Sunday, October 2, 2005

Using Federal Troops In A Domestic Role

Homespun BloggersThis week's Homespun Blogger Symposium question said:
President Bush is kicking around the idea of increasing the
role of the US armed forces in reacting to major natural disasters here
at home. This seems to be pushing up against the Posse Comitatus Act of
1878 pretty hard. This law prevents the US military from acting in a
law enforcement role within our borders. Following the Civil War, it
made sense to provide a sense of sovereignty to the states that had law
behind it from enforcing an overbearing federal government from wrongly
using federal troops in a domestic role.

What are your thoughts about this mission creep for our military, especially
in a time when we're at war with a major portion of our forces engaged?

The thought of U. S. troops operating within our own borders is something that's bothersome to me, and, I suspect, bothersome to the troops.

When I was in the Army, the L. A. riots broke out. Word got around that troops would be used to quell the riots, and several soldiers spoke up about what they would do if called upon to fire upon U. S. citizens. Some said they'd refuse to. Others said they didn't know what they'd do. I said that, if given a lawful order, I'd follow it. Thinking about it now, I must have known that I wouldn't be shooting at a friend or a relative, since all my family was east coast, not west coast. Or at least all I knew of.

What about today? If I was still in uniform, would I take arms against citizens to enforce the law? There are still lots of issues with that.

  • First, the question presented Posse Comitatus Act of
    1878 as a potential obstacle to that. However, if the President of the United States waives it because of war, insurrection, or national emergency, then legally troops can be deployed. So, yes, troops could legally perform such a duty.

  • Next, there is the question of what would the troops do. Would they obey the orders to shoot? Yes, I think they would. But they would not like it. A soldier knows something that many do not: sometimes you have to do the hard thing, even if it hurts someone. And not just someone else. Even if that someone is the soldier himself.

    If your mission involves killing someone, you kill someone. If your mission involves your being killed, you are killed. Most missions aren't like that. But some are.

  • Does the U. S. have the military manpower to perform such duties? That's actually the largest obstacle to this. Troops are stretched. They aren't getting the support from most on the left, but then again, most on the left never supported the troops to start with.

    Troops are still in Korea, over 50 years after hostilities ceased, and there's no end in sight. Troops are still in Kosovo a decade later, and there's no end in sight. Troops are in Iraq, still performing mop-up missions after winning that war in record time. (Some think when the war ends, troops come home. That's never been the case. Ask Germany and Japan, who were occupied for a period of time following World War II.)

    But the manpower just isn't there to support many more missions for a long period of time. But that's because U. S. troop strength was cut nearly in half in the 1990s. Remember when Clinton and Gore took credit for reducing the size of the federal government by nearly 500,000? Guess where that came from? Yep, the military. The Army alone went from 780,000 to 480,000 under that plan to reduce the government. The rest of the government? No change. And, it's gotten bigger since then.

But to me, the big problem isn't really any of these issues. The problem is that federal troops are even being considered.

The whole idea of the Posse Comitatus Act is the meaning of the term "posse comitatus" ("force of the country") in that people can take care of themselves.

Following the recent disasters in the Gulf states, some took the attitude that the federal government was supposed to handle things. But only some places took that attitude. Those areas that looked to the federal government are the areas that have had the most trouble. The areas that looked to themselves are the ones that have had the least trouble.

Compare Louisiana, whose leaders lean to the left with Mississippi, whose leaders lean to the right. Which of those states are having the most difficulty? That's right. Louisiana. The more left-leaning of the two.

Most on the left think and perpetuate the attitude of "it's someone else's responsibility." Those of us on the right generally think and perpetuate the attitude of "I take responsibility."

Now, I hate to throw this in, but I must. While researching this, I found many Web sites that blame Blacks for the problems in Louisiana. But the numbers don't bear this out: Mississippi has a higher percentage of Blacks than does Louisiana. So that racist drivel is ... well, racist drivel. (But then, again, maybe race does figure into this. More Blacks =
quicker recovery? That ought to throw the Aryan Nation into fits!)

It's not race that exacerbates problems, it's attitudes. And the "it's someone else's responsibility" attitude is a losing attitude. If you take the attitude "I take responsibility" then you'll come out ahead.

If more people in Iraq took control of their situation, U. S. troops could be home in months.

Then, if a national emergency actually happened, troops could respond a lot easier to the situation.


  1. The Military's Role in Disaster Response

    Legislation dating to the Civil War prohibits use of the U.S. military to enforce domestic law. As t

  2. I was wondering if anyone would notice that Mississippi demographics show that we actually have a larger population of blacks than Louisiana. It also should be noted that we are the poorest state in America. I think what you said about attitude explains it. We maybe poor but we know how to look out for our own and for each other. No one had to tell people to get out the chainsaws and start clearing off the roads. No one had to tell us to share what we had with others who had nothing. We do it all the time.

    The solution is not to send in federal troops. Changing any aspect of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 would be a dangerous preceedent. Who would determine what constitutes a 'national danger'? Just because the elected officials of Louisiana are incompetent doesn't mean we should go down this dangerous road.

    When the President declared Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana a disaster area before Hurricane Katrina struck, that gave each of those states the ability to request National Guard troops. Louisiana was the only one that didn't have their plans in place.

  3. Fabulous post. This natural disaster caused the people to look for the "grown ups" in this situation. Their own state didn't do well, so they looked for the next grown up in power - the Federal Govt. The military is not intended to be Federal police, border patrol or any of the likes. I do not want to live in a "police state." If Bush wants troops and fed to step into everyone's business, he just kissed most of the Republican party's support good-bye. Republicans are supposed to be against "big governement" not try to make more of it!

    Maybe now, people who say they aren't interested in politics, will be, and not vote in Bozos like they did in LA. As for race, most poor people vote Democratic and with a high majority of poor, that is how they got those idiots in office. If poor people, took on the "no govt handout attitude" the world would be better off.

    As far as your statement about Iraq and its troops. Remember, they are taking responsibility for themselves, but have additional obstacle like terror, intimidation and fear to overcome. Give them some credit, they came out and voted.

  4. My biggest problem with using troops in any humanitarian mission is that the real mission of a soldier is to close with and destroy an enemy. True, non-combat arms soldiers have the ability to fix roads and help in other support roles but the true mission of every soldier is the same, kill bad guys. They have peace corp for humanitarian missions.

  5. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.


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