It Will Be Because We Destroyed Ourselves

“A house [nation] divided against itself cannot stand.” Those are some of the most famous words in American history. Even though both Sam Houston* and Abraham Lincoln were talking about slavery, they were basically predicting American politics in 2018.

The current administration didn’t come to power because the US political structure was organised and in sync. It came to power because 2016 showed just how fractured and chaotic US politics had actually become, and it’s only gotten worse. American politics has always been severely polarised, which is the specific result of a two party system, but the trend through most of American history has been toward the middle, with moderates controlling the various branches of the US government. There have been times, however, when one issue was so polarising that ideologues controlled various branches (the 1860s, 1930s, 1960s). The problem with the current political polarisation is that it’s not a ideological issue, it’s straight up divisiveness.

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln (then a member of the Illinois State House of Representatives) gave a speech in Springfield arguing that the only threat to the United States was from within. Lincoln’s argument was that leadership roles inside the US government attracted men of ambition, and one day ambitious men wouldn’t be content with being part of a whole, and would want all the power for themselves, and the only thing that would stand between an authoritarian and the end of the US would be a united citizenry. Lincoln was actually talking about slavery, but his point still stands. Political divisiveness will only lead to crisis.

In 1850*, Senator Sam Houston from Texas stood on the floor of the US Senate, arguing in favour of the Compromise of 1850, and declared “a nation divided against itself, cannot stand.” Again, Houston was talking about slavery, but he argued that that slavery had become such a polarising issue that the two halves could never be a whole unless they found compromise. Although the Compromise of 1850 eventually passed, it did little to stem the increasingly polarising of the politics of slavery.

In 1858, eight years after Sam Houston said literally the same thing, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous ‘house divided’ speech. “A house divided against itself. cannot stand.” Lincoln argued that the only way the nation could survive was for it to become all one thing, all slave or all free. Such strong political divisiveness could only end when the entire nation was united. In the end, Houston and Lincoln were right, and the US endured four years of war before it would be re-united.

Both Houston and Lincoln made prophetic statements that, considering they were made almost 170 years ago, shouldn’t have a place in US politics in 2018. Unfortunately, political divisiveness has come to the point that both men would see deja vu.

The 2016 election proved that political divisiveness in the US was so strong that a man with literally no political experience was elected to the highest position in the land. And, much like Lincoln’s election in 1860, the divisiveness has only increased. American politics is now so polarised that in truth, regardless of your political ideologies, all citizens are either for the resistance or for the President, there is no in between. Although physical war will probably not be the result of the 21st century ‘nation divided.’ there are other types of war.

The political institution that is the US government has resisted outside pressure for over 240 years, and survived a civil war. The strength of the political institution, however, isn’t its ability to survive outside pressure, but to survive itself. Sam Houston was right; a nation divided against itself cannot stand. The only threat to the American political institution is American politics. When the American system of government collapses, it won’t be because of outside forces, it will be because America destroyed itself.

*[Sam Houston is a controversial figure in US history for no other reason than the Mexican War and admittance of Texas is a massively controversial subject in US History. If you’re interested in Houston, or the history of how Texas became part of the US, read The Raven by Marquis James. It was originally published in 1929, and you’ll probably only find it through Abe Books, but it’s worth the search.]

*[The Compromise of 1850 was introduced by Henry Clay, a friend of Sam Houston’s, and it was intended to relieve pressure on the growing crisis over slavery in the US. It, amongst other things, removed New Mexico from Texas, admitted California as a free state, strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, and banned the slave trade in Washington, DC. Honestly, Houston’s ‘nation divided’ speech on the floor of the US Senate is far more powerful than Lincoln’s (who literally stole the entire idea from one of Houston’s pamphlets with quotes from his speech), but no one ever references it because it’s Sam Houston, and he’s from Texas, and see above. Texas has always gotten a bad rap.]

Keyhole To Which Its Eye Is Pasted

Let’s talk reality. In 2015, the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany (P5+1…the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany) signed an agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which would lift the sanctions imposed on Iran because of the nuclear program they swore was both peaceful and didn’t exist. The agreement required, amongst other things, restricted ability to enrich uranium and make heavy water, and agreed to international inspections.

JCPOA restricts Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, on the surface anyway. It requires that Iran close one of its reactor sites, Fordo, and keep only 5,060 of the oldest centrifuges at Natanz, and promise not to make weapons grade uranium with them. The deal also banned plutonium reactors for 15 years, and says Iran had to dismantle the one they had. With those restrictions, if Iran obeys all of them for 10 years, it would take them 12 months to build a bomb instead of 3. So, cold hard facts: the nuclear deal doesn’t prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, which some in the international community say Iran already has, it just postpones it.

Natanz has 24 hour camera monitoring, and daily access for inspections, which so far Iran has agreed to. The issue, though, isn’t Natanz. The issue is the, suspected, other sites Iran has never disclosed and therefore don’t fall under the terms of JCPOA. The deal never promoted “anywhere, anytime” inspections. In fact, outside of Natanz, if the International National Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) thinks there’s a violation, they have to wait up to 24 days to get access. In 24 days Iran could relocate its entire stockpile/program/etc practically anywhere in the country. Inspectors go in, “oh look, nothing here,” Iran continues in new secret place. The Iranian regime is not one of transparency, and the international community has zero ways of confirming the legitimacy of any claims that there are no other facilities, they’re literally taking Iran’s word for it.

So what happens if Iran violates any of these rules, and gets caught making nuclear grade uranium, heavy water, or plutonium in the next 10 years with the intention of making a bomb? Well, in theory the UN security council “snapbacks” sanctions on Iran. Except, according to international law experts, that would absolve Iran from adhering do the deal.

The deal also doesn’t remove ALL of Iran’s enriched uranium, plutonium, and heavy water. It merely reduces its stock pile, and that stock pile, which includes 660lbs of enriched uranium, is supposedly only to be used to fuel nuclear power plants. The thing is, though, that nuclear power plants and nuclear enrichment facilities look pretty much the same, and power plants aren’t part of the established inspections. And although Fordo isn’t allowed to have reactors or enrich uranium, the underground facility will be allowed to be used as a “nuclear, physics, and technology centre.” Fordo is also allowed to keep 1,044 centrifuges, and isn’t part of the daily inspection/24 hour camera monitoring agreement. The agreement also doesn’t destroy Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak, just sits on the Iranian agreement not to commission or fuel it. A reactor that Russia helped them build.

Where has the uranium that Iran is supposed to get rid of gone? Well, tonnes of the low grade stuff has been shipped to Russia…one of Iran’s allies. Although Russia is part of JCPOA, it’s more for show and less for reality. Russia WANTS to trade with Iran, and although there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Russia has helped Iran in the past with their nuclear program (because, in reality, all Russia cares about it money), and Russia has no desire to enrage the entire UN Security Council by disobeying Iranian sanctions.

Iran is, inarguably, a state sponsor of terrorism, and has been on the US State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984. It’s not debatable. Iran sends money to groups that carry out terrorist activities. The sanctions didn’t stop them sponsoring terror, but it certainly gave them less money to do so. Removing the sanctions hasn’t helped the Iranian people, it’s simply given the Shah more money to send to groups he thinks will help Iran achieve the world it wants without doing it themselves.

Even if you want to argue with the above, the entire world can agree that Iran has a horrific record of human rights abuses. Executions happen almost daily, including children. LGBT children are forced to endure electric shocks to ‘cure’ them. Confessions obtained under torture are admissible in court, and the idea of a ‘fair trial’ is laughable. Free speech, including the internet, is highly restricted and monitored. This blog post would result in arrest, and probably a death sentence, in Iran. Insulting the regime, the Shah, God, the prophet…all punishable by death.

Whilst the US use of the death penalty is a whole different argument, Iran’s use of the death penalty included over 400 executions last year, for things like same-sex relations and drug offences (smoking marijuana is a death penalty offence). Although it’s unrealistic to not do business in a globalised world with any country that has human rights abuses, it should influence a country’s foreign policy. And whilst doing business with a country like Iran doesn’t mean you accept their government and human rights atrocities, it does show a certain level of nonchalance about the people who live there. The lifting of the sanctions on Iran hasn’t made their human rights record better, and the influx of trade has shown zero impact on the people of Iran.

JCPOA is one sided. Iran wanted the sanctions lifted. Lifting the sanctions gave Iran access to roughly $56 billion in trade deals. Whilst trading with Iran isn’t a bad economic idea, it wasn’t necessary for any of the P5+1 countries, except perhaps Russia. Iran not only got an end to sanctions, but the IAEA stopped its investigation into whether the Iranian military was involved in nuclear bomb making. And since the IAEA, nor the P5+1, has any way to verify that material wasn’t moved before the deal was signed, or went into effect, and no way to verify that the Iranian military doesn’t have its own underground facilities, Iran essentially convinced the international community to take its word for it, and the end result was lifted sanctions and access to over $100 billion in frozen assets, the end to the arms embargo in 5 years, or sooner if the P5+1 agrees that the program is “entirely peaceful,” and the end to ballistic missile technology importation in 8. All of these are things Iran wants, and none of which benefit, with the exception of Russia who would love to sell arms to Iran, the P5+1.

John Kerry argued that the deal “prevents war in the middle east.” It just doesn’t. It’s not a case of “agreement, or war.” Iran may have a certain world view, but it has no ability to bring it about. Iran is state sponsor of terrorism because it’s a coward regime. It KNOWS it has control at home, but the money and sophistication to go to war with NATO is simply something it doesn’t have. There are many things you can say about Iran, but its leaders are not stupid. Iran isn’t going to start any war with NATO, because they can’t win, and the end result would be no more Iran. Additionally, Iran isn’t going to start a nuclear war with anyone…MAD worked for a reason, and continues to work. The consequences of nuclear annihilation are for the entire world, not just the country that gets bombes.

JCPOA doesn’t prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons, if it hasn’t already, it makes it possible for Iran to rejoin the international community sans sanctions, look good on the surface via inspections that only look at one teeny tiny area, and gives the EU access to multi-billion dollar deals with Iran. The only benefits from JCPOA are to Iran, and limitedly to the EU in terms of trade deals. It doesn’t benefit anyone else, and there’s no realistic way to make sure Iran isn’t nuclear capable anyway.

You can read the key points of the deal here, and make up your own mind:

Also, the Wikipedia page is more in depth, but always use caution when using Wikipedia as your information source. In ANY Wikipedia article, you should always down to the bottom and check the sources before you cite information from Wikipedia as legitimate. Wikipedia = Grain Of Salt Research.

Full text of JCPOA:

Iran on Human Rights Watch:

Secrets Of Statecraft

There is one historical constant when it comes to international relations: words matter, but actions matter even more.  In the often fine line walking game that is diplomacy, all it takes it one ill conceived action, something as supposedly non-threatening as a tweet, to set relations back half a century. The problem with diplomacy is that most non-foreign policy experts look at a relationship in the now…they entirely ignore the history of what got us to the now. World leaders have a tendency to see any diplomatic relationship as a ‘what can you do for me in this moment’ relationship. Unfortunately, what someone can do for you right now depends, almost entirely, on the past. This just in: history isn’t a fad.

There are a plethora of examples to prove the point that history is an essential part of international relations…but one of the best examples is also a very recent example: the President of the United States retweeting from a far-right British organisation.

You’d think that the President of the United States retweeting something from a British organisation would only result in ensuing issues with the United Kingdom. You’d be wrong. The UK is rightfully upset; Britain First, the organisation the President retweeted, is responsible for the death of MP Jo Cox in June 2016. It’s an organisation that espouses severe Islamaphobia, and encourages people toward stalking and violence against Muslims. The thing is, the 21st century’s Islamaphobia is the anti-semitism of the 1920s and 1930s, of which no western nation is innocent. (Incidentally, Britain First has also patrolled Jewish neighbourhoods, but blames anti-semitism on Muslims).

The UK isn’t the only country to take offence at the President’s latest foreign policy faux pas, nor should they be. Nationalism has resulted in two world wars, McCarthyism, an isolated China, the Soviet Union, and the current situation with North Korea. Nationalism, combined with anti-[insert religion or race here] has resulted in the Crusades, the Thirty Years war, the English Civil War, the 100 years war, the American Civil War, WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII, the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Arab-Israeli War, the Korean War, the 7 Days War, the Yom Kippur War, Palestine-Israel Conflict, the Afghan War x2, the rise of Hezbollah, the rise of the Taliban, the rise of ISIS…you get the idea. Never, in the entire history of human civilisation, has nationalism and anti-religion every ended peacefully.

When the UK Prime Minister pointed out that endorsing such an organisation as Britain First was “the wrong thing to,” the President had a moment where he could have removed the tweets, apologised, and admitted he didn’t realise what he’d done, or that he didn’t know what Britain First was. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the President lashed out at the UK Prime Minister, telling her to get her house in order, essentially agreeing with the rhetoric of Britain First. Even Piers Morgan, whom the world loves to hate, and has defended Trump in the past, spoke sense in regards to Trump’s retweets, calling for the President to remove the tweets.

The problem with the President of the United States, who has shown that he does understand what he retweeted, essentially endorsing the views of a far right, Islamaphobic, nationalist organisation is that actions matter. The image of the President of the United States approving of such rhetoric, particularly when that very organisation has caused such heartache to a close ally, and then standing by that endorsement to the extent that he criticised the leader of that ally in order to defend himself, is what results in devastating diplomatic backlash. There have been calls within the UK to rescind the invitation for a state visit, from MPs and non-governmental citizens alike, which the Prime Minister has rejected. Although it’s unlikely that the US and the UK relationship will suffer any lasting damage from this incident, it’s a trend that’s putting America increasingly on the defensive on the world’s stage.

The UK and the US have had, historically, a very strong relationship based on the shared cultural, and political, ideologies that come with the US being a former colony. The US and Great Britain (since it wasn’t the United Kingdom until 1801) re-established relations in 1783, after the US won the right to independence, and have continuously had diplomatic ties since. Offending, and thus endangering, such a long relationship because of ignorance is one thing…but the President isn’t ignorant, he knows exactly what he did. He’s wilfully ignoring the reality of what his actions have wrought, which seems to be a theme for the Trump administration in regards to foreign policy.

The problem with the Trump administrations foreign policy stance is that it seemingly has no clue how foreign policy actually works. Throwing around the weight of a country whose importance is diminishing on a global scale, as if it was still the 1950s, whilst ignoring history, means situations such as endorsing Britain First will only increase.

The reality is that the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy has already caused several major incidences. At the very beginning of his term, the President questioned the One China policy, and treated Taiwan as a sovereign nation, both of which caused tension with China. The diplomatic corps was able to walk back the President’s comments, and both Trump and Xi seem to have overcome those first few months, but it’s something that never should have happened. Had the Trump administration taken a historical approach to dealing with a foreign power, the China situation never would have occurred.

The President’s approach to foreign policy seems to be limited to “what can you do for me?,” totally dismisses over 230 years of American diplomatic history, and blatantly ignoring the internal history of any other nation. The entirety of international relations between any two countries is completely dependent on history…both the history between those two nations, and the history of each individual nation.

History shapes everything. A nation cannot simply ignore history, and rewrite their approach to foreign policy based solely on how that nation benefits. A nation cannot simply ignore the internal politics, and history, of another nation because it’s inconvenient. A nation cannot simply decide to use a fringe organisation of another nation in order to advance their own agenda. Unfortunately, the President of the United States believes himself to be above that, believes that he’s categorically always correct, believes that the approach of “America First” is a sustainable foreign policy goal, and by endorsing the radical ideology of Britain First, he’s taken one step further along a path that the world should never again go down: ideological world war.

Condemned To Everlasting Change

There’re a lot of nuances and compromise that go into international trade deals, but there comes a point when the compromise of trade becomes illogical. Trade deals have been around for as long as there have been sovereign nations. With the advent of globalisation, and the changing face of international commerce following WWII, trade deals became the way forward. There’s been a lot of talk recently about trade deals, and how they effect global commerce, specifically in relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP falls under the category of illogical trade…a trade deal so focused on the political, it forgets the face of the humans…and the one things trade has always been about, is the prosperity of the people.

The first recorded trade deals (that have survived) date back to the 19th century BCE. Throughout the ancient world, as people spread, so did goods, and good required trade. As cultures left native lands, so did the goods related to those cultures. The basic of idea of supply and demand economics can be seen as far back as 2nd century BCE, and international ports and trade routes began springing up to accommodate this. By the 2nd century CE, various trading leagues begin competing for the rights to trade with entire countries…in 1157 the Hanseatic League (a merchant guild) gained the market rights to trade in England, and competition in the seaport of Quanzhou during the Song Dynasty often resulted in violence. During the 17th century, merchant companies (like the East India Company) were created, and forts complete with soldiers and weapons were strategic placed along trade routes. During the age of exploration, trade routes were expanded to include newly conquered lands (the most famous of which is the Triangle Trade), brining goods and religion along with settlers.

By the end of the 18th century, the rise of competitive free trade had brought about the end of most trading companies (the EIC went bankrupt in 1799), and nations were creating trade deals with each other for manufactured goods (textiles, and then production goods after the Industrial Revolution) and natural resources. By the mid-19th century, wars were happening over bans of goods (China and opium), and the first international free-trade agreement was signed in 1860, the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty between UK and France, which created a domino effect as other European nations signed their own trade agreements.

Before the post-war world, trade agreements between nations didn’t stress things like human rights, or labour laws, or environmental protection…in fact, until the 20th century most nations didn’t even have national laws related to any of the above. After WWII, a war many people argued was partially caused by lack of free trade and goods stifling after WWI, and particularly during the depression, an agreement was made between 23 nations which set out the rules relating to international trade and tariffs. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that human rights, environmental protection, and labour laws ended up on the negotiating table, and in most instances those were things that had to be compromised away.

By the mid-1980s, the idea that how a country treats its own citizens should be something included in international trade agreements was used as a negotiating tactic. Several international trade deals fell through because some countries refused to be held to the standards of the western world in regards to human rights and labour laws. Trade deals through the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st started focusing on human rights, environmental protection, and labour laws. However, exceptions were made in the name of political cooperation which allowed nations to bypass these rules and keep lucrative trade deals, and oftentimes (as is the case with NAFTA) labour and environmental provisions simply aren’t enforced.

The TPP is a perfect example of political compromise to the detriment of human rights and environmental protection. During the post-negotiations for TPP, the US Senate qualified language that required all countries to meet specific standards on human trafficking, incredibly important since 6 of the 12 TPP nations currently fall on both UN and Amnesty International watch lists for human trafficking. The standards, however, were so low that only one nation, Malaysia, fell outside the parameters for inclusion. Instead of declaring that Malaysia was no longer a TPP country until it could clean up its corruption, and deal with human trafficking, the US State Department pressed, and the US government upgraded Malaysia’s rating so that it now fell within acceptable standards. Malaysia didn’t change, or deal with, anything…instead, the desire for a pacific trade deal similar to the EU’s single market was so strong that foundations of human rights were ignored in favour of money. The TPP also allows factories in Vietnam to continue inhumane labour practices, Malaysia to continue to keep forced and child labour legal, and Thailand and Indonesia don’t have to outlaw slavery in fishing.

The TPP, which was supposed to address climate issues in concordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, even put trade ahead of the planet. The TPP includes a loophole which would allow companies to sue any nation that enact laws which limit fossil fuel extraction (like fracking, or coal mining) or enact laws limiting carbon emissions if those laws interfere with margin of profit. Trade deals like the TPP could establish a precedent in relation to environmental protections, but instead, those protections were negotiated away in favour of political capital.

Here’s the other problem with the TPP: it was negotiated entirely in secret. Lack of transparency in anything governmental isn’t good, but when you’re talking about a massive trade deal that equals around 40% of the world’s economic output, it’s catastrophic. It’s easy to compromise on things like the environment, human trafficking, labour laws, etc, when no one’s watching.

Historically, trade followed the movement of cultures, introduced goods we’d never seen (the Spice Trade, the Incense Route), and helped build empires. Trade is good, and has the ability to foster international relationships, change the course of human history, end human suffering, and help a struggling nation find its feet in a global marketplace. But trade that ignores the plight of humans, and the planet, in favour of global coffers is not good trade. A Trans-Pacific trade deal, much like the EU’s single market, has the potential for far reaching global benefits…and when a trade deal which addresses the issues of environmental destruction, human trafficking, human rights violations, and economic stability is reached, it could change the path to the future. The TPP, however, isn’t that trade deal, and until the nations involved accept the issues which have, ultimately, resulted in the end of the TPP, an equitable, game changing, globally envious, Trans-Pacific Partnership will never be achieved.

Say Nothing When Speaking

The most important position in the United States government isn’t that of President, but rather Secretary of State. Chief diplomat of, arguably, the world’s most powerful nation is not a job you screw around with…it is, after all, a legacy begun by Thomas Jefferson*.

From the very beginning, US foreign policy was world impacting. What we now consider American influence began during Jefferson’s stint as Secretary of State, although on a much more muted scale than now (but remember…the world was, politically, a much smaller place in 1790). Jefferson orchestrated the first ‘take sides’ when he, as the United States, backed France over Britain during the Anglo-French escalation in 1793. Incidentally, that, plus his own feelings over the Jay Treaty in 1795 (after he’d resigned as Secretary of State) led Jefferson to decide that the best foreign policy was “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” America’s foreign policy precedent of isolation was a direct result of Jefferson’s policies, and lasted through the mid-20th century.

Although the United States had a marginal influence on international relations beginning with the Washington administration, it didn’t really become a true world power until after the First World War. Although it retreated into a form of isolationism after the Treaty of Versailles, the US still maintained a certain prestige on the international stage. The country wasn’t quite ready for the kind of international influence it’d hold in 1945, and proved that by rejecting the League of Nations, however European leaders still looked to the US during the 20s and 30s both for advice, and as a calming influence during the rise of various populist and fascist movements in France, Spain, Italy and Germany, and the United States was a moderate influence regarding Communist Russia when the Roosevelt administration reversed the Wilson policy by recognising them in 1933. Once war started, again, in 1939, Britain and Russia both looked to the United States for whatever help they could give…this came in the form of the Lend-Lease Act, signed into law in 1941, which lent arms to the UK and Russia with the understanding the United States would be paid back after the defeat of the Axis.

After the Second World War, the lines of the world were fundamentally altered. The United States could no longer live in a bubble. US troops, and administrative assistance, were deeply entrenched in the restructuring of central Europe; and with the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, NATO and various other post-war organisations, the idea of isolationism in a nuclear age was laughable. Instead, the United States spent the next 70 years acting as a a diplomatic force to be reckoned with. Through US diplomatic intervention wars were avoided, humanitarian aid delivered, and nuclear war deterred.

It seems, however, the current President-Elect has neglected (or refused) to remember and respect that history, and instead has chosen to consider the most improper nominee for Secretary of States since, possibly, Bainbridge Colby.

So here’s the problem with the CEO of a multinational oil company being tapped as the next Secretary of States…it just won’t work. First, the kind of international political negotiations a CEO practices is, solely, in the benefit of their own pocketbook. Nominating a man whose business interests involve direct ties with foreign governments undermines, not only, US diplomatic authority, but it also undermines the ability of the US government to criticise others over human rights, trade, and corruption violations. For example: when your chief diplomat makes billions a year raping the earth, your influence on others not to do the same is pretty much non-existent.

The next Secretary of State will face far tougher choices than Jefferson’s to back France over Britain, Robert Lansing’s not to support the League of Nations, Bainbridge Colby’s not to recognise Communist Russia, and Cordell Hall’s entire tenure. Just as communism, then globalism, changed the face of foreign policy, so to is religious extremism in the Middle East and the shifting of world power to the East. The next Secretary of State will inherit a smorgasbord of potential disasters in Iran, Syria, China, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the unforeseen ones caused by climate change.

What the US needs is someone with some serious diplomatic chops…someone who breathes concessions and compromise, and knows the difference between escalation for escalations sake and escalation for conciliatory sake. What the US needs is someone who feels comfortable arguing with an ambassador, a foreign leader, and even his boss.

What the US needs is someone who can placate and scold in equal measure, but does so for the good of the United States, the good of the world, and not for the benefit of themselves, or the personal preferences of the President of the United States.

*Technically, John Jay was the first Secretary of State…after being the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784-1789 under the Articles of Confederation. When the Articles were repealed and replaced with the Constitution, Jay served as Secretary of State from September 1789 to March 1790. He initiated a great number of, what would become, diplomatic ties for the brand new United States…but considering the government he served under was repealed and replaced with a whole new government, we’re gonna give him honourable mention, and consider Thomas Jefferson the first actual Secretary of State.

If Men Were Angels

There’s been a lot of talk over the last week about the Electoral College, or more specifically how a person can become president and yet lose the popular vote (again). The disdain for the outcome of the election has even resulted in Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) submitting legislation which calls for a constitutional amendment to end the electoral college. The claims are that it’s undemocratic, created to protect slavery, and that in the 21st century a president should be elected directly by the populous. The thing is, most of the arguments against the electoral college don’t make sense. Both history, and reality, support the continuation of the most federalist part of the American system of government.

First, we have to spend a minute getting the lingo down. America is NOT a direct democracy…it’s a representative republic. The US elects representatives which, in turn, are supposed to be our voices in government. Doesn’t always work that way, but that’s the way it is. Secondly, we need to go back to 1787 to realise why there’s an electoral college in the first place.

During the Constitutional Convention, most of the delegates were in favour of something called the Virginia Plan, or the election of the President by Congress. Many of the delegates were afraid that popular elections would lead to a monarchy or a dictatorship…and that charismatic individuals would use popular elections as a way to retain power for decades (obviously, this was before the 22nd amendment). Having just fought a war against a monarch, a system of government led by a man who could stay in power indefinitely wasn’t really what they had in mind. After a good deal of back and forth between those in favour of direct election (and even the delegates in favour of direct elections admitted that direct elections would favour the more populous areas, which at the time were large cities in the north like NY and Boston, and the landowners of the south) vs. those who preferred Congress do the electing (and even those in favour of Congress admitted that if Congress were to elect the president, there’d be no way the executive branch could be truly independent).

In the end, James Madison came to the rescue and sketched out a plan which gave each state a number of ‘electors’ equal to that of its representation in Congress (2 senators, members of house of representatives based on population). Both sides were satisfied with the outcome, mainly because it dealt with both concerns: even large states with greater population couldn’t overly influence an election since their number of electors was proportional to those of smaller states, and it insured an independent executive branch that couldn’t be controlled by Congress. In Federalist No. 39, Madison makes very clear his reasons for supporting the electoral college: the United States is a federalist system, created as a mix between federal-based governance and state-based governance; in Federalist No. 10 James Madison argued that direct elections would give overwhelming favour to larger population centres; and in Federalist No. 68 Alexander Hamilton argued that the entire purpose of the electoral college was to avoid the inherent bias of foreign powers, special interests, and elected representatives.

In 1860, the fear of popular vote by populous states influencing the outcome of an election came to pass. Despite only winning 39% of the popular vote, Abraham Lincoln was elected president because of the electoral college. The south was furious, and that election ushered in the stampede of succession, the civil war, and an end of an era. However, had the popular vote been the deciding factor, with the largest voting bloc being southern states who would become the Confederate States, Lincoln wouldn’t have won. If it wasn’t for the electoral college, Breckinridge and Douglas never would have both run, Douglas would have become president with Breckinridge his VP, and well, the history we know wouldn’t have happened.

Today, the argument that larger population blocks would decide an election is still valid…over 50% of the United States lives in 20 cities, almost all of them either in the Northeast or California. 160million people, living in just 10 states would ultimately make up the majority of a popular vote. Is the electoral college perfect? No. But the concerns the founders had about large populations influencing the outcome of an election stands the test of time. Yes, it’s frustrating when it the popular vote and the electoral vote don’t agree. Yes, the electoral system seems old fashioned and distrusting of the American voter. It seems like an easy answer…absolutely, in the 21st century, a leader should be elected by the popular vote.

But, can we really expect a country to accept a president elected by popular majority would easily could be only 1/5  to 1/4 of the states? The reality is that the population of the United States isn’t evenly distributed anywhere…and America isn’t a direct democracy…it elects representatives, the number of which is based on the population of a state, to govern. If the House of Representatives was a popularity contest, the US would have a legislature selected by 15 states, representing all 50. Instead of demanding a total retracting of the electoral college, maybe instead it’s time to discuss a little history…and come to grips with the fact that direct rule doesn’t exist in the US, and that a federalist system takes a little bit away from democracy.

Maybe it’s time for America to discuss the reality of the broken two party system. Fix what’s fixable…the electoral college may seem antiquated, and it may seem as if it infringes on democracy…but the reasons the founders created it ring true today. So, before you demand the end of the electoral college, ask yourself this: How do you represent the desires of the entirety of a country as large as the United States, without allowing a small section of the country to decide for everyone else?

Voter Turnout 2016 Presidential Election

Why Trump Won

If you’re a really bored person, or have a known torturer for an American history professor, you can read all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers online.

The Tracks Of History

The reality of American politics is that it’s always been influenced by the past. Right from the very beginning, the government the founders created was because it wasn’t the government of Great Britain. No King, no parliament, an electoral college so that large population centre’s weren’t the deciding factor in a presidential election, and an ode to the days of the Roman Empire. It seems that, even when creating a new government, the past haunts us.

Fast forward to 1919: The first true ‘World War’ is over. The victors are sitting in Versailles, signing a peace treaty with Germany (the other central powers all had separate treaties written) who wasn’t allowed to attend the actual negotiations. The victors require Germany to accept all responsibility, and to establish a payment of reparations which many economists argue were too harsh (and would result in the re-negotiation of the reparations and the Dawes Plan in 1925, and the Young Plan in 1929), changes in territory including renouncing sovereignty over former colonies, and restriction on the military and fortifications. The German people were furious, the German government attempted to deal with the terms as best they could, but with a furious people? It’s hard to get much done. And so began the rise of hyper-nationalism, and the rise of the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party…which was actually fascist and not socialist at all)….you may know it as the Nazi Party.

Fast forward to 1920: Civil wars are springing up all over the world, in less stable places, and people are fleeing. They’re entering the stable lands of the UK, and more importantly the US. In 1921 the first law which imposed quotas on all immigrants are enacted in the US, and in 1924 the Johnson-Reed Act expands the quotas placed on certain groups (including those from eastern europe, Jews, and those from the middle east) and created a ‘barred zone’ which included most of Asia (except the Philippines because it was a US colony) and China (which had it’s own act excluding Chinese immigrants).

Fast forward to 1933: After years of hardship, unemployment, bread lines, wheelbarrows of currency to buy some cheese, and deep seated festering hatred for those they argued caused the situation, and massive distrust of the government, on 30 January the President of Germany appoints the leader of the most popular party in the Reichstag (essentially the lower house of parliament), the NSDAP, as Chancellor. In February, the Reichstag Fire Decree is passed, removing most civil liberties, and in March the Enabling Act, which allows the Chancellor to act without approval of the Reichstag, creates the cement foundation of what will become the one-party system in Germany. Hyper-nationalism explodes…anyone different is a target. Six years later Germany will invade Poland, and the war no one wanted begins in earnest.

Fast forward to 1947: The world that existed when the Founders created the Constitution is no more. Neither is the American government. The foundation is the same, but that’s about all they’d recognise of their creation. America can no longer live in isolation. The days of ‘friendship with all, alliances with none’ are over. With the rise of globalisation there is no such thing as an isolated nation anymore, and America is looked to for peace and world defence. New governmental departments are created, others destroyed, a true standing military, which will be used for more than defence, is established for the first time in American history, and the movement of peoples across the earth creates tension. The invention and use of the aeroplane in the commercial sector, faster ships, and the beginnings of what would become the highway system in the US during the Eisenhower administration meant that people could move wherever, whenever. The rise of communism, the falling of the iron curtain (although the Berlin Wall wouldn’t be built until 1961), and the re-ignition of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the creation of the Hollywood Blacklist would set the stage for a deep seated fear of ‘different,’ which, in American culture, would come to mean ‘immigrant’ and ‘non-white.’

Fast forward to 1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act is passed. Vetoed by Truman, who considers the act ‘un-american,’ the veto is overridden by a vote of 278 in the House and 57 in the Senate. The Act, written by two Democratic members of Congress (Senator Pat McCarran* and Rep. Francis Walter), abolished racial restrictions on immigration, but instead established a preference system based on ethnicity and labour qualifications.

Fast forward to 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, both natural born US citizens, are tried, convicted, and executed as Soviet spies. Although the Rosenberg’s were both born in the US, the anti-immigration backlash of their conviction is swift. Suspicious, and racist, neighbours used the Rosenberg’s conviction as reason to suspect the people they didn’t like. The continued public hearings of HUAC, along with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s contributions, create an atmosphere of hatred and fear. Anti-immigration sentiment runs strong throughout America, calming slightly after the dissolution of HUAC and the political climate of the late 60s and early 70s.

Fast forward to 2001: Terrorists bring down the World Trade Centre in NYC, ushering in a climate of uncertainty and fear. After declaring war on a ideology (which, let’s be real, you can’t actually do) President George W. Bush amasses the largest military deployment since the end of the Cold War. The first decade of the 21st century will see massive upheaval in the middle east caused by war, and the rise of extremism. Once again, America enters a period of fear mongering and hatred aimed at those they don’t understand.

Fast forward to 2016: It’s a presidential election year. The last 8 years have seen a semblance of stability at home, and rise of instability abroad, in particular the middle east…a domino effect of US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from the previous decade. The effects of extremism abroad is causing hyper-nationalism at home, and a sense of fear of different. Immigrants, LGBTQ+, African-Americans…all targeted for exactly the same reason anti-semitism rose in the 1930s. It seems that America has, once again, come full circle.

Election Day 2016: Trump wins. The reaction is brutal and swift. The unexpected (by most) actually happened, and no one’s quite sure how to deal with it. Why? they ask. How? People fear the future, and hate those that created the situation. But why really, did it happen? See, the thing about American politics is that you can watch it coming from a hundred years away.

Trump didn’t win because of James Comey (although that didn’t hurt), and he didn’t win because everyone who voted for him is a misogynistic racist (there were women, and African-Americans, and Latinos, and Muslims who voted for him too…all though some certainly were), and he didn’t win because the democratic nominee was a woman (although some people voted for him for that reason).

He won because the democrats failed to take into account history: Hyper-nationalism, rise in prices, trade agreements which much of the country disagree with (although you have to wonder how many of those people actually understand a trade agreement), rise of extremism, fear of immigrants, rising insurance premiums under Obamacare making it unaffordable to millions, the belief that the government is too interested in your personal business, a working class that feels neglected and abandoned by the political elite, and a desire for personal safety. Every single reason Trump won is the same reason WWII began, the same reason the red scare of the 1950s and 1960s happened, the same reason ethnic quotas in immigration acts existed, and the same reason the entirety of the 21st century has been mired in an ever conflict of religion and refugees.

The polls were wrong, the pundits were wrong, and the analysts were wrong…simply because they forgot the most important part of American politics; the past.

*Speaking on the floor of the Senate during the veto override of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Senator Pat McCarran said: I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished. I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors. … However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain. The solution of the problems of Europe and Asia will not come through a transplanting of those problems en masse to the United States. … I do not intend to become prophetic, but if the enemies of this legislation succeed in riddling it to pieces, or in amending it beyond recognition, they will have contributed more to promote this nation’s downfall than any other group since we achieved our independence as a nation.

Nobody…Except The American People Themselves

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” You have to appreciate that the (supposed) author of that sentence was the only man in the history of the world to ever authorise the use of nuclear weapons (and let’s not go into the business of judging history). But, if anything, the impact of Truman’s decision is the perfect reasoning behind the need to vote.

America has always had a rather tumultuous relationship with showing up on election day.  In the beginning, voting was a right the likes of which couldn’t be ignored (for those who were allowed to vote, anyway). The US didn’t start tracking voter turnout until 1828, and the trend was increased voter turn out up until the 1920s. That’s when America’s love affair for voting took a turn.

The 1932 presidential election saw the lowest voter turn in a century…and the 1932 presidential election wasn’t exactly an election you wanted to miss. There was this guy, the governor of New York, a true northeastern democrat, running against the incumbent, a fiscal conservative whom many blamed for the 20% unemployment, bread lines, and worst economic climate the US had seen since the 1880s (and, let’s be honest, he really was). So, realistically, the voter turnout should have been massive…the democrats argued that staying home, or voting for Hoover, was voting to extend the depression. The turnout should have rivalled the myth of the near 100% turnout of eligible voters in the first ever presidential election in 1788.

But people were tired of politics, they were hungry, their kids were hungry, most of the midwest had been devastated by drought and dust and severe storms, they wanted jobs, and prosperity, and the 1920s back. And so, people just didn’t show up. They were apathetic. They couldn’t see how some guy in a big white house in Washington, DC, so far removed from the reality of every day living, could do anything for them. Roosevelt campaigned on social reforms, parts of what would become the New Deal, but no one believed he could do it. Not really. The ones who showed up? They voted for a ideal, a dream. Anything was better than Hoover, right? In the end, only 52% of those eligible voted. Roosevelt won in a landslide, and he’d remain President until he died, in office, 4 months after his 3rd inauguration, his post being taken over by his VP (the only man in the history of the world to authorise the use of nuclear weapons).

Turnout during the entirety of Roosevelt’s presidency was, by the standards of the time, rather weak. For America, however, the years of 70-90% turnout was over. What the founders considered the most personal thing you could give to your country, your vote…the thing so many Americans were denied in the past…and the America of today can’t seem to show up. Fast forward to 2016…a blank slate. No incumbent, two candidate as different from each other as Roosevelt and Hoover, at stake was civil rights and social programs and the fate of US foreign policy…and people didn’t show up. Mobile voter sign up, mail in ballots, early voting, internet registration…and it was still the lowest turnout in 20 years.

So why didn’t people show up? It wasn’t that they didn’t know they were supposed to. It was impossible, in the 18 months of campaigning, to not have an opinion. Maybe they didn’t like their choices. That’s a valid argument, but when the most personal thing you can give your country is your vote, is not voting really an option? Shouldn’t you make a choice? In the end, not voting was the choice many made. Valid or not, it was a choice. And in the end, the outcome was a shock to a great many, the hopes they’d had shattered by those who did show up. But, can voter turnout really be blamed for a Trump presidency? Or was there something else, something missed, some piece ignored that created the upset? Or was it, like everything else, the consequence of history?

NEXT TIME: Why Trump Won

Searching Yesterday

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Considering that history has a way of ignoring the things that are unpleasant, a day to remember the horrific genocide that occurred between 1933 and 1945 is incredibly important. But we tend to forget to remember those who perished during the Holocaust who weren’t Jews. It is almost universally accepted that the Holocaust caused the death of somewhere between 5-6 million Jews, and the acknowledgement of what the Holocaust was in terms of Jewish deaths happened pretty much the moment the first Allied unit stepped foot inside Ohrdruf. However, the Jews weren’t the only casualties of the Holocaust. In fact, the second largest group of victims during the Holocaust were gay men…and the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis began almost the second Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor.

In February 1933, the Nazis began purging Berlin of all gay clubs, outlawed all homosexual publications. and banned all homosexual related organisations. Seeing the future they had in a Nazi run Germany, many homosexuals who had means began fleeing Germany…although by 1939, that was no longer a possibility. In March, the administrator for the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. Kurt Hiller, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. On 6 May 1933, the Nazi Youth raided Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and ordered its closure. On 10 May, they publicly burned the contents of the institute’s library, which included over 20,000 books and journals, and over 5,000 images. The raid also gave the Nazi party the largest list of known homosexuals in Germany. In response, Nazi propaganda boss Joseph Goebbels used the opportunity of the public burnings to give a political speech denouncing homosexuality, and proclaiming homosexuals a public danger, and declaring that “homosexuals must be eliminated.”

The purging of homosexuals began within the Nazi party itself. Known homosexuals within the party were routed and murdered during the Night of the Long Knives (30 June to 2 July 1934). The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, some of whom weren’t, and ordered all men to conform to German social standards. Those who didn’t were arrested. After the Night of The Long Knives, the Gestapo established a special division whose sole purpose was compiling lists of homosexuals. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.

By 1937, Hitler’s propaganda machine was in full swing…and so was the buildup to what would become the Holocaust. The political problems Hitler faced at home were well trampled by Goebbels, and in reality Hitler didn’t face many issues at home. The most important thing to remember about Nazi Germany is that everything Hitler did up until 1939, was legal. Hitler was legally appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg (after two successive parliamentary elections hadn’t returned a majority…Germany at this time was a parliamentary republic). Hitler, through the Enabling Act, was legally allowed to pass laws without the the Reichstag, and upon von Hindenburg’s death 2 Aug 1937, legally became führer of Germany. Although Hitler had opponents on home soil, in 1937 the majority of Hitler’s opponents were international…although it would take another year for Hitler to be on an inevitable path to war, most countries realised the foreign policy consequences of what Hitler had achieved so far. Having rearmed Germany against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, withdrawn from the League of Nations (of with the US was never a part), and reoccupied the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland, Hitler was actually quite popular at home. Germany’s victories during the 1936 summer Olympics only re-enforced Hitler’s propaganda. Hitler’s popularity allowed many to ignore the obviousness of Hitler’s purges. In 1938, Hitler issued a directive which allowed any man convicted of gross indecency to be sent directly to a concentration camp.

In early 1940, the Nazis passed a new directive which required that any man arrested for homosexual activity with multiple partners was to be sent directly to a concentration camp upon completion of his prison term. This directive was grandfathered into German law, which meant that any man who was already in prison for multiple counts of sodomy would also be sent to concentration camps upon the completion of his prison term. In 1943, Himmler, commander of the SS, issued an order allowing any man imprisoned in a concentration camp as a homosexual to be released provided he underwent castration. There are very few records which have survived, and it’s unknown how many men actually underwent the procedure. In reality, it didn’t matter. Those who were castrated and released were immediately sent to fight in the Dirlewanger Brigade, which was akin to a death sentence.

The social stigma of homosexuality was so great, that even amongst concentration camp prisoners they were outsiders. In the camps, gay men were subjected to often brutal treatment…both by the guards, and by other prisoners. It’s estimated that as many as 40% of homosexuals in the camps were beaten to death. Concentration camp guards often used homosexual prisoners for target practice, aiming for the pink triangle on their chest. Homosexual men were frequently subjected to experiments in the camps in an attempt to find a ‘cure’ or a ‘homosexual gene’ in order to prevent it in future generations. More homosexuals deaths in the camps were a result of violence and experimentation than any other group.

When the Allied forces finally broke through and invaded Germany (US/UK/France/Belgium,etc from the West and Russia from the East), they liberated concentration camps as they went. They brought in medical supplies, food, clothing, and hope. But for the homosexuals in the camp, there was no hope. Those concentration camp prisoners with upside down pink triangles were arrested by allied forces, and transported to prisons in German and Russia, were they were forced to serve out the remainder of their sentence… a sentence arbitrarily created by the date they were arrested by the Gestapo. For homosexuals, the upside down pink triangle was not their symbol of genocide and wrongful incarceration as the Star of David was to Jewish prisoners… rather it was the symbol of a criminal. Broken, bleeding, beaten, starved, raped and ostracised, they were removed from concentration camps and sent to prison. For them, the Allied forces weren’t a symbol of hope, they were simply the next in a line of jailers. The gay men who survived the concentration camps, and were moved to government prisons, were forced to register as sex offenders upon their release.

The Holocaust was an attempt to eradicate the Jewish people, and although it failed, it had a significant impact on the Jewish population of Europe. And on this day of remembrance, it’s important to accept that we’ll never understand why, and we’ll never fully understand the impact the Holocaust had on European Jews. But it’s Holocaust Remembrance day, not Jewish Holocaust Remembrance day… and although the numbers of homosexuals who died in concentration camps is less than 1% of the total of Jewish deaths, it can’t be ignored.

It’s unknown exactly how many homosexuals perished in concentration camps during the holocaust, but some 100,000 were officially arrested and about half officially sentence between 1933 and 1945. Of those 50,000 officially sentence, about 15,000 ended up in a concentration camp. These numbers, of course, are reliant on official Nazi documents, and many historians believe the number of gay men who ended up in concentration camps was a lot higher than the official number. Because of the stigma related to homosexuals, concentration camp guards were particularly cruel to gay men. Of the estimated official  number of 15,000, it’s believed as many as 60% were killed in the camps.

The acceptance of the Holocaust is, today, almost universal…and the understanding of its impact was almost immediately acknowledged at the end of WWII. It wasn’t until the 1980s, in the middle of the panic of the AIDS epidemic, that world governments began acknowledging that homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps, and died at the hands of the Nazis by gas chamber and rifle. In 1969 the Chancellor of West Germany officially admitted the German responsibility and apologised for the Holocaust… it wasn’t until 2002 that the German government apologised to the gay community, and in 2005 EU Parliament officially included homosexuals in the list of those persecuted during the Holocaust by adopting a previously passed resolution. However, since Homosexuality was outlawed in Germany during the Third Reich, and subsequently in almost every other country in the world, the Germany government maintains that homosexuals were convicted of ‘criminal activity,’ and thus aren’t eligible to reparations.

It’s been 71 years since the camps were liberated, and in some ways the world has learned nothing. The hate that led to the Holocaust still exists, virulently in some cases. Fear of that which you don’t understand, leads to hate, which leads to violence. There are still historians, today, who argue that homosexuals can’t be classified as a persecuted group by the Nazis because homosexuality was illegal…they were simply common criminals. There are many today who still feel that homosexuals should be forced to live in the shadows, marginalised because of who they love. It’s been 71 years since the discovery of the worst crime in human history, and yet there are still those who think that the mindset which led to the Holocaust is acceptable in the 21st Century. Hate of that which you are not does nothing but create violence. Hate has no place in a modern world, and ignoring the reality of what the Holocaust was, how it became what it did, and acknowledging the hate it took for 6million people to die is nothing more than a recipe for history to repeat itself.

AFTERWARD: Homosexuals and Jews weren’t the only people persecuted by the Nazi regime. Political prisoners (which was loosely defined as anyone who dissented), Jehovah Witnesses, Romani Gypsies, to a lesser extent Catholics and non-whites, the disabled, and the mentally ill.

Truth Too Near The Heels

Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified 15 Dec 1791): A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Dear America:

The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does. Let me explain. To understand where the need for the 2nd Amendment even came from, we need to take a little trip back in time. Imagine you live in colonial America, before the American Revolution, when you were still subjects of King George III.

Prior to the 1760s, it was completely normal for each colony to have a state militia… men who had their own muskets and would train in preparation of defence of their colony against natives, or the French. The idea that those militias would ever be used against the British was not something most colonists ever considered.

By the 1760s, however, colonial rule in America had become fraught with political tension. In 1764 it became much more tangible when Britain began using the colonies to pay for the Seven Years’ War (from which Britain was in massive debt. First the Sugar Act, then the Stamp Act in 1765, then Townsend Act in 1767. The colonists argued that taxing the colonies specifically to raise revenue for the British coffers was unconstitutional. Britain, however, disagreed, and the series of revenue acts continued.

Colonists opposed to these revenue acts, and fuelled by the speeches of colonial politicians, began stockpiling weapons in secret locations in case the need to rise up against the British came to fruition. The number of colonists who believed this would ever come to pass was, in 1769, very small. However, when British colonial agents caught word of the stockpiling of weapons, they began using the revenue acts as a way to disarm the colonists and prevent an uprising. Between 1769 and 1775, attempts to keep the colonists from stockpiling weapons included entrapment, banning the sale of powder over a specified amount, banning  and then embargoing the import of gun powder and weapons, and arresting those defying the ban.

By the mid 1770s, there were stockpiles of weapons all over the colonies and each state had their own secret militias. As the British Parliament continued to pass revenue acts, the American colonists became more rebellious, leading to the dumping of tea in the Boston harbour in December 1773. In 1774, in retaliation to the Boston Tea Party, British Parliament passed the coercive acts, which included even stricter restrictions on weapon and powder possession. By the time the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the British military had confiscated hundreds of weapons and thousands of ounces of black powder, and imprisoned dozens on charges of treason for violating the bans.

During the revolution, the British army attempted to stem the flow of supplies to the American military by search and seizure of weapons and powder. As history knows, of course, the British were unsuccessful and in October 1781 the British surrendered at Yorktown. After the failed attempt at a government under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was written with very specific intent to create a government unlike the one that had ruled the colonies for 160 years.

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the framers decided to give Congress the power to raise an army and navy of unlimited size for the defence of America. The anti-federalists objected to so much power lying with the federal government (using Britain’s colonial rule as reason that states should have more power than the federal government…a theory which had already been proven not to work during the Article of Confederation years), and so they demanded a Bill of Rights, something they borrowed from English law, in an attempt to put some limits on federal power.

The 2nd Amendment was an assurance to the anti-federalists that state militias would not be disarmed in light of the fact that the constitution gave the federal government unlimited power to raise an army of any size. The anti-federalist were concerned that the power to create an unlimited standing military force would make it very easy for the federal government to act much like King George had in suppressing the rights of the colonist. The guarantee that state militias would not be disarmed helped to dissipate the fears of most anti-federalist in regards to a federal military force, and the 2nd Amendment was born.

The debate about the power of the 2nd Amendment began before it was even ratified. Many federalists feared that it gave the possibility of “mob rule” (as had been seen in the increasingly blood French Revolution, while the anti-federalists maintained that the it made sure that the federal government could never take away  the right of any state to have their own defensive force. Upon ratification of the Constitution in 1789, the 2nd Amendment remained, albeit it with slight different language than James Madison had originally written it in.*

The first time SCOTUS took up the issue of the 2nd Amendment was in 1867 when they ruled, in United States v. Cruikshank, that the right to bear arms was not a Constitutional guarantee and the 2nd Amendment only applied to the federal government. In 1939, in United States v. Miller, SCOTUS ruled that any state could limit any weapon that didn’t have a direct “reasonable relationship” to preserving a “well regulated militia.” It wasn’t until 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that SCOTUS applied the 2nd Amendment to individuals, although maintaining that federal, state and local governments had the right to restrict both sales and possession of firearms.

See, the interesting thing is that even SCOTUS, in a landmark decision declaring that the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals, still affirmed the right of the federal government to limit the kinds of ‘arms’ the people had the right to ‘bear.’ It’s ironic that the 2nd Amendment was written to appease a group of men who were concerned with the power of a federal government to ban weapons and therefore make state militias impotent, and even in declaring the rights of the people to own weapons SCOTUS made sure that the rights of the federal government to restrict such weapons was stated.

Here’s the thing, though: America doesn’t have militias, what were once state militias have become the National Guard. The initial, and original, intent of the 2nd Amendment was to make sure states didn’t ever lose their rights to defend themselves against a tyrannical federal government. Each state now has a standing defence force, commanded by the governor, which serves the purpose of a barrier between the federal government and the states. The original intent was not to make sure every American could own a gun, but rather to make sure that the federal government would never become like King George and order the army to attack its own people. The framers of the constitution wrote the 2nd Amendment to prevent the tyrannical power of an unchecked federal government…it was never intended to protect the rights of each individual person to own a weapon that’s put the United States on par with countries like Columbia and Brazil and Mexico and South Africa in terms of yearly gun deaths. Regardless of definition, mass shootings, gang murders, domestic violence, armed robbery, and accidental deaths put the number of gun-related violence in the United States at approximately 30,000 deaths and 85,000 injuries a year.

So, America, your right to own a musket or flintlock pistol in order to join the state militia should the federal government become tyrannical and attempt to establish martial law is absolutely something the 2nd Amendment gives you. But in today’s world, none of that would happen. The National Guard has taken on the roll that state militias would play in that scenario, and modern firearms have become horrifically capable of inflicting insane damage with one pull of a trigger. Even Patrick Henry would be appalled to see the way in which the 2nd Amendment has been perverted in modern day America.

*The original draft of the 2nd Amendment said: A well regulated militia, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The final draft removed two comma and changed ‘best security of a free state’ to ‘necessary to the security of a free state,’ but those changed didn’t negate the original intent of the amendment.

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