Copyright John T. Reed 2014
Today is July 3rd, 2014. Lots of heartfelt talk on TV and the radio about the Fourth of July, America, and patriotism and all that—also with my barber.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. We’ll be joining friends in the Bay Area at their town’s parade and barbecue. Saturday is my 68th birthday. I will spend part of it going to another country, Canada, because I fear that the U.S. government is going bankrupt and will try to stave it off with the deceit and IBGYBG selfishness of hyperinflation that will, briefly, let the politicians who are doing this to us blame retailers.
In Canada, I will be adjusting my Canadian dollar bank accounts and interviewing for a Nexus card—allows you to cross the Canadian border in both directions via the express lane. I think I may need that ability if we get hyperinflation in the U.S. Search for the word “Canada” in the search engine to the right of the paragraph above to read all my articles about using Canada as hyperinflation protection.
From Canada, I will be going to an event with a Fourth-of July sort of name: Freedom Fest—a convention of liberty-loving Americans—libertarians, Austrian economics guys, investment. They call it “The World’s largest gathering of free minds.” I am one of the speakers. My topic this year is “How to Maximize Your Return and Minimize Your Risk in Real Estate Investment.” Other speakers include Dinesh D’Souza, Steve Forbes, Stephen Moore (WSJ), Grover Norquist, P.J. O’Rourke, David Boaz (Cato), Yaron Brook (Ayn Rand Institute), John Fund (National Review), George Gilder, Richard Viguerie. Organizations there include Reason magazine, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Libertarian Party, Ayn Rand Institute, Atlas Society, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, John Stossel (he will tape one of his shows there on Thursday, but he is not speaking there), American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Adam Smith Institute, Von Mises Institute, Free State Project, Hayek Institute, Pacific Legal Foundation, Tea Party Patriots, Charles Koch Institute, Freedom Works.
A year ago, I followed the same agenda. I went to Canada in early July to scout it out as a place to take refuge from possible American hyperinflation or as a place to move close to within America for the same purpose. Then I went to the Freedom Fest (always in Las Vegas) and spoke on “How to Protect Your Life Savings from Hyperinflation & Depression,” the title of my recent book.
So I have been and am involved in America, freedom, patriotism, but also seeing it dissipate which cause one to have a more acute appreciation for freedom and good government.
50 years ago last Tuesday, I entered West Point as a 17-year-old New Cadet on July 1, 1964.
Perhaps the salient fact of getting admitted to West Point and going there and surviving it is the name “United States” and its abbreviation U.S.
Incoming cadets are typically top high school students. Many were big men on campus in high school. But the high school was in Podunk, or maybe in a big city but only in one corner of that city. No matter how famous our high school was, nobody ever heard of it when you got 100 miles away from it.
Then you get a letter from the Adjutant General of the United States Army congratulating you on being appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point. The appointment itself is signed by the President of the United States. When you drive up to West Point to enter on that first day, you encounter an increasing number of signs that tell you how much farther it is to the United States Military Academy. When you arrive, you are taken to a senior cadet whose hat has the words United States Military Academy on its crest emblem. The activities of the first day are mainly focused on getting you ready for the swearing in ceremony. That requires learning how to wear the uniform and how to march in step and turn and stop and stand at attention.
Then, around 1700, you form up and march to Trophy Point, your cadence being marked by the United States Military Academy Band, one of the best in the world, not your Podunk High school band who deserved more of an E for effort than a Grammy. When you arrive at Trophy Point, a magnificent outdoor setting, watched by your parents and siblings, the music stops and the Superintendent tells you to raise your right arm. Then you take the oath.
I, John Reed, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and bear true allegiance to the National Government; that I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, County, or country whatsoever; and that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers and the rules and articles governing the Armies of the United States.
This was all rather heady stuff for a 17-yar old whose prior claim to fame was being in the Podunk High chapter of the National Honor Society and being one of that school’s delegates to Jersey Boys State. The main thought in your head that day and since you got the acceptance letter was, “I don’t think we’re in Podunk anymore, Toto.”
The next day, we wore our fatigue uniform for the first time. Unlike the gray cadet uniforms, it has two name tapes. The one on the left had “Reed” printed on it. Seeing your name in print back then was a novel experience in those pre-desktop publishing days. The name tape over the other pocket said “U.S. Army.” I had previously worn my high school’s football and track uniforms, but they only said “Podunk” on them.
Is a New Cadet a big man on campus at West Point? Well, you are certainly at the bottom of the totem pole within the Corps of Cadets. But even at West Point, in between getting yelled at about what a worthless piece of crap you are who is not going to last a week, you notice that although you are outranked by virtually everyone at West Point, they are there solely to train you. July and August were called Beast Barracks then. It’s shorter now. New Cadets are the lowest ranking cadets at West Point, but also the sole focus of all that is going on in the Plain Area (parade ground and barracks) at West Point in July and August. (Another part of West Point, Camp Buckner, miles out in the woods and mountains to the west, was the training location during those same two months of the new sophomores, but no New Cadet ever sees any sophomores during Beast Barracks.)
Over time at West Point, it also begins to dawn on you that the reason the employees of West Point are making so much fuss over the cadets is because the United States expects to depend on us to lead Army soldiers in combat if necessary in the future.
So the answer to the question are New Cadets big men on campus at West Point is they are the reason the United States Military Academy exists.
Then you have the issue of whether a 17-year-old member of the 1,000-man (initially) New Cadet battalion at the United States Military Academy is on a higher plane than his birth-year, college-prep peers who during summer are lounging at the beach or lake preparing to enter State or even the Ivy League.
The name “United States” is bigger than not only Podunk High, but also bigger than any state or Harvard. There were few more jaded groups of men in the world than the American 1992 men’s basketball Olympic team. It was the first year professional players could participate in the Olympics. That team was harder to make than the NBA all-star team. But there came a couple of points where even those millionaire, superstar, celebrities choked up—when they were first handed uniforms than had ‘USA’ written on them—and when they heard the national anthem of the United States played when they were awarded their medals. USA is bigger than names like Celtics, Bulls, or even NBA All-Stars.
They have not heard of your high school when you get more than 100 miles away, but they have heard of West Point, the United States Military Academy around the world. Lots of us cadets traveled abroad during the summer for various reasons. Many of us came back reporting that average citizens in far-flung places like South America or a French village recognized the name “West Point.” (“Ouest Point” in French, pronounced “oowes pwaan” my classmate humorously reported when he returned.) And of course they also knew the name “United States.”
The name United States conjures the feelings it does among us Americans and among the rest of the world in part because of sheer size and other objective, neutral facts like our economy, moon landings, liberation of Europe and East Asia in World War II. But there is more to it. America is the country the rest of the world want to move to. Not everyone, but name a country that does not have many hyphenated Americans who call where they or their ancestors came from the “old country.” We are an international all-star team of the world’s malcontents. My ancestors are from Ireland, Scotland, Hungary, and the Cherokee tribe of the Appalachian region.
I have an article at my Web site titled “Should you go to, or Stay at, West Point?” Generally it says no. Some young men tell me they want to go there to defend freedom. West Point’s graduates are federal government bureaucrats. If you you want to defend freedom, go to Freedom Fest in Las Vegas and try to get a job with one of the exhibitors or speakers there. Or go to Washington, DC and visit the freedom-oriented think tanks on K Street. There are some freedom-oriented colleges—the service academies are not among them—like Hillsdale College who are also defending freedom. That is where freedom is truly being defended, NOT in the United States government. Indeed, the United States government is the primary enemy of what Fourth of July is about. As Reagan said,
Government is not the solution to our problem. Government IS the problem.
And an important corollary to that is the perspective of those within the government, like the Army officers corps where:
If you see the problem, you ARE the problem.
When I was an Army officer, I saw the problems and pointed them out. They threw me out for “defective attitude.”
After you enter West Point or the Army or the civilian federal bureaucracy, you learn that the words “United States” have been a rather unreal abstraction. There is a United States that matches the image—the American people collectively, the animal spirits of its entrepreneurs, the independence of its people, their willingness to live up to its ideals, to fight for them and liberate other peoples around the world. But you will find something very different at any place behind a sign that uses “United States” as an adjective, in other words, any federal government place of employment. What you will find there is cynicism, sloth, ineptitude, deceit, ass-kissing, and laziness caused by the combination of bureaucracy and human nature. The United States government is not about the United States. It is about bureaucracy, period.
War movies do not accurately depict war. Congressional investigations about things like Abu Ghraib and Pat Tillman and the VA come far closer to what really goes on in the U.S. military. Bureaucratic dysfunctionality trumps abstract ideals.
They carve the abstract ideals into the walls at West Point and in federal government offices around the world, but those carvings and codes and slogans are eye wash and lip service aimed at ignorant laymen for public-relations purposes. Fourth of July may happen on the Main Street of your little town once a year, but it almost never happens in any real sense within the U.S. government.
Fox News asked a whole bunch of people what about America made them proud. Some, especially the comments from immigrants, were moving and informative. Americans like Dinesh D’Souza and Stuart Barney and Mark Steyn who were born and grew up elsewhere are paradoxically more informed about America and freedom than native Americans, and far more appreciative of it.
A great many of the inane comments from people born and raised in America were about freedom of speech. I exercise freedom of speech here and in my books and newsletters. I risked my life for it in Vietnam and now I damned well exercise it.
But those Fox News celebrities do not. They may agree with many of the conclusions I draw in my writings, but they are terrified that anyone might find out that they agree—because they know it could cause them to lose their jobs.
The same is true of the average American college grad. Virtually all are terrified that they might say some non-mainstream thing and thereby suffer at their job or socially. Rather, they want to be one of those people who “plays well with others.” They would have done well in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Their celebration of the Fourth of July is arguably a rather substantial exercize in hyporcrisy. The guys who signed the Declaration of Independence did not play well with others.
Radio talk show guys say what they really think. They truly exercise free speech. But Fox News guys like Bill O’Reilly? Give me a break. He has shown some courage like claiming black family disintegration deserves more blame for black crime than it is getting. But otherwise, he is constantly pulling his punches so he can continue to get interviews with Obama and so he can avoid getting fired for saying some magic word or phrase. He would not be the first. My list of living treasures whom we do not appreciate enough is a list of people who truly exercise their freedom of speech and the press. But the vast majority of Americans, including those extolling the wonderfulness of the First Amendment every Fourth of July, haven’t got the guts to engage in free speech, ever. We are a nation of draft dodgers and moral cowards—not very Fourth of Julyish. I expect the majority of those at the Fourth of July parade I attended yesterday in Marin County, CA were draft dodgers or sons and daughters of draft dodgers. Unlike most Fourth of July parades, that one had no military units.
It has long creeped me out that career military people are defending my freedom of speech. “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” they sometimes say to me. That is a cliche, and although they actually do risk their lives and often lose them in combat, I think it’s more of a package deal involving a job situation they think is better than they could get in civil life and a desire to protect their buddies in arms in a firefight, than a do-or-die determination to make sure I continue to accuse them of being careerist lifers who would send men on worthless patrols to their deaths in order for the careerist to get a promotion.
Well, let’s think about that a moment.
Free men decide. Unfree men comply.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart’s character “George Bailey,” had a guardian angel, “Clarence.” In one scene, “Clarence” says that every time you hear a bell ring, it means an angel got his wings.
I got a news flash for you. Every time the president signs a law, an American loses some of his previous freedom. The same is true every time the Federal Registers publishes a new final regulation.
You used to be able to decide the subject matter of the new law or regulation, like whether to buy an incandescent or fluorescent light bulb. Now, because of a law signed by George W. Bush, you no longer get to decide that. It has been decided for you by Bush and a majority of the 77.3%-disapproval-rating Congress. Before, when you were more free, you decided which kind of light bulb to buy. Now you can only comply with the federal bureaucrat’s decision that you buy fluorescents.
In 1960, the Code of Federal Regulations contained 22,877 pages. Directly or indirectly, you had to comply with each and every one of them. What do I mean by indirectly? You either comply with them or pay someone else to comply with them. For example, if a regulation applies to oil pipelines, you pay for that regulation at the pump when you buy gas or diesel.
At the end of 2013, the number of pages in the CFR hit 175,496. You lost 152,619 pages of freedom in the intervening 53 years.
How big is the U.S. Code, which is all federal laws? I cannot find it. It costs over $10,000 to buy the hard copies. In January of 2013, the U.S. Tax Code alone, a subpart of the U.S. Code, exceeded 4 million words.
Haw many laws and regulations are too many?
“If you destroy a free market you create a black market. If you make 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”
Churchill said that before the House of Commons on February 3, 1949, while talking about Great Britain’s numerous post-war regulations.
Christians and Jews get by with ten Commandments. The original U.S. Constitution had 4,400 words. It is the shortest federal Constitution on earth—and the oldest. Maybe the two have something to do with each other. Counting all the amendments so far, the U.S. Constitution has 7,818 words.
Remember, not all laws are, or have to be, federal. Laws against murder, for example, are typically state laws.
That government is best that governs least.
That is a paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs about government. And the way governments governs is through laws. So
That government that has the fewest laws and regulations governs best.
There’s another problem with all these laws and regulations. They make everyone a criminal. Harvey Silvergate wrote a book called Three Felonies a Day. In it, he says there are now so many laws, and the requirement to prove intent has been removed from so many criminal laws, that the average person arguably commits about three felonies a day. That means any time one or more government bureaucrats wants to, he or she can investigate you and find those three felonies and prosecute and convict you.
Similarly, vague laws enable dictators. Many of the laws in the U.S. Code and the regulations in the CFR are vague, like the definition of dealer property in the income tax portion of the code. The more vague a law and the more vague laws there are, the more power government officials have to do whatever they want with you in terms of civil judgments and criminal convictions.
The vast majority of Americans who agree with the sentiment, “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free…” are blissfully ignorant of the above discussion about freedom and its disappearance.
During my eight years at West Point and in the Army including Vietnam, I often heard, and obeyed, the informal command to “saddle up.” It means the rest break is over. Put your pack, helmet, and gun back on and head out.
Toward the enemy or suspected location of the enemy. Heading toward the enemy is called “Marching to the sound of the guns” in the ground-pounding military. When I was a senior at West Point, General Westmoreland, who had just moved from Vietnam commander to Chief of Staff of the Army, spoke to us. March to the sound of the guns was his topic. He wanted us to volunteer for Vietnam. And I did and went there for a tour in 1969 and 70.
You may think saddling up and marching to the sound of the guns are merely the job description of all soldiers everywhere. True. But an important thing to remember on the Fourth of July is that soldiers who “saddle up” and “march to the sound of the guns” are rare on this planet.
We have them in America and that is what Fourth of July is about to a large extent. They also have soldiers who do that in Canada, U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Japan, Israel, Vietnam, Turkey.
What about Germany? They sure had them prior to 1945. Whether they still do is an open question. They appear to have overreacted to their Nazi past in that regard.
What about China? Well, they sent a lot of “volunteers” to the Korean war, although many of them seem to have been drugged in combat. What other war did they fight in? World War II? Yes, and they fought well in many cases, but they generally got their butts totally kicked by the Japanese. Otherwise, their claim to fame seems to be killing their own unarmed, peaceful demonstrators in Tienanmen Square.
Latin America’s soldiers seem to have a similar role there. Suppressing their own unarmed people but never fighting effectively in any actual wars.
The rest of the countries have their little episodes here and there where they fought, like France after World War I or various failed uprisings in Hungary. But when you think about it, there are only about a dozen countries out of over 200 in the world whose citizens are willing to fight in wars and who have done so successfully.
A lot of the countries not on the list have universal conscription, like Sweden and Switzerland. And if conscription alone equaled military victories, they would be among the top military powers in the world. But the track record is they seem to be a lot better at avoiding wars than winning them.
To be continued
John T. Reed