Trolling through CNN.com today, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this nifty little piece about President Bush trying to get Congress to let him use the United States military for law enforcement purposes in case avian flu reaches pandemic proportions. It is at times like these when I wonder what the HELL George W. Bush actually learned at Yale, anyway, besides Beer Guzzling 101A.
I haven't yet finished with my bachelor's degree -- not from a prestigious Ivy League university, mind you, but from humble liberal arts Antioch University -- and even I know that's a no-go. Why? Because of a little something we ex-history majors like to call the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (because, well, that's its name). It's official name is actually Section 1385 of Title 18. It expressly forbids the use of the military in the capacity of law enforcement, except under very specific conditions spelled out under the Constitution (National Guard units, for example) or by an Act of Congress. Once Congress gives the go-ahead, the President has a fairly wide latitude in using Army, Navy and Marine units to aid in an emergency situation (like… oh… I don't know… say… a Category 5 hurricane, for instance), or in cases of civil war and insurrection or an attempted overthrow of the government. Since we have scheduled overthrowings of the government every four years or so, those have been fairly rare in our history. The last big one took place in the middle of the nineteenth century. The little ones have broken out here and there (two of them in Los Angeles, in fact… Coincidence?) In any case, Congress is pretty reluctant to allow the use of U.S. troops against it's own citizens, since it's demoralizing for both military personnel and citizenry. What the President wants to do is by-pass the Act of Congress part, and just send those troops in when he senses (with his profoundly acute gifts of empathy and human compassion) that trouble's a-brewin'.
The part I love is that President Bush, who couldn't be bothered to get off his fat, white ass in Crawford when tens of thousands were trying to stay above water in New Orleans, wants Congress to allow him free reign to use the military against us in anticipation of… a flu pandemic. Hmmm. Yes. Because deadly flu pandemics are so frequently accompanied by widespread anarchy and civil unrest.
Hong Kong flu in 1968. 34,000 Americans dead. I myself was stricken with 104 degree fever. I was ten at the time, so that's not as near-fatal as it sounds. I was semi-delirious for a day or two, admittedly, but I don't seem to recall the angry mobs of flu sufferers, marching through the streets, demanding… what?... Nyquil? Okay, maybe that's not fair. After all, though it was a pandemic, the Hong Kong flu turned out to be a fairly mild-mannered one, in contrast with other past flu disasters. The Asian flu of 1957, for instance, took 74,000 American lives. And yet, I can't find a single historical reference to the attempted overthrow of the Eisenhower administration during that time.
Just what is he going to use the Army for in the case of a flu pandemic? Perhaps he’ll mobilize them, gather the infected together and shoot them, to prevent the spread of the disease. This could be particularly useful in poor, minority neighborhoods, where I'm sure most of the flu insurgents will be holed up, planning their coughing and sneezing assaults on upper-middle class white people. I don't know what to think. I go back and forth between thinking he's either incredibly evil, or incredibly stupid. After Katrina, I was sure it was evil. Now, I'm leaning back towards stupid. Can we survive this kind of nitwiticism for another two-and-something years?
All I know for sure is this: if there really is going to be an avian flu pandemic, I just hope and pray there's a chicken out there with the President's name on it.