Mitch Green over at New Economic Perspective recently composed a letter regarding the OccupyWallStreet movement that instantly grabbed my attention as a former military person.
As the occupy movement continues to grow in defiance of the heavy-handed police action determined to squelch it, a natural question emerges: What point will the military be summoned to contain the cascade of popular dissent? And if our nation’s finest are brought into this struggle to stand between the vested authority of the state and the ranks of those who petition them for a redress of grievance, what may we expect the outcome to be? SOURCE
We are currently witnessing in Egypt what Green’s word’s are implying can happen here. Egyptian troops that helped the freedom movement in spring this year remove strongman Hasni Mubarek is now positioning itself between those citizens and the power structure that replaced Mubarak. It seems clear that what’s going on over in Egypt is simply nothing more than the after effects of a political coup that used the legitimate concerns of the people to accomplish their ends. One man is removed but the power structure that effected the heavy handed repression from the start remains in place.
In this country each person who serves our military signs an oath that puts them between perceived adversaries and their nation.
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
As a former Marine I remember that oath but there was little consideration to the part then that referred to “domestic enemies”. There was a war being waged halfway around the world in Vietnam at the time and our focus lay there as we spoke those words.
Yet today, we guard against internal threats perhaps more than we do foreign ones. Home grown terrorist who are legitimate citizens spring up to support a radical foreign religious cause that aims to hurt innocent people. Many within private militias around the country often exaggerate the threat of government and plot to oppose what they see as a police state mentality at every turn. These internal enemies arm themselves with weapons that kill and do indeed reflect “domestic enemies” that men and women in uniform have sworn to fight in defense of their country.
But what of these citizens who pose a threat not to the general public but to the power structure on Wall Street and their allies in government? These citizens carry no weapons but the words that speak to a relevant truth which affects us all. There are those in the corporate media that would portray the OWS movement as nothing more than anarchist out to destroy capitalism.
When one really reads what the movement is actually saying however it becomes clear that these people are not out to destroy capitalism but defend it against a small elite that use it for its purposes to the detriment of the vast majority of working Americans; many who have seen their dreams of home ownership and economic opportunity slowly diminish while 1% of the income earners in this country continue to increase their gains. Many of them do this by expending much of their vast wealth to buy sources of media and politicians while establishing and funding astroturf organizations as a pretense that there concerns are really nothing more than the “will of the people”
So what can we expect of our military when it inevitably comes to that point where they are “summoned to contain the cascade of popular dissent”? Will they defend the principles of the 1st amendment as we saw with many vets in New York earlier this month? It’s one thing to take this stand however as a vet, no longer under the direct authority of the military, and those service men and women who are currently serving. Green’s comments about this makes one feel uneasy.
Just as a training collar keeps a dog in check, a highly militarized police force responds mercilessly, sharply, and without hesitation with an array of chemical warfare and thuggish brutality. And where they fail, divisions of soldiers stand ready to deliver a serious and painful lesson to all who demonstrate their unwillingness to wait for democracy.
Oaths have significance for those who take them and there perhaps is no greater oath that says you will lay your life down for your country in its defense. But perhaps this is the key component that many active service members need to take into account if it ever comes to them being faced with fellow citizens who themselves are trying to save this country from what they fear is a plutocracy.
First and foremost in the oath’s affirmations is the vow to “defend the Constitution of the United States”. The 1st amendment of that Constitution allows citizens the right … to peaceably … assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. It is expected of coursed that such actions should be within certain parameters and non-violent.
When the representatives to the constitutional convention met in May of 1787 they were very mindful of the violent rebellion that bears the name of the one who initiated it less than a year earlier; a former continental army soldier named Daniel Shay. Shay’s Rebellion was a reaction to the failure of the new government to compensate those who fought in the revolution with many of them losing their homes and personal possessions as a result.
The original oath of enlistment under the new Constitution was worded differently then than it is today regarding the part that asks that those who serve will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This 18th century version (changed later in 1960 to its current reading) simply said “I, ____ do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”. The pre-Constitutional wording of the oath of enlistment had even less implication of defending “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It simply read that all enlistees would “conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.” Shay’s Rebellion made it clear that the new government may indeed need to protect itself against “enemies” within our own borders. But one could argue that it was defending the interest of the propertied class as well as trying to preserve the newly formed central government.
This bit of insight on the oath is important for those active military who may have to decide whether or not they would be violating their oath if they decided they could not follow the commands of their superiors, including the Commander-in-Chief, when called to put down the actions of a peaceful demonstration by OWS protesters. This insight also should make it clear that OWS protesters must do everything in their power to make sure their protest remain non-violent and within the parameters suggested in the 1st amendment.
The excuses used thus far by police departments to clear such encampments at Zucotti Park in Manhattan as well as numerous other OWS encampments in major cities around the country encompass the notion that these camps generate health issues and harbor “rabble rousers” who have destroyed property. There is no clear evidence from a thorough investigation that has nailed this view yet. But clearly the use of tear gas and billy clubs by police on protesters, that videos have shown posed no physical threat to the police, demonstrate that there is a mentality here that cares less about these protesters’ constitutional rights than it does about physical tactics to comply with orders from those in the upper echelons of local governments that issued them. We need to look clearly at those who issue such orders and try to determine not only their real motives but their ties, if any, with those who are being targeted by OWS protesters – the one-percenters.
If in fact the protesters are non-violent and amenable to reasonable request by authorities to avoid impinging on the rights of property owners, there is a good case to be made here that tactics that utilize physical force by police or military are in fact a violation of the 1st amendment. Thus, if active duty military are called up to assist local police officials in caroling the protesters by such means, each man and woman in uniform, it seems, would be hard-pressed to feel obligated to follow such orders.
We must encourage our men and women who serve to defend our rights as American citizens to be on the guard that they do not become pawns for a wealthy power bloc that will try to portray these protesters as enemies of the state from what they really are – citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Honor your oath where those would do harm and damage to others but make a clear distinction between them and those who simply have grievances against a very small percentage of people who circumvent our laws and exploit elected offices in this country to enhance their own positions.