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Deployed in the U.S.A.: The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front, Cato Policy Analysis No. 503

Deployed in the U.S.A.: The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front, Cato Policy Analysis No. 503

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Published by Cato Institute
Executive Summary

As its overwhelming victories in Afghanistan

and Iraq have demonstrated, the U.S. military is

the most effective fighting force in human history.

It is so effective, in fact, that many government

officials are now anxious for the military to

assume a more active policing role here at home.



Deploying troops on the home front is very

different from waging war abroad. Soldiers are

trained to kill, whereas civilian peace officers are

trained to respect constitutional rights and to

use force only as a last resort. That fundamental

distinction explains why Americans have long

resisted the use of standing armies to keep the

domestic peace.



Unfortunately, plans are afoot to change that

time-honored policy. There have already been

temporary troop deployments in the airports and

on the Canadian and Mexican borders and calls to

make border militarization permanent. The

Pentagon has also shown a disturbing interest in

high-tech surveillance of American citizens. And

key figures in the Bush administration and

Congress have considered weakening the Posse

Comitatus Act, the federal statute that limits the

government's ability to use the military for

domestic police work.



The historical record of military involvement

in domestic affairs cautions against a more active

military presence in the American homeland. If

Congress weakens the legal barriers to using soldiers

as cops, substantial collateral damage to

civilian life and liberty will likely ensue.
Executive Summary

As its overwhelming victories in Afghanistan

and Iraq have demonstrated, the U.S. military is

the most effective fighting force in human history.

It is so effective, in fact, that many government

officials are now anxious for the military to

assume a more active policing role here at home.



Deploying troops on the home front is very

different from waging war abroad. Soldiers are

trained to kill, whereas civilian peace officers are

trained to respect constitutional rights and to

use force only as a last resort. That fundamental

distinction explains why Americans have long

resisted the use of standing armies to keep the

domestic peace.



Unfortunately, plans are afoot to change that

time-honored policy. There have already been

temporary troop deployments in the airports and

on the Canadian and Mexican borders and calls to

make border militarization permanent. The

Pentagon has also shown a disturbing interest in

high-tech surveillance of American citizens. And

key figures in the Bush administration and

Congress have considered weakening the Posse

Comitatus Act, the federal statute that limits the

government's ability to use the military for

domestic police work.



The historical record of military involvement

in domestic affairs cautions against a more active

military presence in the American homeland. If

Congress weakens the legal barriers to using soldiers

as cops, substantial collateral damage to

civilian life and liberty will likely ensue.

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Published by: Cato Institute on Mar 26, 2009
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 As its overwhelming victories in Afghanistanand Iraq have demonstrated, the U.S. military isthe most effective fighting force in human histo-ry. It is so effective, in fact, that many governmentofficials are now anxious for the military toassume a more active policing role here at home.Deploying troops on the home front is very different from waging war abroad. Soldiers aretrained to kill, whereas civilian peace officers aretrained to respect constitutional rights and touse force only as a last resort. That fundamentaldistinction explains why Americans have longresisted the use of standing armies to keep thedomestic peace.Unfortunately, plans are afoot to change thattime-honored policy. There have already beentemporary troop deployments in the airports andon the Canadian and Mexican borders and calls tomake border militarization permanent. ThePentagon has also shown a disturbing interest inhigh-tech surveillance of American citizens. Andkey figures in the Bush administration andCongress have considered weakening the PosseComitatus Act, the federal statute that limits thegovernment’s ability to use the military fordomestic police work.The historical record of military involvementin domestic affairs cautions against a more activemilitary presence in the American homeland. If Congress weakens the legal barriers to using sol-diers as cops, substantial collateral damage tocivilian life and liberty will likely ensue.
 Deployed in the U.S.A.
The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front 
by Gene Healy 
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gene Healy is senior editor at the Cato Institute. His previous studies include “There Goes the Neighborhood: The Bush-Ashcroft Plan to ‘Help’ Localities Fight Gun Crime” and “Arrogance of Power Reborn: The Imperial  Presidency and Foreign Policy in the Clinton Years.” 
Executive Summary 
No. 503December 17, 2003
 
Introduction
 As its overwhelming victories in Afghan-istan and Iraq have demonstrated, the U.S.military is the most powerful fighting force inhuman history. In fact, the military has beenso brilliantly effective abroad that it is not alto-gether surprising that many people think itcan be equally effective fighting the war on ter-rorism here at home. Since the September 11,2001, terrorist attacks, there has been a risingchorus of calls for deploying military person-nel on the home front to fight terrorism. Inthe immediate aftermath of the attacks,troops were stationed in airports, and fighter jets patrolled the skies over New York andWashington. Later, in early 2002, the Penta-gon deployed troops on the borders withCanada and Mexico. Even though that borderdeployment was temporary, it was a blatant violation of federal law—and a disturbing indi-cation that the Bush administration is willingto disregard the law when it gets in the way.Meanwhile, the Department of Defense hasshown an unhealthy interest in domestic sur- veillance, exploring technologies that couldopen the door to surveillance of American cit-izens on an unprecedented scale.High-level officials in Congress and theBush administration have proposed revisingor rescinding the Posse Comitatus Act, the125-year-old law that restricts the govern-ment’s ability to use the U.S. military as a police force. Sen. John Warner (R-VA), chair-man of the Senate Armed Services Commit-tee, has said that the legal doctrine of 
 possecomitatus
(force of the county) may have hadits day.
1
That view was echoed by Gen. RalphE. Eberhart, who as head of the new Northern Command oversees all military forces within the United States. Eberhart hasdeclared, “We should always be reviewingthings like Posse Comitatus . . . if we think itties our hands in protecting the Americanpeople.”
2
The notion that the military is the appro-priate institution for fighting terrorism athome, as well as abroad, is ill-conceived. Onthe home front, there are many tasks forwhich the military is ill suited and situationsin which its deployment would be hazardousto both civilian life and civil liberties. Americans have long distrusted the idea of soldiers as domestic police officers—a distrustthat is reflected in both the Constitution andfederal statutory law. Col. Patrick Finnegan,who heads the Department of Law for theU.S. Military Academy, has observed, “Themilitary is designed and trained to defend ourcountry by fighting and killing the enemy,usually faceless, with no individual rights. . . .The training, mission, and role of the military and police are so dissimilar that it is not sur-prising that we do not, and should not, wantthe military to act as a police force.”
3
Experience has shown that when America departs from that principle, the results can bedisastrous.It is unfortunate that the call to have sol-diers assume a more active police role domes-tically has not generated more media andscholarly attention. Such a dramatic moveaway from the American tradition must becarefully studied. As this paper argues, Americans have good reason to distrust pro-posals to militarize the home front. First, thepaper briefly reviews America’s history of civil-military separation—and a series of trag-ic departures from that tradition. It thenturns to America’s experience in the after-math of September 11 and evaluates propos-als to break down the legal barriers to domes-tic use of the military in areas such as bordercontrol, domestic surveillance, and criminalinvestigations. The paper concludes that cur-rent law does not “tie the hands” of the gov-ernment in responding appropriately to theterrorist threat, and, far from being weak-ened or repealed, the Posse Comitatus Actshould be strengthened.
Historical and LegalBackground
 A strong preference for civilian law enforce-ment is deeply rooted in the American tradi-tion. Historian Bernard Bailyn notes that the
2
On the homefront, thereare many tasksfor which themilitary is illsuited andsituations inwhich itsdeploymentwould be haz-ardous to bothcivilian life andcivil liberties.
 
generation that fought the AmericanRevolution considered the use of soldiers tomaintain law and order a grave threat to free-dom: “[The colonists’] fear was not simply of armies, but of 
 standingarmies
, a phrase thathad distinctive connotations . . . the colonistsuniversally agreed that ‘unhappy nations havelost that precious jewel
liberty
. . . [because]their necessities or indiscretion have permit-ted a standing army to be kept amongst them.’There was, they knew, no ‘worse state of thrall-dom than a military power in any government,unchecked and uncontrolled by the civilpower.’”
4
That fear was reinforced by one of theepochal events of the Revolutionary period:the Boston Massacre. In March 1770 a civil-ian mob started to taunt British soldiers whohad been sent to Boston to reinforce the localcolonial government. Under threat from thecrowd, the troops opened fire, woundingeight and killing five, including Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave who had been work-ing as a seaman and day laborer.
5
Later,Boston was placed under military rule, andthe Intolerable Acts passed in 1774 in thewake of the Boston Tea Party provided forquartering of troops in private houses. American hostility toward militarized law enforcement, born in republican politicaltheory and stoked by the experiences of theRevolutionary period, found expression inthe Declaration of Independence’s bill of par-ticulars against King George III: “He has keptamong us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our legisla-tures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civilpower.”Seven years after the Revolutionary War, America adopted a Constitution that autho-rized Congress to raise an army.
6
So great wasthe fear that a standing army might be usedto oppress the people, however, that themovement for a Bill of Rights included callsfor safeguarding the right to keep and beararms so as to ensure that an armed populacewould be able to resist abuses of power. TheConstitution authorizes the federal govern-ment to suppress insurrections and restoreorder but identifies the militia, not the regu-lar army, as the force to be used for suchtasks.
7
In fact, there is no explicit constitu-tional authority for use of the Army to sup-press domestic violence.
8
Later, following the struggles of theReconstruction period, Congress passed thePosse Comitatus Act, which made it a crimi-nal offense to use the Army to “execute thelaws.” As one federal judge has written, the actexpresses “the inherited antipathy of the American to the use of troops for civil pur-poses.”
9
However, along with the American tradi-tion of hostility toward domestic militariza-tion has come a series of bloody departuresfrom that tradition, both before and after thepassage of the Posse Comitatus Act. Through-out American history, presidents havedeployed troops against civilians, often withtragic results. Here are just a few of the abusesthat have occurred when presidents have disre-garded the bedrock principle that the military should not intervene in civilian affairs:
In the years leading up to the Civil War,efforts to enforce the odious FugitiveSlave Laws often met with forceful resis-tance in the North. In response, the feder-al government repeatedly used federaltroops to disperse abolitionist protestorsand forcibly return escaped slaves tobondage. In 1851, for example, 300 armedfederal deputies and soldiers led a 17-year-old escaped slave named Thomas Simsfrom a Boston courthouse to the Navy yard, where 250 more Army regulars wait-ed to put him on a ship heading South.
10
In the late 19th century, the federal gov-ernment repeatedly and illegally usedtroops to intervene in labor disputes.Particularly egregious was the Army’ssuppression of the 1899 miners’ strikein Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Army regularsengaged in house-to-house searches andassisted in more than a thousandarrests. Troops arrested every adult malein the area and jailed the men without
3
Along withthe Americantradition of hostility towarddomestic militari-zation has come aseries of bloody departures fromthat tradition.

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