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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.
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