As COVID-19 continued to spread, some US states were swift to mobilize the United States National Guard.
Stated duties include lending "support for warehouse and commodity management and distribution," "conducting logistics missions in support of the state response at warehouse locations," and "advising and assisting, logistics, transportation, traffic control, security, and more."
With current Federal guidelines extended until at least April 30 in some US states, a likelihood of a further extension beyond that date in the worst hit areas, and suggestions by the Federal government that some states gradually re-open, even as some state governors call for the opposite, the above-listed priorities for the Guard could become inverted. Logistical assistance and support may well remain central to the mission, but the security role might become an ever greater priority.
For example, some citizens hearing contradictory views may seek to return to work more suddenly than state governments will allow.
While some have been dismissive of the role of the Guard, the continuation of life without a paycheck may well result in events that hammer home the seriousness of the security task at hand.
A 2018 federal survey noted that approximately 40 percent of Americans lack the financial means to weather an emergency expense of more than $400.
Given that businesses have already been closed or negatively impacted for weeks, and that American workers have been furloughed -- industry by industry -- those 40 percent are already far beyond the $400 watermark of a financial crisis. In fact, they are already drowning.
The average factory worker, barista, or restaurant server likely never comes close to savings of $400. They may live paycheck-to-paycheck. When the paychecks stop, they and their children continue to consume and they continue to cost.
With every passing day, they may move deeper into a reality where they lack nourishment of mind and body. That socioeconomic group, in the absence of sufficient state and federal assistance to alleviate the dual absences of activity and food, is liable to do that which is needed for survival; as would any other group if sufficiently squeezed. While hospital beds and ventilators are the healthcare imperatives of the day, the standstill caused by the measures taken due to the absence of those things may well end up creating, and then fanning the flames of, a simmering confluence of national emergencies: despair, boredom, fearfulness and now -- a desire to return to work!
It is at that point that the security role of the National Guard may well become vital, central and extremely complex.
As veterans of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the United States Navy (USN) and the British Army, respectively, we are well aware of the complexities regarding the implementation of the use of force for the sake of crowd control, across a range of missions; from dispersal, to anti-terror measures.
We understand the complexities of a military that deploys and operates among and alongside a host nation's citizenry against threats emanating from non-citizens. While conducting those operations, we found that the greatest asset to hand was a population of willing supporters – people that saw us not as occupiers or tyrants, but as colleagues, partners and even family.
Those operations were not nearly as complex or as fraught an undertaking as a military deployed to restrain its own citizenry. The British Army conducted such operations in Northern Ireland beginning in the late 1960s and their actions are still being fought out in the courts half a century later.
Yet that could soon become the priority of the Guard. Mission: Delicate!
Boundaries between residential areas and districts are non-existent. If the funds to buy food continue to run scarce, the warehouses, malls, stores and residences – both local and upstream – will soon garner the attention of those who live downriver.
Those Americans who wish to demonstrate in favor of returning to work while being denied the right to assemble may also prove a challenge for the Guard.
In a polarized America, uniformed law enforcement has often proven to be an incendiary presence; the very touch paper needed to ignite a storm of civil unrest, even as it comes in service of the citizenry.
If the Guard is charged with restricting the movement of populations between areas, or dispersing those who seek to assemble, both of which are essentially law enforcement roles, the means of enforcement are inherently problematic.
First, the use of non-lethal methods results in unintended lethal outcomes across a long enough timeline. Asphyxiation, a rubber bullet that impacts upon the temple instead of the leg or abdomen, a rushing crowd that tramples an individual to death -- all of these realities exist.
Second, and of even greater concern, is what can occur if the restricted population senses that those sent as enforcers are unwilling to carry out their task because of concern over the aforementioned outcomes.
Third, the National Guard’s raison d’être is not policing a domestic populace. Striking the requisite balance will be a tremendous challenge, undertaken beneath an intensive media glare.
Sustained, district-wide riots and mob violence could serve as the gasoline poured onto the domestic fire currently fueled by the combination of coronavirus pandemic, political division and socioeconomic inequality.
The honest reader will concede that if squeezed with sufficient force, any sector of society will naturally seek to provide for themselves, their families and their children; by means ranging from illegal activity to demanding the right to work. All should keep in mind that for those who have never known socio-economic stability, the pressure is now very much on. It has been for several weeks.
Merely providing temporary relief will not suffice. Americans have mortgages, rent, insurance payments, groceries and any number of revolving month-to-month expenses, all backed by a predominantly consumer-driven economy. America is entirely dependent upon its internet infrastructure for what is left of its economic, scholastic and social activity. An attack effectively targeting any one of the major ISPs, Netflix, Amazon, etc. would see America utterly crippled, desperate and bereft of virtually all activity.
Americans and world citizens are restless, and necessarily so. To avoid economic collapse, we must all eventually emerge from the safety of our respective caves and again greet reality and each other.
The unrest that could occur both pre- and post-release are likely to be met with a police and National Guard presence that most Americans have never seen before. The societal tensions in the U.S. will still exist and could well be exacerbated by an increased domestic military/law enforcement presence.
There will be headlines, but those headlines will surely be worse without the safety provided by the Guard and the inevitable collapse resulting from an America that is shuttered inside itself.
The National Guard may become the savior America needs, even if it is not the one she wants. It will need morally strong leadership and resolve to confront this possible coming crisis. We will all be well served by wishing the Guard success and being supportive of them as they take on this vital task on behalf of a population eager to return to normality.