Swans Commentary » swans.com July 30, 2007  



War And The Constitution


by Martin Murie





(Swans - July 30, 2007)   Laws, our American Constitution included, are words on paper. We have witnessed how powerful people can ignore those words, but we can use select passages, lift them into daylight, to hold the powerful accountable, and for self defense. We can do this while at the same time admitting that holding rulers accountable, as for instance Cheney and Bush, for their crimes against humanity, is just another bunch of words. To put words to work a good dollop of actual material power is necessary. In my July 2 Swans article I quoted Felix Holt, Radical, as follows:

Now, all the schemes about voting, districts, and annual Parliaments, and the rest, are engines, and the water or steam -- the force that is to work them -- must come out of human nature -- out of men's passions, feelings, desires. (1)

I interpreted Holt's words as a cry for Power to the People. Philip Greenspan agrees that people power is a good thing, in the final paragraph of his July 16 critique where he cites the Venezuelan Constitution that transfers power to people by "permitting them input to policy decisions!" (2)

I have to amend this. "Input to policy decisions" is more like voting once in a while. It is not people power. Policy generated in the ranks of workers and all citizens in various assemblies where votes are visible and decisions implemented is the real animal. Much more than "input," it is the actual making of policy. People power actualized has to have society's understanding that the power rests there, in grassroots assemblies, not in remote and secret gatherings of the rich and powerful. Whether the "dethroning" of the elite and the "granting sovereignty to the vast majority of the people" in Venezuela will succeed in the face of obstacles remains to be seen. I fervently hope the people will prevail.

Carol Christen recounts ways by which rulers routinely break laws and co-opt freedom struggles. I agree that there are phrases in the Bill of Rights that we can stand on and extend, but let us not forget that those first ten Amendments formed a carrot to get enough states to agree to accept the Constitution. Where I differ with Christen is in her statement that, "For at least 200 years, the United States was successful adhering to those concepts of the Founders." (3) On the contrary, from the seventeenth century onward the European settler culture moved steadily westward, displacing original inhabitants, involving them in wars with European powers, ultimately betraying all. Ever westward, supporting the rulers and the wars by the labor of African slaves, indentured servants and wage slavery. I can't call this success.

Greenspan nailed it down: The founders feared the people and wrote the document accordingly. Witness their speedy use of armed force to quell Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. The powerful always and routinely fear the people. Our history is loaded with examples; so is the history of Mexico, and Canada, usually under cover of nationalist slogans or populist maneuvers, but sometimes not. There are times when simply gunning down people will suffice. Look at the FBI's behavior at Wounded Knee and the railroading of Leonard Peltier, who is still in prison.

Christen reminds us of the great rising of American farmers in the Populist days, late nineteenth century, where rural people formed their own cooperatives and sent some of their own to Congress and to Statehouses. When those rebellions became too onerous to those in power, populist language and behavior was co-opted and business as usual resumed. These tactics need to be remembered, studied in detail, because they are a big part of the propaganda issued by rampaging capital today.

* * * * *

We are at war. Our warriors are subjected to ordeals that shake them to the core. From Paul Abernathy, Third Infantry Division:

No matter how much we trained together or shared our experiences with one another, we gradually learned that we could not achieve the goal of "brotherhood" until it included all who suffered. It was this mystical connection that was only fully realized when we shared our food with hungry Iraqis, cared for Iraqi children, and treated Iraqi wounded. It was only while sharing the love we had for each other with the poor, destitute and suffering Iraqis that we ceased to be individuals united by war and became a communion of persons, a brotherhood in its truest sense. (4)

Here in Franklin County, far north New York State, our antiwar protests rely on several passages in the Constitution, notably the right to peaceably assemble to present grievances. Though this right has been and is now violated, it is there in that "sacrosanct" document, embedded in law. When Bush anointed himself as "The Decider," we protesters immediately made a new poster for the next demo: "No Mr. President. We Are The Deciders." We take that literally, and so did the mayor of our town when he approached us with his disavowal and disapproval of what we stood for, but he said he would not shut us down. (Recently we even got a honk from a passing cop car.)

Words in the Constitution giving ordinary people certain rights are embedded in the legal corpus and we are going to use them to the hilt, all the while admitting that our top predators are breaking laws with complete abandon. This has to change. Power to the People.



1.   Martin Murie, "The Vote," Swans Commentary, July 2, 2007.  (back)

2.  Philip Greenspan, "Condemn That Contemptible Constitution," Swans Commentary, July 16, 2007.  (back)

3.  Carol Christen, "Current Game: The Constitution 0--The Elites 1 (won)," Swans Commentary, July 16, 2007.  (back)

4.  Paul Abernathy, A Brotherhood; Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot And Communicate. A Collection Of Creative Writing By Members Of Iraq Veterans Against TheWar. IVAW's First Chapbook. Second Edition, April, 2007. Burlington, VT.  (back)


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This Edition's Internal Links

The Establishment's Tocsin - Gilles d'Aymery

Iraq Now As I See It - Michael Doliner

Choice Of Evils - Charles Marowitz

Treason -- Often An Essential Business Practice - Philip Greenspan

The Past Explains The Present - Carol Warner Christen

Dog Fighting - Senator Robert C. Byrd

This Land Is His Land - Humor by Peter Byrne

The First Law Of Thermodynamics (for Cara) - Prose Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

Polyhedron n. 7: World Useless Slaughter - Poem by Guido Monte & Francesca Saieva

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Published July 30, 2007