The Foundation Of Liberty

BY Herschel Smith
10 months, 3 weeks ago

Preliminaries

WRSA gives us a proposed formulation for the basis of liberty.

1) We believe and act upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

2) Government, to the extent that it is even necessary, must be effectively and eternally constrained, lest it turn once again into tyranny.

3) We believe that it is each individual’s duty and responsibility to provide all necessary support for oneself and one’s family.

4) Beyond the limitations imposed by traditional laws against murder, robbery, theft, rape, and assault, rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.

5) Being essential to the protection and support of ourselves, our families, and our country, no restrictions upon speech, self-defense, arms-bearing, association, worship, private property, parental authority, or the privacy of one’s affairs and writings shall be permitted or tolerated.

This isn’t a bad start, and it’s certainly a daunting task to construct a philosophy for the governance of mankind in a short essay.  I should point out that I think that number (3) is woefully incomplete, and that in order to “act upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence,” it’s necessary properly to understand the foundations of the American revolution, what motivated those men, and why as John Adams observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (which quote demolishes silly and uneducated objections like the citing the Treaty of Tripoli as counterevidence since it was politics done spuriously in order to allay the fears of a Mohammedan government).

The comments to the article are more interesting than the article itself.  Wombat remarks:

It is the most lazily appealing avenue to attribute the failing of society to the things we dislike.  We can all play the guessing game but in some cases the facts are plain. America has been brought to its knees under the watch of an indisputable Christian majority, so if you want to blame it on the godless heathens be aware. That dog doesn’t hunt.

And ghostsniper remarks:

America is a concept not a gender.Straighten up your act Ed.

A concept is incapable of *honoring* anything.*We* didn’t murder babies.

And later:

… the next time they show up around here I’m gonna turn the hounds of hell loose on them.

And then later:

Faithers *believe* because they have no capacity to do otherwise.

They have maxed out the capability of their thought process.

Like trying to reason with children.

Perhaps we ought to resist the temptation to hurl insults at ghostsniper that he wouldn’t comprehend (such as “Why don’t you try to reason with Professor Alvin Plantinga concerning his Warrant: The Current Debate, to see if you can keep up, or perhaps inquire of my personal friend Hans Halvorson, also a Christian, concerning his views on Quantum Theory or Superentangled States, or perhaps converse with my Christian friend Nolan Hertel concerning his views on the age of the earth).  Perhaps it may be more appropriate to observe that he has accidentally stumbled upon a relevant nugget of truth.  Are belief systems epistemically incorrigible?

With Professor Plantinga, I assert that they are (within certain boundary conditions such as absent the actions of a Sovereign God to change hearts and minds).  My belief Christian belief system is incorrigible, but so is his whether he knows it or not.  And when I say “system” I mean certain things and not others.

To assert a basis for liberty without the context of a world view is vacuous and without compelling force.  We’ll deal with this shortly.

The American Revolution: Analysis & Commentary

Before we can understand where America stands and how to construct a foundation for liberty, we must understand the American experiment at its core because it is the only revolution that has succeeded in supplying the freedom necessary for life, prosperity and peace.

R. J. Rushdoony remarks in “The Nature of the American System” (page 2):

Two causes stand out clearly as basic to the break between the Colonies and George III.  The first cause was the religious issue.  John Adams cited the attempt of parliament to force the establishment of the Church of England on the colonies as responsible, “as much as any other cause,” for the break.  “The objection was not merely to the office of a Bishop, though even that was dreaded, but to the authority of parliament, on which it must be founded.”  We can agree with Bridenbaugh that “It is indeed high time that we repossess the important historical truth that religion was a fundamental cause of the American revolution.”

Does this mean that the American revolution was irreligious or anti-religious?  Not even nearly.  Turning to my former professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Douglas Kelly, in “The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World” (page 120 – 126):

In terms of population alone, a high percentage of the pre-revolutionary colonies were of Puritan-Calvinist background.  There were about three million persons in the thirteen original colonies in 1776, and perhaps as many as two-thirds of these came from some kind of Calvinist or Puritan connection.

[ ... ]

… by 1776, nine of the thirteen original colonies had an “established church” (generally congregational in New England, Anglican in New York, Virginia and South Carolina, “Protestant” in North Carolina, with religious freedom in Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Georgia) … While this did not necessarily mean that a majority of the inhabitants of these colonies were necessarily committed Christian believers, it does indicate the lingering influence of the Calvinist concept of a Christian-based civil polity as an example to a world in need of reform.

Returning to Rushdoony (page 2):

Every colony had its own form of Christian establishment or settlement.  Every one was a kind of Christian republic.  It was to them a monstrous idea … for an alien body, parliament, to impose an establishment on them.  The colonies were by nature and history Christian … to read the Constitution as the charter for a secular state is to misread history, and to misread it radically.  The Constitution was designed to perpetrate a Christian order.

So how did this religious-based opposition to the decrees of George III play out in the colonies?  Returning one final time to Doug Kelly (page 121).

Their experience in Presbyterian polity – with its doctrine of the headship of Christ over the church, the two-powers doctrine giving the church and state equal standing (so that the church’s power is not seen as flowing from the state), and the consequent right of the people to civil resistance in accordance with higher divine law – was a major ingredient in the development of the American approach to church-state relations and the underlying questions of law, authority, order and rights.

[ ... ]

It was largely from the congregation polity of these New England puritans that there came the American concept and practice of government by covenant – that is to say: constitutional structure, limited by divine law and based on the consent of the people, with a lasting right in the people to resist tyranny.

Take note that we aren’t asserting that every man must be a Christian for a fundamentally Christian society to obtain.  We are asserting that the polity and laws must follow the basic tenants of Christianity.  This is what obtained in Colonial America and what formulated the basis for the American revolution.

Furthermore, notice that while the revolution was largely religious in nature, it wasn’t a rebellion against religion.  It was a rebellion against the idea that a centralized, dislocated power would impose its will on them, especially in terms of religious polity and laws.  Finally, note that the Calvinian idea of covenant underlies the principles of the American revolution.

It wasn’t a war of rabblerousers, troublemakers or hoodlums.  It was a revolt against a centralized power based on the idea that that power had broken covenant with God and with them, and only thus did they have the right to replace that power.  Power is best located nearest the people where they can hold rulers accountable, a fundamental formulation in the rights of states (or Colonies) early in the days of the republic.

Personal Observations & Conclusions

I’ll now address other, related issues and questions based on the discussion above.

America as a Christian Nation

As to the notion that “America has been brought to its knees under the watch of an indisputable Christian majority,” there is nothing indisputable in that assertion and I do indeed dispute that there is currently or has even recently been a Christian majority.  That statement could have been [correctly] made at the founding of the country, but not now an any meaningful sense.

I can assert that I am the king of Siam, but that doesn’t make it so.  That’s the failure of the ridiculous term “co-religionists,” which means nothing except that the person using the term is a coward (or perhaps just ignorant if we are gracious to him).

Going to church doesn’t make one a Christian.  Asserting so doesn’t make one a Christian.  Pretending so doesn’t make one a Christian.  Doing public “good” doesn’t make one a Christian.  Claiming to do things in the name of Christ doesn’t make one a Christian (Matthew 7:23).  Being a Christian involves a change of heart and mind by the work of a sovereign God who isn’t Himself moved or swayed by the words of man.

America as a Christian nation means more than just the majority of people having been raised within Christian families, professing Christianity and practicing Biblical law in their lives.  It involves Christian polity and public law – implementing rules for how men behave towards one another that is pleasing to God.  That existed at the time of our founding.  We have left that formulation, and thus have we perished as a nation.

The Requirement for a Clash of World Views

The pragmatists recommend keeping politics and religion away from the dinner table at the holidays.  Conversely, my son Joseph recent did a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, and was pleasantly surprised at the almost reflexive tendency to openly discuss world view and religious persuasion over the dinner table.

America has largely lost the ability to think deep thoughts (and cannot even keep up with folks in the DR) because so much of the country reflexively gets sauced and watches idiotic nighttime sitcoms rather than engaging in reading, discussion, learning and challenging each other – no, not talk show challenging, but serious methodological challenges to the logical order and consistency of world views.

The reference to “natural laws” and what nature may teach us is quaint and amusing, but philosophically outdated and meaningless.  Nature confers upon us nothing, and certainly not rights of any sort.  What may be obvious to us is contrary to the pronouncements of others who look at the same “nature.”  To John Dewey, John Stuart Mill and in more drastic form the communists, whatever works the best and achieves the greatest good for the greatest number is “good” (whatever that means).

But under this rubric many men and women have perished, a fact that is acceptable to the communists.  Under this rubric many millions of unborn infants in America have also perished, a fact that is wholly acceptable to the pragmatists and utilitarians.  The tribes in Ethiopia engaged in the practice of killing healthy baby boys whose top teeth came in before his bottom teeth.

America has for a long time found acceptable the idea of theft through taxation and inflation (both of which steal wealth), because that’s what the majority say.  If one turns to “nature” for values, whatever that means, perhaps the best source for ethics and morality would be watching male lions kill the cubs of females so that they come into estrus, or watching other animals as they steal kills.  Again to emphasize the point, nature cannot reveal a system of laws and turning to natural law means that you haven’t thought things through.

For those who have taken courses in apologetics or philosophy (and also for those who haven’t), a world view requires a system of categories working together, including metaphysics, ontology, ethics, epistemology, and so forth.  All of it is usually seen to be based on epistemology, as that category of philosophy describes and explains your source of truth.

It also requires that you posit your presuppositions beforehand.  Arguing that you want “reason” instead of “faith” belies ignorance (and the failure to take courses in math and philosophy).  Recalling the advice of Gordon H. Clark, you need to take a class in geometry.  All logic is governed by rules of deduction, but based on presupposition, axiomatic irreducibles.  If it can be demonstrated it is a pronouncement of your syllogism, not a presupposition.

With the right presuppositions you can demonstrate that the moon is made of green cheese.  You must state yours, and we get to examine them, along with your syllogisms.  What is your source of truth?  You see, these things are necessary before your system can amount to anything.  Otherwise, you’re an infant trying to read a calculus textbook.

Politics is ethics.  It is part of a larger system of philosophy, and it cannot be posited in a vacuum without being void of compelling argument.  You must explain how you know what you know in order for us to judge it, and all of your system must show itself to be consistent with the rest.  This is what philosopher Gordon H. Clark shows so well in “Religion, Reason and Revelation.”

More specifically, in the first chapter Clark shows that the proper way to compare and contrast world views is just that, i.e., religion cannot be separated from other world views because it posits a person (or trinity of persons) from whom revelation flows.  From the utilitarian and instrumentalist, to the communist and anarchist, every man has a god, whether it is himself, his desires, the so-called needs of the many, the utility of ideas, or whatever.  Separating world views based on whether there is such a thing as revelation suffers the logical fate of begging the question because the definition poses that which has been assumed rather than demonstrated.  It’s best for you just to queue up your world view, and for me to queue up mine, and let them fight it out.  We’ll see which one is most consistent and compelling.  Unless, of course, you would rather watch night time sitcoms rather than consider philosophical questions?

The Success of the American Revolution

The American revolution was wrought in substantial measure by men who were willing to lose everything for the sake of what was right, good and what they perceived as holy.  No other revolution has accomplished what it did, especially the French revolution which was a product of the enlightenment.

America has diminished because it has rejected the theories upon which it was built.  But it will ever be that way with no source of truth.  As another professor mine observed, “Statism, in all of its forms, is the logical result of autonomous man attempting to govern himself” (C. Gregg Singer, “From Rationalism to Irrationality,” page 411).

Because of the philosophical problem of the one and the many, man’s attempts to fix his problems will invariably land him in anarchy or totalitarianism (see Rousas J. Rushdoony, “The One and the Many”).  References to pronouncements that I may make because of my world view (e.g., murder is sinful, theft shouldn’t be tolerated, the state is accountable to both God and the people, etc.) are allowed for you even if I find it amusing, but take note that you are borrowing from my world view rather than finishing your own.

To the degree that you don’t develop and complete your world view you are inhibiting conversation because you cannot hold up your end of the bargain to engage in the so-called clash of world views.  And to the degree that you develop a world view that is a recapitulation of one that has gone before, yours will end in totalitarianism.  I guarantee it.  If you argue that you haven’t read all of the philosophy or history text books, you’re arguing for laziness as an excuse.  I’m unimpressed.  I’m sorry that you’re intellectually lazy, but I can’t help you with that.

Finally, to the extent that you are looking for or trying to develop a foundation for liberty that ignores the religious elements of the American revolution, you’re being dishonest.  Our founders were men of character, faith, and fight.  Being men of fight and leaving the character and faith to someone else is a poor substitute for the foundation of liberty in America.  It means that we who do that are not even in the same league as our founders.  It also means that we will fail at our goals and initiatives – I guarantee it.  But if our beliefs are incorrigible, those who are merely fighters (without character or faith) may even be unable to diagnose this malady.  Beware of such men.

Individual and Corporate Accountability, and The Death of Nations and Men

I said earlier that proposition #3 was incomplete.  I have explained that the expectation is not and was never for the state to provide for the needs of the needy.  The state has more and more taken this role to itself as the church and family have left the scene (and as we have allowed the state to usurp God’s authority).  Likewise, when nation-states allow national sins to occur (like abortion), at times in history God’s judgment encircles the entire nation.  He holds people accountable corporately, not just individually.  This is demonstrated all through the Holy Scriptures.  If you haven’t read them, I cannot help you because you’re arguing for laziness again.

And while we may agree that taxation is theft by the power of a badge and gun, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t to provide for the needy (see the admonition of Paul and James concerning widows and orphans).  Families may not always be able to assist because they may not exist.  In such instances, the church and other families show the national character by the care they give widows and orphans.  And again note that I didn’t place the role of support on the state.  I placed it squarely where God does – families and churches, with all institutions accountable to God, including our governors and lawmakers.

For those who have been in any way engaged in dependent care, you have become aware of what I already know.  The elderly cannot care for themselves – or at least, they are much less able to care for themselves than are we.  We can collect our guns, ammunition, gold, tactical gear and food stuffs, but the reality is that there is a short window of time in life where that means anything.

I may carry weapons from room to room with me when I make my way around the house, and carry them on my way about my business on a daily basis.  But one day soon, my life and yours will be snuffed out.  We will perish from the face of the earth, along with any memory of us.  The very small segment of the world that knew we existed will forget us.  Then we will face judgment in front of our creator.

That day, our mouths will be closed.  We will not speak.  There will be no defense.  Christ will be our advocate, or we will be told to depart.  No amount of guns and ammunition will be able to change things.  Before that day we will be as helpless as the other elderly for whom God has made us accountable – unable even to move at times, much less provide for ourselves.  We will be dependent upon other men in life, and God’s judgment in death.

Take care that your world view is sufficiently humble.  You won’t be “unleashing the hounds of hell” on anyone.  You will soon be old and feeble, and then you will die.  “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  Understand that whatever designs you have for your family and your nation depends upon the favor of a sovereign God, and not your own “wisdom.”  No basis for liberty that ensconces sin or ignores the demands of a sovereign God (whether theft by taxation, abortion, or whatever) will ever succeed.  “Do homage to the Son that He not become angry and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2:12).

And thus no one who reads this article will have the excuse that he has never heard this.



  • Ozzie

    “” Being a Christian involves a change of heart and mind by the work of a sovereign God who isn’t Himself moved or swayed by the words of man.”"

    Could you please give an example of such a change?

    I am skeptical of old testament quotes at all times. I know there is a lot in it, but it’s a mix of fantasy, Jewish diary entries, Jewish historial information and God’s communications with a primitive people in harsh times. I’m guessing sunday school is where someone would have pointed out what parts in it pertain to a Christian lifestyle and what is the detritus of history?

    This essay is above my reading level and I am going over it slowly and repeatedly. You’ve packed a lot of complicated concepts into a tight space with careful selection of every word.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Ozzie,

    The post is a long and complicated one, on that you’re right, and you’re right that every word was carefully chosen. I hesitated to publish it for that reason. And as you can see, it has gotten no comments up until your own. It’s odd for a gun and gun rights blog to comment on issues like this, but I reserve the right to promulgate my world view, even if I don’t focus on this most of the time.

    I have studied the source, form and redaction critics of the Bible and find their analysis to be lacking. I’m unpersuaded – and completely so. Their stuff is a bore, it makes me yawn. And it’s no more “scientific” than anything else, and just as much based on epistemological presuppositions as is my own view.

    To be sure, there is allegory and metaphor (e.g., the book of Daniel), but there is also much literally true. For example, I accept the historicity of miracles.

    But this is a bit far afield for the present discussion. Let’s return to the main points of the article. The perfect example of the work of God in man is what we call redemption or repentance, which in the greek is μετανοίας, or “metánoia.” It means a change of mind. I (along with classic Christianity) claim that this cannot happen without the Holy Spirit doing it.

    The main point here is that saying that one is a Christian doesn’t make it so, so the charge that the majority of people in the U.S. are Christian is absurd and impossible to prove. Christianity didn’t lead America to where it is today, and the man (to whom I am responding) charges that it did.

    But even more broadly, the point of the post is that it’s easy to sit in an easy chair and criticize someone’s world view. What you will find (and what no one has forced our detractor to find out yet) is that it’s much harder to sit in a hard back chair with a cup of coffee until the wee hours of the morning trying to develop a coherent and consistent world view of your own. But that’s how world views compete.

    You must answer such questions as:

    1. Where did the universe originate?
    2. Why is there any order at all in the universe? (the question is usually posed as how could order develop out of chaos, but I expand the problem to ask why there is any order whatsoever given the fact that entropy always increases).
    3. What is your source of truth?
    4. What is your basis for right and wrong?
    5. How do you know what you know?
    6. What about when your noetic structure holds contradictory propositions with positive truth value?
    7. Do you distinguish between strongly and weakly held beliefs?
    8. Do you understand that you have properly foundational beliefs?
    9. What does the history of philosophy tell you about your world view?

    And many more things. This last one could have dissuaded our detractor early on from asserting his “natural rights,” if only he understood that it has been utterly rejected in philosphy. You might be able to look at nature and conclude that you have a right to self defense. I might look at nature and conclude that ten people named Ozzie must perish every third Tuesday of the month to assuage the blood lust of man and keep order, until we run out of Ozzies, and then we start with Mark, and then Ben, and then …

    And if I conclude that we must start killing Ozzies, then who is to say that I’m wrong? What if the majority agrees with me? After all, that’s what the utilitarians would say. If it’s best to keep order, then so be it.

    If you can’t turn to the utilitarians for right and wrong, and you can’t turn to the majority, and you can’t turn to the statists, then where do you turn?

    You see, you must sit back and think through these things. People who charge that Christians have “maxed out” their thinking capability are merely cowards because they won’t posit their own world view and let it go to war with other worlds views. It’s like couch potato warriors who play video games to get their fantasy on. It’s better to do the real stuff rather than pretend. Critics are just pretending when they don’t propose a substitute world view. The real players are the ones who think through this stuff.

    And finally, I claim that no other world view but mine supports and substantiates liberty. American history proves me out to be correct. If a person doesn’t think so, then it’s their duty to come up with another philosphy of life that supports liberty. Hence, the halting, incomplete and historically incorrect attempt at philosophy that started this whole thing. But it’s a start. As for the commenter “ghostsniper,” he said nothing – at least, nothing of any value. He’s looking on from the sidelines, boasting and bragging, and one day he will be old and the next day dead.

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  • http://www.bcrpchurch.org Phil Pockras

    Herschel, generally well done. Thanks for the time and effort you have put into this. I’d be more quoting Van Til than Clark, perhaps, but here I see no difference in the way they’d argue.

    My only further comment would be to remind you that, while many have thought there was a Christian context to our current constitution of federal government, we in the Reformed Presbyterian Church have always testified against — not what it mostly said, but — what it didn’t say. Nations, societies, cultures, peoples must bow before God’s Mediatorial King, Prince Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. With the “no religious test” clause there is an explicit rejection of Him.

    Anyway, overall, fine work.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Thanks for the visit Phil. Of course, you’re touching on an intense debate within the reformed tradition, i.e., to what extent was the revolution Christian? My own professor, C. Gregg Singer, would have located the thought squarely in Scottish common sense philosophy, while he would have located the constitution in the thought of Christianity. Rushdoony, on the other hand, would have located the thought behind both squarely within Christianity, pointing out that without the preachers the revolution would never have gotten off the ground. My later professor, Douglas Kelly, in his fantastic book, agrees with Rushdoony’s assessment, and goes further into continental Calvinism in explaining the roots of the revolution. I agree with Kelly. But this debate is a field too far for this discussion forum. Few of my regular readers understand what I wrote.

    I think Van Til made outstanding contributions to his field, but I don’t like his so-called “analogical” epistemology, and I think his apologetics survives without it (or in other words, his overall system doesn’t need what he engaged in such debate with Gordon Clark over). Also take note that Rushdoony calls Clark’s book “Religion, Reason and Revelation” the best thing Clark ever wrote. I agree. Everyone should read it.

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  • http://umc-unofficiallaymanopenforum.ning.com/ Rich Buckley

    A towering treatise; perhaps even your finest work, a worthy legacy. I’m humbled by it’s depth of understanding and power.

    It makes me want to first confess the limits of my own world view even to comment here.   

    My world view has been stunned into cognitive dissonance from which I am slowly recovering from, probably caused by a combination of (1) dramatic life events that left me still alive, (2) UFO encounter of a 3000′ +- diameter craft as a fighter pilot, (3) multiple dream-state revelations where the chances of random occurrence were statistically computed at one chance in 10^350th-power! (4) Consciousness studies, recent scientific papers of the last 10 years. Meditation as an adjunct to life practices, a personal stunning belief in the existance of a collective consciousness, observations I clearly see and know to be False Flags: 9/11-Boston Bombings-Fukushima, tocix Chemtrails evidence everywhere-everywhere-everywhere, HAARP weaponization of space and weather,  Down-winders negative health patterns as charted by hard to find maps published by NIH,  observations of an evil Shadow Government running everything, an undeniable corporate-corrupted government serving always the privately owned Federal Reserve and the elite bankers, GMO dangers, NWO, all hidden by controlled mainstream media.   (5) an unrelenting passion for finding a 3rd-Way that includes the messages of the Lost Gospels and struggling to try to find a true message of Christ that somehow seems different on the one hand and inclusive on the other hand of what the big business enterprise of mainstream religion teaches me.

    For all these cross currents I can only shape what I sense is my wisdom, such as it is, by seeing love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness as essentials, not negotiables. Even with all you have beautifully written I’m still feeling something is lacking, something is missing. Perhaps the “sense of missing” is my innate flaw. My 3rd-Way seems to want to try and shape the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation commission not a civil war that part of my ego says civil war and vilence seems justified but logic says, plays right into the hands of the DHS, NSA, and the Banker Controlled Shadow Government who seek the polity of violence and chaos in their age-old formula of Problem-Solution-Response. Something seems missing and it somehow relates to the new Age of Aquarious… But I’m likely to pass from this life not knowing for certain what that something is or if indeed it is what the ancients say: love, harmony and peace, and understanding.


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This article is filed under the category(s) Featured,Religion and was published December 1st, 2013 by Herschel Smith.

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