christian." - Anders Borg (Swedish Finance Minister)

"I am an atheist, yes. An atheist-Christian." - Oriana Fallaci (Italian journalist and critic of religion)

"Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter." Jurgen Habermas (German intellectual and Marxist author).

Photo: King Stephen of Hungary from Wikipedia.

Sean: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 [+] |
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Report Cards and Childish Politics

Listening to President Bush give a press conference is excruciating. The man should not be allowed to talk unscripted by his staff. I know that he has improved, and that's frightening, but he is simply not a good enough public speaker. His facial expressions, body language, and diction are far too informal and make it hard to believe that he has more than a passing understanding of the issues he is discussing.

Worse than the clumsiness is the impression of un-seriousness that he gives when he is trying to be affable. As he says, everyone wants to be liked, but I am afraid that with the nation mired in the occupation of Iraq and and a terrorist hunt in Afghanistan we simply cannot have a president who gives cheerful reports about the political and military failures of his administration.

Similarly the Democrats need to lay off the political games now that they are "in charge". They need to keep in mind that however they undermine the Presidency today may well come to bite them back in the future. And turning the serious business of discussing the war into political grandstanding is a horrible affront to those risking their lives to win the real battles.

Much of the blame still rests on Bush and how his administration handles its problems with the Democrats. The big Justice Department scandal? US Attorneys are political appointments rather than promotions of merit, the Administration does not have to answer to Congress on this, and trying to do so only makes them look like idiots (so I guess I agree that White House staffers should not answer Congressional subpoenas).

As for the Plame Game? The Administration should have never allowed Vallerie Plame to send her husband to "debunk" her office's own claims regarding the Niger uranium affair. Joseph Wilson was a minor diplomat and was not qualified to do intelligence work - and they are both well known leftist partisans. Although I can understand why the Administration wanted people to know where these two were coming from, they should have kept quiet about the family ties. However, once the information slipped they should have let their man Libby take the fall and leave it at that.

Meanwhile the "Iraq Benchmarks"? The media sometimes slips and calls them "demands" or "requirements" that Congress handed down to the President. But Congress has no such authority to put the Executive Branch in a head lock. The Democrats should keep this in mind if they expect to win the office in the next election.

However, Bush should stop saying that he relies upon the generals to tell him how to fight the war (no more than he should say that he lets the State Department tell him how to conduct foreign policy). Congress are our elected representatives, while the President is the single elected leader. As such he is also the Commander-in-Chief and he needs to set war policy rather than merely follow the advice of military subordinates or meet the re-election motivated demands of Congress.

The Democrats rush to call the "surge" a failure before it has even begun and to call for the withdrawal of troops and the abandonment of our allies (especially since there is little chance of their bills passing into law). Who would dare stand at our side in the future?

The Republicans muddle on with a failed war policy while ignoring the destruction of the domestic and global environment, the self-serving actions of Conservative appointees to the Supreme Court and the Justice Department, and the craven actions of the FBI in warrant-less wire-taps, searches, and record requests.

Through out this last term I have been saddened to watch both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government act like children. With new elections on the horizon I continue to hope for the rise of a politically motivated youth culture and the birth of multiple parties in this country. The leaders of the Free World need to set a better example, but then we need to expect more from our country and from ourselves.

Bush said that although he wants to be liked (and in the past re-elected) he looks in the mirror and tries to answer difficult questions with principled answers. Even if you don't like his principles, he has stated the correct approach to leadership in politics. Now he just needs to stop smirking.

Sean: Saturday, July 14, 2007 [+] |
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Citizen Soldiers

Lefties, and even some on the right, who oppose the US invasion of Iraq often deflect the Vietnam era criticism of their patriotism by claiming to support the soldiers by calling for their withdrawal.

They site family members such as Cindy Sheehan who claim that their sons or daughters only joined for college money or only joined the Guard and so did not expect to actually be deployed in combat.

Furthermore, they often claim that any US military action is by definition "racist" in that the Army relies upon poor, urban minorities who have few options but to join the military.

Finally they decry the war itself and suggest that it is "illegal" in that it did not receive UN approval or support from many of our allies. They again make the call that soldiers shouldn't have to fight in wars that they do not believe in.

Probably the best reply from those who support US involvement overseas begins with the reminder that we no longer have a draft "Army of the United States", but an all volunteer and professional "United States Army". This force includes both the Army Reserve and the National Guard.

With this all volunteer force, as noted by both the left and the right, the number of blacks has matched their percentage in the general population in recent years (19%). Furthermore, both women and black enrollment has been falling behind white, Asian, and Hispanic males.

Due to a focus on education most special ops and even regular combat forces are white (perhaps that does reveal some racism). Meanwhile minorities are more likely than whites to pursue a career in the military and to rise to the ranks of officers (although there are still more white officers as there are more whites total in the services).

The top US commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have included two Hispanics, Major General David Rodriguez and Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, and a Lebanese, Major General John P. Abizaid - and until recently the head of the Joint Chiefs was the famously African American, General Colin Powell.

But what about the idea that the recruits never expected to see combat? What about the man (or woman) who wants to "do the right thing" and put themselves out there for use by the military, but only in self-defense or only when they can see America's interests in the war? Cant we all be "citizen soldiers"?

I visited the recruiter's office the first week end after 9/11. I didn't like the idea that some other bloke was putting their life on the line so that I could enjoy my nice job and nice house in safety. But I didn't want to give up that nice job or that nice house to do it. Could I find a position with the military that would let me have my cake and eat it too?

When I first arrived I went through brief mental and physical examinations and my criminal and academic records were checked (the Army is technology heavy today and doesn't want anyone who cant or wont follow their orders). Then I began an interview process where I got to ask serious questions about the various services, including the likelihood of deployment and the financial rewards.

I eventually chose the Army Reserve and the specialty of Military Intelligence as I could remain in my hometown after boot camp. Although health issues kept me from following up, I still wish that could have served. Although I would not have baulked at actual deployment, I would have dreaded it as much as anyone, and my family would have been beside themselves.

The history of the US makes the idea of the "citizen soldier" a kind of holy grail - our legislature was supposed to work the same way. The Founding Fathers' idea was that with only a part time government or army the citizens could never again be put in servitude to the state. Also, having the everyday farmer, worker, or businessman in the halls of power would ensure the layman's voice was heard.

Instead of a full time army of either conscripts or professionals, as was common in Europe, the US kept no standing army for the central government. Instead local militias would be formed into a grand army only in times of conflict. This was somewhat problematic in practice as a central core of officers proved necessary. But the basic idea remained until after WWI, which the US was late to join partly due to the need to call up a large fighting force.

The National Guard or militia dates back to 1636 in Massachusetts where it was created to defend the colony against natives and the French. Yet, the name National Guard comes from the involvement of a French nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette, in the American Revolution. When the Marquis paid a return visit to the US in 1824 the New York Artillery welcomed him at the harbour and changed their name to the National Guard in tribute to the Garde Nationale de Paris.

Historically the individual "militia" of the States provided the majority of Federal troops in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and the Spanish American War (1898). In 1903 these militias were officially renamed the National Guard (thank you New York Artillery) and established as the official reserve force of the US Army.

In WWI the National Guard made up 40% of the troops deployed in France. However, with a much larger draft for the regular Army in WWII they only made up about 19 divisions. Yet, National Guardsmen have been deployed by the tens of thousands in Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War and for peacekeeping in Somalia, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

The National Guard is not limited by the "Posse Comitas" rules that forbid the deployment of the US Army in domestic affairs. The National Guard has been called out to quell riots at Kent State University during the Vietnam War, to quiet Los Angeles during the Watts Riots of 1965 and the LA Riots of 1992. The National Guard was also called out to assist New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Today, during the "Global War on Terror", National Guard troops make up 43% of US forces in Iraq and 55% of forces in Afghanistan. Before the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 the standard deployment for the National Guard was 12 months within 5 years. This was increased to 18 months with deployment to Afghanistan and to 24 months with the invasion of Iraq.

Meanwhile, when citizens join the "regular army" they enlist for an 8 year term. Typically 2-4 years is spent in active duty with the remaining time in the Army Reserve. Some soldiers, usually older and with more education and employment experience to bargain with, stipulate in their enlistment contract that the entire 8 years be spent in the Reserves.

But the Reserves are still part of the regular Army. Their units might not even reference "reserve" in their names at all. Reserve soldiers make up more than half the combat strength of the total army and they have been called up for active duty in every conflict since their formation in 1908.

The slogan "One week end a month, two weeks a year" only applies during peace time. Since I turned 18 the US has seen a dozen different conflicts from the first Gulf War to the second. So, no one who is serving today likely signed up seriously believing that they would only be playing paint ball on Saturdays.

However, it remains quite affecting when we read news reports such as the case of a young Special Operations soldier in Florida who has served nearly 7 of his 8 years and has done 4 tours of duty in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. Now the Army wants him to go again.

He currently works for Sikorsky building Black Hawk helicopters for the Army and he is completing his engineering degree at a local college. He also got married and bought a new house a few years ago.

He appealed his deployment and was granted a nearly year-long reprieve. But his delay is up and the Army wants him back. Is it fair to interrupt his studies, and his marriage, to put his life on the line yet one more time?

As he admits, the skills that he uses now at work were taught him in the Army. His college tuition is also paid for under the GI Bill. His wife met him during his 8 year service and he bought his house during this time as well. So, he knowingly took on the risks and is benefiting from the rewards.

Still, anyone can sympathize with his plight - his senator did and got him that extension. But if we are to have a truly "citizen soldier" army we need people just like him. We need regular guys (and gals) to give up their day jobs, even their home lives, and serve in the army.

The advantage to the Republic is huge. Unlike some other countries (in Europe and Latin America) we do not have a separate class of soldiers. And we do not worry about military coups or the election of a "General Presidente". As polls currently put Americans' faith in the military at triple our faith in the legislature this is a very good arrangement.

If we want to lesson the burdens on our citizen soldiers than we will have to employ more full time soldiers or reinstate some form of the draft ("Service Guarantees Citizenship" as Heinlein put it in Starship Troopers). These are real options that we need to consider as our world is not getting any more peaceful and a larger army has been requested by both sides of the isle.

As for approval of the war by the soldiers or their families... which appears to be swayed by approval of the UN or our allies... war is itself the last resort of any democracy, it awaits the far side of diplomacy, if it fails. Therefore by definition it is beyond the terms "legal" or "illegal".

The approval of the UN would be nice to have... However, the UN is merely a treaty organization formed by us to keep the other great powers from waging another world war. The approval of the UN only means that other nations find our actions to coincide with their self-interests. Since a majority of member nations are not democracies and have horrible records of abuse and corruption at home, their approval is no gauge of the morality of our actions. There is no central legislature of the UN, no Supreme Court, so their approval cannot bestow "legality" to a member's actions.

Meanwhile, over 52 ally nations did contribute either men, material, or services to the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. True, many contributed only minor numbers of soldiers, Denmark sent a few thousand, however many of these nations have scant military resources at their command and even less since the US took on the bulk of global defense and order. And again, these nations rarely contribute anything to anyone without it being expressly in their self-interest. This motivation is mercurial, dependant upon which political party is in charge and the economic pressures within their own countries. Therefore their support is hardly an indication of morality or legality either.

During Britain's war with Napoleon the Royal Navy ignored our neutrality and our Independence by acts of piracy and war against our merchant ships and kidnapping our sailors to serve in their navy. They also began arming one allied tribe of American natives and inciting them to war along America's western frontier. After repeated objections by American diplomats in London the US finally declared war in 1812.

At the time the US had fewer than 12,000 soldiers and only 20 small frigates and sloops. The most bellicose act that could be accomplished was the sacking of York (Toronto), the capitol (at the time) of British North America (Canada). However, in subsequent battles the US militias that were supposed to back up the regular troops refused to cross the border and (literally) watched while their countrymen were defeated (and killed).

The states of New England were major trading partners with the British and refused to contribute money, materials, or men to the conflict (and so were exempted from the British blockade). Meanwhile the individual militiamen only saw fit to defend their own farms and cities. Their personal judgments of the war effort nearly cost us the respect of the world and our independence from Britain (see the Burning of Washington). When a citizen chooses to serve as a soldier they must give up some of their individual rights and liberties in order to defend all of our rights as a nation.

Whether it is arming an Apache gunship, tracking planes from a circling AWACS, or negotiating a power lunch in Brussels, very few of our citizens are qualified to conduct the business of defending our nation. Today the systems and skills, let alone the geo-political understanding, necessary to wage war preclude the casual involvement of a citizen who only wants to fight when they see fit. Those that do choose to serve are given better training and equipment than any other fighting force in the world (issues of body armor kept in context), that is our commitment to them as a nation. We need to applaud their decision to serve even as we hold them to their commitment to defend us all above themselves. This "tough love" is perhaps the only way to truly support the troops.

Laws Covering the National Guard and Army Reserve

The Militia Act of 1792
Gives authority to the President to call out the Militia, and provides federal standards for the organization of the Militia. At this time there is no standing, permanent army to defend the country from internal or external threats.

The National Defense Act, 1916
This act abandoned the idea of an calling up a Regular Army for each conflict and instead created a permanent National Guard, Army Reserve, and Regular Army as a single military force for the United States. The act further expanded the National Guard's role as the primary reserve of the army. The number of yearly drills increased from 24 to 48 and annual training from five to 15 days. Drill pay was authorized for the first time.

The Total Force Policy, 1973
This law requires all active and reserve military organizations be treated as a single integrated force; reinforced the original intent of the founding fathers of a small standing army (the Army and the Army Reserve) complemented by a larger citizen-soldier force (National Guard).

John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 H.R. 5122
This law allows the President to assume control over state militias and the National Guard (above the authority of the Governor) in time of war or emergency.

UPDATE: Armed Liberal, a friendly acquaintance of mine, has just announced on Winds Of Change that his oldest son ships out to Ft. Benning to try to join Spec Ops after earning his degree at UVA. His son chose to serve knowing full well that he will see combat, heck he even chose to sign up as an enlisted man instead of spending time at OCS trying to become an officer (and maybe miss the conflict, if some have their way). Although quite nervous about the risks their son will face the parents are understandably proud as well. Our freedoms are not free, even if a lot of us can easily pretend that they are. And, as the doctors who tried to bomb a pub on Ladies Night in Great Britain last week should prove, our way of life really is under attack. I appreciate this family's sacrifices so that mine may not have to.

Sean: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere