Yesterday, I heard a lot of people calling for the army to be deployed on the streets of London. Some have even demanded that looters (and others) be shot on sight. Such calls are made without a single thought for the consequences and the implications of troop deployment.
In essence, it is the duty of the army to protect citizens from an outside invader. It is not their job to act as police. In countries, like Syria or Bahrain, where the army is routinely used as a an ersatz arm of law enforcement, innocent bystanders are killed and the governments in those countries rule with an iron fist. Civil liberties are curbed or suspended altogether and curfews are imposed. Anyone who disobeys a curfew is shot on sight. Is this what we want? Not even the French government orders the army onto the streets. It has the Compagnies de Républicaines de Sécurité or CRS to deal with serious cases of civil unrest. Anyone who knows the CRS will tell you, they are not to be messed with. However the CRS has come in for a great deal of criticism for their indiscriminate use of force. They have also been accused of institutionalized racism. In addition to the CRS, the French state can call upon the services of the Gendermerie Mobile. Do we want this sort of thing on our streets?
The other issue is that those who have called for the army to be deployed on British streets ignore the fact that the army is currently engaged in Afghanistan, fighting a war with no end. But would troops fire on their own citizens? Those of us who lived through the years of the so-called ‘Troubles’ will know that the army, by and large, saw the Catholics of Northern Ireland, not as citizens, but as enemies. The deployment of troops was initially greeted with relief and even joy. Within a couple of years, that had changed and the army was seen for what it was: an repressive arm of the state. Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972, saw 26 unarmed civilians and bystanders killed by the trigger-happy soldiers of 1 Para. Is this what those who call for the army to be deployed on our streets want?
There is another dimension to this, those who demand the army be sent on out on the streets are effectively demanding their own oppression. They may as well demand that their civil rights be suspended and internment without trial be introduced. How can soldiers tell who is a looter and who is not? Is there a code?
In 1911 Winston Churchill sent troops to Tonypandy. Striking miners were shot and killed. In the same year, troops appeared on the streets of Liverpool during the transport strike. Innocent bystanders were shot dead.
Those who demand that the army be called in are like turkeys voting for Christmas.