“You can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him” — Robert Heinlein
The “Fatigues” of Supporting Freedom
Rasczak: “You.” (Pointing the stump of his arm at Johnny Rico.) “Tell me the moral difference, if any, between the citizen and the civilian.”
Johnny: “The difference lies in the field of civic virtue. A citizen accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic, of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.”
Rasczak: “The exact words of the text. But do you understand it? Do you believe it?”
Johnny: “Uh, I don’t know.”
Rasczak: “Of course you don’t. I doubt if any of you here would recognize ‘civic virtue’ if it bit you in the a–.” – Starship Troopers, the movie, 1998.
“One can lead a child to knowledge, but one CANNOT make him think.” So says Robert Heinlein’s History and Moral Philosophy teacher, Mr. Dubois, in his 1959 classic Starship Troopers. Almost 40 years later, the movie adaptation of Heinlein’s book changed Dubois’ name, but not his lessons. In the fictional future, citizens must be soldiers first to earn their franchise. This is because civilians, especially the liberal social engineers, mucked up civilization so badly that the veterans of the war that the civilians’ ineptitude started had to step in and take back the system. On the other hand, the Founders of our very real Republic did not insist that all citizens perform military service as a prerequisite of citizenship. However, they did expect, as Tom Paine said: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”
How else shall we interpret the Second Amendment? The people were guaranteed the means of resistance — that “keep and bear arms” thing which today’s “liberals” have such trouble understanding – precisely so that they would be able to “undergo the fatigues of supporting” their own liberties in the face of would-be tyrants. The Founders, being historians and students of human nature, trusted no one with governmental power, even that of their own carefully crafted, exquisitely balanced and inefficient-by-design system. They trusted no one, that is, but the armed citizenry. They understood, as Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson once observed: “It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”
I thought about citizens — the kind of citizens envisioned by Paine, Jackson and Heinlein — when I attended the national meeting of the Patriots’ Border Alliance in St. Louis this past weekend. The room was packed with just such men and women as the Founders counted upon to maintain their Republic.
“History, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities. Never was that truer than among that small band of New Mexico Minutemen. They were dirty, unshaven and exhausted on their best day. They didn’t look like much more than a small convention of the homeless. But by their presence and their gritty determination they were calling the shots on the border. They were pitiful, they were magnificent. I am proud to have known them and to have served with them. And if we can find more of their kind, we just might be able to save the country.” — Mike Vanderboegh, “The Magnificent Minutemen,” October, 2005.
First, I owe the reader some background. Everybody remembers the Minuteman Project, which staged the first border vigil in Arizona in April 2005. Founded by Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist, this organization no sooner took to the field than its originators split up over conflicts of ego and substance. Gilchrist’s people retained the Minuteman Project name, Simcox founded Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (hereinafter, MCDC). Like several of my friends, I joined MCDC in mid-2005.
There is no doubt that these two men and the organizations they founded changed the entire dynamic of the argument over illegal immigration. The public was tickled pink that someone was embarrassing the Bush Administration into doing something, no matter how small and insincere, about the flood of illegal aliens. Armed men and women – the armed citizenry envisioned by the Founders — were going to the border to help our vastly outnumbered and hamstrung Border Patrol in defiance of the contrabandistas, the coyotes, the cheap labor exploiters and the upper echelons of their own national government. The President called us “vigilantes.” The professional liars-for-money of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the brown racists of the La Raza and Reconquista crowd called us worse. The Border Patrol loved us. The American people loved us. Our positive poll numbers rose to two or three times those of Bush and the Congress. As a result, MCDC grew by leaps and bounds.
But with the rush of volunteers and donations came real questions of how those volunteers were being used and where those donations were going. My old friend Bob Wright of New Mexico, who served as National Training Director for MCDC, was one of those who, while focused on the mission, began having doubts. Ultimately a sizable number of the top and midlevel leadership MCDC volunteers (some 13 of them) were purged by Simcox and his “cult of personality” for having the temerity to insist upon an accounting of MCDC money. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of others quit in disgust after the purge, some retreating into smaller groups around proven local or state leaders. Others, including Bob Wright, sought a third way: the Patriots’ Border Alliance.
This “Gang of Thirteen” (as the Simcoxian Koolaid drinkers characterized these incorruptibles) fought to maintain effective border vigil efforts while simultaneously building another national organization that would have what MCDC lacked: open books, accountability of leadership and democratic organization from the bottom up, not the top down. The meeting in St. Louis last weekend achieved those goals, and the Patriot’s Border Alliance now has open (albeit slender) finances, a newly elected, fully accountable Board of Directors (including the indomitable Bob Wright as President) and a plan to take the fight over illegal immigration to higher levels of struggle on both old and new battlefields with an eye to forcing the problem back to center stage in this election year.
At the PBA meeting I renewed friendships I had first made in my trip to the border. (See my essay from 2005, “The Magnificent Minutemen.”) I also made new friends from among a wide variety of border activists hailing from a rainbow of states: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington State and, of course, Alabama. (I missed seeing Gary Cole of “The Great Northwest”, whose physician forbade him to fly. My Alabama scouts reported to Gary out in New Mexico in 2005 where he had served as operations officer. He is a smart, tough, competent patriot — and very funny. I’d trust my back and my people to his calm, quiet determination any day.)
The Oath and the Flag
So the national meeting of PBA (and all those important little side meetings that always take place at such gatherings of like-minded souls) was in itself well worth the trip from Alabama. But what came after the meeting was an experience out of the “mystic chords of memory.” It was billed as a reception, a party. It would be at 7PM sharp they said, don’t be late. The whispering beforehand was that no matter how tired you were — after an all day meeting and the traveling you had done to get there and the traveling you would do the next day to get home — you needed to be at this party. You would regret it if you missed it, they said. They were right.
The reception was held at the substantial home of Joe Adams, about fifteen minutes from the Staybridge hotel where most of us were lodged (I highly recommend it, by the way, if you’re ever in St. Louis). There was food, there was music, there was a substantial bar. And there was more.
There had been an honor guard at the opening of the meeting that morning consisting of Revolutionary War Minutemen reenactors from Living History Reenactors, Inc. The same group, dressed in rifleman’s shirts and militia garb of the Founders’ day, presented arms as we entered the Adams’ manse. After all were within, they did a first-person impression of drill and military usage from 1775. Other female reenactors depicted Betsy Ross and friends sewing the first national colors. Then the room grew absolutely quiet as one militia rifleman stepped forward to swear the original Minute Man’s oath:
“We trust in God, that should the state of our affairs require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause.”
At the end of the ceremony, reenactors advanced to present Joe with the Revolutionary Stars and Stripes: “From the original generation of Minute Men to the Minutemen of today, we present this flag. Bear it with honor.”
Goosebumps. I wasn’t the only one with wet eyes, nor the only one with a lump in my throat.
You know, I have spent long hours over the past fifteen years trying to make the point with my writing that the Americans of this generation need only look to our ancestors – the Founders – to know how to comport themselves as free men. Yet this simple ceremony, taking but a few minutes, was more eloquent and more powerful than all the gallons of ink I have spilled to bring the Founders’ principles back to life with mere, and wholly inadequate, words.
The Immortal Citizen
I looked around the room through misty tears realizing that we were citizens all: citizens who the Founders would have recognized; citizens freely accepting the responsibilities that come with their rights; citizens who stand ready to bear the “fatigues” of supporting their freedom; citizens who froze and baked and suffered and spent themselves broke on the border vigils because they understand that it is their function to keep the government from “falling into error.”
We were, in that moment, citizens immortal — from that time to this to the unseen future — from hand to hand and soul to soul, eternal.
Free Americans. Minutemen. Citizens.
We can be killed.
We cannot be conquered.
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