In Time of War . . .

December 3, 2008

Via Rod, this Washington Post article about the silently creeping militarization of homeland security.  It seems previous reports weren’t entirely accurate: there will now be 20,000 active-duty troops on homeland security duty within the U.S. by 2011.  Glenn Greenwald, with understatement, on what I find most disturbing about this whole thing:

‘Now, I first wrote about this story six or eight weeks ago, as a result of an article in the Army Times that reported that there was going to be a single brigade of 4500 troops coming from Iraq, which would for the first time be permanently deployed inside the United States. At the time I wrote about some of the dangers of this precedent and a lot of people angrily responded, including some liberals and people across the spectrum, saying that, “look, this is just one brigade, it’s only 4500 troops, what damage could possibly be done, this is anti-military hysteria that’s fueling this controversy.” And now it turns out that the plan actually calls for 20,000 uniformed troops to be deployed inside the United States.’ [emphasis mine]

Maybe, in the end, they are the best we have for training civilian responders.  And we certainly have room to improve in our disaster-response effectiveness.  But it’s hard to read that article without seeing just how easily this role morphs into something larger–just look at the guarded language, the comments from officials.  And even if those maybes turn out to be yeses from any standpoint, it’s something about which we ought to be having debate.  Right now.  Right here.  On the intertubes, on the TV, on the radio.  Over dinner.  I want Rush Limbaugh screaming about those liberal NYTimes columnists and faux-conservative, organic-food eating bloggers and how they don’t understand the issue.  Even that noise would be more reassuring to me than the eerie silence about the whole issue.  I think the first, and only other time, I heard about this was a similar link from Rod’s; I don’t know that I’ve heard a peep about it anywhere since.

Wariness of ourselves is essential to the survival of the principles we hold dear, of what we’re fighting for.  The risk, as Cicero put it: Silent enim leges inter arma.  We’re overturning precedent about the stationing of active-duty military personnel on American soil, for what amounts to potential police duty in a crisis, and we’re not talking about it?  Quite frankly, the absense of true public debate on this matter scares me more than the act itself–republics begin to die when discourse falls silent and no one cares.  Or, as Cicero put it in the published version of Pro Milo (he barely delivered any of it, he was shaking so badly at the sight of troops in the Forum):

“Wherever my eyes turn, they look in vain for the customary sights of the Forum and the traditional procedure of the courts.  The usual circle of listeners is missing; the habitual crowds are nowhere to be seen.  Instead you can see military guards, stationed in front of all the temples.  They are posted there, it is true, in order to protect us from violence, but all the same they cannot fail to have an inhibited effect on oratory.  This ring of guards is, I repeat, both protective and necessary, and yet the very freedom from fear which they are there to guarantee has something frightening about it.”

Emphasis mine.  And that’s the crux of matter — and why this absolutely must be common knowledge, and must be debated loudly and openly.

And if Cicero’s not your thing, or you just want to waste a little time, here’s Deep Space Nine‘s Dr. Julian Bashir (the more relevant part starts at about 3:50):


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