It may be premature to hoist the white flag. But with top Democrats calling for the abolition of ICE, the US immigration enforcement agency, and a long-engrained policy of using our military for nearly everything other than defense of the US, the option of disbanding our military apparatus is worth considering.
There was a time when I thought the use of the military to patrol borders would make sense. It would give our troops something useful to do. We have been stationing them all over the globe since WWII, getting into wars that have nothing to do with national interests, and rarely winning them anyway. But if Americans aren’t even willing to support an ICE type organization, what chance is there of turning the task over to our regular military?
Our allies in Europe face a similar dilemma. The EU’s eventual surrender to the Aquarius — the ship ferrying African migrants that was recently turned away from Italian waters by order of that country’s new right wing government — was largely hailed as a victory for humanism when Spain’s new socialist government allowed the ship entry.
Germany’s fragile new coalition government may still collapse, essentially over the dilemma of devising effective and humane measures to deter migrants from moving into Germany and settling at will. The new Austrian government, sympathetic to the tougher immigration stances of Bavarian and Italian neighbors to the north and south, may nevertheless get into a tit-for-tat spat with them over how to achieve their common goals.
Throughout the western world, the political will to control borders falls apart before images of officials physically restraining intruders. In this Age of Aquarius, soldiers are instructed by the political class not to stand in the way of anyone’s aspirations for a better life. Human rights organizations, with their small fleet of ships rescuing migrants in unseaworthy small boats off the coast of Africa, are at least now being accused by even “moderate” European leaders of facilitating the work of people traffickers and luring would-be migrants to risk their lives in such boats.
Nevertheless, on both sides of the Atlantic, “thou shalt not disappoint” foreign masses determined to settle in one’s country is a credo enjoying wide-spread acceptance beyond just the “loony left.” Especially if deterrence leads to babies crying! “Containment” as a western post-WWII defense doctrine has been replaced by the new “Cry Baby doctrine.” Even the use of soldiers for parades has become controversial.
An agreement among Germany’s coalition partners to house some migrants in former US army caserns has come under fire from many on the left for being inhumane. This month’s compromise between Germany’s two conservative coalition partners, one that would detain arriving migrants for 48 hours in transit facilities near the border, is still contested. Many within the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the third coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, see the proposed border facilities as serving a similar function to extra-territorial ones that have long been used at international airports. The latest compromise envisions a short detention period that would allow officials to check whether asylum claimants had already registered in another EU country. If they had, they would be sent back to that country.
I had visited many army barracks in Germany as a civilian reporter in 1971. They struck me as palaces compared to “facilities” provided us infantry conscripts for months at a time in Vietnam a few years earlier. The “facilities” frequently amounted to nothing more than ponchos too short to cover both head and feet while trying to sleep outdoors in the monsoon season. The choice was rain pouring on one’s face or on one’s boots. The solicitude of western governments toward hundreds of thousands of migrants, a large number of whom are roughly the age of the average young conscript among their own citizens, is quite remarkable. Priorities have clearly changed!
I had once been a “proud” veteran, so it’s not without some pangs of regret that I contemplate the abolition of our military. Proud, but also ready to exploit whatever benefits might be derived from such status. When joining American Legion Paris Post No. 1 in January 1971, a main goal was to make contacts that might help me find a job in “The City of Lights.” It not only had a great location at 49 rue Pierre Charron just down from the Champs Elysees. It also had a wonderfully cozy atmosphere with furnishings reminiscent of what I imagined to be a traditional English gentlemen’s club. And a bar that offered free peanuts that filled me up enough in the Friday Happy Hours to avoid paying for at least one outside meal per week. My hotel room in the Quartier Latin was costing FF 12.5 daily ($2.50) and although breakfast was included (previous day’s baguette with some apricot marmalade and watered down coffee), the lack of cooking facilities left me with little choice than to dine out daily. Unsure of whether the GI Bill would cover my French courses, every franc saved helped lengthen my stay in Paris.
All the other veterans’ at the Legion seemed to be of World War II vintage. It didn’t take long for me to realize that most whom I had met at the bar were themselves still job-hunting in Paris a quarter of a century on. The Post Commander was very welcoming, anxious for “new blood” from America’s latest war to add to its membership rolls. But after attending one official meeting, his insistence that I wear one of the Legion’s funny Garrison Caps deterred me from future appearances. With no work permit and job prospects looking grim, and with the club’s peanuts growing metaphorically stale, I took the aforementioned job as a reporter in Germany, working out of Frankfurt for a new scandal sheet covering the shenanigans of American GIs.
The experience of travelling around US military installations in that country gave me a whole new perspective regarding America’s global forward defense strategy. Things weren’t going swimmingly in Asia either, but the internecine fighting, indiscipline and terrible morale among GIs themselves in Germany was a stark contrast to my earlier two-year army experience. The frequent spill-over of barracks’ social pathologies into adjacent German civilian areas aroused first suspicions that our global military presence might be creating as many problems as it was solving.
I covered several rape trials during the weekly newspaper’s short lifespan. Only one of the GIs found guilty had received a dishonorable discharge. The others generally got off with a jail sentence and a bad conduct discharge. The differences might seem quaint now, but in those days of compulsory military service, the perception was that would-be employers paid attention to the status of a young male job applicants’ terms of departure from the military, and the “dishonorable” was deemed more onerous than a little bad conduct was. And not all of the convicted rapists got discharged.
One soldier tried to grab my camera after I photographed him leaving the court room where he had just been sentenced to a mere one year imprisonment for being a participant in a gang rape. We wrestled all the way to the main lobby of the old I.G. Farben building, formerly of Zyklon B manufacturing fame and the then US Army’s V Corps headquarters. MPs and a colonel from the Public Affairs office finally got him to let go before he could expose my film. He was expecting his wife to join him in Frankfurt after finishing his jail time, so he explained, and he feared that she might learn through a newspaper photo that he had been up to more than just defending the United States while in Germany.
The German press in those days showed less interest in GIs raping Germans than they do today in cases involving Muslim refugees. Not that the former was a widespread phenomenon. Germans just tended to view the presence of GIs, most of whom were polite and friendly, as a cross worth bearing given the large presence of Soviet troops in Germany’s other part. The left generally longed for a quid-pro-quo deal that would rid the country of both armies. Throughout the west, unilateral surrender didn’t have the widespread public appeal that it does regarding today’s threatened migrant invasions.
The press in Europe overall was far more compliant then. When Nixon visited Paris, President Pompidou instructed journalistic colleagues at France’s only TV network, ORTF, not to harass their “American guest” with annoying questions about Watergate. I had been working at CBS News by that time, a job I had found — without any help from the local American Legion — after beating a path back to Paris following the bankruptcy of my Frankfurt newspaper employer. Our irate colleagues over at ORTF dutifully complied with their political boss. We at CBS thought Nixon would never leave the country after that momentary relief from the press back home.
A staple story for the bureau was the weekly Vietnam peace talks over at the Hotel Majestic. The US challenge was to extract our troops from that mess in a way that would save face and not damage our credibility in the eyes of other allies, like those Germans playing host to the troops I had just left behind. The “credibility” survived the eventual debacle. Unfortunately, so did the hubris that the US was the free world’s “indispensible nation,” as Madelyn Albright was to explain a few wars later.
Most of us growing up in the immediate post-WWII years easily subscribed to that view. Just how much WWII ideological mythos and bravado had conditioned our readiness to accept compulsive interventionism is not appreciated nearly enough. Tough job, was the attitude, but someone’s got to do it! Had FDR not — in the words of Claire Boothe Luce — “lied us into war,” we would have been faced with the unpleasant spectacle of foreign tyrants partitioning the White House into wings managed by a Shogun and a Gaulleiter. Harder to understand is the curious new national consensus that we needed to defend our “way of life” in umpteen countries around the globe while leaving our own borders porous and open to invasion by tens of millions of illegal immigrants.
We didn’t lose all those follow-on wars, of course. On the lovely Caribbean paradise island of Grenada, our victorious troops came, saw and conquered in relatively short order. When I went to live there as a diplomat some time afterwards, I was thankful that the only US military presence involved a few Marines guarding our Embassy. Grenada had experienced some domestic turmoil before our military “intervention.” (We weren’t to use the word “invasion.”) But after getting to know Grenadians fairly well, I suspected that they eventually would have worked things out somehow had we left them to their own devices. As became obvious by that decade’s end, neither the Soviets nor their Cuban friends were in a position to launch an invasion against the US using Grenada’s large new Cuban-built airstrip. So the question arose, did we really need even that one little victory?
Where would it likely take us, the demobilization option and the replacement of the old Containment Policy with a Cry Baby Policy? Not the ideal situation, scrapping our military! But with the political will for defending the country sapped, and overseas misadventures hopefully on the wane, we need to look at the bright side of that option. In the US, it would free up more money and human resources for community policing. Mass migration enthusiasts — so vociferous in well-healed suburban enclaves and some high-priced urban sanctuaries — would need more policing to continue feeling secure. Whatever else happens, America will remain a good place to make money, both for immigrants and owners of large capital assets.
I think frequent Unz-contributor, veteran and Mexican resident Fred Reed might also agree that Mexico would unlikely send tanks across the border if remaining US obstacles were removed. Why kill a goose that would continue to lay golden eggs?
With central and Eastern Europe political leaders stalwart about resisting migrant invasions from the south, and with some western EU counterparts showing signs of joining the resistance, President Trump’s doubling down on his earlier intimations about leaving NATO might strengthen some EU backbone in favor of loosening the transatlantic umbilical cord.
Austria’s 31-year-old Chancellor Kurz has long been out front in promoting the establishments of asylum processing centers across the Mediterranean, closer to the source of the mass migrations. Unmentioned is that this would probably require a readiness to use hard power, economic and possibly military, along with the long preferred soft power option. With its ca. nine million population, Austria is not exactly a heavyweight in either power variant. It’s not even a NATO member, as are most of its EU partners. But having just assumed the rotating EU six month presidency July 1st, it will attempt to help corral other like-minded member states — that may now include Germany — toward a tougher position on border control and abusive exploitation of asylum laws.
EU leaders in Brussels last month again promised to strengthen the Union’s common Frontex border control forces.
Don’t hold your breath!
Gene Tuttle, a retired US diplomat, lives in Vienna Austria