Joel: Interestingly, this is the only amendment to the Constitution that directly addresses the relationship between civilians and the military, both in times of peace and war. People often dismiss it as largely irrelevant, and certainly it doesn’t grab the media attention quite like some of the other amendments. And yet, it has plenty of modern implications, including the individual’s right to domestic privacy—the idea that people ought to be protected from governmental intrusion into their homes.
Looking around today, how do you think the Founders would view the many and varied intrusions by the government into private homes, even during peacetime?
Doug: It used to be a tenet in British common law that a man's home was his castle and it couldn't be invaded. But now there are many examples of police breaking down peoples' doors — often wrong door — at 3 'o'clock in the morning with just a pre-emptory scream of "Police!" for a warning, and then the battering ram comes out. This is unconscionable. I don't know if it relates directly to the 3rd amendment but if that type of nonsense had gone on 200 years ago I suspect that there would have been a specific prohibition about exactly that in the Constitution.
Joel: Indeed, some constitutional scholars have argued that the militarization and weaponization of the modern American police force renders it tantamount to a standing army of sorts, guns pointed inward. Given some of the arsenal at the local cops’ disposal, it’s not always easy to distinguish between armies abroad and the enemy within…
Doug: That's a good point because today most police are ex-military, and military veterans are preferred hires for the police force. This is a big mistake because the way a military relates to a population is very different in every way from the way that police are supposed to relate to a population.
Joel: Like refraining from shooting their neighbors’ dogs, for example? [Ed. Note: The DoJ estimates that police shoot and kill between 25-30 dogs per day in the U.S. That’s over 9,000 dogs annually. Woof!]
Doug: Yes, at a bare minimum. Many Americans aren’t happy with the police, since they enforce all kinds of pointless laws, confiscate many billions of dollars worth of property, and can be very invasive. The military don’t bother domestic citizens—which is what the 3rd Amendment is about- and are believed to protect the country from foreign threats. Although that last point is questionable.
The fact is that, today, both the military and the police see themselves as apart from the citizenry at large. That’s not good.
Joel: And all this during a period of supposed domestic peacetime. What if the government found it expedient to impose a “state of emergency,” for reasons real or otherwise? What “temporary security measures” might they be able to smuggle through under cover of general hysteria, say in the wake of a “terror attack” or “natural disaster?”
Doug: Frankly, I think the government can do almost anything it wants today by simply passing a law. Even draconian laws, like the PATRIOT Act, that aren’t just unconstitutional, but actually anticonstitutional. It’s interesting the PATRIOT Act—which is the size of a small telephone book—appeared only a couple of days after the events of 9/11. And was approved by Congress with no debate before there was—quite literally—even time to read it. Not that these people ever read the huge volume of laws they pass.
But there’s no protest from the capita censi—what the Romans called the “head count”. It appears that most Americans are now pro-socialism, and they think the State is their friend and protector. Not only will they fail to object to the government forcing its way into their homes and their lives, they’ll actively welcome it in with open arms. It’s pathetic. And sad. I hate to see a civilization in decline.
Joel: Turning outward from the domestic implications for a moment, it seems deeply ironic that the United States, which essentially began its life in an act of rebellion against a meddlesome, occupying force, has come to maintain hundreds of military bases in many dozens of sovereign nations around the world not two-and-a-half short centuries later.
Might not some of those countries have grounds for grievance against U.S. military occupation, in the same way that the American revolutionaries had grounds for grievance against the soldiers of the British Crown, the redcoats, when it drafted this very amendment?
Doug: Yes. Before the Revolutionary War, Americans were actually British citizens. And when the British army was quartered in North America, at least the soldiers were fellow Englishmen, which ameliorated things a bit. Americans really resented the Hessians—a mercenary army rented from the German Principality of Hesse—to put down the rebellion. Those soldiers had to be fed and quartered locally. They weren’t fed by K-rations or MRE’s, and they weren’t quartered in Quantset Huts. They were fed with the locals’ cattle and put up in locals’ barns and houses.
When American soldiers are in foreign countries, like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and many others, they're foreigners. Invaders, actually, even if a puppet government run by a quisling has supposedly invited them. In effect US soldiers are being quartered in their homes, if you consider somebody's country an extension of their actual home.
That brings up a question of whether the US Government has to obey its Constitution when it’s acting outside of the US itself. They don’t think so. That’s why the concentration camp at Guantanamo exists. It’s why suspects were rendered to Syria—of all places—in the days after 9/11.
Joel: OK, Doug. I think that brings us to scorecard time. How do you grade both the U.S. government and the American citizenry with regard to their respective observance of the 3rd Amendment to the Constitution?
Doug: Well, first of all, privacy is dead in the US. So anything is possible. However the quartering of actual soldiers in peoples' houses doesn't appear to be a direct threat. That’s largely because the standard of living is so much higher today. The military is no longer forced to “live off the land”, which was Standard Operating Procedure as late as the War Between the States. The government now has the resources to create its own facilities for soldiers. So the US would get a high mark on the 3rd Amendment from a domestic point of view. But not because they think it’s right, but because it’s just not necessary to violate it.
From a foreign point of view it gets a failing mark, an F. And frankly it’s not just places like Syria and Afghanistan that should be considered. Germans, Japanese, and Koreans, among others, resent US soldiers—who are basically just drunk unruly teenagers when they’re off their bases—being based in their countries. And this many decades after the formal occupation ended.
Joel: And as for the people the government alleges to represent?
Doug: Americans are completely unaware of almost everything outside their immediate locales — with the exception of what's going on with the Kardashians, reality television, and football during the season. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, if we lived in a world where your personal freedoms weren’t always under threat. But they are under threat.
I’ll guess that not one American in a thousand has a clue what the Third Amendment is. Or cares. So yes, I think that my fellow citizens get a failing grade.
Joel: Thank you for your time today, Doug.
Doug: And you, Joel.
[Ed. Note: Readers just joining us can catch up on past installments here: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, The Second Amendment, Part I, The Second Amendment, Part II and The Third Amendment, Part I]
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