Militarism, Part 2: Making "Home" a War Zone

[Dear friends, In The Shalom Center’s #FreedomSeder50 on April 7, aside from my commitment to draw the broad intention and outlines of the Seder, my chief assignment inside the event itself was to speak on the deadly danger of “Militarism.”  

{In my talk I pointed out that the Trump regime had brought about a brutal resurgence of Militarism at every level from nuclear weaponry to gun murders in our schools, houses of worship, and neighborhoods.

[There has been a great leap "forward" into making our own society a war zone. This second part of my talk is about domestic militarization.--  AW, editor]

We are turning our own local and some national police departments into military bases.

At the national level, the Border Patrol on the Southern border of the US has been militarized as if we were facing an invading army, as Mr. Trump has frequently described those families and children seeking asylum from murderous gangs and governments in their own country. The US Army itself has been sent to patrol the border, and its funding is being diverted – an unconstitutional invasion of the Congressional power of the purse – to build a militarized wall along the border.

Despite public outcry after we witnessed police-department tanks --  TANKS! -- on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri – deployed of course against Black people. --  2014 and 2015 were peak years for shipments to small town police and even Park police of M16 and M14 rifles, night-vision goggles, bayonets and armored trucks; junior colleges procured mine-resistant vehicles (MRVs); even local park districts and forest preserves stocked up on military-style equipment.

A report Forbes published called “The Militarization of Local Police Departments”  quantified the transfer of 1.5 million weapons-related items from the Department of Defense (DoD) to federal, state and local law enforcement since 2006. New federal records show police agencies in Florida, Texas, California, Tennessee and Arizona led the nation in procuring surplus military-weaponry from the DoD over the last 10 years.

We found a federally-sponsored ‘gun show’ that never ends: small town police are armed with M16 and M14 rifles, night-vision googles, bayonets and armored trucks; junior colleges and county sheriffs procured mine-resistant vehicles (MRVs); even local park districts and forest preserves stocked up on military-style equipment.

In total, our new data reveals $2.2 billion worth of military gear including helicopters and airplanes, armored trucks and cars, tens of thousands of M16 and M14 rifles, thousands of bayonets, mine detectors and many other types of weaponry.

Given to universities, county sheriffs, natural resource and public safety departments, state police – and Homeland Security, Interior and the Justice Department.

On the battlefield of war, a bayonet in hand-to-hand combat is tactically used to bleed-out your enemies. So, exactly what is the legitimate law enforcement purpose for DHS, ATF, FBI, DEA and local police departments to obtain thousands of military-bayonets?

Our data shows 5,638 bayonets were sent to other federal law enforcement agencies or local police departments. Homeland Security (DHS) obtained 3,905 bayonets at 15 locations – with DHS Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, TX receiving 3,260 of those bayonets. The Justice Department (DOJ) secured 682 bayonets delivered to 16 locations of the ATF, FBI and DEA.

Even beyond the actual military hardware being served up to local police forces, the entire structure of what we call our “criminal justice” system has many attributes of a militarized system. It begins with street harassment at gunpoint of the poor, the Black, and the Latinx. Next it operates with machine-gun rapidity and violence in a court system that keeps the poor in prison because they cannot afford cash bail or payment of fines for low-level offenses, while forcing those jailed to plea bargain for prison time rather than stand trial.

And once the accused are imprisoned, many of them are subject to the torture of months or years of solitary confinement, are denied contact with families and friends and education that could help restore them to peaceful civilian life, are denied the vote not only in prison but also for years or for life so that they cannot bring their life-experience to bear on changing public policy.

Moreover, in recent weeks Mr. Trump has replaced key officials of the Department of Homeland Security, including its Secretary and the Directors of ICE and of the Secret Service, his own royal bodyguard and the guards for foreign ambassadors and other potentates – with “acting” appointees who do not have to be vetted and confirmed by the Senate. An ominous note.

Finally, the most intimate militarism of all: guns everywhere in private hands.  Gun deaths everywhere. In ones and twos and ones and twos and ones and twos, over and over and over, in the homes and on the streets of our communities. In nines and elevens and seventeens in churches, in synagogues, in Sikh temples mistaken for mosques. In high schools. In elementary schools – babies the victims.

Is this mere random violence? Nobody’s fault except the shooter?

There are several different species of this gun violence. One works this way: Deprive a neighborhood of economic sustenance. Disinvest to wipe out jobs and small businesses. Leave only Despair, Incorporated – especially hard drugs. Make this business illegal so that there is no way except violence to negotiate prices, turf, all the elements that legal businesses negotiate all the time. Result: Businesses called gangs, negotiating tools called guns. Each eruption brings only a few deaths, but they mount up and up. Now you have created a rich market for the sale of killing machines and rich opportunities for lobbies to keep it all that way. And you have created a rich field of contempt for those who live in these neighborhoods where the only businesses allowed are murderous gangs and street sales for hard drugs and guns.

These are not the only businesses based on violence. There are the violence-peddling companies we don’t call gangs because they are legal. There is the “Armaments” business. The companies that will make tens of billions from the TRILLION-DOLLAR nuclear weapons business. And companies that make tanks. Bombers. Profit-making prisons where the profit grows from starving, torturing, enslaving the inmates. The leaders of these gangs we don’t put in prison.  Hardly! Instead, salaries and stock dividends of $20 million a year here, $30 million a year there.

Another species of quasi-military violence are the murders powered by ideology –- terrorism. These have multiplied since white nationalism has been streaming from the White House. Black churches machine-gunned, or set afire. Synagogues attacked in the midst of prayer. Mosques vandalized, hijab-wearing women assaulted. The evidence from numbers and from boastful diaries makes clear that dog whistles or worse from public officials make a difference.

When push came to shove for the ancient Pharaoh, when his slaves were fleeing and his own first-born was dead along with the first-borns of all his people, when the shriek of grief was deafening, he played his last card: the Military. He mobilized his imperial Army, his horse-chariot Army, we might say his Army of  Drones and Bombers and Tanks.

But each reed in the Sea of Reeds bent just enough to let his chariots enter, and then rose again, unbroken, to surround them. And to dissolve their violence. WE the People are the Sea of Reeds. 

To turn again to Martin King, 52 years ago:

We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.  We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

In our own generation, what does “nonviolent co-existence” mean? Inside the USA, we need a new nationwide commitment to uproot the social roots of despair that lead to murder and to quasi-military violence.  Let us take the profit out of selling guns, tanks, bombs, prison cells, Big Coal and Big Oil. And let us invest for jobs and profits in neighborhood and small-town solar co-ops, grocery stores, public transit, credit unions, public banks. Though the proponents of a Green New Deal have not yet pointed to demilitarization as one benefit of their program, the specific policies they propose would move in that direction.

And let us move toward restorative justice, in which both the victims and perpetrators of criminal violence and criminal greed can be reintegrated into a decent society.

And we need a new KIND of world order, growing from people-rooted transnational communities more than governments. The failures of the European Union and the UN are tied to suspicion of faceless bureaucrats with no way for popular democracy to enter those new kinds of government. Instead of sneering at the boiling anger of the forgotten Alabamans, the forgotten Brits, the forgottens everywhere who fear their future vanishing into glimmering troops of glassy artificial humans, let us shape a world of transnational institutions rooted in communities that cross the national boundaries. Labor unions. Interfaith alliances. Federations of co-ops and credit unions.

The only path beyond militarism is the birthing of actual Beloved Communities -- while step by step we cut off the funds and the glorification that keep the deadly institutions of violence on life-support.