Neither the terrorist threat nor the hazards of bad weather require rethinking our traditional reluctance to use standing armies at home. We need not fear a coup, but we should worry about misusing our busy military for civilian tasks and developing an tendency to rely on the troops to answer every scare.
Initial reports were that the 1st BCT might be used to deal with civil unrest and crowd control, missions that would be in severe tension with the Posse Comitatus Act, the longstanding federal statute that restricts the president’s ability to use the U.S. military as a domestic police force. In September, the Army Times described the unit’s training as “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” including beanbag bullets, Tasers and traffic roadblocks.
That report, along with the Bush administration’s claim that the Constitution allows that president to use forces as he sees fit, no matter what Congress forbids, created well‐founded fears that the CCMRFs first attack would be on Posse Comitatus. Yet Pentagon spokespeople deny that forces will be used for law enforcement purposes. And one suspects that the Bush administration’s monarchial view of executive power will be out of fashion come January.
That shouldn’t placate us. The real trouble is what is legal, not what isn’t. Even when it doesn’t lead to collateral damage, the use of standing armies at home can, to quote Jefferson, “overawe the public sentiment,” and acclimate Americans to a militarized home front inconsistent with democratic life.