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Defending the Constitution

Yesterday, Dec. 7, was Pearl Harbor Day, one that President Franklin Roosevelt called “A day that shall live in infamy.” While seemingly less ubiquitous than the notorious, but more recent, Sep. 11, 2001, Americans continue to commemorate Dec. 7, 1941 even as we approach its 70th anniversary.

Pearl Harbor Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the dependence that we place upon our military as a free people and the relationship between the military and civil government in a nation founded upon liberty.

We may find a difference of opinion on this matter between the political left and the political right. Virtually all mainstream politicians, be centered left or centered right, will laud the accomplishments and the sacrifices of our military men and women. In this, there is no dispute, but there appears to be a slight difference in the way they may view the importance of our military as it relates to our freedom.

On the political left, there seems to be a fear of giving too much credit to the military for securing our freedoms. The examples of right-wing military juntas in Latin America are often brought up as specters of placing too much stock in the sacrifices of our fighting men and women. If we rely too heavily on the military for our freedom, it is, under this line of thinking, feared that the military could become vainglorious and believe that it is supreme over our civil government.

On the political right, there may be too much “Pomp and Circumstance” being played to our military.? Our soldiers provide us with insurance that protects our nation and our ideals from foreign attack. If we did not have our armed forces, America would be at the mercy of every foreign nation. A nation that did not have such a strong heritage of liberty may assert sovereignty over our land, and we could see our freedoms erode.

But it is our culture, our morality and our ideals that preserve our freedom.

Militaries are used in many countries, and generally they serve at the command of their respective head of state. Armed forces may be used in ways that protect freedom, but equally they may be used in ways that protect tyranny.

The glory that we owe to our American military is that the top brass, down to the enlisted men and women, consistently refer to the Constitution, and, through the Constitution, to our elected leadership. Our armed forces will grant allegiance to the administration of a president, who is constitutionally-sanctioned as Commander-in-Chief, even when his administration acts in ways that they may view as negatively affecting the armed forces.

The extraordinary nature of our military lies in the fact that, as our fellow citizens, they too accept the authority of the Constitution.

The submission of the military to civil authority is far from being its only glory. The high glory due to our armed forces is that ordinary men and women will volunteer to serve, putting their lives on the line to defend their fellow Americans. We rightly hold in awe any person that puts his life on the line, or, may God forbid it, trades in his life, so that we may live in freedom. No one can show greater love than this.

We may hope one day, as John Lennon’s song “Imagine” teaches us, that there may be nothing that we will have a need to die for, but, as for today, those brave men and women who put their lives at risk, both in our military, as well as in our police and civil defense forces, show amazing love for their fellow citizens.

If our ideals are strong enough that we can look to them and be ready, not only to live by them, but to die by them, our country will be in good shape for a long time to come. If we remember the birthright of sacrifice bequeathed by our forefathers, and hold steady anchor in our ideals of liberty and freedom, we will never go too far off the path. In this spirit, may we hold a perpetual vigil, by shining light on the events that occurred 68 years ago at Pearl Harbor.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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