Thursday, June 26, 2008

Amendment 2 / Supreme Court

I was chagrin to see the Supreme Court ruling on gun laws in D.C. the other day -- anachronistic maintenance of a constitutional reading that is not good for communities across the U.S. Unfortunately, the Roberts led Supreme Court and the conservative lobby is going about 'having' and 'possessing' the Constitution in a way that is not appropriate to these times but follows the letter of the law, as they read it, and is arguably contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. Justice Antonin Scalia in his comments following the ruling admitted that indeed we live in a different world than 18th Century America, but that it is not the Supreme Court's privilege to make the 2nd amendment extinct.
While I am not sufficient to argue with Justice Scalia, Judge Stevens is. Stevens dissent stated, "The Court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.... I could not possibly conclude that the Framers made such a choice." Agreed. Thomas Jefferson made the observance that it is the responsibility of each generation to determine and construct a moral and civil code.
Are we so dim and impotent as to imagine that our responsibility as U.S. citizens is to rigidly abide by and preserve a Constitution written for a people over 200 years ago? If we are not more progressive and relevant than this we will soon be discussing the Empire that declined and fell that we were so busy and intent on trying to preserve as if it were flawless. We must get over this infallible view of the Framers and their dear Constitution, which is still dear, but should not be static, but used as a guiding light for future days of governance and living in a sane Republic.
Justice Breyer filed a separate dissenting opinion, that is worth noting, which sought to demonstrate that, starting from the premise of an individual-rights view, the District of Columbia's handgun ban and trigger lock requirement would nevertheless be permissible limitations on the right.
The Breyer dissent looks to early municipal fire-safety laws that forbade the storage of gunpowder (and in Boston the carrying of loaded arms into certain buildings), and on nuisance laws providing fines or loss of firearm for imprudent usage, as demonstrating the Second Amendment has been understood to have no impact on the regulation of civilian firearms. The dissent argues the public safety necessity of gun-control laws, quoting that "guns were 'responsible for 69 deaths in this country each day.'"
With these two supports, the Breyer dissent goes on to conclude, "there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas." It proposes that firearms laws be reviewed by balancing the interests of Second Amendment protections against the government's compelling interest of preventing crime.
I agree with the more 'liberal' Justices that we need to recognize a use of the Constitution that is appropriate to our times - i.e. wielding wisely fire arms in our present culture with the aid of the wisdom of the 2nd amendment.
Further, as Stevens observed, it is crucial that we recognize that the authors of 2nd Amend would not intend to aid and abet crime with the Constitution, and it is not a stretch to imagine that they would intend for us, these many years later, to legislate ourselves, as opposed to laying that responsibility at their feet some 200 years in the past.
With this train of thinking, I believe we need to go further even, and in certain aspects 'reconstruct' the Constitution or our changed world. Amendments do this in part, but some things, like the 2nd Amendment, need changed de facto for the circumstance we live in. It is not a matter of'interpretation', it is a matter of what we need for a better nation, a better self-governance in this day.
The mentality of the conservative Supreme Court majority - seems to be playing the role of 'protector and preserver' rather than thoughtful and dynamic Judicial minds. Inane policies and stunted mentalities such as this ruling provides, in defense of a literal reading of the Constitution, defines the conservative politic. Arguably, this brand of politic was not in the spirit or minds of the architects of this Nation nor in the Constitution that helps govern it. After all, the Framers were revolutionaries and visionaries, unwilling to accept a detached rule over their lives, but very willing to throw off King George of England in favor of making smart decisions for themselves.
If we cannot make smart decisions for ourselves, preferring to abide in static conservation of what went before, our plight will be met with peril.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reflection on The Killer Angels

General Longstreet opposed General Lee in much of the battle strategy at Gettysburg, in retrospect, arguably the decisive battle of the Civil War. On the third morning Longstreet said to Lee, “General, it is my considered opinion that a frontal assault here would be a disaster.” (The Killer Angels p. 191) Just prior to engagement on the third day Armistead watched Longstreet’s face and saw that he was crying.
Lee desired Longstreet’s approval in each of the three battle days at Gettysburg, but did not require it – they went forward despite. Had Lee lost his touch? Or, was Lee simply inflexible in battle strategy? Or had he developed an inappropriate sense of confidence? To be sure, Longstreet’s theories on defensive warfare were generations ahead of his time, as Generals of Europe were still ordering massed assaults against fortified positions – and Lee was no exception, the 2nd and 3rd days of Gettysburg prime examples.
I contend that this kind of classic "Napoleonic assault" involves the following attributes in some mix: a feared leader on the scale of General Lee, a company of soldiers stoked by pride of nationalism/regionalism, hate of enemy and a searing fervor that thrives in ignorance. Attributes the South possessed in spades and attributes that human beings gravitate to uncorrected.
Longstreet’s opposite in temperament was George Pickett, just the sort of man made for assaults of heroism in the name of honor no matter how imposing the odds, such as marching across an open field, up hill, against a well armed opposition – the very description of day 3 at Gettysburg.
“Pickett was out in the open, waving his hat and yelling wildly. Longstreet sat on a fence rail motionless crouched forward, the tear stains still visible on his face in anticipation of the bloodbath to come. Pickett turned back through the smoke with joy in his face – and then the Union artillery opened up.” (paraphrased and amended from The Killer Angels p. 206)
Following the Rebel Army defeat at Gettysburg and subsequent defeat in the war, Longstreet and Lee went their separate ways. Longstreet being the younger man, sought political position to help rebuild the South, an effort he was reviled for, referred to by Southern newspapers as “the most hated man in the South.” Years after Lee’s death, a man who symbolized all that was fine and noble in the South, Longstreet stated an opinion that held Lee responsibile for losing the battle at Gettysburg. For this observation, Longstreet was branded a turncoat.
Lee lived a few short years following the war, enjoying a status as a living legend in the eyes of the Southern people. In death his mythical status only soared higher - to the heights of god-like status in the South and one of the most beloved and respected Generals for all America.
George Pickett, the epitomy of military vain-glory and obedience born of pride, would say bitterly of Lee following the war: “That man destroyed my division.” Pitiful. For more than any other, Pickett chomped for glory on that third day, unthinking to consequence, as Longstreet wept.
Gettysburg, and the dynamic between Lee, Longstreet and the Southern Army, is one small story in the longer narrative of humankind, but in my opinion it starkly represents the factions of ego, loyalty, heroism and dissent that characterize human interaction through the ages. The masses, whose power and reward is seemingly nested only in courageous heroism, become grist for the mill operated by the powers.