Overarmed, The Religion
FBI agents and U.S. marshals understandably are well fortified, given their frequent run-ins with ruthless bad guys. However — as my old friend and fellow columnist Quin Hillyer notes — armed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Small Business Administration and Railroad Retirement Board staffers pack heat!
These “ninja bureaucrats,” as Hillyer calls them, run rampant. They, and often their local-government counterparts, deploy weapons against harmless, frequently innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.
Why Murdock gives up the ghost to FBI and marshals so easily isn't quite clear. I suspect that those on the outside still harbor what can be kindly described as a charming naivete when it comes to those things that remain distant, like "real" criminal law enforcement, and only see the insanity of those things about which they've become slightly familiar. The need to believe in normalcy and reason by overarmed people is strong, even when the pigeonholes don't quite fit.
Murdock's focus is on the agencies of government whose functions aren't directed toward law enforcement per se, yet maintain their own bureaucratic armies. Whether SWAT per se, or merely a merely a police force of their very own, it properly strikes home that there isn't a great need for the Railroad Retirement Board to be capable of mounting an counteroffensive to the marauding Russian army. Yet, they're prepared.
After watching a video of a police officer, a former Marine, smack a less-than-obsequious victim, a former army reservist, for his failure to sufficiently respect his authority, I began to realize a connection that had previously not occurred to me. It starts with the volunteer military.
In 1973, the United States ended the draft, going to an all-volunteer military. At the time, post-Viet Nam, the draft was extremely unpopular, and the end of conscription was hailed as a huge step forward. But the end of the draft also meant that the military was a career choice for young people. Rather than college or carpentry, young men and women elected to go from high school into the army (used in the generic sense of military service rather than a branch of the military), where they would be trained and indoctrinated into their future careers.
These young people were handed over to the army at an impressionable age, meant to be molded into a fighting force to safeguard the nation. To accomplish this, it was necessary to instill a blind acceptance of rank and authority, honoring the chain of command without question. They are taught methods and tactics, and told that these are the way their lives are saved, and these are the ways they save the lives of their mothers and fathers. The training is like a religion, to be accepted without question. It's very effective training.
After these impressionable youths have grown up a bit, to the point where they grow whiskers and have children, they need to leave the womb of the military and make their way in the real world; earn a living, buy a home and raise their children. As they walk away from a world that makes perfect sense to them, they need to apply the skills they learned in their secondary education, the army, to the civilian world. There aren't that many jobs that require field-stripping an automatic rifle or rushing into oncoming fire.
Of course, there is one civilian job that fits the bill quite well. Law enforcement. It obviously can't absorb every former soldier, but ex-military are extremely well-suited to the task in many ways, the ways that people who seek law enforcement personnel value. They follow orders. They respect the chain of command.
They bring other things to the Job as well. They bring the mental separation of us-and-them needed to kill people. They bring the tactics they were taught kept them alive. They bring the belief that overwhelming power, shock and awe being an example, serves them and their strategy. In other words, they bring all the things that were strengths in the military but are dubiously employed against their fellow citizens, their brothers and sisters at home.
Obviously, there aren't enough jobs in law enforcement to absorb every former soldier, and those who reflected the greatest dedication to the religion are most valued in law enforcement. They are fierce warriors. They take no prisoners. They know how to control and subdue an enemy. They become our police, whether in local departments, the Fish and Game Administration or the U.S. Marshals' Service.
Where the uniforms were once blue, they feel more comfortable in battle gear. Where the weapons were once pistols, they were trained to love their automatic rifle. They will never forget the catechism they were taught in basic training. Given the option of going into battle the way they were trained, they will choose to do so.
Radley Balko's upcoming book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, will no doubt address this in far greater depth than a mere blawg post, ranging from the distribution of military weaponry to local police departments, which are then used because, well, they're there, to the adoration and glorification shown when law enforcement's terrible high tech gadgetry is used to stop a threat, whether real or perceived. This strikes me as another piece of the puzzle of what has gone so horribly wrong.
A self-selected segment of our children have chosen to be made into warriors, and we praise them highly for their choice. When later they change employers, they don't change their religion or understanding of their place in the world. They are what we made them to be, even though the new enemy is us.