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The Real Value of the Standing Army

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As commentators such as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Cato’s Gene Healey have reported, the U.S. military has deployed combat-tested troops to a homeland-defense mission here in the United States. The unit is the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which has just returned from duty in Iraq.

The Pentagon is denying that the troops will be used for law-enforcement purposes. That, of course would violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts the use of the military as a domestic police force.

However, let’s not forget that ever since 9/11, the Pentagon has considered the domestic United States to be part of the worldwide battleground in the war on terrorism, which has empowered the military to round up Americans as enemy eombatants and treat them accordingly, as they did with American citizen Jose Padilla — that is, with torture and the possibility of indefinite military detention.

Thus, given the right circumstances, such as another 9/11 attack, there is nothing to prevent the Pentagon from ordering the 3rd Infantry Division to sweep into cities and towns across America and round up enemy combatants. When confronted by critics with the Posse Comitatus Act, all the Pentagon would have to do in response is declare, “Ever since 9/11, we have possessed the power to treat terrorism as either an act of war or a crime. On authorization of the president, we have declared the people we are rounding up as enemy combatants, not criminals. Therefore, our actions are justified and constitutional. We are protecting our nation and our national security.”

And make no mistake about it: The troops would faithfully and loyally obey the orders of the president to effect such round-ups. While the troops take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, in their minds that is equivalent to obeying the orders of their commander in chief. That phenomenon was reflected by the willingness, even eagerness, to obey the president’s orders to invade and occupy Iraq despite the fact that there was no congressional declaration of war, as required by the Constitution. It has also been reflected by the willingness of the troops to establish the Pentagon’s prison camp at Guantanamo Bay for the precise purpose of avoiding the application of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as interference by the federal courts that the Constitution established.

We also mustn’t ignore the convenient possibility that those combat troops could also be used to quell domestic unrest arising out of a catastrophic economic crisis, one that has nothing to do with terrorism. For example, suppose a perfect storm of economic chaos were to strike our nation — with an industry-wide banking collapse, a worldwide dumping of U.S. government bonds, a massive run on the dollar, and the financial inability of the federal government to meet all its trillions of dollars in obligations without hyperinflation.

Imagine millions of old people angrily demanding their Social Security checks. And millions of sick people angrily demanding their Medicare payments. And millions of people angrily demanding their FDIC checks after their bank has gone under. And millions of angry stockholders who have lost their retirement funds in a stock-market crash.

Who better to maintain order than the troops? After all, don’t forget that that’s what President Hoover did when World War I veterans marched on Washington during the Great Depression demanding an early payment of their war bonuses. Hoover sent U.S. troops, who faithfully obeyed orders, to attack the demonstrators and restore order.

Don’t forget also the ruthlessness displayed by Franklin Roosevelt, who is an icon for President-elect Obama and other liberals as well as conservatives. His Justice Department criminally prosecuted Americans for owning gold, doing its best to convict them of a felony for committing that dastardly economic crime against the state. That same Justice Department also went after people like the Schechter brothers, who ran a chicken operation in New York, for violating inane New Deal regulations, and did its best to have them incarcerated.

At the advent of the Great Depression, it was important for U.S. officials to immediately blame the Depression on the failure of free enterprise. They knew that if Americans were to discover that the 1929 stock-market crash, in which millions of Americans lost fortunes, was actually caused by the federal government, specifically the Federal Reserve, there would be tremendous anger and rage directed against the government. (Of course, we also witnessed this phenomenon immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when U.S. officials blamed the attacks on hatred for America’s freedom and values to avoid having Americans focus on what the U.S. government had been doing to people in the Middle East as part of U.S. foreign policy.)

Today, however, many Americans have discovered the truth about the cause of the Great Depression. Even the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, openly admits that the federal government, not free enterprise, was the culprit behind the Great Depression.

Thus, if a catastrophic economic crisis there were to occur, federal officials would undoubtedly blame it on the usual suspects — speculators, greed, OPEC, Big Oil, free enterprise, capitalism, businessmen, price gougers, profiteers, and Wall Street. And they know that the average American is just as likely to buy it as Americans did back in the 1930s.

But U.S. officials also know that many Americans might well figure out that all that is nonsense and that it’s the government itself once again — and specifically its fiscal and monetary policies — that are the root cause of the catastrophe. In such a case, those combat-ready troops, purportedly stationed to protect Americans from the terrorists, would be conveniently positioned to suppress protests by angry and outraged citizens. Of course, as the Founding Fathers emphasized, that is the real value of a standing army.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.