According to a Rasmussen™ poll, a "national telephone survey shows that 89% of American adults agree that 'we are all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' Only seven percent (7%) disagree on that founding premise. Seventy-four percent (74%) agree with the assertion that 'all men are created equal' while just 23% disagree." I have some thoughts:
The Basic Principles
A 4th of July Essay - 07/03/09
Would the protesters in Iran have a better chance of changing the outcome of the recent, possibly fraudulent, elections if they were armed? Could the unrest even lead to a revolution to overthrow Iran's oppressive regime?
This is what a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida, Marco Rubio, posted on Twitter:
I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a 2nd amendment like ours.
Rubio was immediately rebuked by left-wing journalists and commentators. One of the harsher critics was Chris Matthews, who hosts “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC. This is what Matthews had to say on his June 22d show:
You've all seen what's happening in the streets of Tehran. How people are getting beaten, getting hit with tear gas, getting shot. Take a look at what Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida posted on his Twitter page after watching those scenes that we've been watching. Quote: "I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a 2nd Amendment like ours." Wow! Things would be different if the protesters had the Constitutional right to bear arms? To fight back against the Iranian Guard? I hadn't thought of that. Then again it wouldn't really be a non-violent protest, would it Mr. Rubio, if the non-violent protesters were walking around with guns!
A critic of Mr. Matthews in turn fired back that Matthews not only hadn't thought of that, but missed the point entirely. Another counter-critic suggested:
Wouldn’t it be just awful if an armed citizenry overthrew a tyranny by force and established democracy and liberty? That never turns out well. Oh, except for that one time when we did it, of course.
I wondered myself as I watched the events in Iran unfold: suppose that the protesters had the armaments and logistics to turn the street riots into a genuine revolt? Could they, would they? There was much speculation among the news analysts about the outcome of the current unrest; most felt it wasn't going to go very far, certainly not as far as an attempt to overthrow the state. People outside the cities in Iran are well armed, apparently. But the Iranian state is a complicated organization in which the Supreme Leader controls police, special forces, vigilante groups and local militia that support the regime, create a reign of terror, and help put down resistance to the mullah's rule. What if there had been a comparable situation in the American colonies 233 years ago? If, for example, the Crown controlled the militia?
If Mr. Rubio's comment then is taken against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Chris Matthews and others who mocked it did indeed miss a couple of points -- 1) that the American Revolution also started with "non-violent" protests which 2) evolved into an armed uprising because Americans were somewhat prepared to wage war against the occupying British forces. "To fight back against the British Redcoats?" Mr. Matthews might ask. Yes, the loosely organized colonial riflemen against the formidable infantry and grenadiers of the British Empire. And who won in that lopsided matchup?
In fact, the trouble actually started some years before the first shots were fired in 1775, a year before the formal Declaration of Independence was signed, with various "non-violent" protests.
Rising tensions between American colonists and British soldiers sent to occupy major cities to enforce new laws which brought local governors under closer control of the British government lead to events as early as 1770 that would eventually result in armed revolution. At first the occupation, which began in '68, met little resistance from colonists, but over time Americans grew more hostile to the presence of British troops. To use the modern term, there was increasing "unrest."
On March 5th, 1770, a group of about 50 citizens started throwing stones and other objects at a squad of British soldiers stationed in Boston. The response of the soldiers, firing into the mob, left several colonists dead and wounded, and incited more protests. The March 5th event has been called a signal event leading to the Revolutionary War five years later.
Three years after the Boston Massacre, as this incident came to be known, the British instituted taxes on tea and gave the financially troubled East India Company the right to import tea into the colonies. 25% of the tax went to the East India Company (stimulus package?) and the remainder was used to pay the salaries of colonial officials. Because American colonists were not permitted any seats in the British Parliament, many opposed the tariffs as taxation without representation.
Consequently some of the tea ships were turned away by the colonial governments, but in the winter of 1773, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson allowed three ships carrying tea to enter Boston Harbor. Before the tax could be collected, Bostonians took action to protest. On the cold night of December 16th, citizens disguised as Indians stormed the ships and tossed 342 chests of tea into the water.
Still it wasn't until another year and a half had passed that "unrest" gave way to open warfare. It was on April 19th, 1775 (a couple of days after the legendary ride of Paul Revere), that
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world.
But the "non-violent" protests probably would not have evolved into a full scale revolution and independence that we celebrate this week had the colonists not been armed. People at that time could not just crank up the Mini and go to Publix, or call BSO when they heard bumps in the night. Those on the frontier, especially, depended on their muskets and rifles for much of their food and security. The only domestic military forces were the militia; these were irregular forces, which relied upon their members for arms and equipment.
One weapon in particular, an American invention, played an especially important role in the independence of this country. That was the rifle, known as the long rifle or Kentucky long rifle. The long rifle was more accurate than any other firearm; in the hands of a marksman, this weapon was accurate up to an incredible range, for that time, of 250 yards. (The M-16 has an effective range of 600 yards.) And American riflemen, who used their rifles mostly for hunting, not warfare, were expert sharpshooters.
Riflemen were used by Washington and his commanders as pickets and snipers. At the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, riflemen were used to pick off British officers. This feat is credited for the American victory at Saratoga, which was a landmark battle for the revolutionaries. The Battle of King's Mountain, S.C., in 1780, was another decisive victory, won by marksmen using the long rifle.
Decades later, in the War of 1812, backwoods riflemen under Jackson's command firing the long rifle overwhelmed and devastated British musketeers as they stormed the American parapet at the Battle of New Orleans.
Who knows if the current unrest in Iran, if the people were armed with weapons as well as cell phones and Twitter accounts, or if the right people were armed, might be transformed into a revolution? In fact, Iran has had a number of revolutions and coups. Look what it has ended up with. Another thing we should remember is that the American Revolution was not just an armed contest between long rifles and muskets. The Revolution and indeed Independence were founded upon radical ideas that transcended everyday politics and rallied public support. I'm not sure that there are any comparable principles among the people of Iran today to sustain a revolution that would produce anything like a liberal democracy.
If there are people in Iran who adhere to liberal ideals, they are a minority which is marginalized by a repressive and reactionary culture clearly antithetical to these ideals.
The ideas, or principles, which sustained the American Revolution, held to be self-evident truths by the Founders, are eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence:
First: : "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Second: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Third: "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Of course, these principles, such as the equality of all men, have not been attained without effort, struggle, and civil war. They are principles that are derived largely from our Anglo-Western heritage which developed over centuries of time. They may not be easily exported to other countries which don't have the underlying traditions that support ideas like equality and democracy. Even so, America still wrestles with these concepts itself. What does it mean, that all men are created equal when people are so different? But the point is that we have (I believe the majority of Americans have) not abandoned the ideals which have sustained the American Revolution even to our day. At least for us, if not for everyone.
A basic principle which sustains our revolution is the principle of revolution itself, but in accordance with the aspirations of the Founding Fathers on July 4th, 1776, to escape the tyrant's yoke, not merely to shift power from one despot to another (as has been historically the case of Iran). Thus, it was written:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.