Capitol Times: Safeguard the Guard

Capitol Times Editorial
March 9, 2010

The National Guard traces its roots to the founding of the republic, when the framers of the American experiment wrote into our Constitution a section giving Congress authority for “calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.”

The language was specific, as the founders did not want these militias to become part of a standing national army, and certainly did not want them to be used to occupy foreign lands in undeclared wars.

Indeed, the founders included in the Constitution a clause “reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Over the years, the militias have evolved into a formal National Guard that is, for the most part, used as an extension of the standing army.

For the better part of a century, Wisconsin has bristled at this rewriting of the Constitution. In the 1920s, there were intense debates in the state Legislature about what was seen by a majority of the legislators as the inappropriate use of the state’s National Guard units in foreign wars and military endeavors.

Some of the most decorated veterans in the Legislature raised the loudest objections, which should come as no surprise. After all, soldiers swear an oath to defend the Constitution -- not to reconstruct it according to transitory whim or opportunity.

It is in the spirit of these concerns that the Madison-based Liberty Tree Foundation, under the leadership of local attorney Ben Manski, has mounted a national Bring the Guard Home campaign to rethink the use and abuse of what were intended to be militias charged with serving and defending the various states -- not armies of foreign intervention.

The Bring the Guard Home campaign has been taken up by legislators across the country, including state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, who has proposed Assembly Bill 203, the “Safeguard the Guard” bill.

Black’s bill would, if enacted, require the governor to conduct a legal review of any federal request for overseas deployment of Wisconsin’s Guard and to refuse any deployment determined to be unlawful.

That’s a standard the founders of the republic would respect.

And we respect Black for raising the issue.

The state Assembly Veterans and Military Affairs Committee will conduct a public hearing on AB 203 at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 412 East of the State Capitol.

This will be a historic session. We urge Wisconsinites to attend and support this measure, just as we urge the Legislature to give it the serious consideration that so valid and significant a proposal merits.