Thursday, September 15, 2005

Do we want the US Military being a Red Cross with Guns?

Fire of Liberty

Mackubin T. Owens, professor of Strategy and Force Planning at the Naval War College, has a wonderful Op/Ed in today's New York Post that examines the future of civilian/military relations within this country especially when you have the creation of Northern Command and the further incorporation of the US Military (not National Guard or Reserves but the professional full-time military) into the relief of domestic disaster zones. If you want to learn a considerable amount on such a dilemma then I suggest you read this piece. I think Professor Owens brings to light the true problem of getting the military too involved in our domestic affairs when he noted:
Indeed, one of the main reasons Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878 was the fear that the Army was becoming politicized. Before the Civil War, soldiers and Marines were often used to enforce the fugitive slave laws and suppress domestic violence. For instance, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted federal marshals to call on the posse comitatus, "the power of the county," to aid in returning a slave to his owner, and since Congress had held in 1807 that the Army could enforce domestic law, the Army was considered to be part of the posse comitatus. Troops were also used to suppress domestic violence between pro- and anti-slavery factions in "Bloody Kansas." Soldiers and Marines participated in the capture of John Brown at Harpers Ferry in 1859. In response to complaints about the ArmyƂ’s involvement in supporting the Reconstruction governments in the southern states after the Civil War, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act (Section 1385, Title 18 U.S.C.). This legislation prohibits the use of the military to aid civil authorities in enforcing the law or suppressing civil disturbances except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.

While the Posse Comitatus Act is usually portrayed as the triumph of the Democratic Party in ending Reconstruction, the Army welcomed the legislation. The use of soldiers as a posse removed them from their own chain of command and placed them in the uncomfortable position of taking orders from local authorities who had an interest in the disputes that provoked the unrest in the first place. As a result, many officers came to believe that the involvement of the Army in domestic policing was corrupting the institution.
So let's think real hard before we start dallying the notion of making our armed services into some kind of Red Cross, FEMA or Salvation Army with guns, tanks and destroyers. Let's not go there.

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