Radley Balko has done some excellent work covering the militarization of law enforcement in the War on Drugs. In his most recent post on the subject, he includes a letter written by a man whose niece was shot and killed by a gung-ho cop “during a drug raid that went to the wrong address.” It’s a good letter, on the whole, but I’m struck by the assumptions underlying one part of it:
I don’t want illegal drugs in my community or in any other, but I also fear what possibly poorly trained, led and informed paramilitary types with the supposedly legal authority to swoop down upon us, without any warning, can and might do. I believe those in our police departments who enjoy playing these types of games need to be removed from law enforcement and encouraged to join the U.S. Army.
Hmmâ€¦ what does this say, without really meaning to, about the average American’s perceptions of (a) the U.S. military and (b) the relative worth of American and foreign lives? Because what I’m getting is
(a) Let’s put all our trigger-happy psychos where they belong â€“ not prison, but the Army,
(b) Where they can do the exact same thing to Iraqis, Afghans, or the residents of any of the other numerous places graced by U.S. bases.
Now before you write me some nasty letter about my smearing the troops, note that I’m simply boiling down the thoughts of a random American, who was presumably not trying to make an anti-military statement of any kind. I’ve heard similar comments my whole life from people who I’m sure considered themselves pro-military, things like We oughta put those gangbangers in the Marines, where they can do some good. Well, good news: apparently, some of them are “giving back to society,” as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times:
The Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings and Vice Lords were born decades ago in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. Now, their gang graffiti is showing up 6,400 miles away in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods — Iraq. â€¦
Of paramount concern is whether gang-affiliated soldiers’ training will make them deadly urban warriors when they return to civilian life and if some are using their access to military equipment to supply gangs at home, said Barfield and other experts.
And gangbangers looking for a paycheck and weapons training aren’t the only baddies drawn to “the service.” From a 1999 profile of Eric Harris:
Eric Harris thought about war, fantasized about war and wrote about war. He was thrilled when he heard, one morning in philosophy class, that the United States was on the verge of bombing Yugoslavia. Rebecca Heins, who sat next to him, remembers Harris saying, “I hope we do go to war, I’ll be the first one there.” He wanted to be in the front lines, he said. He wanted, as he put it, to “shoot everyone,” Heins recalls.
Harris said that morning that he hoped he would get drafted. But then he took direct action to improve his chances of becoming a real warrior: He tried to enlist in the Marines. He seemed a good candidate, physically trim and extremely smart. But he was not destined to storm a beach or parachute behind enemy lines in the uniform of his nation.
On a visit to his home April 15, Marine recruiters learned from Harris’s parents that their son took a powerful antidepressant called Luvox.
Harris had explicitly stated on his application that he did not take any prescription drugs, so the Marines rejected him.
Five days later, Harris and his buddy Dylan Klebold staged their own private war at Columbine High School, killing 13 people before they finally killed themselves.
Yes, it’s true Harris was turned down â€“ for lying about taking an antidepressant. Had he not been taking the drug â€“ which clearly had no positive effect on him anyway â€“ what would have stopped him from enlisting? The same institutional safeguards that weeded out (oops!) Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad?
Not every member of the U.S. military is a McVeigh, Muhammad, Harris, or Vice Lord. (The point is so obvious I shouldn’t have to mention it, but I will.) But is it any wonder that the massive standing army of a country that routinely aggresses against others, and whose public shows little concern for the lives and property of foreigners, will attract and/or produce such men?