On sending in the troops

Update, June 3, 2020: The only surprising thing about Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s resistance to Donald Trump’s threat to send in the troops to quell protests over the murder of George Floyd is that he did so publicly.[1]

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Fig. 1. Graffiti has appeared in multiple locations around Pittsburgh saying, “I Love You, I Miss You.” This example makes the connection to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police clear. Photograph by author, May 31, 2020.

Even the racist neoliberal rapist (the likely Democratic Party nominee for president) says of Donald Trump’s threat to use military force against protesters, “He’s using the American military against the American people.”[2] At what point is it war?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the [Insurrection Act] has been invoked “on dozens of occasions” throughout U.S. history, though its recent use has been “exceedingly rare.” The act was invoked in 1992 during riots in California over the beating of motorist Rodney King, though in that instance, the state’s governor requested it.

It was also used during the civil rights movement, including when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the Army into Little Rock to desegregate its schools, Vladeck said. The law says the president can intervene if state authorities are unable to give their residents the protection of law.[3]

The Rodney King riots were, to my knowledge, largely confined to the Los Angeles area. I’m inclined to discount the Little Rock example, although it, too, was confined to a single metropolitan area, as not analogous. And I wonder how well the King analogy holds up when we are talking about a deployment potentially to dozens of cities, when so many police murders of Blacks have occurred since, when Blacks are disproportionately at threat from a blatantly racist president’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the visible racism that supports his mishandling,[4] and with persistent poverty among Blacks[5] unaddressed.
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Fig. 2. Black women are especially well represented in the armed forces. Chart from Council on Foreign Relations, April 24, 2018,[6] fair use.

A fact underappreciated in the banners hanging from so many telephone poles around Pittsburgh is that there are a whole bunch of Blacks, especially Black women, in the military (figure 2). They are generally better represented there than they are in the civilian labor force.[7] That’s not to say they would defy orders—I honestly don’t know—but Trump ordering them in would certainly put a lot of them on the spot.

We’re seen [white supremacist] groups encouraging members to join the military, to get training in weaponry and survival skills. It’s something that they really value.[8]

And while white supremacists do seem to exist in the military,[9] my guess is that many whites, trained to fight with fellow soldiers, including Blacks, in the military might similarly feel conflicted.

Trump, of course, is an idiot. He’ll completely fail to understand that he is sending in Black troops to fight, potentially a war, against fellow Blacks protesting racist policing. But you can bet the Pentagon will be considering it, I’m sure officers—especially Black officers—will be thinking about it, and I rather strongly suspect that Trump sending in the troops will not equal troops firing on protestors.

Finally, whatever the military does or does not do, I’d point back to my earlier blog post on this protest: Even if the physical violence ends, the injustice will continue. Any peace Trump obtains by sending in the military will be a negative peace, really solving nothing.[10] Sending in the troops is nothing more than a jackass move for a jackass delusional raging narcissist-in-chief.

  1. [1]Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, and Paul Sonne, “Pentagon chief balks at Trump’s call for active-duty military force on U.S. citizens, and Mattis rips president,” Washington Post, June 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/despite-suggestions-from-trump-pentagon-chief-says-he-does-not-support-invoking-insurrection-act/2020/06/03/8e8dad2e-a59e-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html
  2. [2]Joe Biden, quoted in Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/can-trump-use-military-to-stop-protests-insurrection-act/2020/06/01/c3724380-a46b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html
  3. [3]Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/can-trump-use-military-to-stop-protests-insurrection-act/2020/06/01/c3724380-a46b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html
  4. [4]Kenya Evelyn, “‘We’re expendable’: black Americans pay the price as states lift lockdowns,” Guardian, May 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/25/covid-19-lockdowns-african-americans-essential-workers; Bryan Armen Graham, “‘Swastikas and nooses’: governor slams ‘racism’ of Michigan lockdown protest,” Guardian, May 3, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/03/michigan-gretchen-whitmer-lockdown-protest-racism; Antonio Olivo, Marissa J. Lang, and John D. Harden, “Crowded housing and essential jobs: Why so many Latinos are getting coronavirus,” Washington Post, May 25, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/latinos-coronavirus/2020/05/25/6b5c882a-946e-11ea-82b4-c8db161ff6e5_story.html; Eugene Scott, “4 reasons coronavirus is hitting black communities so hard,” Washington Post, April 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/10/4-reasons-coronavirus-is-hitting-black-communities-so-hard/; Adam Serwer, “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying,” Atlantic, May 9, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/americas-racial-contract-showing/611389/
  5. [5]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/; Thomas M. Shapiro, ed., Great Divides, 3rd ed. (Boston: Mc Graw Hill, 2005).
  6. [6]George M. Reynolds and Amanda Shendruk, “Demographics of the U.S. Military,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 24, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/article/demographics-us-military
  7. [7]George M. Reynolds and Amanda Shendruk, “Demographics of the U.S. Military,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 24, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/article/demographics-us-military
  8. [8]Cassie Miller, quoted in Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/
  9. [9]Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “What are ‘proper directions’ for protest when peaceful protest is for naught?” Not Housebroken, June 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/29/what-are-proper-directions-for-protest-when-peaceful-protest-is-for-naught/

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