Correspondence with Chicago Tribune columnist Denis Byrne

Correspondence with Denis Byrne

July 5, 2005

Dear Mr. Byrne:

In your 4 July column, “Do you know what day this is?,” you ask rhetorically: “When was the last time we were invaded by a free nation?”

If one excludes the aftermath of 1776, then the years 1812 and 1862 immediately come to mind. Historians might debate at what exact moment Englishmen began living in a free nation, but most would situate it prior to 1812. Stonewall Jackson took his army into Maryland in 1862. Once again, some historians might question if the Confederacy was a nation and you might wish to discount a civil war as an “invasion,” but the CSA’s constitution was modeled on the Union’s and its members considered themselves free.

Your column praises the United States for helping bring freedom to millions in the world. I join you in praising these efforts.

Best intentions aren’t sufficient for a successful foreign policy, though. I believe that the Bush administration’s efforts to bring freedom to Iraq are flawed and unlikely to bring about the desired result. To me the current Iraq policy’s approach to nation building seems more inspired by Mao’s dictum that “all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” than by our Declaration of Independence. It’s a very impatient policy.

Our Cold War policy, in contrast, was mostly a carefully-crafted, patient policy. The post-Stalinist Soviet Union peacefully imploded after an almost 50-year period of engagement with the West. If we’re to give credit to our presidents for patient leadership, then the list is long, starting with Truman and ending with H. W. Bush.

I find another aspect of your column bothersome. Perhaps I’m reading too much into your words, but I sense an underlying apocalyptic argument: when the world is entirely free, good will have triumphed and an era of constant world peace will arrive.

I wish that were true. I wish that by exporting freedom, world peace is ensured. Conservatives, however, have a slightly more glum view of human nature. Humans are inherently aggressive. The United States will always have to guard against the aggressiveness of itself and others.

Republics or democracies do seem to limit the passions of a single leader, but I can easily imagine that the United States could be invaded by another free nation. It happened before, and it could happen again.


Jack Martens

July 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Martens,

Thanks for your thoughtful note. I'm not sure who's more optimistic about human nature--conservatives or liberals. But in this case I think that one needs to be optimistic about our security in a free world, and pessimistic in its absence. I (as would millions of slaves) am among those who would dispute the idea that the Pennsylvania campaign was conducted by a free nation. So, I agree with the 1812 date. Which might well demonstrate my point. The attacks on our sovereignty (12/7/41 and 9/11/01, not including the various attacks on our embassies, USS Cole, etc.) were instigated by unfree states or terrorism sponsored by unfree states.

Thanks again for the note.

Dennis Byrne

July 7, 2005

Dear Mr. Byrne,

If you refuse to view the Confederate States of America as a free country because it permitted slavery, then when would you consider that the USA became free? Our 1789 Constitution permitted slavery. Lincoln’s original aim as president was to prevent the expansion of slavery, not to end it. Lincoln desperately sought the continued allegiance of the Border States; so his Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves in the Confederate states occupied by the Union Army. I guess that figuring out who’s a free country isn’t so simple.

Yes, I agree, our security is greater in a free world, but it’s not guaranteed. I find that many of the pronouncements about exporting freedom often have a millennialist tone. Once the entire world enjoys freedom, the lambs will lie down with the lions. I don’t think the framers of our Constitution would agree. I might have signed up for that idea as a college student, but not now as a retiree.

A representative form of government with strong checks and balances may dampen peoples’ aggressive instincts, but it doesn’t do away with them. Our Constitution recognizes this. It carefully worked out procedures for statehood, recognizing that violent territorial disputes may arise. Sure enough, Michigan and Ohio skirmished as did Missouri and Iowa. There was also war in Kansas. Free people attacked free people.

The Constitution also gave the legislative branch important war-making powers, making the declaration of war a deliberative process to check the passions of a single person or group of people. “Kings can declare wars, presidents can’t,” seemed to be what the Constitution’s framers were thinking.

I don’t disagree with your premise that our security will be greater in a free world. We might disagree, however, in how to achieve that goal and, perhaps, what it is that we will have achieved once we’ve attained it.

By the way, you mentioned “the various attacks on our embassies, USS Cole, etc.” Some people might want to raise the issue of the USS Liberty. James Bamford, who probably represents the official NSA insiders’ view, sees it as an attack in his book, Body of Secrets. We’ll probably never know for sure.


Jack Martens