The United States loves to respond to crises by calling on its trusty-rusty military. Got a terrorist problem? Drop a bomb on them with a drone. Experience a hurricane? Deploy the National Guard. Like clockwork, when the coronavirus pandemic began breaking out, the Trump Administration began preparing the Army and Navy to respond. While military resources have appropriate uses, the U.K.’s increase in police power demonstrates how governments can be overzealous.
Considering that Gov. Greg Abbott is set to announce his plan to reopen Texas on Friday, it’s highly unlikely there will be a strong military force in the state. However, COVID–19 has now killed more than 10,000 people in New York. Thus, how Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump use the Army, Navy and National Guard will set a precedent for how future leaders utilize the military during a national crisis.
At face value, using the Army, police and National Guard to enforce lockdowns and stay-at-home orders may sound like a good idea. After all, the U.S. has the highest number of confirmed fatalities of any country at 31,000 deaths. Other countries have fined or jailed citizens who break quarantine. Logically, we should do the same. Except we shouldn’t.
In Brazos County, for example, the shelter-in-place order allows people to take a walk, buy groceries, visit the doctor or pharmacy, and visit essential businesses. Because people can still leave their homes for a variety of reasons, it’s more difficult to fine or jail them for breaking quarantine. New York’s stay-at-home order functions similarly to Brazos County’s shelter-in-place order. Therefore, it would be just as difficult for authorities to detain those who do not comply with Cuomo’s order.
As a Texas native, I’m more inclined to tell the government to stick it when they try to control my life. However, because the shelter-in-place orders are in response to a global pandemic, I’ll swallow my medicine (albeit ruefully). Still, the current restrictions are too vague for police or military forces to concretely enforce.
Luckily, the Trump Administration has used the military for enhancing civilian responses only so far. Currently, the navy is preparing to deploy medical ships, the Army Corps of Engineers can be used and the military is preparing to send five million N95 respirator masks to hospitals who need it. With hospitals in COVID–19 hotspots being overwhelmed, it’s important that medical professionals obtain all of the resources they can.
Brazos County can care for the current number of COVID–19 patients, but some authorities believe hospitals may not have the necessary capacity. Unfortunately, Bryan-College Station cannot readily take advantage of the Navy’s medical ships since we are several miles away from the coast. However, the military could help the working class of Bryan-College Station if they set up temporary hospitals and sanitized public places. We should be proactive since Texas is projected to peak in late April.
Although the Army, Navy and National Guard can be useful resources, we should deploy them with care. The U.S. has spent most of its military budget on developing new killing tools rather than public health responses. Last year, the Department of Defense spent $750 billion on national defense, half of that money going to private contractors. It is clear that the military is still primarily focused on defending the nation (as it should). Thus, we cannot rely on the military as a primary tool to save the public from a pandemic.
While we need to be cautious when the army becomes intertwined with civilian affairs, the COVID–19 pandemic is a case where military interference is necessary. To ensure that the government does not become too authoritarian, you should comply with the current social distancing guidelines and avoid anything that would escalate the virus’s spread. COVID–19 is just like the flu, just more contagious and far more lethal.