A Distant Christmas
Other than the U.S. Constitution, one would think it absurd to think there is any but the most distant connection between Ben Franklin, James Madison and our grandchildren today, much less tomorrow. But with the approaching Christmas, as I prepare to play with my grandchildren in the snow, I cannot wonder but how their safety and security as adults will be addressed by the United States of America and its leaders, both civilian and military, from today to then. Will they live up to the ideals and vision of our founding fathers?
If anything, the recent massacre of Americans in San Bernardino by Islamic jihadists, just a half-hour drive from where I grew up, portends a future of repeated attacks by an insidious terrorist group, the likes of which the U.S. has never faced before. Striking our homeland with American-grown Islamic radicals, the cancer that is ISIS threatens not only our citizens anywhere in the world, but threatens our way of life within our own communities as envisioned by country’s first leaders.
Assuming that I, as a grandparent, and as a baby-boomer, will no longer be here on this planet by the time my (and your) grandchildren reach their 20’s, I know that us baby-boomers will have little influence on such matters other than to continue to set the example – and vote. And for the dying-breed baby-boomers who read this, you may not either.
We all know that our family’s security – physically, politically, economically and otherwise – is upper most in our minds, both individually and collectively as a nation. But how we go about preparing for that security differs by political bent – as well as the willingness to sacrifice for our collective security.
There has been commentary that Benjamin Franklin’s words that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” is taken out of context and is not applicable in its original form today. With the deepest respect for Ben Franklin, regardless of the critics’ intent, Ben’s words mean what we understand in relation to our security interests today.
We all know that threats are not static, nor are our individual and collective concepts of security. The past 100 years have proven that for the United States and Americans writ large there was the need to side with Great Britain in 1917, a requirement for responding to Pearl Harbor, landing at Normandy, confronting communism, seeking and destroying the perpetrators of 9/11, and now, to learn from the San Bernardino terrorist incident as an example of "it can happen here, too." Now, not “can” – “does.” As threats warp and adapt to us, we collectively must adapt to them and, if prized with foresight, destroy.
But deterrence and the ability to destroy threats cost. That is a no-brainer and there are few, if any, ways around that. We all know that, regardless of our political leanings. Some of us must sacrifice lives and limbs to make it so, lest we all lose our now-threatened hold on Madison’s historically epic work. Such sacrifice causes great sorrow, to be sure, for our nation collectively and our families individually. Can you thank a parent enough for their son or daughter’s sacrifice on the battlefield or in your local community by a determined policeman? No, I think not. Would you put yourselves in their shoes? A tough choice that very few would make. At how much cost would we wish we, as Americans, had prepared differently? At times, we think “if only we could have.”
And that is where we stand today. As we cut our military forces to the bone, our pilots cannot fly as they need, our ships cannot sail as they need, and our ground-pounders and first-responders cannot train enough to maintain the readiness our national security requires. All this while unstable states develop nuclear weapons and jihadists develop different tactics we find extremely difficult to counter, all seeking to develop approaches to circumvent our security, both from within and without, for which we will be unprepared unless we demand far greater readiness to protect ourselves and our rights. My personal nightmare is my granddaughter’s nuclear vaporization as she walks through Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, DC, at some future catastrophic date, or my grandson is mowed down by an Islamic radical in a coffee shop in New York – or Detroit – or Seattle – or Fort Lauderdale.
It is not only our safety that American fighting men and women fight to secure. Ultimately, it is our individual rights for which our frontline defenders strive to protect. Arguably, our enemies view our rights as greater threats to them and their lifestyle than our physical presence. Would we give up our hot dogs for the right to speak or assemble freely? To vote? To worship as we please? Of course we would. Would we give blood to do it? Hmmm? The militiamen at Concord and Lexington and the firefighters at the World Trade Center had no doubt as to their duty. And like hundreds of thousands of other American fighting men and women before him, neither did 20-year-old Michael Washington, a U.S. Marine from Tacoma, Washington, on patrol during his second tour in the Middle East, when an IED took his life…him and thousands of others during the U.S.’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is indeed odd to think about our Constitution’s Bill of Rights during the Christmas season when celebrations invariably focus on anything but the U.S. Constitution and its first ten amendments. But as a friend remarked to me, “The best Christmas gift we can give our children and grandchildren is not the latest novelty to be unwrapped under the tree, but the old-fashioned idea of standing up for the ideals and the Constitution that are the best hope of keeping this country safe and free.”
The battlefield and the courtroom are the frontlines of protecting our Bill of Rights and the lifestyle it shapes for us. When James Madison drafted these rights in 1789, he certainly could not envision, at least somewhat, how the courtroom battles would play out to protect those rights internally over the centuries. But, just as importantly, he could not have foreseen the world’s external threats to those rights over the American nation’s next 226 years. We can all read our own history and extol praise for the protection of those rights in generic prose. However, extolling praise for the sacrifice of a 20-year-old Marine or hundreds of thousands of others from Lexington and Concord to San Bernardino to secure both our definable borders and not-so-definable interests, or the 30-something policeman’s or fireman’s sacrifice to secure our neighborhood may be too taxing emotionally as we play in the snow with our children and grandchildren during a winter holiday. There are those who prefer to think of less expensive hot dogs than better equipment and practices for our American fighting men and women that walk in danger daily to protect the ideals of which James Madison so argumentatively – yes, argumentatively – wrote.
Defining national security threats has always been a political exercise and operationally preparing for those threats has always been a military requirement funded by the U.S. Congress – adequately or inadequately. The nexus between those two has rarely been smooth and the American people over the decades have been more than energetically expressive in their opposition to or support of military campaigns designed to counter threats, whether concocted by American politicians or writ real by enemy attacks. What matters most is that the grandchildren we play with in the snow live in security and when our grandchildren play with their grandchildren in a distant future Christmas holiday.
Protection of the Bill of Rights is expensive, regardless of which political party or ideology we support. We should all understand that. Those ten pillars of American society are essential to our collective lifestyle, not to mention how they shape the requirements of our national security.