Bill Moyers speech at West Point
December 1, 2006 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Bill Moyers speech at West Point on "The Meaning of Freedom." I repeat: These are not palatable topics for soldiers about to go to war; I would like to speak of sweeter things. But freedom means we must face reality: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Free enough, surely, to think for yourselves about these breaches of contract that crudely undercut the traditions of an army of free men and women who have bound themselves voluntarily to serve the nation even unto death. Previously on MetaFilter: after 9/11, inequality, religion and democracy, the environment, right-wing media, public broadcasting. Wikipedia.
posted by russilwvong (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Moyers quotes James Madison on the dangers of letting the executive decide when to go to war:
In war, a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man.
posted by russilwvong at 12:05 PM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think war needs to be redefined in the constitutional context to "military action outside the boundaries of the United States". Otherwise it's too easy to get around. "Iraq? No, that's not a war, it's military exercise!"
posted by blue_beetle at 12:17 PM on December 1, 2006

It's important to remember that in the original vision, there was no standing army; the President was Commander-in-Chief of nothing and had no ability to start wars. In event of need, the Congress would summon the militias of the assorted states to provide an armed force, which the President would then command.

The United States has come a long way since then.
posted by jellicle at 12:34 PM on December 1, 2006

The last time Congress declared war was in 1941. Since then presidents of the United States, including the one I served, have gotten Congress, occasionally under demonstrably false pretenses, to suspend Constitutional provisions that required them to get the consent of the people’s representatives in order to conduct a war. They have been handed a blank check to send the armed forces into action at their personal discretion and on dubious Constitutional grounds.
the current President has made extra-Constitutional claims of authority by repeatedly acting as if he were Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation and not merely of the armed forces

Excellent point.

Washington Post story on Emily Perez. "Shafting the Vets" discusses some of the same points that Mr. Moyers does. Reprints of "The Battle at Home" are supposedly available from the California Nurses Association
posted by kirkaracha at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2006

There was too much amazing stuff there for me to pull and quote, so allow me to say simply, "Thanks for posting this."
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 12:54 PM on December 1, 2006

It's interesting that someone chose Moyers to address West Point. I tend to be a big fan of his overall, and am glad he did so.
posted by edgeways at 12:59 PM on December 1, 2006

This was forwarded to the vets in my family. Thanks Russ.
posted by tkchrist at 1:09 PM on December 1, 2006

What an excellent speach. I wonder how it went down with the cadets - I'm not assuming anything here - I'd just be interested to find out what they thought f it.
posted by Sk4n at 1:12 PM on December 1, 2006

This was excellent. It took me my entire lunch hour to read it, but it was worth it.

It's time to take patriotism from the Archie Bunker slobs who wave flags (Jello Biafra's line) and give it back to people like Mr. Moyers.

Be true to your principles, General Kosciuszko reminded Thomas Jefferson. If doing so exposes the ignorance and arrogance of power, you may be doing more to save the nation than exploits in combat can achieve.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:39 PM on December 1, 2006

Sk4n, I was wondering the same thing. Excellent post, by the way.
posted by saladin at 1:40 PM on December 1, 2006

What a phenomenal speech. It is tremendously reassuring that there remain intelligent voices that remember our founding principles. It is tremendously saddening that they are so few and far between.

This speech should be required reading for all high-school civics classes... given before young people are eligible to sign up for military service.
posted by Malor at 1:45 PM on December 1, 2006

Moyers is perpetuating a myth that the Constitutional requirement for Congressional approval of war means a bill must be passed that says "Declaration of War".

That's false. It's true that Congress hasn't passed anything that says "Declaration of War" since 1941, but it is false that since then Congress has abdicated on its responsibility in this regard.

What's important is not the form, but the substance, and the substance these days takes the form of an authorization under the War Powers Act. In all ways which matter, the resolution passed by Congress in October of 2002 was a legal declaration of war against Iraq and fully and legally authorized the invasion. There may be other complaints about what happened then or what's happened since, but to claim that it's not a "legal" war because there "was no declaration of war" is outright false.

And given Moyers' background and experience, he should know better.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2006

Just to nitpick, (but important nits, I think,) is that that last time we decalred war was 1942, and that Congress has been authorizing military action without a decleration of war since 1798.
posted by Snyder at 2:07 PM on December 1, 2006

In all ways which matter, the resolution passed by Congress in October of 2002 was a legal declaration of war against Iraq and fully and legally authorized the invasion.

By "all ways which matter", this means the makeup of Congress was such that there would be no resistance to Bush's ensuing violations of the Constitution.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on December 1, 2006

So, in any event, non-war wars are not a Cold War invention by any stretch.
posted by Snyder at 2:08 PM on December 1, 2006

Once again, Steven C. Den Beste is perpetrating the myth that this war is explicitly legal, under both the US constitution and the UN charter. Further, he is using this as a canard to distract from the rest of the speech, which he knows that he has no answer to.
posted by klangklangston at 2:16 PM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

To elaborate on Steven C. Den Beste's point: there's some controversy over the 1973 War Powers Resolution. It was an attempt by Congress to limit the ability of the President to make war; Nixon attempted to veto it, but was overruled. Subsequent Presidents have argued that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, but it's never been tested by the Supreme Court. John Dean discusses its history.

As of August 2002, anonymous high-level officials in the Bush administration were arguing that they didn't need Congressional authorization to go to war.
posted by russilwvong at 2:19 PM on December 1, 2006

In all ways which matter, the resolution passed by Congress in October of 2002 was a legal declaration of war against Iraq and fully and legally authorized the invasion.

In all ways that matter, enemy combatants are clearly distinguishable from both criminals and soldiers, nevermind all wartime law up to this point.

In all ways that matter, the President's personal understanding of the interpretation of the law is the only determinant in whether or not he is violating it.

In all ways that matter, waterboarding is not torture.

In all ways that matter, only a few bad apples were involved in torture and murder at Abu Ghraib, nevermind Rumsfeld's authorization.

In all ways that matter, email and phone tapping do not violate resonable expectations of privacy.

In all ways that matter, cherry-picked evidence is grounds enough to start a war.

In all ways that matter, preventive war is not preemptive war.

In all ways that matter, a biometric national ID card is no more onerous than a state ID.

In all ways that matter, the Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper.

In all ways that matter, the entire neocon movement amounts to nothing but the continual redefinition of words into nothingness.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:27 PM on December 1, 2006 [7 favorites]

Thanks Russ! sonofsamiam has nearly as much oratorical excellence as Mr. Moyers . . . way to go!

I was so impressed the way Moyers got down to calling out the chickenhawks without ever sounding rancorous. Wish I could write that well.
posted by ahimsakid at 2:37 PM on December 1, 2006

I think form AND substance matter, otherwise one may fall into ends justify the means situations, which is shaky ground to be on, in effect it is what the admin has been arguing for quite awhile, both in terms of war reasoning and terrorist apprehension tactics. It is important to build flexibility into the forms established in order to handle unique situations, but that flexibility MUST come with oversight

I'm not going to weigh in too heavily on the war powers/ congressional approval issue, because it generally seems like a right royal cock up, a situation that results when you get the form wrong, or unclear.

Given the controversy surrounding War Powers it may be reasonable to assume what Moyers is speaking of is the interpretation he believes is correct, rather than espousing a known falsehood.
posted by edgeways at 2:49 PM on December 1, 2006

Once again, Steven C. Den Beste is perpetrating the myth that this war is explicitly legal, under both the US constitution and the UN charter.

I didn't say anything about the UN charter. No other country pays any attention to it; why should we? (The UN Security Council has, during its existence, authorized exactly two wars. Both times it was the US asking.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:17 PM on December 1, 2006

Steven C. Den Beste: No other country pays any attention to [the UN]; why should we?

Besides the fact that the US created the UN? It's simple: people outside the US are wary of US unilateralism. As Burke put it, describing British power:
Among precautions against ambition, it may not be amiss to take precaution against our own. I must fairly say, I dread our own power and our own ambition: I dread our being too much dreaded ... We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing and hitherto unheard of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.
Acting through the UN would have been a way for the US to reduce such suspicion, increasing the legitimacy of US actions and reducing the likelihood that others will oppose the US.

That said, I think your point about the October 2002 Congressional authorization is valid: it does indeed authorize the use of force. If Congress had doubts (and many were expressed), it wasn't able to stand up to the White House.
posted by russilwvong at 4:04 PM on December 1, 2006

Thanks for the pointer to Moyer's speech.

I'm reminded that tens of thousands of people in my city got up and walked, before this war began, to say no to it.

There is some comfort in that.

The things that people won't talk about are among the most interesting things. Talking about them acknowledges their reality. Acknowledging reality isn't something we're good at; it makes it hard to maintain the slumber that lets some of us go about daily life AS IF.

We have always lived in AS IF until the pain became too great to bear. One day we will leave AS IF behind because we've chosen to leave the pain behind. Then too there will still be nothing to say, because we will no longer need to pretend.
posted by Twang at 4:05 PM on December 1, 2006

What I love about Moyers speech is it's universalism. This is as equally profound to those hearing it today, as it would have been 20 years ago. This is not about partisanship, it is about the relationship of a free society to it's military, and vice versa.

Bravo, this, truly is good.
posted by Freen at 4:26 PM on December 1, 2006

This was an excellent speech, and I sent the link to my folks the in the hopes that they'll maybe have a better grasp on my decision. Posting this comment from Zabol province, Afghanistan.
posted by kavasa at 4:39 PM on December 1, 2006

Steven C. Den Beste: No other country pays any attention to [the UN]; why should we?

This is both wrong, and seems like trying to sweep ill deeds under a mental rug via flimsy or false rationalizations. Most countries pay far more attention to the UN than the USA. Most countries are small, and thus their security and best interests lie in as lawful a world as possible.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:19 PM on December 1, 2006

As you know, you have to go to war with the rationalizations you have, not the rationalizations you want.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:28 PM on December 1, 2006 [3 favorites]

And given Moyers' background and experience, he should know better.

Oh, but he does know better, M. den Beste. He's learned from experience. Unlike you, still tootling along at the helm of the U.S.S. Clueless.

From Moyers' speech:

People in power should be required to take classes in the poetry of war. As a presidential assistant during the early escalation of the war in Vietnam, I remember how the President blanched when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would take one million fighting men and 10 years really to win in Vietnam, but even then the talk of war was about policy, strategy, numbers and budgets, not severed limbs and eviscerated bodies.

That experience, and the experience 40 years later of watching another White House go to war, also relying on inadequate intelligence, exaggerated claims and premature judgments, keeping Congress in the dark while wooing a gullible press, cheered on by partisans, pundits, and editorial writers safely divorced from realities on the ground, ended any tolerance I might have had for those who advocate war from the loftiness of the pulpit, the safety of a laptop, the comfort of a think tank, or the glamour of a television studio.

Do tell us, M. den Beste, from the safety of your laptop, how splendidly this war of yours is going.
posted by vetiver at 7:29 PM on December 1, 2006

In all ways which matter, the resolution passed by Congress in October of 2002 was a legal declaration of war against Iraq and fully and legally authorized the invasion.

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq required the president to determine that:
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, and

(2) acting pursuant to this resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorists attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
In early March 2003, Hans Blix said:
"One can hardly avoid the impression that after a period of somewhat reluctant cooperation, there has been an acceleration of initiatives from the Iraqi side since the end of January." To complete inspections properly "even with a proactive Iraqi attitude" he said, "would not take years, nor weeks, but months"
France, Germany, and Russia, proposed beefed-up inspections, but President Bush refused them. Sounds like "further diplomatic or other peaceful means" to me.

There is no evidence that Iraq "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission reported that there was no "collaborative operational relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq, "nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."

The invasion didn't meet either requirement for the use of force, so it was illegal under US law.

I didn't say anything about the UN charter. No other country pays any attention to it; why should we?

Because the United Nations Charter, which as a treaty is "the supreme Law of the Land" according to Article VI of the Constitution, only allows use of force in self-defense or if the Security Council has authorized use of force; neither condition applied to the invasion of Iraq.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:23 PM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

kavasa: Posting this comment from Zabol province, Afghanistan.

Wow. I didn't even know where Zabol was.

kirkaracha, I saw those conditions, but I thought the key thing was that it was up to the President to make the determination. In other words, the conditions were toothless, given a President who was already determined to go to war. (My recollection is that at the time the Congressional resolution was being debated, Bush claimed not to have made a decision to go to war; but we now know he was lying.)
posted by russilwvong at 9:52 PM on December 1, 2006

I like Mr. Moyers, and here's a link to what he said just as the Iraq War began.
posted by jefbla at 11:48 PM on December 1, 2006

Like many who were belittled for calling the Iraq fiasco an illegal action, Moyer was pilloried and deserves an apology from the right. All of them.
posted by spitbull at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2006

But that would be playing the blame game, spitbull. And I really wish we would begin playing the blame game.

When a politician says "that's all very well, but it doesn't help us out of the mess we're in now" they're missing the point. When your mommy yells at you for breaking the vase she warned you to be careful with, you don't get to say "That's not constructive, mom, let's move on" you get punished.

These politicians have to go, and soon. If they don't leave under a cloud, we're sending them merrily into the hinterlands of lucrative guest speaking and board positions, while the "debate" over their "legacies" will rage. Impeachment or resignation is what's required.
posted by bonaldi at 1:08 PM on December 2, 2006

Why should we pay attention to the UN?

Well, do we care about international law? Do we subscribe to the idea that there should be rules about what countries are or are not permitted to do? Or do we believe that any time any country feels the urge, they should attack whoever they please?

Sure, lots of countries ignore the UN's directives. I don't see how that makes it okay for us to do so. How can another country's crimes make ours acceptable? Besides, the US saying "but other countries do it! Why shouldn't we?" is kind of like Pol Pot saying "But Charles Manson killed six or eight people! Why shouldn't I kill hundreds of thousands?" The US is far and away the most egregious and prolific violator of UN resolutions (for the simple reason that we have the necessary power). And that's before you factor in all the resolutions that would have been passed and later violated by us if we hadn't vetoed them. If we stop doing it, that would, all by itself, change dramatically the overall level of UN resolution compliance in the world.
posted by Clay201 at 9:54 PM on December 2, 2006

what an excellent, excellent speech.
I bumped into 3 drunken hipsters while walking home from the subway last night, finally getting to it. I too wondered about its reception when I'd finished.
thanks for this, (FPP and Bill)
posted by Busithoth at 2:57 PM on December 3, 2006

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