Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why didn't Bush DE-federalize the response?

One of the persistent right-wing talking points has been that "Bush couldn't send in troops without the governor's permission." Other than being a lie (Bush is the Commander in Chief of the military, he has absolute authority to send them anywhere he wants), there is a tiny grain of truth: He could not send Federal troops *in a police role* to New Orleans without declaring a "state of insurrection". However, even that is a lie of sorts. Federal troops could certainly be sent to New Orleans in a humanitarian relief mode. And Louisiana law allows for self defense, meaning that they could certainly bring their military power to bear on anybody shooting at them.

But that wasn't all that could be done, and history shows how military manpower could have been deployed to Louisiana for maintaining public order far, far sooner than was done:

There is actually precedent for using Federal troops to maintain order in the event a city is destroyed by a national disaster. In 1906, the city of San Francisco was destroyed by a massive earthquake. Fires and looting broke out. 350,000 people were homeless and needed immediate evacuation.

Major General Frederick Funstan was the man on the ground at the Presidio, in charge of all forces in the California theater of operations in the absence of his superior officer. The Posse Comitatus law had been passed a few years prior prohibiting use of Federal troops in law enforcement situations, but the situation in San Francisco was clearly out of control of what the locals could do.

This being before the era of micro-managing limp-wristed civilians in the Pentagon micro-controlling commanders on the ground, he hit upon a simple and effective expedient -- he marched a column of soldiers up to where the Mayor of San Francisco was holed up, and said, "Mr. Mayor, we are at your disposal. Tell us what you need us to do." I.e., he basically deputized his men as San Francisco police officers under the command of the Mayor of San Francisco for the duration of the emergency. The Mayor then swiftly deployed them to break up riots, fight fires, and rescue people from the rubble.

Subsequent telegrams between himself and the War Department formalized this arrangement. For example, on April 26, Secretary Taft stated that "his [Mayor Schmidt] orders must control, and you must merely conform to his judgment so far as police matters are concerned."

Now: If a column of U.S. Marines under the command of a brigadier general had marched up to the Mayor's office in New Orleans and stated, "Mr. Mayor, we are at your command, what do you want us to do?" do you really, honestly believe that Mayor Nagin would have sent them packing? No freakin' way! But because our current leadership neither studies history nor understands command and control, the thought of turning federal military resources over to the local mayor for use in policing the city simply did not occur to them -- or if it did occur to them, was rejected out of hand (don't want to give that darkie mayor control over valuable federal resources, after all!).

So people die needlessly for the incompetence or turf-protecting bureaucratic BS of our leaders... we have, indeed, come a long way since 1906. The wrong way, that is.

- Badtux the History Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 9/17/2005 10:01:00 PM  


My first response to your post was, "Good Lord, were we more efficient in 1906?" I did some googling to get an account and came across this one:

It leaves me thinking that the human animal is rather insistently below it's potential. We have only brief moments of trancendence...
# posted by CmdrSue : 18/9/05 6:16 PM  

Cmdr Sue, yes, I'm aware that the situation in San Francisco was often chaotic, ill-organized, and left much to desire. However, the point was that the required assistance was *there*. It wasn't held up for a week so that all the paperwork could be done. It was more a case of, "do what it takes to save lives, and worry about the legal BS later."

Any disaster area is going to be a chaotic situation. I've survived Louisiana hurricanes, so have first-hand knowledge of that. Nothing is 100% efficient, and there's often people working at cross purposes and resources not being efficiently dispatched. 1906 was no different. But the Katrina response... that goes beyond the normal chaos of a disaster area. It isn't that resources weren't being efficiently dispatched. They weren't being dispatched *at all*. Pitiful. Just pitiful.

- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 18/9/05 7:14 PM  

I was talking to my dad, who used to be a Seabee. He related a tale to me about when he was at the Seabee base when a hurricane struck the gulf. The regular military and National Guard were both called in immediately. According to him, the Seabees did all the work and the National Guard units headquartered themselves at a big bar & had a party.
# posted by NewsBlog 5000 : 19/9/05 9:37 PM  

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