Statement from the Truman National Security Project on the Use of Military Force Against American Civilians

WASHINGTON DC -- As the President seeks to expand the military response to unrest in Washington, all Americans  must reject the notion that our streets are a “battlespace” to be “dominated.”

America is not a battlespace, it is our home. Americans are not to be dominated, they are to be protected, nurtured, and celebrated. Such dangerous rhetoric only escalates tensions and makes violence more likely. Recent actions, including those by Park Police to use force against peaceful protestors to clear a path for the President’s church-side photo opp and the use of National Guard medevac helicopters to disperse crowds on DC streets, demonstrate the short path from rhetoric to action. Such moves represent a serious breakdown in civilian-military affairs that risks the further politicization and degradation of the US military.

Truman condemns the violence that many communities across the country are enduring. At the same time, we offer our full support to Americans everywhere to engage in peaceable assembly and expression. 

The deployment of US military and law enforcement to disrupt the exercise of these Constitutionally-enshrined rights represents a dangerous development. What might follow should give us all pause. We call on Governors to reject calls from the president to deploy National Guard troops for the purpose of disrupting peaceable assembly and on members of Congress to exercise robust oversight. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act offers a near-term opportunity for Congress to bar the use of military force against Americans.

No Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should walk the streets of our capital in battle fatigues and we welcome statements from former Chairmen General Dempsey and Admiral Mullen that reject such a dramatic usurpation of norms. It’s up to all of us to ensure that does not happen again.

At this perilous moment, we must also consider the permissive environment that such transgressions at home create for abusive regimes abroad. As George Will notes, “Abroad, anti-Americanism sleeps lightly when it sleeps at all, and it is wide-awake as decent people judge our nation’s health by the character of those to whom power is entrusted.” While much of the world rejects the President’s dangerous, militarized response, there has been widespread support for those who engage in nonviolent protests to end the systemic inequality and injustice under which black Americans have long suffered.

These are the Americans we must elevate in this moment. 

The steps of the Lincoln Memorial served as the backdrop for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Those steps were filled with citizens coming together with hope for a better tomorrow. Last night, almost 60 years later, the sun set on those very same steps, this time filled with National Guard troops. The work of today’s peaceful protestors is in service of the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, long deferred. 

Let them dream. 

Let them march.

Let them be.