Along the U.S. – Canada border, average Americans experience first-hand the militarization of our country as armored Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement vehicles drive onto their land, Black Hawk helicopters buzz their homes and farms, and U.S. officials prosecute citizens who express their frustration. The use of Black Hawk helicopters to patrol a friendly border that had barely been monitored for over a century before September 2001 seems particularly ominous and gives rise to fear, frustration and uncertainty. A low-flying helicopter’s noise will upset a dairy farmers small herd and can cause a drop in milk production. Hard-working people lose sleep as utility vehicles rumble onto their property in the middle of the night.
Such disruptions, reminiscent of a police state, fall disproportionately on those who are “different”. Along the border, migrant farm workers, turban-wearing Sikh immigrants, even Native Americans have gotten entangled with federal and local police equipped with much military paraphernalia, including body armor. These residents get stopped at roadblocks set up by the federal agencies or checked by local police forces, who share radio frequencies, information and arrests.
In inner cities, the same equipment and attitudes oppress the lives of people of color from early on. My wife and I were once babysitting two twins, a girl and a boy about seven years old at the time, while their mother was getting treatment. The boy climbed into my wife’s lap and sighed, “I guess I’ll be going to prison when I get bigger.” At such a young age, he already knew what his being from a low-income, African-American family meant for his future. Police knocking at the door, stopping him on the street, always ready to use force.
These fellow citizens are our own civilian casualties, but they get far less attention from the media, and often the peace community, than the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. What does that say about the beam in our eyes? Unless we are accompanying people on the margins of what passes for “mainstream” America, it’s easy to miss the threat and consequences of domestic militarism, consequences like mass incarcerations, diversion of public funds from programs that meet social needs into military equipment for domestic police agencies, and the networking of local police forces with federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the FBI and others.
Protests against military adventures overseas will fail until we acknowledge and address the underlying causes of militarism at home and abroad, fear, materialism and our desire to hold on to our comforts. We must live more radical lives in every way, we must stand with the victims of militarism in this country and abroad. We must overcome fear and join together in acts of nonviolent resistance against the militarization of our society and our foreign policy.
Nick is the secretary of the Pax Christi USA National Council. He served in the United States Information Agency as a foreign service officer for over 25 years in Asia and Africa. Nick writes and speaks about foreign policy issues, nonviolent intervention and cross-cultural topics for audiences in this country and abroad.