Archive for June, 2015

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Since long before the Declaration of Independence, the National Guard of the United States has played a significant role in defense of the American people at the state and local levels. The earliest militia minutemen conducted day and night skirmishes to defend townspeople of the early colonies, paving the way for the training and formation of the First Continental Army prepared to take on British forces. Since then, National Guard troops have been a force multiplier for the Federal armed forces in nearly every conflict. Additionally, the Guard has provided civil and humanitarian aid in the midst of natural disasters in the continental United States and other territories.  And in times of irrational expressions of anger in the streets of American cities, Guardsmen have been there to keep the peace and protect the rights of American people.

The idea of National Guardsmen being directly involved in the resolution of civil unrest is a sensitive subject, given that US troops are put directly in the line of sight of Americans who may or may not obey the law. In certain eras, the Guard has been seen as a sometimes lethal enforcer of martial law, such as during the Colorado miner strikes of the early 1900s.  Guardsmen were considered the last resort in resolving labor disputes, which tragically ended in the massacre of two dozen civilians. 50 years later, the Guard answered a new call to duty during the Civil Rights movement in the southern United States. The mission of the Guard was to prevent civil and police brutality, and to protect the rights of Americans taking part in peaceful expressions of speech and assembly. Thus the Guard became an ally for the American people to exercise such Constitutional rights.

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The role of the Guard changed once again following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. They once again took on a law enforcement role, restoring peace in major cities struck by riots and rage. This kind of role continued for the Guard as the Vietnam War continued through the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Guardsmen were emplaced to protect the establishment of government from a frustrated American public. 20 years later, National Guardsmen once again took to protect the streets, but were instead welcomed by citizens looking to restore peace in Los Angeles following the Rodney King riots.

Today, the Guard has retained its role in protecting citizens during times of civil unrest, no matter how violent things might become. The rebuilding of New Orleans, LA following Hurricane Katrina saw one of the biggest domestic activations of the National Guard since the 9/11 attacks. The Occupy Movement saw much mass protest sweep the nation in 2011, but very little National Guard response was seen as it was considered to resemble too closely to martial law.  However, the peaceful-turned-violent demonstrations witnessed in Ferguson, MO and the Baltimore, MD saw the necessity for activating of the Guard to enforce law and order. In all cases, the restoration of peace to these parts of the United States could arguably be attributed to the work of the Guard.

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So why the Guard? The answer is simple: the American people respect the troops. We live in a time now when service members and veterans are respected by American citizens everywhere. People have a sense of pride when viewing troops in uniform, as these troops represent all the values that everyday people aspire America to be.  Gone are the days of protest and disrespect towards the troops witnessed during the Vietnam War; the troops now hold a status that commands respect among American citizens, and to disrespect a troop is viewed the same as treason against one’s country. When total chaos erupts in the streets of America, the only one who can physically and fundamentally restore order is an American Soldier.

Now an even bigger question: will the National Guard see more activations in response to civil unrest in American cities? Given the history of the Guard’s role in restoring the peace and comparing it to the recent events in the country, and the answer is most surely yes. Why? Looking at the biggest events in the past century, all of them, including Hurricane Katrina, have involved some form of racial tension. The recent events involving the shootings of African Americans and the riots thereafter, to the debates over the symbolism of the Confederate Flag and the arson of African American churches, it is clear that racial tension is indeed alive and breathing in the United States and will continue to burn in the hearts of Americans for years to come. It appears that our nation is coming to a culminating point in the struggle for civil rights, where opinions that were kept silent for a long time are now in the open. And it is not limited simply to black and white; the development of the Islamic State has brought new voices in racism and ethnic cleansing that threaten the people of the United States.

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Whether such violence as that witnessed during Baltimore will be seen in other American cities is unknown, but what is known is that the National Guard will most definitely need to be prepared to intervene. In conducting such duties, Guardsmen must remain impartial and must remember their oath of swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Their purpose is to protect the rights of citizens, no matter whether they agree with their points of view or not, and prevent anyone from infringing upon those rights. It will not be easy for Guardsmen to point their weapons against their own American brothers and sisters who disregard the rights of others, but ultimately in the current day and age, it is the American Soldier who stands the best chance of restoring order.

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