I received this from a long-time SSD reader who is just as frustrated with this situation as I am.
Over time I have become more and more disturbed by the rise of virtually de rigueur anti-police and anti-government rhetoric in the comments section on this site and others. I have also come to recognize that a lack of civility and an every growing appetite for “Conspiracy Theater” seem to be the hallmark of the internet and our times. And exhibiting simple common courtesy is now often perceived as a sign of weakness. I may have no choice but to live with all of that; but I don’t have to suffer it in silence. I realize that the following commentary will likely offend a few and perhaps enflame some others who may be emotionally vested in some contrary positions. Admittedly I don’t expect to change many minds with my words. But I am also confident that a lot more of the people that visit this site will be more in agreement with me, at least in principle, rather than with the wide eyed conspiracy buffs.
Like most here I am a strong supporter of free speech. I’m something of a zealot for the entire Constitution. So I am fully aware that every American is perfectly free to say almost anything, anywhere and at any time. That is a fact I would never attempt to dispute. But I also cannot help but be disgusted when I see examples of commenters choosing, all too nonchalantly, to compare American Government entities with infamous state sponsored terror organizations like the Gestapo. Just as I would be revolted if a poster earnestly tried to equate the US Military to the NAZI SS. They are both equally unfounded and distasteful comparisons. Unfortunately, the tempo of a website comment section is more suited to a rhetorical “slap fight” than it is too a reasoned discussion. Honestly, as a hunt and peck typist, quite often by the time I can craft an appropriate response to an outrageous remark the conversation has moved on. So I took my time and wrote this.
While in the Military I lived and worked closely with countless people in the Intelligence Community, Law Enforcement and the Interagency at every level. Almost without exception they have been hard working dedicated professionals and Americans in the best sense of the word…period. I know that is the case because I have seen it and personally experienced it over decades, not read it on some website or in a book or because anyone else says that is what I should think. The people I know in those organizations don’t deserve the indiscriminate vitriol of anonymous internet commandos of any persuasion. And trying to compare bonafide patriots to fascists is simply reprehensible. Moreover, I’m not even convinced that the self-professed conspiracy fanboys believe the hyperbole of their own bombast. I think they just enjoy the shock value of the words. Seriously, if you truly though any US Government Agency was literally akin to the real Gestapo would you bad mouth it on an open forum?
That said I also know that individual abuses of power are real and happen all too often. And that the government is perpetually in need of strict adult supervision from the citizenry. I have been around long enough to witness some fairly egregious public scandals and monumental misjudgments by the powerful first hand. And like everyone else, I know of many more. But those sad facts of life serve only to confirm one eternal truth. That those we elect and appoint to positions of power are human and will always be fallible, corruptible and imperfect. But what it doesn’t “prove” is that the entire government is somehow colluding in a vast conspiracy to take away our firearms or our other rights. The more important issue – to me anyway – is that there always has been and always will be real threats to civil liberties. Losing sight of that fact in order to chase shadowy “conspirators” down rabbit holes is the definition of Red Herring. It is a waste of time and does a grave disservice to the cause of Liberty.
I have always been a strong supporter of the 2ndAmendment as well. I know there are indeed some people who are absolutely intent on banning firearms or even ultimately repealing the 2A. And that very vocal and visible minority has publically identified themselves and their intentions. No secret about that. No hidden agenda. No conspiracy necessary. But here is the really hard part for some people to understand or accept. Like it or not, “those people” have the right to their opinions and the privilege as Americans to work within the legislative process to further their stated goals. The exact same rights that those of us who passionately oppose them enjoy. So as an unapologetic believer in the tenets of the Constitution, and in order to guarantee the continuation of my own freedom I am obliged to accept all of those points. I have too and I do.
Nevertheless, in the context of their stated intentions, I do see them as a direct menace to arguably the key civil liberty that sustains all the rest. The 2nd Amendment. But they are not the kind of imminent peril that might compel me to retreat to my redoubt and await Armageddon. Rather they represent the kind of danger that demands that I make my voice heard, join like-minded organizations like the NRA and fight them appropriately where the struggle is actually being waged. In the local City Councils, State Legislatures, Congress and the Courts across this country. That is how victory will eventually be achieved. And I don’t need to link this very tangible threat to some amorphous conspiracy in order to motivate myself to fight for my beliefs.
Furthermore, while I am concerned, I for one am not afraid of the anti-gun people. Their augments for additional restrictions and bans inevitably rest on the shifting sands of (mis)perception or emotion and not the firm foundation of reality and facts. One clear and simple example is that while the number of civilian owned firearms of all types in America is exponentially greater than it was 30-40 years ago, violent crimes are at historic or near historic lows in every measured category. So it is impossible to justify a claim that “more guns equal more crime” or even results in more deaths. Or claim that the availability of certain kinds of modern firearms or types of magazines has somehow increased public risk. Conversely, while there are admittedly some other factors at play, it is obviously more rational and verifiable to say that more guns in the hands of responsible citizens has positively contributed to the reduction in crime.
It is facts like that which provide the real “ammunition” essential to winning this endless cycle of 2A arguments. Let our opponents shoot the unsupportable emotional “blanks” instead of us. It would be a major mistake to fall into the trap of arguing the relative merits of our “feelings” versus their “feelings” on the subject. Making a tactical blunder or unforced error like that could actually make it much harder to successfully present, defend and win the case with the American people and our elected representatives. Unfortunately, all too frequently individual sensitivities and preconceived bias substitutes for rational discourse with some very vocal people on both fringes of the argument. Those people also have a right to be heard but not to hijack or dominate the discussion.
Moreover, I for one remain convinced that most Americans, when presented with fact based arguments, will choose reason over “feelings” and freedom over fear. I reject the emotionally charged but baseless premise perpetuated relentlessly by far too many people of all political persuasions that the bulk of the American People are “sheeple”. Or any other derogatory term someone may want to use to insult or vilify our fellow citizens. If the average American citizen was as easily deceived or led-by-the-nose by those in power as that term would suggest then any outstanding 2A questions would have been settled with little fanfare long ago.
I would submit that the truth is a great many Americans simply don’t pay attention to any issue until it reaches enough of a “crisis level” to intrude on their personal lives. I was like that myself as a younger man even after I joined the Army. I felt pride in serving my country in uniform and I dare say I was a pretty fair soldier most of the time. But drinking to excess and chasing ladies or the not so lady-like took up all my free time, money, energy and focus. The truth is I wasn’t nearly as good a citizen as I should have been or thought I was. I didn’t watch any news, didn’t know anything about political issues and didn’t vote until I was married and in my late 20s. But if someone had told me at the time I had the wrong attitude and was shirking many of my civic duties there would have been a serious fight. Eventually I grew up a little and I know better now.
Most Americans have always been more like that then not. We all know that only a portion of the population actively supported the Revolution in the first place. Another significant minority supported the status quo and the Crown. A great many didn’t give a damn about politics one way or another. They simply tried to get on with their lives and stay out of the way of the fighting. So we were sharply divided then and we remain no less polarized today. Clearly, having wildly divergent views on any and all subjects is neither “Un-American” nor “Un-Patriotic” but is actually as American as it gets. The citizens of our Nation are preoccupied certainly, disinterested perhaps, self-centered maybe but still fundamentally well grounded and good people. Understanding that, the challenge is to effectively engage, inform and energize enough of the uncommitted to join the 2A fight on our side. Knowing the other side is constantly trying to do the same. But the task is made much harder if our side is seen as contemptuous or dismissive of those not already actively advocating in favor of our position.
The Founding Fathers, imperfect men all, started something extraordinary some 239 years ago. They voiced their aspirations for our Republic and the central role of the citizen in the Declaration of Independence. Then they wrote the Constitution to enable their dream to become a functional reality. They crafted an innovative power sharing arrangement of checks and balances that distributed the responsibilities of governance between the three Branches of the Federal Government, the individual States and the citizens. They wisely included mechanisms to preclude dominance and tyranny by either the majority or by any minority while guaranteeing the maximum amount of freedom for all. And the Founders gave us the tools we need within the Constitution to make ourselves heard, institute any changes that we collectively see fit and fix whatever the citizenry decides needs to be fixed. To that end, every citizen has a duty to read the Constitution and re-read it from time to time. And that means the whole document not just the Bill of Rights. It is all still relevant and understanding it matters.
Because, like a military unit leader, citizens are ultimately responsible for everything this Republic does of fails to do in our names. We are the final authority. So most assuredly, aggressive monitoring and probing and questioning and critiquing and criticizing the activities of any agency of the government is the right of every citizen. Indeed it is a sacred duty. A healthy dose of skepticism, even reasoned cynicism and eternal vigilance is fair and warranted. But citizenship demands that the individual do more than just energetically hold the government to task. The citizen is expected to fully participate in the hard work of governance and hold themselves accountable as well. If all someone has done for this country is sit on the sidelines and criticize, maybe it is past time to consider doing more? Perhaps determine to contribute something constructive? Or step up and shoulder “your share of the burden and then some” to paraphrase the Ranger Creed?
Our Founders initiated the most unique and audacious experiment in freedom the world had ever seen. Where the benefits and the burdens of securing liberty would be borne by the citizens themselves. Some people would have us believe that the experiment has already failed or that it is doomed to failure because individual men can often be irredeemably flawed. The Founders did not bequeath us a “perfect union” and they knew it. Instead they have given each new generation in turn the opportunity to continue the work towards a “more perfect union”. They didn’t guarantee us perpetual liberty without effort or freedom without sacrifice. Those things are for us to secure for ourselves or risk losing through inaction. And that is the same legacy I for one pledge to pass down to future generations of Americans.
Then there are those people who choose not to talk in stark terms of failure but rather of decline. This group of naysayers would have you believe that this country was nearly perfect at its inception but has been decaying rather than advancing almost since the beginning. They speak of somehow propelling the Nation backwards to the “unspoiled” time of the Founders. Frankly, that notion reminds me of the rhetoric of ISIL fanatics that want to drive the entire world back to their version of utopia circa 700 AD. I say no. Our best years are not behind us. I deeply admire the Founders. They were brilliant men and they achieved true greatness and changed history for the better and for all time. But even the Founders recognized that they hadn’t gotten everything right. They didn’t view the Constitution as immutable but rather as a living document. A road map to a brighter future not a destination in itself. Their writings of the day speak eloquently to the significant unfinished business of Liberty that was also part of their legacy to us. They entrusted that ongoing and never ending work to those that followed them. Right now it happens to be our turn.
Far too many people today seem to revel in cataloging and regurgitating the already acknowledged shortcomings of our Nation. I have observed this trend becoming more and more fashionable during my lifetime. I surmise that it has gained in popularity because all the “cool kids” like Michael Moore love doing it. Gleefully capturing and hoarding: every instance of human pettiness, every official fiasco, individual greediness, professional corruption, personal scandals and public crimes. These distrustful archivists do their work diligently and with gusto. Tirelessly fixated on proving the existence of intertwined conspiracy trees while conveniently ignoring an immense forest of non-conspiratorial facts that do not fit their constipated world view. So they assiduously obsess over their coveted list of offenses to their sensibilities and share their “findings” at every opportunity. And then, with a certain smug satisfaction, those perpetually pessimistic souls solemnly declare our Nation or at least our Government to be evil and hopeless and unsalvageable.
Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on anyone’s self-licking ice cream cone of wrongdoings to independently come to a more complete and accurate and very different conclusion. History gives us a vast amount of contrary evidence to counter their cynical narrative and make a more informed judgment for ourselves. There is no real contest. Our Nation’s long and storied history of positive accomplishments and admirable attributes dwarfs and far outweighs any negatives real or imagined. The whole truth is that for every ignoble failure there are countless examples of shining success. For every injustice, there are innumerable examples of justice served. And most telling of all, for every time that one person or a group of people have miscarried the public trust someone else has immediately stepped forward to shoulder the burden. That is the much more honest full measure of this Great Nation.
I’m convinced, and history seems to bear me out, that our Nation today remains as strong and resilient and gloriously imperfect as it has ever been. We continue to struggle with internal frictions and external challenges that are formidable and daunting. But no more numerous or onerous or perilous than those our Nation has faced and overcome in the past. I think of it this way, if my Uncle could be resolute when he faced the Imperial Japanese Army in the Pacific, then I can certainly stand my watch and wrestle with newer threats like the Taliban or Al Qaeda. I will close with this one last splendid fact. No single Nation in all of history has done more for humanity and the cause of Liberty than the United States. And that was just in the first 239 years. If we can resist the temptation to attack each other’s character or fashion hats from tinfoil every time we are unsatisfied or frustrated by our government, just imagine what we can accomplish in the next 200 years.
Obviously some of what I have said above is entirely factual especially as it relates to the Constitution and can be authenticated by anyone that cares to take the time to do the research. Where I have stated my opinions they are based and shaped entirely by my direct observations and life experiences. Consequently they are also obviously less objectively verifiable and are therefore presented only for what they are worth. Readers are of course free to believe whatever they want to believe and can reject or accept any or all of this commentary. I fully support your right to do so. I also vow not to take any cheap shots at your patriotism, your pedigree, your sincerity or your intelligence no matter how much I disagree (or agree) with whatever you may say in response. Acknowledging up front that I am an imperfect man and may, under duress, let my emotions over ride my better intentions. I will also remain equally committed to defending good people who I judge are being unfairly maligned and aren’t necessarily in a position to defend themselves. I will now retreat to my redoubt and await Armageddon.
De Opresso Liber.
-LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.