Monday, June 22, 2020

A "Warrior" Class Subduing Local Populations Is As American As Apple Pie


Been a minute since we had a lecture from the great Alfred McCoy

thediplomat |  The protests in the United States have sparked a debate about the militarization of American police forces. Much attention has been paid to the literal usage of military hardware because it is the most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon. But there is a much deeper history that goes beyond just American police choosing to take on military garb and ride Armored Personnel Carriers: American military adventures abroad have long fueled a broader militarization that shapes norms, processes, mentalities, and the relationship between the local police and the citizenry.

There was a significant amount of concern in early America and up to the late 1800s about the prospect of the U.S. military being used as a means of controlling the public. The founding fathers were suspicious of the idea of a standing army, in part, for this reason. A number of laws including the Militia Acts passed in the decades following American independence and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 tried to limit the ability of the president to use the military in domestic circumstances.

That being said, scholars have been mapping the relationship between wars and the evolution of domestic policing for some time. Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall’s work on the matter is particularly informative. They posit that a “boomerang effect” contributes to the incorporation of intrusive and aggressive means used to subdue foreign populations in domestic civilian settings. Other scholars have looked at the impact of specific conflicts or the mindsets that govern police conduct.

The Domestic Legacy of the Philippines War
Despite the formal end of the Philippine War in 1902, American colonial rule faced an aggressive insurgency seeking independence. The insurgency in the Philippines against the U.S. occupation authority provided the opportunity to experiment with new concepts involving the use of military entities to pacify a civilian population. The U.S. military formed a constabulary manned primarily by sympathetic locals that blurred the line between police and military. Rather than having two distinct forces, one protecting the country from foreign threats and the other providing security services to the populace, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) was a hybrid of both, with a comfortable revolving door between it and various other military and policing structures.

Many U.S. veterans who had been at the forefront of establishing these social control systems in the Philippines returned the United States after the war, where they sought work in local law enforcement and changed the structure of police departments, unleashing a torrent of militarization. These veterans, many of whom were involved with the PC, initially used the techniques they had mastered abroad to target out-groups like foreign workers or prostitutes. Over time, the success of these measures would open the door to a more widespread militarization of the police and a shift in organizational and cultural norms within police departments and public opinion shifted to accommodate it. As historian Alfred McCoy notes:
[T]he U.S. military, thrust into these crucibles of counterinsurgency, developed innovative methods of social control that had a decidedly negative impact on civil liberties back home. As the military plunged into a fifteen-year pacification campaign in the Philippines, its colonial security agencies fused domestic data management with foreign police techniques to forge a new weapon—a powerful intelligence apparatus that first contained and then crushed Filipino resistance. In the aftermath of this successful pacification, some of these clandestine innovations migrated homeward, silently and invisibly, to change the face of American internal security. … Empire thus proved mutually transformative in ways that have arguably damaged democracy in both the Philippines and the United States.
The notion that returning servicemen would seek employment in the civilian policing sector is not inherently harmful, but as Coyne and Hall explain, rather than these servicemen being mentored to adapt their skills for civilian service, they became agents of importation for military tactics — especially as they climbed the ranks of their respective departments: