By Mark Patterson, Guest Contributor
Staff Sgt. James Cawleyâ€™s death taught me a lot about sacrifice. Before we lost Staff Sgt. Cawley, Fox Company felt invincible. However, after the evening of his death we all quickly realized how quickly one of us could be taken away. Men like James Cawley arenâ€™t supposed to die. Staff Sgt. Cawley was a powerful man, the type of warrior who knew everything about his profession. He was the type of man who could make his men feel invincible through his leadership. Staff Sgt. Cawley was a father, a husband, brother and son. He was a friend to many and spent his entire life serving. Cawley served a religious prosletyzing mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Japan. After giving up two years of his young life in the service of his faith James joined the Marines. Since that time until his death, Jim always wore a uniform and performed duties that placed his body and life in the way of those he defended.
I remember vividly the funeral we held for him in the mud and heat of Iraq. It all seemed so surreal. We made a temporary monument to Jim, his boots, helmet and rifle. Behind it we erected a temporary flag pole and atop it we placed the American Flag. There we were a hundred sad but determined men stuck in the middle of a hellish fight in a country that wasnâ€™t our own. I remember staring at that flag seeking purpose and meaning.
Our flag is a symbol. In fleeting moments while we bask in blessings and realities of American life we may reflect upon that meaning, but as a twenty one year old kid I wondered what does this flag REALLY stand for. Then all of the sudden I was overcome with a powerful feeling, a surety of knowledge. Yes, the flag stood for America the land we inhabit and it stood for the family that I loved and had left, but what I realized that day in that brief calm moment of reflection in the mud of Iraq was that the flag stood for a set of beautifully simple ideals: ideals enumerated specifically in the defining document of our country, our Constitution. The Constitution contained one basic idea in it. Governments are created by the people for the people. We, â€œthe people,â€ are entitled to Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. These are not expectations, they are inalienable rights, rights that no government should be able to take away because they are more than government, more than mankind itself.
In a sweaty cramped room in Philadelphia, a room of full of revolutionaries, ambitious politicians, wealthy merchants and stubborn idealists drafted a document that was designed in every aspect to protect these freedoms. However, despite the ratification of the Constitution, the history of America is a history of our Constitution being threatened both from enemies abroad and irresponsibility within.
Shortly after the Constitution was ratified, it came under its first threat. In an effort to control strong pro-British sentiment in the Colonies, President John Adams drafted a series of laws in 1798 known then as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws curtailed many constitutional freedoms including freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. It might seem outrageous that one of the founding fathers himself could pass such a law. John Adams believed in the Constitution but he was facing a potentially dangerous political situation at home that would manifest itself later with the scores of American Citizens who would aid the Brittish in the war of 1812. Fortunately for the First Amendment, The Alien and Sedition Acts died with the end of Adamâ€™s presidency. However, this only occurred because of staunch opposition and dissention from the American people.
Perhaps the largest affront to the principle of equal and inalienable rights was the institution of Slavery itself. This deplorable and despicable institution was protected by the Constitution itself that so hypocritically ignored the contradiction of Slavery and Freedomâ€™s coexistence. In 1857, with the Dredd Scott decision, the Supreme Court upheld the notion that people could be property. It took 600,000 American lives lost in the Civil War to prove the contrary.
The 20th century would also be fraught with peril and attacks directed towards our American ideals. In 1917, President Wilson passed the Espionage Act and then in 1918 extended it with the Sedition Act which attacked our freedom of speech. Wilsonâ€™s logic at the time was that dissent in a time of war â€œinterferedâ€ with the ability of our Armed Forces to successfully execute a war. It was literally a crime to question the First World War or the government. Although aspects of these laws have been changed or reformed, much of it remains law to this day.
The Depression itself brought threats to our American ideals as we began to sacrifice state sovereignty, gold backed currency, and the lack of individual taxation for the fleeting benefits of government welfare. However, the Constitution also came under attack in the form a coupe attempt against our government staged by major C.E.Oâ€™s of Americaâ€™s most profitable companies. These business moguls disapproved of President Roosevelt and were willing to sacrifice our fledgling democracy for sustained profits. Unfortunately for them, they did not count on the integrity of the man they chose to lead the military effort of the coupes, the then retired Marine General Smedley Butler. Butler went along with the plot long enough to finger and expose many of the conspirators before the Congress in 1934. Subsequent Congressional investigations corroborated his accusations, yet surprisingly no one was prosecuted.
A Second World War and the following Cold War also prompted us as a nation to trade freedom for security. We herded our own citizens into concentration camps simply because of their race and jailed and prosecuted American citizens simply because of their political party. Later we would endure a president who would resign in disgrace for being proven a liar and a criminal. Unfortunately, this list goes on.
The point is not that our nation has at times failed to live up to its ideals. It is that in each of these cases we, the American people, whether individually or collectively have stood up to our government to protect our freedoms. Now is no different. The threat of terrorism is a very real one. Yet, when compared to the threats and violence we have endured in the past it should not appear unbeatable. Nor should it merit the destruction of our civil rights and our American ideals. However, we are beginning to let it.
On Oct 17, with little media attention and even less scrutiny from our Congress, President George W. Bush played his part in our history of allowing our freedoms to be threatened by signing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This law was designed to set clear guidelines for the interrogation of Terrorist suspects held by the United States Government. In the mind of Bush and others, we needed new laws that allowed for harsher interrogation and less restriction on civil and humanitarian rights than the Geneva Conventions and Uniform Code of Military Justice had previously allowed for. However, what most of us failed to recognize was that this law specifically allowed for the President of the United States to declare a citizen of the United States an â€œUnlawful Enemy Combatant.â€ This classification deprives a person of their constitutional rights and the most basic right of Habeus Corpus, which allows for an individual to only be incarcerated under a system of Due Process that affords them the ability to defend themselves. One might say that such a law is necessary to protect us from terrorism, but it would be very difficult for anyone to argue that such a law does not at least weaken our civil rights if not outright eliminate some of them.
The law states in Sec. 948 a
`(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant’ means–
`(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.
We stand now in perilous times. Although terrorism threatens us, so do our own laws as they try to protect us. No terrorist, no matter how successful, could ever destroy America because America is more than our wealth, our land or even our own lives. America is an idea, it is a belief that all men are created equal with inalienable rights, that government is subordinate to the peopleâ€™s wishes and that nothing, no enemy force, no government and no threat should ever take these rights away. We cannot trade freedom for security and we cannot bow to our fear. By sacrificing our Constitutional freedoms we give terrorists a victory they could never hope for in their wildest dreamsâ€¦we destroy America for them.
Our country is embroiled in a difficult war. A war we now know was undertaken for shaky if not deceptive reasons. Yet, knowing this, I would gladly put a uniform back on, return to Iraq, and if necessary, die. I would do this because I know that my sacrifice is not for the Bush Administration and its policies, nor is it for the American people, or the land we call home. I would die because I believe that my death would be in the name of the ideals this country was based on. I know also that Staff Sgt. Cawleyâ€™s death was not in vain. I know what he died for. We owe it to him and all the other men and women who died defending our freedom to respect them by respecting the freedom they gave us instead of trading it away for the illusion of temporary security.
As we go to the polls for this watershed election, I would humbly encourage my fellow Americans not to vote Republican or Democrat, pro-war or anti-war. I would beg you all to vote for any candidate who you know respects our American ideals and believes that nothing is more important than protecting this experiment we call democracy and the American ideals we call freedom.