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This is the third in my series of postings capturing my thoughts and reflections from my frequent visits to the Old North Bridge in Concord, the site to which I most often go to pray and meditate these last half dozen years. The course of this series has followed my usual path through the site. In the first, I started where each visit begins and ends, at the graves of the two British soldiers. In the second, I proceeded to the obelisk and contemplated the historic parallels between their mission to Concord and our invasion of Iraq. In this installment we proceed across the bridge to the monument that was the reason for my visit  on September 12, 2001, the first time I came to the site explicitly to pray.

In this installment we visit the prototype for the brave passengers of Flight 93: the Minuteman... Patriot and Unlawful Combatant... Symbol of our freedom...

Minuteman at DuskToday, we visit the Concord Minuteman. My prayer on September 12 was one of thanksgiving as well as one of mourning and remembrance. It seemed clear to me that just as the Minutemen defended their homes and neighbors in Colonial America, a number of  the passengers of Flight 93 constituted the Militia in 2001. The details were sketchy, but it seemed clear from the reports of phone calls from the passengers that a group of men and women had gathered, determined that the hijackers had to be stopped from using their plane as a weapon, and charged the cockpit.

I came here to honor them, and their predecessors of the last 3 centuries, free citizens, volunteers who have stood to defend our Republic and Commonwealth. A few weeks later, in early October, I came here to pray before writing an essay entitled "9-11: America Victorious", in which I protested the portrayal of 9-11 as an American failure. This angered me because it gives too little credit to patriots like Beamer, Bingham, Burnett, and Glick who exemplify the Minuteman spirit.

In all the times that I have discussed this subject at the foot of the Minuteman statue, never has anyone disagreed with my contention that the Flight 93 heroes are the modern versions of Isaac Davis, and his fellows. Some have been surprised that they hadn't thought of it that way before, but none have taken issue.

Not so my other observation. You see, the Minuteman as portrayed in Daniel Chester French's statue is clearly an Unlawful Combatant, or more correctly, he is not in terms of the Geneva Conventions, a "Lawful Combatant". According to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, in order to qualify as a Prisoner of War (a Lawful Combatant), one must fulfill the following requirements:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) That of carrying arms openly;
(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

The colonial militias at the time of the Battle of Concord wore no uniforms, and displayed no fixed distinctive sign, though some did wear war paint and others cockades, but these were more designation of rank than of allegiance. It can also be argued that they did not conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. Certainly it was so argued at the time. One of the fallen British soldiers at the North Bridge was described by a fellow as appearing to have been scalped. The militia fired from cover, retreated into civilian houses and blended into the civilian populace. There is reason to believe that the cannons that the Governor was looking for in Concord were stolen from the British in Worcester. In the months leading up to the Battle of Concord, the militia had been used to intimidate the Governor's appointed judges, and so on.

Please, dear reader, understand that I do not say these things to disparage the Minutemen or the militias in general. You will be hard pressed to find someone more proud of the history or citizens of the Commonwealth or the Republic. I vehemently support the revolutionaries and insurgents who were our founding fathers. They were free men who fought for Liberty and for us, their descendants. They founded one of, if not the, greatest countries ever to grace the pages of history.

Rather, I bring these things up because I am critical of the Geneva Conventions and even more so of our nation's relationship to them. You see, in direct contradiction of the policies and opinions of the current administration, I hold that the Geneva Conventions do not cover enough people, rather than too many. They are not quaint, should not be abandoned or narrowed. The should be expanded. As they stand they would not cover the very men who fought to create our country. They would not cover the farmer who sets aside his plow to take up his rifle.

Ah, but you say, what of paragraph 6? (At least those of you facile with GCIII Article 4, Section A.) What of

  1. Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

We were, however an occupied territory, a colony. Recall, if you will, that what had the Colonists up in arms (literally)—gathering the cannons, muskets and ammunition that Governor Gage sent his troops to find and confiscate were the "Intolerable Acts", including the Quartering Act, the reason that that the framers felt it was necessary to include in the Constitution the prohibition that

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.

Also, we had plenty of time. We had organized militias for more than a century. We did not "spontaneously take up arms". We chose the path of irregular militias rather than regular armies. No, paragraph 6 is not for us.

I'm no lawyer, especially not one versed in international law, so there may be something that I have overlooked, some way in which one might argue that the colonial militiamen might be covered by GCIII and GCIV, but at best, the matter is unclear. And so, if we were to be true to the history of our nation, we would be pressing the international community to  extend the coverage of the Geneva Conventions, and not as the current administration has done, worked to restrict that coverage.

This country was founded by insurgents, by free men who banded together for self protection who believed that the government was "of, by and for the people", that it takes its legitimacy from the will and the consent of the governed. We reject monarchy based on divine right and the subordination of the people to the state. The restrictions in the Geneva Conventions are based on the premise that only a state may raise an army, that fighters who are part of a recognized army fielded by a legitimate state should be protected. Individuals who fight for their own liberty, for the defense of their neighbors without state blessing are not as valued and protected. Unlawful Combatants. Insurgents and other non-state sponsored individuals are not protected. This should not be surprising as the Geneva Conventions are agreements between states.

It is perfectly understandable, but in terms of what happened on April 19, 1775, and the years that followed it, of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutions of the United States and of the several Sates, it is not very American. It is very Bush, however. The current administration believes very much in rule by a strong individual, a Commander in Chief who is the sole decider in a Unified Executive. They have advanced political theories that dismiss individual liberty for the good of the State and the nation. They have sought to limit the number of people protected by the Geneva Conventions, and by our laws. For them, States are more important than individuals, rights are granted to citizens by the state rather than the other way around, and of course all power in the state is wielded by the sole supervisor of the unitary executive.

The lesson of Isaac Davis, the Acton Minuteman immortalized in the Concord Minuteman statue is that the farmer, the gunsmith, the man who was convinced that if he took up arms he would die, takes up arms because it is the right thing to do, because a patriot protects his neighbor's town from being burned by an occupying army seeking to disarm honest farmers. Here is not a soldier, not a lawful combatant, but a gunsmith, a farmer, a free man, chosen by the common consent of his fellows, to lead the first charge.

This is America.

But as ever, don't believe me. Read the history of the Battle of Concord and the Intolerable Acts. Read of the life of Isaac Davis, and the owl he believed foretold his death but which did not hold him back. Read the story of  Mark Bingham, the gay patriot from San Francisco and the words of his mother, Alice Hoglan regarding the ground that is hallowed by the bones of her son and the terrorists he died fighting. Decide for yourself what the memorials in Concord mean at their heart, what it means to honor the enemy dead, what it means to live in a Commonwealth and a Republic founded by insurgents, rebels and and citizen soldiers.

Be a free voice.
Be Liberty's voice.
Cry, "Freedom!"

Vox Libertas

Originally posted to Vox Libertas on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 07:15 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Beautifly Said (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ekaterin, marykk

    I grew up about a mile from that bridge - it is sacred ground.  Its been many years since I lived there but you have a captured a great truth here.  

    The Spirit of 76 lives on.   But, as each generation must, we have to decide which side of that spirit we will embrace.

    One question I have for you - would your expansion cover the Janjaweed or are they already covered?  Seems like that would violate the spirit of what you are after here.

    Those who learn from history will make their own dumb mistakes

    by Freadom on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 07:48:47 PM PDT

    •  I think it might (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm not sure if the Janjaweed are covered (I suspect some are and some are not), but I will say that just as the Nazis who were tried at Nuremberg were, and should have been, extended the protections of POW's up until their trial and execution, so should the Janjaweed.

      Alice Hoglan was able to write:

      Unrecoverable fragments of my son's body are embedded in the soil at [the flight 93 crash] site, along with the bones of the other heroes who fought beside him. There too are the bones of the misdirected zealots whose twisted religious ideas caused all their deaths. The mothers and fathers of those terrorists - and the terrorists themselves - are all human beings who struggled for their version of the right. Those parents mourn their children's deaths, just as we mourn our children. I condemn their children's last violent acts. I condemn their children's twisted view of Islam. I do not condemn their faith. I do not condemn Islam, or the crescent symbol of Islam. Islam is not al Qaida. Al Qaida is not Islam.

      And I think it is a lesson in humanity.

  •  Since this President took office (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I've often thought of the minutemen.  Why they fought and how they fought.  It seems, after the last 6 & 1/2 years that it may have been for nothing.  We have lost so much they have provided.  I consider my apathy and the apathy of my peers as a big part of the problem.  With the signing statements the politicalization (sp?) of the DOJ, "Homeland" Security, and all the lies I wonder if we will ever have again what we have lost.  I understand that just thinking that puts me in the category of treason by BushCo but I have to develop my courage for future battles somehow.  It comes mostly from the minutemen.  I am glad I grew up in the Boston area and was able to see the actual places where our revolution was started.  I know that our revolution is not over.

    •  Torches and pitchforks for everybody! (0+ / 0-)

      A revolution is coming - a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough - but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character, we cannot alter its inevitability. -John F. Kennedy

      "A religious war is fighting over who's imaginary friend is better" -7.88,-5.59

      by Jacques on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 09:04:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It has taken its time, but... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        About 40 years ago, a friend of mine and I discussed Kennedy's coming revolution. I piously told my friend that it was coming and I would be part of it. A few years after that, as I held pictures taken of Kent, Ohio and Kent State University on May 4, 1970, my father's 46th birthday, I thought I heard the echoes of its approach. Today, at 56, as I pray on that sacred ground, by the bridge, I fear that he was right, that it is coming still. And I pray that we will not be called upon to fulfill Jefferson's prescription for refreshing the tree of liberty, but I fear that if we do not change something soon, it will be more Jefferson's image than Kennedy's.

        Vox Libertas
        A free voice, still

  •  Wonderful diary series! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Vox Libertas, this is the first time I've seen your series. What a fabulous job you have done.

    I too love Old North Bridge, and each time I visit, I am aware that I am on hallowed ground.

    Thanks so much for your writing.

    Better to live on your feet than die crawling...DarkSyde

    by Ekaterin on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 08:16:50 PM PDT

  •  Terrific diary. (0+ / 0-)

    Glad it was rescued.

    A fellow Concordian.

  •  I have walked the battlefields at Lexington (0+ / 0-)

    and Concord many times.   I am overcome by emotion every time I visit those sacred places.   However, I reject the concept of moral equivalancy, which would equate the efforts of our forefathers with those of Iranian Shiites who would smuggle EFP's and IED's into Iraq in order to aid foreigners in their quest to steal Iraq from its people.  We don't belong there, but neither do they.  Good diary, but make your point.  If your point is moral equivalancy between the insurgents and US troops, I disagree with you.  

    Because everyone has one. Having credibility when making an argument is the straightest path to persuasion.

    by SpamNunn on Wed Oct 10, 2007 at 08:30:38 PM PDT

    •  Oh, but I did. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I don't believe you will find my drawing the moral equivalency that you so fear. If I have drawn analogies, which is not the same as equivalences, it is between our soldiers and the British invaders who died in Concord. There is also, an analogy between the citizens of the Commonwealth and the citizens of Iraq, each of whom were invaded and feared for their homes.

      I've also cited the analogy of Ann Hoglan between her own brave heroic son and the terrorists he fought, and whose actions she condemned, but all of this misses the point.

      It's not about THEM. It is about US. Who are we? What are our principles? Do we live up to them? Do we believe in rule by laws or by men? do we recognize our enemies as human beings? Do we believe that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights? Do we abridge those rights? Do we let mere acts of violence blind us to, or cause us to abandon our principles. Can a republic conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal endure?

      Or will we surrender it to those who spread unwarranted fear of our enemies? Do we stoop to torture, to occupation of other people's homelands, do we quarter our troops in their buildings? Do we impose our laws on others? Do we commit intolerable acts?

      You concentrate on the the "equivalence" of our troops with their insurgents, or more plausibly our insurgents with theirs. The first you will find nowhere in what I have written. The second is implied at least as food for thought. Far more important are the analogies of our troops and the British troops and even more important than that our leadership and the British leadership.

      And of course, most fundamental of all is the admonition that you will find in all my diaries: Don't believe me. Study history. Study current events. Contemplate my analogies. Make your own. Draw your own conclusions. Too long have we allowed a cult of personality, the divisiveness of mega-politics and the overwhelming weight of mainstream punditry to substitute for principles, for freedom, and for democratic action.

      It is not a coincidence that this series is written as a journey through that hollowed ground, that I walk from monument to monument as I make my points. The journey is the point. It is not merely important where we get to, but how we get there. Our goal must not merely be for the Republic, the People to survive. We must also think about how we get there. What path do we follow? Whose footsteps?

      Be a free voice.

  •  What we can expect of international law (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vox Libertas

    The British treated Colonial soldiers as criminals, traitors specifically, because of their view that they were fighting, not a war, but a rebellion.  The distinction between militia and regular soldiers didn't enter into it, they treated both as criminals, because in their view both were breaking the peace of their lawful sovereign, to whom many had sworn solemn oaths of loyalty.

    The process of formalizing the previously unwritten conventions of the ethical conduct of war into written Conventions didn't change this underlying problem.  Governments tend to treat the soldiers of competing nations, where there is no dispute that the other side has a right to exist as an independent sovereign nation, as lawful combatants, no matter what type, or lack, of uniforms they wear. But when it comes to insurgents, guerrillas, "freedom fighters", and other irregular forces, usually we are dealing with cases in which the whole reason that there is an irregular force rather than something more formal and organized, is because there is a dispute as to where legitimate sovereignty lies.  The insurgents in Iraq consider themselves to be fighting for the one, true  independent Iraq (though one group tends to differ from another on exactly which politicos are the "true" legitimate govt), but we treat them as common criminals because we insist that the govt in the Green Zone is the one true sovereign.  The insurgents could wear old Iraqi Army uniforms and fight in the open, but we would still consider them to be simple murderers if they killed anyone, because we do not recognize any legitimate sovereign for which the insurgents can be acting as a legitimate army.

    The international law governing warfare, as it exists now, is very modest in its scope.  It merely prescribes proper behavior between lawful combatants.  For it to be able to help out with this underlying problem of who has sovereignty, and therefore the right to maintain armies of these lawful combatants, we would have to have a world govt that would decide these matters, and be able to impose its decisions on member states.  In a world without any overarching "controlling legal authority", independent states can agree to treat each other's agents civilly, because that is in their common interest.  But since these questions of sovereignty come up, and are often central, in most of the disputes between nations, there is no common interest in the question of exactly who has legitimacy as a sovereign, and can legitimately raise armies of these lawful combatants.  So nations will continue to act willfully in making these determinations according to their own interests and perceptions.

    The way up and the way down are one and the same.

    by gtomkins on Thu Oct 11, 2007 at 06:24:10 AM PDT

    •  Excellent summary (0+ / 0-)

      Yes. The only thing that I can add is that in many civil wars different states may recognize different groups as legitimate "freedom fighters", legitimate militias, while regarding the other side as illegitimate "terrorsts", specifically because they recognize different groups as representing the true sovereignty.

      My own points were two-fold: that as a country founded by illegitimate, criminal rebels, who fought for the principal that sovereign power and legitimacy arises from the will and consent of the governed rather than from the state or the divinely consecrated king, we should be pushing the world away from this state-oriented definition, protecting only those people who act on the behalf of a state, but people as people, people as the source of sovereignty. More people, not fewer should have their human rights protected.

      And protecting their rights does not obviate regarding them as criminals. Try war criminals as war criminals. Execute them if they wantonly slew unarmed non combatants or tortured their prisoners. Just do it in accordance with principles. If we, as a nation founded on these principles start to narrow the definition of who has rights to trial, to not be tortured, to humane treatment, then who will honor our principles? Who will treat our citizens and soldiers decently?

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