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September 30, 2005

over here, over here, send the word, send the word, over here…

There have been suggestions in Washington that the United States military should take a more active and direct role in leading recovery efforts after such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina.

However, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of federal troops occupying American cities. Imagine if there was an earthquake in Los Angeles and the military was sent in. How long would it be before you’d have Sean Penn and Ben Affleck strapping on suicide vests and heading to Spagos? The downside? Those were only their stunt doubles.

But on a more practical level, is the military really suited to such an effort?

For over 200 years the job of the United States military has been to blow things up.  Where you and I see a building, they see pre-rubble. This is perfectly appropriate. The major deterrence stopping other people from blowing us up is knowing that we can blow them up too.

Now, in the course of blowing things up, the military has become good at taking care of complex logistical matters that provide for the more efficient blowing up of things.  Being able to house and feed the people you have trained to blow things up is helpful. However, we have to be careful not to suggest that this is somehow the military’s core competence. It isn’t. Blowing things up is. 

Therefore, when trying to decide whether the application of the military is appropriate in any given situation you should apply the simple “BOOM!” Test. That is, will your goals be furthered if, in the course of addressing an issue, a BOOM! is somehow involved. 

For instance, let’s say you have a terrorist training camp in which there are scores of jihadists determined to wreak havoc on America. Can this problem be effectively addressed by the military?

BOOM!

Why yes, yes it can. 

How about a situation in which a city is flooded and hundreds of survivors are clinging to rooftops? Think carefully now.

BOOM!

Ouch, no, your approval rating just took a nosedive and your press secretary had to be put on Zoloft.

Now, how about if Paris Hilton just got signed to host her own show on MSNBC?

BOOM!

Okay, this is a gray area at best. 

Rather than saddle the military with yet another obligation for which it is not particularly well suited, perhaps we could provide additional resources to the agencies that already exist and are charged with those very tasks.

But what if those agencies are so irredeemably compromised by bad management and institutional resistance that they may never become effective?

BOOM!

J.

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September 30, 2005 at 11:41 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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» Combat Emergency Rescue Logistics from Caerdroia
There have been some suggestions made apparently seriously suggesting that the US military should be given a primary role in disaster response. That is to say, the military should be given the job of being first on the scene in a disast... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 30, 2005 6:53:35 PM

» Combat Emergency Rescue Logistics from Caerdroia
There have been some suggestions made apparently seriously suggesting that the US military should be given a primary role in disaster response. That is to say, the military should be given the job of being first on the scene in a disast... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 1, 2005 7:57:52 PM

Comments

I have a friend who was in 101AB, and during the Rodney King riots in LA, they were alerted to go in and restore order (the Insurrection Act was apparently being discussed as to its applicability). My friend's take on this is that their job is not to be police; they didn't sign up for it and didn't want it. He then laid out a few scenarios...

If directed to prevent insurrection, they would keep government officials from being killed. That wouldn't necessarily stop people from killing each other, but it's more resource-efficient to protect specific people that you are with than to spread over a large area trying to stop anyone from killing anyone else.

If directed to maintain order, they would keep people from killing each other. That does not, however, require any effort to stop looting; that's what police are for, and why get someone hurt over a property crime?

If directed to stop the looting, they would shoot looters. That stops the looting, plays to the division's core competence, and generally provides a deterrent effect that is most efficacious.

If directed to stop looting without killing looters, they would ask for a clarification of their orders. The military knows a way to keep order, but martial law is it, and if you don't want that, you don't want the military in there.

He's glad they didn't send in the military. So am I.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf | Sep 30, 2005 6:08:42 PM

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