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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Citizen Soldier and National Security

On a recent business trip to California, I stayed for a couple of nights at Cavallo Point, on the premises of now-closed Fort Baker, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.  Here is the parade ground:

No Revolutionary War battles were fought in California, and Fort Baker dates back at best only to 1850 when President Millard Fillmore created The Lime Point Military Reservation.  What caught my eye, though, was this plaque on the parade ground:

The plaque sets forth the dates 1775-1975 and the headline "Citizen-"Soldier," and then tells us that it commemorates the bicentennial of the United States Army.  It further states that "when a citizen-soldier sees our national flag, he sees not the flag but our nation." 

Colonial leaders, if not Americans in general at the time, had a deep concern about a standing army, but American military leaders like Washington and Henry Knox knew that such a Continental army, as opposed to militia, was necessary.  It is interesting to revisit the debate in the context of current defense by the NSA and the American president over the necessity of centralized control, including invasions of privacy, in the name of national security.  The old fears return to roost in the brave new digital world.  The difference though is that the notion of citizen-soldier invokes a "bottom up" mindset for defense, with the emphasis on citizen and democratic participation, as opposed to a "top down" assertion of what is necessary for the country.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

John Witherspoon and the Warrior Clerics

John Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, became president of The College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was then known) in 1768.  Affected by continued assertion of British Episcopacy in the Colonies, Witherspoon became caught up in the Revolutionary fervor of the times; in 1774 he joined the Committee of Correspondence and Safety.  In 1776, he was the only active cleric (as well as university president) to sign the Declaration of Independence.  He served in the Continental Congress as well as the New Jersey Legislature.  Here he is, memorialized today on the campus of Princeton University:

In Massachusetts, another cleric, Reverend Jonas Clark wrote the inscription for the monument that today stands marking the Battle of Bunker Hill and among other things, said: “The Blood of these Martyrs In the Cause of God and their Country Was the Cement of the Union and these State, then Colonies, and gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their Fellow-Citizens. They rose as one man to revenge their Brethren’s Blood, and at the Point of the Sword, to Assert and Defend their native Rights.” Witherspoon, when challenged in 1776 that the country was "not yet ripe" for independence, Witherspoon responded, "in my judgment, sir, we are not only ripe, but rotting."

Other men of the cloth were firebrands for the Revolution, and some paid with their lives.  It is interesting to reflect on this early role of the clergy in the formation of the American republic and the encouragement of war to achieve it, as we contemplate the rise of non-secular governments and the role of clergy in nation-building today.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Joshua Huddy and the Character of Retaliation

Captain Joshua Huddy, commander of the garrison at Toms River, New Jersey, that was destroyed by the British on March 24, 1782, was hung unceremoniously by the British after his capture, resulting in the 18th century equivalent of an international incident.  He is buried at Tennent Church near the Monmouth Battlefield.

Numerous depositions were obtained and presented to Washington, who on April 21, 1782, wrote an incensed letter to British General Henry Clinton, threatening repercussions if the British did not punish their own.  Unsatisfied with Clinton's response, on May 3, 1782, Washington ordered General Moses Hazen to choose by lot a British officer--a captain if one was available, if not, a lieutenant, either in Pennsylvania or Maryland--for execution.  Ultimately, a man was selected but Washington did not go through with the execution, following international intervention.

During World War II, on January 1, 1945 at Chenogne, Belgium, American troops killed 25 or more German prisoners in retaliation for the execution of 80 American prisoners at Malmedy by German Waffen-SS troops on December 17, 1944.

 As contemptible and violative of the rule of law as the acts were that led to the execution of Huddy by the Loyalists, even if under supervision of the British, it is a telling aspect of the American character that "an eye for eye" justice, even at the expense of the innocent, was even considered.  As we see in the Chenogne and Malmedy massacres, the behavior did not end in the eighteenth century.