C. J. Chivers has written a great piece on using military troops in civil disorders.
Chivers was a Marine, and participated in one of these exercises many years ago. He shares his own feelings and what he sees now as a reporter. His writing about military issues, particularly the feelings of the troops, is as sensitive as anything I’ve seen anywhere. He’s a great writer.[Disclosure: I know him a little from having been a source on technical material at various times.]
It is a long read, so there’s no one piece I can pull out to summarize it. Here are a few samples:
How a government prepares for and uses violence — including when, why and against whom — contains on some level a declaration about what kind of government that government is. At Tustin, we passed out ammunition, quickly practiced riot-control formations in front of television-news crews and then headed into Los Angeles and cities nearby. As my company arrived in Compton, I’d like to say we understood the context of the role we were given: that even a limited Marine deployment in a genuinely extreme situation would run inevitably into the ugly history of state force in the United States, and who receives the brunt of it. But domestic crowd control had never been our specialty, and because this was 1992, a time before Google and smartphones, we could not readily call anyone or look anything up.
After the mass demonstrations following a white Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd while his fellow officers looked on, officials in the United States deliberated once again over whether to send American combat troops into cities. The discussion was driven by threats or calls for military action from both President Trump and Senator Tom Cotton, who urged “no quarter” against “insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters and looters” — a proposal for merciless violence against American citizens, including in ill-defined categories, that sounded both reckless and illegal. Official threats of state violence can be little more than performance, a kind of law-and-order signaling, and it was not clear how seriously Trump considered following through. But it was impossible, upon hearing Trump’s and Cotton’s bellicosity, not to remember how close my Marines came, in the confusion of a job they were not trained to do, to killing a child.
Baku, Azerbaijan, 2005: The degree of control was chilling, reflecting the unstated but perfectly clear logic of a confident, contemptuous power. It was not just that in any contest for the street, the government and its forces enjoyed a lopsided advantage and would use it — a position hardly unique to authoritarian rule. It was that the kleptocracy wanted this crackdown seen and transmitted, so any would-be Azeri activists would know what to expect if they challenged the state’s central tenet, which was that the Aliyevs would never willingly yield what they saw as theirs. Brute force and the ability to command it — not elections — determined who got to hold power and run the national rackets. State violence did more than clear the streets. It served as lesson and show. Almost 15 years later, Ilham Aliyev is still president.
Read the whole thing. And open thread!