Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Constitution in Plain English - Part 3 of 10

I was pleased to receive an e-mail from Simon wondering wazzup with Part 3 of this irregular series. Part of the delay was an obstinate desire to make it "irregular" - and part of it was the plain fact that the Third Amendment does not have an obvious immediate relevance to life in America 2005.

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Well, duh! The military can't just move into a neighborhood, declare it a base and house personnel, right? Why would you waste an amendment to the Constitution on this one? I have some vague recollection that the British did just that, which is why there was a revolution, but wasn't sure how to write about it. Guessing that I was in such a bind, Simon sent me a few paragraphs from "Hope," a novel by L. Neil Smith and Aaron Zelman.

The excerpt has the added bonus of including a passage similar to the obligatory introduction to this series for newcomers who haven't yet scrolled down to Parts 1 and 2:

A lot of individuals these days both in academia and politics, pretend to have difficulty understand what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote the Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights.

It seems to me that you have to be desperate to advance your political agenda—pathetically desperate—if you’re willing to appear so dull-witted and ignorant that you’re unable to comprehend the clearest thinking and the cleanest writing ever, in the history of the English language.

So for the benefit of the mental malingerers like that, as well as our own, for just one minute, let’s put ourselves where the Founders found themselves after the Revolution and see if we can’t figure out for ourselves just what they were getting at.

Now then, here's what I would have written if I'd thought the Third Amendment through as thoroughly as our two visiting scholars:

Let’s give it a try: following a 20 year cold war, and a shooting war that lasted for nine years, you’ve just completely flabbergasted yourself and everybody else in the world, by humiliating the regular military and the mercenary forces of the most powerful and ruthless empire the world has ever witnessed, a culture that has pretended for centuries to be the most refined and genteel civilization known to mankind, but which has raped and pillaged and enslaved its way across the face of this poor, suffering planet since Henry Cabot rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497.

Now, Founding Fathers and Mothers, you find yourself writing a document—the basic legal foundation for your new country—hoping to make sure that the abuses of power that caused you to fight the Revolution to begin with can never happen again.

Let’s start with what’s often regarded as the most outdated and least important of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, the Third Amendment, which forbids the quartering of troops in people’s homes in times of peace, or in times of war ‘but in a manner to be prescribed by law’—which necessarily implies just compensation; considering the nature of the 18th century practice, that pretty much precludes quartering of any kind under any circumstances.

If you’re the “beneficiary” of this kind of government attention, you can bet that your livestock will be slaughtered first, to feed the troops you’re quartering, or herded off to grace some officer’s estate, along with any rolling stock—wagons or carriages—you have. At the same time, your crops will be pulled from the ground—even if they’re not ready it will deny them to the enemy—and your orchards cut down for firewood.

Of course all of your furniture and personal property will meet similar fates, the smaller items—the gold locket with hand-cut silhouettes of your mother and father—vanishing into the voluminous bulk of the military uniforms of the time, the larger items hauled away to that officer’s estate, on your own wagons, pulled by the oxen you’ll never see again.

But that’s not the least of it. You can pretty much expect your daughters, your sisters, your aunts, your wife, and even your mother to be bringing more English babies into the world in a few months—that is if they aren’t simply beaten to death, or gutted from crotch to sternum by British bayonets, once they’ve been used by the officers and thrown to the troops afterward.

Remember, we’re not speaking of Nazis, here, or of Cossacks, or even of the Mongol Horde. We’re talking about the “kindest, gentlest” empire in the world. Does the Third Amendment seem so obsolete and insignificant now?

So maybe no one's moving troops into the house next door - but given that the American Empire proclaims itself to be the bastion of freedom while trampling on the freedoms supposedly protected in the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, it would be prudent to assume that someday someone might. And if that happens, that will be unconstitutional, too.


Anonymous kyfho said...

"In Puerto Rico, National Guard troops have been permanently stationed in 54 apartment buildings. Government also destroys our privacy by wire-tapping our telephones, seizing business records and keeping extensive files on most citizens."


I thought I remembered something where the government was directly violating the Third. Just needed to have my memory (and the search engine) jogged.


11:12 AM  

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