Deployed in the U.S.A.: The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front

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As its overwhelming victories in Afghanistanand Iraq have demonstrated, the U.S. military isthe most effective fighting force in human his​to​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 verydifferent 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. IfCongress weakens the legal barriers to using soldiersas cops, substantial collateral damage tocivilian life and liberty will likely ensue.

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.”