Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: 150 Years After Civil War, Reflecting on Our Nation

By Brian Sando

Just as it is prudent for a man to withdraw and reflect on himself from time to time, so it is for nations composed of men to do the same. One hundred and fifty years ago this nation fought a civil war, the effects of which are still being felt today. One of these effects was the expansion of the federal government.

The United States has risen to the status of a superpower, and nowhere is this power more manifest than in the nation’s military capability. We are able to project power across the world’s oceans while fighting two wars, and at the same time we station troops peacefully around the globe. The question arises: Why, considering the history of our founding, has America taken up the mantle of empire?

The nation was brought into existence in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. The document proclaimed the end of our allegiance to Great Britain, whose first permanent settlement was founded at Jamestown in 1607. In this document the list of abuses perpetrated by the British Empire upon the colonies are listed to make the case for independence. Among these grievances are rejections of King George III’s military policy towards the colonies.

It is written: “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.” Here, the Founders warn that the military must not be given dominant power over our civil institutions. The declaration goes on to condemn the quartering of troops among the colonists, and later decries the sending of armies by the king “to compleat the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny.” These words portray the enlightened ideal that military occupation imposed on a free people is unbecoming of a civilized nation.

Our nation’s Constitution also lays down a principle of limiting the military’s scope in our national affairs. In Article I, Section 8 Congress is given the power “To raise and support Armies,” yet “no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.” Certainly there are circumstances when the country must be able to defend itself, and flexibility is a virtue, but the Founders were concerned the army would gain disproportionate power through constant funding outside of a two year limit.

In light of our present situation what significance do these ideas hold? They provide a blueprint, a foundation for a country meant to be different from the old; a peaceful country tending to its own affairs while engaging with the world through trade and the spread of ideas. And so, God willing, let us reclaim these values while at the same time turning our attention to a national goal which does not betray the ideals laid at our founding.

What should our national goal be? Educational advances would certainly be a worthy cause all Americans could work toward. To quote Lincoln: “Upon the subject of education I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” As technology enhances our economy to one more dependent on automation and computerization, it will be critical that education advances to equip people with the skills necessary to run and fix the machines in our offices, factories, grocery stores and homes. To achieve this, the federal government must make it a priority to establish strong ratings in math and the engineering sciences.

We must also ensure that citizens are educated about history and government. There must be a focus on our history as a species, as a people, and as a nation. All Americans need to learn when we’ve been at our best and, conversely, when we’ve been at our worst. Program cuts to defense spending would be welcome if cost savings in this area were to be used for furthering education in the fields outlined above.

The ultimate aim in bringing the people together is the pursuit of national greatness. What is national greatness? It is the idea that our people and our government, despite the differing interests and opinions inherent in a democracy, can still rally around a project or cause greater than ourselves. We can do this in the arts and the sciences, through creativity and exploration. Yes, Congress has the power to make war, borrow money and regulate commerce. Let us not forget that it also possesses the power “To promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”

Ultimately, reform is needed so that: We the Citizens of the United States, in order to inspire the people, establish common purpose, ensure citizen engagement, provide for the common imagination, promote exploration, and secure the unity of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, can alter and reestablish this Constitution for the United States of America.