The Presidential Pardon: A preview of Insurgent Episode 4

In the Federalist Papers Number 74, Alexander Hamilton made the argument for the President to have the power of the pardon.  While these days it seems to be mostly a political tool, Hamilton’s original argument is of particular interest to me: that in a time of insurrection, the President should have the ability to unilaterally pardon those who might have committed crimes against the state as part of that insurrection.

George Washington used the pardon following the Whiskey Rebellion, as did Andrew Johnson, who pardoned confederate soldiers following the civil war. When Johnson pardoned the confederates, he explicitly excluded, among others, former officers who had resigned their commissions in order to take up arms against the United States.

In our fictional future, President Price will also issue pardons, specifically in return for two years enlisted service in the active duty military. In particular, specific individuals who had knowledge of members of the insurgency will be offered pardons, provided they complete that two year enlistment satisfactorily.

That’s how former Captain Karen Greenfield comes back into the story in Episode 4. In this scene, she is accompanied by Lieutenant Calvin Stewart, a West Point graduate on his first assignment as a junior officer in a military intelligence battalion.  This is a very rough draft.

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By the time the sun came up, Karen had been driving east for nearly two hours, while Lieutenant Stewart read through the files on Joe Blankenship. Starting out on I-68, she’d taken the exit for Berkeley Springs and cut across the state on State Route 9 to Charles Town. She wore worn jeans and a red checked flannel shirt, both purchased from a thrift store the day before, and was driving a rented car. They’d quickly decided that their mission would be better accomplished in civilian garb.

It would have been a few minutes quicker to go through Hagerstown, which Lieutenant Stewart had been quick to point out. She’d argued, persuasively, that the more he saw of the back roads and towns of the state, the more he’d understand what he was dealing with. The interstate could be anywhere in America, but on some of the twisting, curving roads in the mountains, there was nowhere else in the world you could be.

Much of the ride, there was little evidence of the war, other than many, many closed businesses. But not long before Charles Town, she began to slow down, her eyes darting to the fields beside the road.

Stewart didn’t take long to notice. Sitting in the passenger seat in civilian clothes, he said, “What’s wrong.”

She took a deep breath, knowing they were going to be at the spot she was looking for in a matter of seconds. Up over the rise, and looking ahead… there it was.

Just to the east side of the road.  8 blackened, burnt Abrams tanks.

She pulled to a stop beside the road, without a word. She let out her breath in a slow exhale. She hadn’t even realized she’d been holding it.

“Holy shit,” Stewart muttered under his breath, looking at the tanks.

She turned off the ignition and opened the car door, getting out before he could say the words, “Where are you going?”

Pretending she hadn’t heard, she rapidly crossed the busy street, leaving the Lieutenant to struggle with his files and papers in the passenger seat and follow her or not. The guard rails had been crushed when the tanks had crossed them five months before, and were never repaired.  Spread out in a herringbone pattern, the tanks had been parked covering all avenues of approach.  Not that it had done any good against an air assault.

At the head of the column, on the right side, main gun depressed almost to the ground, turret turned over the side, was Bravo-66. The tank she had commanded for three years, in peace time and in war.

Most of the front of the tank and the turret was blackened from the fire which must have raged four hours. The track was melted, snapped in two.  Now, she could see clearly why she’d had the luck to survive. The missile had hit the right front slope, knocking off some of the right side road wheels and burrowing into the front armor.  She’d been shielded from the worst of the blast by the turret itself. Just enough to throw her a hundred feet into the snow and put her in the hospital for nearly two months.

Breathing heavily, she climbed onto the front deck, ignoring the fact that her hands and clothes were instantly smeared with thick black soot. On top, she could see that the turret itself was heavily damaged. The blowout panels were gone, ammunition compartment gaping open and black.  Inside the turret was a jumble of blackened and melted equipment.  No one had even bothered to secure the two M240B machine guns: both were so melted from the heat that they were little more than scrap metal.

She was breathing heavily, her heartbeat through the roof.  The smell was overpowering, even after all these months, the sharp, pungent smell of cordite. She could almost hear the sound of the main gun going off, the ring of metal hitting metal as the spent rounds dropped into the basket. The whispering of Frank Haggett as he prayed and prayed right before the first shots were fired in Harpers Ferry.

She was jerked back to reality by a shout.

“What the hell are you doing, Private Greenfield?”

She looked down. Her hands and clothes were smeared black with soot and grease. Stewart’s face had turned a bright shade of red, and his eyes were bulging a little bit as he shouted. She didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to answer his question.  Finally, she said, her voice calm, “I’m thinking about Frank Haggett.”

Baffled, he said, “What? Who?”

“Frank was … seventeen. He enlisted in December, right before the war. Didn’t even really go through training. He was just a kid.”

She shook her head. “His grandad was killed along with General Murphy’s wife about four years ago. A random robbery. Anyway, Frank wasn’t really going anywhere in life… he dropped out of high school, was washing dishes at Sally’s Diner when the state voted for independence. So he enlisted, and went through a very very short basic training, and ended up as my loader. He and Crump, the driver… both were just kids. They were fueling the tank when we got hit, and they burned to death.”

She blinked her eyes, trying to drive back tears.  “Sergeant Bowen at least probably died quickly. He was inside the turret loading main gun ammo. The explosion was … massive.”

She looked down at Lieutenant Stewart.  “Bowen’s wife Madison… cute little blonde thing. She was a waitress at Sally’s Diner, and had helped Frank get a job there. That’s how he ended up enlisting, he knew Sergeant Bowen through her.  She was six months pregnant when the shooting started.  I’ve no idea what happened from there. I mean, I’m sure she’s had the baby, but …” Her voice trailed off.

His face was rigid.  “To be honest, Greenfield, though I’m sympathetic to the wife… it’s hard for me to drum up much empathy for a bunch of people who betrayed their country.”

She shrugged and answered, her voice sounding tired.  “I’m sure that’s true, Lieutenant. That’s not the point. I don’t really care if you have sympathy for them. But if you’re going to accomplish your mission, you’re going to need to understand a little about them.   You need to know a little about why Blankenship made the choices he did. Why I made the choices I did.  The guys on my crew… in this tank company… were decimated.  We were fighting a force a twenty times our size, with far superior weapons.  We didn’t have any air support, or resupply, we were running out of ammo and fuel, and still managed to slow them down for three days as they rolled in.  Blankenship ran a company of irregulars, snipers mostly. They were on foot, slogging through three feet of snow, fighting mechanized infantry. And if they’re out there now, still fighting a guerrilla war? You can bet they won’t be easy to trap or kill.”

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “You were a commissioned officer and betrayed your country. How the hell am I supposed to trust anything you say?”

She shrugged. “Honestly, sir, I don’t really care if you do or not.  I made the decisions I did because they were the right thing to do.”

“So why are you here now? Isn’t this another betrayal? Do you just have no … no moral compass at all? You just switch sides at will?”

She rocked back, then began making her way off the turret. Anger in her tone, she said, “Lieutenant, things are never that simple.  Let me ask you a question. As an officer, what would be your responsibility if you saw another agent of the federal government committing a crime? Let’s say, for example, shooting into a crowd?”

“I’d intervene, of course.”

“Yeah? What if they were rounding up innocent people? Tying them up in the street? Arresting children, because they were in the wrong ethnic group?”

“You’re full of shit, private.”

“No, sir,” she shouted back. “That’s exactly the situation I was in. I swore an oath to defend the constitution, and never once did I waver from that oath, even when it put my life and freedom on the line! Don’t you ever say that I’d just switch sides to what’s convenient. If that was the case I’d have resigned my commission and walked away last fall! Or turned a blind eye when it would have been convenient.”

By the time she finished the last words, she was standing directly in front of him, her face turning red.

“Private, that is enough! You are way over the line.”

“Fine, sir. Send me back to prison. The company’s better there anyway.”

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