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Oh Noes! The Army is Coming to Take Our Democracy!!!!!

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Let me second Jason Sigger’s shredding of Glenn Greenwald’s handwringing regarding the assignment of a Brigade Combat Team to NORTHCOM, the combatant command responsible for the continental United States. Jason ably dismantles Greenwald’s terror that the Army is coming to repress us, but I’d like to concentrate on something else; Greenwald’s notion that Posse Comitatus represents, in any way, a safeguard for democracy. Glenn:

For more than 100 years — since the end of the Civil War — deployment of the U.S. military inside the U.S. has been prohibited under The Posse Comitatus Act (the only exceptions being that the National Guard and Coast Guard are exempted, and use of the military on an emergency ad hoc basis is permitted, such as what happened after Hurricane Katrina). Though there have been some erosions of this prohibition over the last several decades (most perniciously to allow the use of the military to work with law enforcement agencies in the “War on Drugs”), the bright line ban on using the U.S. military as a standing law enforcement force inside the U.S. has been more or less honored — until now.

Huh. Why do you think that a “bright line” was created between the military and law enforcement following the Civil War? I’ll give you nine guesses, and the first eight don’t count. If you say “to protect democracy”, then sorry, you have only the most tenuous grasp of the history of the United States. If you say “to protect Southern terrorist organizations during Reconstruction from the federally controlled United States Army, thereby securing white supremacy in the American South for four generations”, then you win a kewpie doll. Glenn links to Alan Bock to provide historical context, but sadly Bock badly botches the history; it’s as if he doesn’t grasp that, absent the protection of the Army, it was simply impossible for African-Americans to exercise their voting rights in Southern states.

The utility of Posse Comitatus is debatable, even apart from its origins. Glenn calls it “an important democratic safeguard”, but I’d like to know if other major democracies have anything on their books even resembling this prohibition. Moreover, the Army is useful in crisis situations (such as the aftermath of Katrina) not because of its ability to shoot people, but rather because of its tremendous organizational capacity. It’s good at responding to crises because it’s an organization designed to respond to really big crises. We can either take advantage of the capacity that such an organization affords us, or we can pretend that it’s coming to repress us. Glenn’s a smart guy, and he should know a hell of a lot better than to take this crap seriously.

…Glenn’s schtick is “never retreat, never surrender”. I get that, and even appreciate it to some extent. But this claim:

This posts masquerades under the language of superior historical knowledge, but it’s almost completely bereft of any substance. You dismiss Alan Bock’s lengthy and well-documented history of the Posse Comitatus Act and what gave rise to it with one short, conclusory, substance-free decree (Bock “badly botches the history”) — as though your saying so makes it true — without bothering to dispute a single fact he cited.

I find well-documented, detailed claims (Bock’s article) infinitely more preferable than smug, angry self-satisfied rhetoric devoid of anything substantive (your post).

…is simply absurd. Here is the documentation that Bock provides:

The Posse Comitatus law was passed in 1878, not only in response to some of the abuses committed by federal troops during the Reconstruction period in the South after the Civil War, but more specifically after many suspected that federal troops influenced the election of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was chosen by the Electoral College and federal troops ran some polling places in the South. Specifically, Hayes won the disputed electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, states where President U.S. Grant had sent troops as a posse comitatus by federal marshals at the polls if deemed necessary.

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

The first half is wikipedia; the second would, I think it’s fair to say, be considered tendentious by any reputable historian of the period. Specifically, Bock gives no indication as to who was claiming that the Army had engaged in abuses (Southern whites), or as to why the votes of SC, Louisiana, and Florida were in dispute (white supremacists submitting competing electoral slates with the actual winners of the election). And the documentation? Let me repeat:

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

Get that? Why don’t we try it one more time?

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

That’s some fantastic documentation there; maybe I’ll try that in my next journal submission. May I suggest that one place Glenn and Mr. Bock could start with regards to learning about Reconstruction would be Nicholas Lemann’s excellent “Redemption” which details the military occupation of Mississippi and the struggle between the Army and white supremacist forces. Reviewed here.

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