When I Was a Kid,
This Was a Free Country

G. Gordon Liddy

Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2002

Si Vîs Pacem, Parâ Bellum,
"If You Wish for Peace, Prepare for War."

Flavius Vegetius Renatus

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens [1859]

The hostile comment to G. Gordon Liddy's book that I have noticed at Amazon.com seems to be along the lines of "this was a free country, yes, except for blacks, women, Latinos," etc. Indeed. But does Liddy write about how things were better when blacks, women, Latinos, etc. were in their place. No -- except maybe that women don't belong in the military to the extent that they are, like on warships. But if Liddy doesn't believe in the return of Segregation, then what is wrong now, when we've gotten rid of things like that? The truth is, that while women and minorities may have gained rights that white males had previously, they did not get all of them, and indeed all ended up losing rights as government becomes increasingly more powerful than individuals, of whatever sex, race, or ethnicity.

The kind of rights that Liddy says we have lost are detailed here:

Today, commercially manufactured fireworks are forbidden to anyone other than professionals, and our homemade efforts would get us arrested under federal law for making "destructive devices."

In the name of fighting crime, mail-order sales of firearms are forbidden. This is a matter of indifference to criminals, of course; they simply steal firearms or buy them from other criminals. Nor can the local hardware store sell you the firearm you need to protect your family from such criminals; the proprietors would have to endure far too much federal bureaucratic nonsense and paperwork.

Burning leaves in the gutter or elsewhere is forbidden, the victim of bogus theories about "global warming" -- something that, along with global cooling, occurs naturally in great cycles that last eons and have nothing to do with the piddling activities of humans.

Federal laws protect crows from harm, but not the farmer's seed corn from crows. Sorry about that, but birds are now more important than humans. Indeed, the farmer would be imprisoned for filling in the swamp he owns, because, you see, it is a "wetland" and therefore a "navigable waterway" and thus under federal jurisdiction. Never mind that the only boat that could navigate it is better suited to a bathtub and a three-year-old captain. The riverbank and the tree may be on a man's property, but if the river is a tributary to a protected bay many miles away, the tree belongs to the government, which will assess him a huge fine if he cuts it down.

And forget about importing that European car you fancy. If it doesn't have an air bag that could kill your aged mother, your child, or your less-than-tall wife, it is forbidden entry.

Dare to laugh, while matriculating at an American university, at someone's idea or outlandish custome -- much less challenge the thought that, say, women are equal to men in every respect and for every activity, regardless of size, strength, or plumbing -- and risk expulsion.

God forbid the federal government should, however mistakenly, believe you have used your property to further an allegedly illegal purpose -- or even that someone else has done so without your knowledge -- because then you can forget about probable cause and due process of law. The government need only make the assertion that you are engaged in "racketeering" and your property is confiscated immediately. Good luck proving a negative to get it back. [pp.4-5]

There is more, but this is certainly enough to get the idea. Let me examine these one at a time.

Most fireworks seem to have been prohibited (and all prohibited in many jurisdictions) because of (1) fire danger, (2) danger of injury, and (3) smog. Since fireworks are as American as, well, the Fourth of July, the idea was that properly authorized organizations, like municipalities, could stage public fireworks shows, which might contribute a bit to air pollution, but would avoid the fire and injury dangers (usually). Unfortunately, large fireworks shows are expensive, and there have been fewer and fewer of them as time goes on. Also, fireworks shows draw crowds, and in some places, like Los Angeles, this means gangs. That means fights, murders, etc. A novel solution to this was to have the fireworks shows before dawn rather than after sunset. Not convenient or traditional, but that didn't matter anyway, since the gangs turned out for those as well. So now Fourth of July fireworks displays are becoming so exceptional that often they may only be seen on television. Although most fireworks were already illegal in Los Angeles when I was a child, I was living in Honolulu when New Year's fireworks were still allowed. It was harder stamping out private fireworks in Hawaii since they are part of Chinese religion. At certain hours almost any day, one would hear legal fireworks going off at the Chinese cemetery in the Mânoa Valley. On New Year's Day of 1975, our neighbors began setting off fireworks at 1PM and continued unitl 1AM. Our cat disappeared under the house for the duration. A haze hung over Honolulu. This struck me as a bit too much, but it was the allowed hours more than the fireworks themselves that made for the real problem. Is it better now that fingers don't get blown off and fires not started at the cost of what American used to think was a national institution? There seems little protest over the new regime on the part of most Americans. The device evident in all this, however, is all too typical. Because people are not to be held responsible for their actions, using their own fireworks safely with respect to personal injury and fire, then the rights of all are actually absolished to take risks at all. This is a dynamic equally evident in the war on drugs and in laws requiring seat belts and motorcycle helmets. It puts in place a regime where people are not only not responsible for their own actions, but they are not allowed the liberty of exercising responsibility in the first place. Since many Americans actually do not want to be held responsible for their own actions, but want to blame someone else for their own imprudence or even crimes, they are all but begging for the paternalism that the government is all too happy to provide.

Fireworks are perhaps relatively trivial, if symbolic. Firearms are more serious. The reasoning in this matter seems rather like the apparent belief of the drug warriors that it is better that cancer patients die in agony than that we allow them to risk drug addiction by properly medicating their nausea (through marijuana) or pain (through morphine or heroin). After all, we cannot allow the law to send the wrong "message" by leaving it to individuals to be responsible for the consequences of their own drug use. The obvious aim of the "gun control" movement is what we have now seen in Britain and Australia -- the disarmament of honest civilians. The result in both places has been an explosion in crime, even in crime using the newly illegal and presumably unavailable firearms. Britain has gone so far as to effectively outlaw self-defense by any means -- we have even seen a homeowner arrested for holding burglars for the police with a toy gun. The poor burglars had a right not to be frightened by the homeowner. In the United States, States that have allowed honest citizens to carry concealed weapons -- in Vermont it is not even necessary to get a license -- have seen the greatest reductions in crime rates. The attitude of the British police and government seems to be that citizens who are actually able to defend themselves, and so don't need the government as much, are a greater threat than the criminals who prey on them. Many people do not know that in the United States the police are under no legal obligation to protect citizens. If they show up late, and a citizen is robbed, raped, or murdered, there is no liability. This is not alarming to politicians, but citizens shooting criminals is. The ultimate aim of the "gun control" movement is, in the simplest terms, a police state. This is the plain truth, but it is never uttered in public by respectable politicians, whether they are supporters of the Second Amendment or not.

Liddy may be wrong about Global Warming, which may be affected by human activities. But he is right that it is nothing new, whether humans are responsible or not. The Earth for several million years has been in a historically cold period and it may even have been warmer in the 13th century than it is now. It was certainly warmer in the Cretaceous, and at the very end of the Pleistocene (previously called the "climatic optimum," a term dropped once it was realized that it implied that the Earth was better off warmer than it is now). Since deserts, like the Sahara, have grown in the chill of the last 8000 years, reversing this might benefit what are presently some pretty poor countries. But, in any case, the question is not really the benefits or penalties of the weather, but the nature of American law. Does the Constitution give the Federal Government authority over the air? Certainly not. If one State complains about pollution drifting in from a neighboring State, this would be a Federal issue, but that is not the construction put on the matter. The Clean Air Act simply governs the air, everywhere, with only the most tenuous and sophistical Constitutional justification. This gives the EPA, an entirely unconstitutional agency, the authority to dictate policies to every locality in the country.

This leads, however, to more egregious matters. The EPA and similar gansterdoms not only dictate to local governments, they encumber private property. The Endangered Species Act and Clean Water legislation can render large holdings of private property worthless, since the owners can be prohibited from doing anything that might disturb an endangered species or that might alter, as Liddy references, a "wetland." As it often happens, some species live where they do because of human alteration of the environment. If the land is returned to Nature, the species sometimes disappears, or, in my favorite examples from Southern California, is wiped out by the fires that prohibitions of brush clearing have made possible. The "wetlands" regulations are only remotely connected to the law upon which they are presumably based, since the idea that an occasionally wet piece of ground is a Federal responsibility as a "navigable waterway" is a bureaucratic interpretation of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, upheld by the Courts, that has nothing to do with the law, its legislative history, or its stated purposes. Yet most people, who don't own affected lands, don't care if others lose the use and value of it. All of that, however, is transparently and patently unconstitutional. The Fifth Amendment prohibits a "taking of private property without just compensation." But the Supreme Court has ruled that there is a "taking" only if the property is rendered entirely worthless, which will not be the case if some little corner, out of many acres, can be used. This is a grotesque and vicious device of tyranny. The Army Corps of Engineers in one case has tried prohibiting plowing on some farmland in the Central Valley of California, even though the law exempts farmland from such regulation. A pliant judge has, so far, backed them up. But few citizens, and no reporters, are farmers, so, who cares?

So far, I have seen no reporters asking Ralph Nader if he feels responsible for the children decapitated by the airbags that he advocated and got imposed on the auto industry. Auto industry executives are allowed no such consideration. And if Nader were merely to protest that more people have been saved than killed by airbags, then it should be pointed out that he is using the kind of cost/benefit analysis that otherwise he has never allowed in the arguments of others. Today, if a car owner wants his airbags disabled, he has to show good reason to the Federal Government, get permission, and then find an auto mechanic sufficiently unafraid of lawsuits to actually do the work. Many people, of course, simply figure out how to disconnected them, permission or not. Paternalism again -- i.e. power for government, less freedom for us.

"Dare to laugh" indeed. "Inappropriate laughter" was actually prohibited in one American university "speech code." As it is, free speech, constitutionally protected, barely exists at most American universities and colleges. Leftist students can literally assault speakers they don't like, vandalize or steal property, and university administations often blame the conservatives whose honestly stated views provoke the radicals. The Left, meanwhile, view any mere criticism of their doctrine or behavior as McCarthyist attacks on their free speech. Rarely has hypocrisy displayed itself so shamelessly and brazenly -- though only to the carefully informed, since the worst of this behavior is never publicized in the mainstream print or video media. One student group at Berkeley, while actually burning books they didn't like, displayed a sign that said "fight fascist censorship." In the Orwellian world of the modern Left, burning books is fighting censorship. A similar doublethink occurs when media commentators complain about the "unbalanced" and "unfair" commercial success of conservative and libertarian talk radio hosts, while dismissing the leftist bias of the print and television media as a "myth" (as the LA Times recently put it). This is the same dishonest trick:  "What I say is fair, since it is what all right thinking Democrats believe, while what you say is unfair, since it is what all right thinking Democrats don't believe."

Liddy's last quoted passage is about so-called "civil forfeiture," which allows government to seize property without the little inconveniences of charges, trials, juries, verdicts, etc. This is a device of such monstrous injustice and tyranny that initiatives in several States have now restricted the practice under State laws -- on the very venerable and obvious principle that a person cannot be deprived of property without being convicted of a crime. Federal law, although supposedly reformed in light of multiple abuses of forfeiture, observes no such principle. In California, where the police state pursued by the dominant Democrats will brook no such limitations on government, the former Governor and current Mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, was recently (January 2003) praising the law he has been using to seize the cars of men who solicit prostitutes -- again without any trial or conviction of their having actually done so. The presumption of innocence enshrined in British and American law is now avoided on the specious reasoning that the legal action, the seizure, is against the property (ad rem), which, not being a person, has no rights. Thus, the desire of irresponsible government to inflict summary punishment on those suspected of crime has broken through all the protections imposed by Common Law and the United States Constitution.

So if Liddy is right, which he is, that we have lost much of our traditional freedom, aren't we actually better off to have equal rights for all and not to have Segregation, Jim Crow, etc.? The truth is, as Dickens puts it in the epigraph above, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Some things get better. Some things get worse. The good things do not make the bad things good, nor the bad things the good things bad. The problem is not only to get everything to come out right, but to persuade, or even inform, many people of what is good and bad. Many people are simply appalled to find out about something like "civil forfeiture" or the British prohibition of self-defense, not having heard of them and assuming that nothing so transparently vicious was possible.

A good example of the mixed blessing of modern developments is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This belatedly abolished racial Segregation, using the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 specifically to prevent the Southern States from stripping freed slaves of their civil rights. After President Grant, however, the political will and power to enforce it lapsed. In 1954 Segregation in the schools was found unconstitutional, but it left all other legal Segregation in place. Now, it should be noted, Segregation is a limitation on freedom, since it requires businesses (as well as government) to discriminate on the basis of race. As it happened, not all business wanted to do that, and there was considerable white resistence to Segregation laws until well after the beginning of the 20th Century. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not simply abolish Segregation, it prohibited private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race at all. The law went straight from requiring private discrimination to prohibiting it.

Why was Freedom simply never tried? Why was either requirement ever allowed as a limitation on freedom? George Bernard Shaw said that America passed from barbarism to decadence without the intervening stage of civilization. While that is not correct, it could with greater truth be said that the United States passed from Fascism (Segregation) to Communism (anti-discrimination) without the intervening stage of Freedom. And that is no less than what has happened. The prohibition of private discrimination is not a Civil Rights law, because civil rights are limitations on the government to protect individual freedom. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while limiting the government in some ways (limitations ignored in policies of "affirmative action" or "diversity"), otherwise only limits the freedom of individuals, making the government more powerful, not less. Whether this is all a net gain is going to depend on where you are or what you expect. For those victimized by Segregation, it would be a net gain, since they are still likely to be better off than before and, after all, the loss of freedom by others is not their problem. Ultimately, however, it is their problem, since it is also their loss of freedom, and their power over the freedom of others, not to be privately discriminated against, is not a legitimate power, is unnecessary, is resented, and so in the end is distracting, deceptive, and counter-productive. Not everyone will believe that, but then they should at least candidly admit that they have so little trust in Freedom that they do not even want to allow it an opportunity to prove itself.

Liddy's book, therefore, is a salutary exposure of what has been going on. His appendix on Watergate, "The Key to Watergate," may or not may not be believable, but that is irrelevant to the main point of the book. In general, care should be taken with Liddy as a spokesman for freedom, since the Nietzschean overtones of his rhetoric, at least elsewhere, do not inspire confidence.


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Copyright (c) 2003 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country, Note

Si Vîs Pacem, Parâ Bellum

"If you want peace, prepare for war," is a saying I have long heard. I can't remember that I ever saw an actual attribution of it. I often thought that it was the kind of thing for which there might have been an original in Latin, but I never saw that. Liddy is the first person I have found quoting it in Latin, though still without attribution. I see the Latin all over the Internet, though still without attribution. Now I am informed that that phrase comes from the De Re Militari by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (c.390 AD), a work which is referenced at several places on the Internet. Since this is a Late Roman work, I am not surprised that awareness of the author and the work is limited.

Since my Latin is very far from 100%, one aspect of the morphology confused me. I was only familiar with vîs as a noun meaning "force." An old friend has drawn it to my attention, however, that vîs is also the second person singular of the irregular verb volô, "to wish, be willing." The third person singular is vult, which I recall from Deus vult, "God wishes," in a Mediaeval context.

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