Before dawn broke in Washington on Saturday, “Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists” – more accurately described as federalists of southeast Ukraine who oppose last February’s coup in Kiev – unloaded desperately needed provisions from some 280 Russian trucks in Luhansk, Ukraine. The West accused those trucks of “invading” Ukraine on Friday, but it was a record short invasion; after delivering their loads of humanitarian supplies, many of the trucks promptly returned to Russia.

I happen to know what a Russian invasion looks like, and this isn’t it. Forty-six years ago, I was ten miles from the border of Czechoslovakia when Russian tanks stormed in to crush the “Prague Spring” experiment in democracy. The attack was brutal.

Once back in Munich, West Germany, where my duties included substantive liaison with Radio Free Europe, I experienced some of the saddest moments of my life listening to radio station after radio station on the Czech side of the border playing Smetana’s patriotic “Ma vlast” (My Homeland) before going silent for more than two decades.

I was not near the frontier between Russia and southeastern Ukraine on Friday as the convoy of some 280 Russian supply trucks started rolling across the border heading toward the federalist-held city of Luhansk, but that “invasion” struck me as more like an attempt to break a siege, a brutal method of warfare that indiscriminately targets all, including civilians, violating the principle of noncombatant immunity.


In a brilliant August 17 segment of Last Week Tonight, HBO host John Oliver ripped into small towns that have equipped their police with warlike military equipment. One town was Keene, New Hampshire, where their military-grade armored personnel truck was acquired to protect critical targets – like the annual Pumpkin Festival. Another was Doraville, Georgia. Oliver showed a wild video clip from the Doraville Police Department’s website, with a Ninja-dressed SWAT team going for a joyride in a souped-up armored personnel carrier, all set to a heavy metal song called "Die MotherF***er Die."

In a visit to Doraville last week, I asked Officer Gene Callaway why his sleepy town of 8,000, which hasn’t had a murder since 2009, needed an armored personnel carrier (APC). "The vehicle provides Doraville with a scalable response and ensures the safety of police officers," he answered. Scalable response? Safety of police officers? Doraville has never been a crime-ridden town. "We at Doraville are proud to be ranked 39th in safest cities in Georgia," Callaway himself bragged. It seems the most useful task the APC performed was pulling 18-wheelers back onto the salted lanes of Route 285 during snowstorms. Oh, and let’s not forget that "the kids love playing on it" when it rolls up to the county fair, Callaway told me.

Doraville’s armored vehicle is a gift from Uncle Sam, as part of the billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment now flowing from the federal government to state and local police departments. Not only is it an incredible waste of taxpayer money, but it gets people – including children – accustomed to seeing military vehicles on their streets. Worst of all, it is causing police to act like soldiers, especially since one of the stipulations of getting this equipment is that it must be used within one year of receipt.


“And believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional, part of what makes us such a world power.” – US President Barack Obama at the DreamWorks Animation facility, November 2013.

As sensational as that pronouncement was, at least it shed light on how the people of the United States have been sucked into accepting another war in Iraq, and possibly one in Syria, too.

And in a larger context, American’s infatuation with Hollywood-like fantasy helps explain how so many people still believe that Obama and the Democratic Party are less egregious than the Republican Party on issues of foreign policy, civil liberties, the environment and much more.

We’ve seen this movie before

Hollywood is notorious for telling the same story over and over – just packaged with different titles, villains and celebrity heroes. Washington does the same.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations told the American public that the US was simply sending "advisers" to Vietnam, but the alleged threat posed by Communism had to be resolved by Vietnamese themselves.

"In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it," Kennedy stated in 1963. Sound familiar?


If anyone wants to know what Afghanistan will look like whenever the United States finally gives up its meaningless occupation, take one look at Iraq. After 24 years of perpetual American war in Iraq – an invasion, a decade long no-fly zone, international sanctions, a second invasion, an occupation, the overthrow of a dictator and the installation of a puppet democracy – Iraq is anything but stable. Is this really any surprise? Over the past few months the international community has watched a group of Islamic thugs (ISIS) completely overrun the artificial Baghdad government, take possession of millions of dollars’ worth of American-made war material, and stage a number of gruesome public executions. The fact that there are people in the world who behave in such ways is a disgusting tragedy, but the chain of events that has led to such an outcome got a running start with the perpetual meddling in the region. The same recipe has been brewing in Afghanistan for the last 13 years and I expect that whenever the United States finally turns over the country to its inhabitants, parallel chaos will not be far behind it.

When you step off the plane at Bagram Air Base in Northern Afghanistan the first thing you notice (besides the mountains) are the sheer numbers of permanent structures, the hundreds of tons of concrete, and the immense inventory of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that now litter the ground. Tent city and many of the plywood basic huts have long been replaced by rows of three-story steel buildings and permanent structures – what a difference a decade makes! Without question, the present situation is night and day from that of the horse soldiers whose original intent was at least morally justifiable – capture the man allegedly behind September 11th – Osama Bin Laden. Although the second invasion of Iraq sidelined the search for half a decade, it has now been more than three years since Bin Laden was executed and the continued American presence makes one wonder when the referendum on making Afghanistan the 51st state will be. So why hasn’t the United States left and what happens if the United States government ever does decide to come home?


The Ferguson community is rightly outraged over the fatal police-shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the broader problem it represents: how American blacks are treated like a subject population under military occupation. They are also right to be doubly outraged at how the police state that dominates them has been baring its fangs and pushing them around with a fully militarized response to their protest.

It is good that they want justice for Mike Brown and the mitigation of police impunity. It is also good that the public is now finally aware of and deeply concerned about the militarization of the police. But this has been a decades-long, losing struggle. By now, it should be obvious that the police state, and especially its treatment of blacks, will never be fundamentally reformed.

You might ask, “Well, what else can we do but keep trying?” My answer may initially take you aback, but hear me out. Abolish the police, at least in Ferguson and any other black community that has had enough.

The notion of doing without police may seem as outlandish as abolishing parenthood or outlawing air. But police forces are not some timeless, sacred feature of human society. In its modern form, policing was actually only developed in the past couple of centuries. And tellingly, it originated directly out of imperial domination. As Will Grigg puts it, modern police forces have from the beginning been:

“…paramilitary bodies designed to operate as occupation forces, rather than as a protective service. In creating his London Metropolitan Police, Robert Peel adapted the model he had employed in creating the “Peace Preservation Force,” a specialized unit within the 20,000-man military contingent Peel had commanded as military governor of occupied Ireland.”


In the recent film X-men: Days of Future Past, the “Sentinels” are robots programmed by non-mutant humans in the government to hunt and keep down the feared and marginalized population of “mutants.” Eventually, however, their programming undergoes major “mission creep,” and according to Wikipedia, the Sentinels, “expand their targets beyond mutants to baseline humans based on the logic that they have the potential to produce mutant descendants, culminating in a dystopian future where most of humanity and mutantkind have been wiped out.” This is an apt parable for the police state, which is also used against the marginalized, but which also eventually will turn on its creators and enablers.



The late scholar Chalmers Johnson used to say, “Either give up your empire, or live under it,” referring to the truth that foreign empires tend to foster domestic police states. American experience, especially in past years, has shown just how prescient this unheeded warning was. The September 11, 2001 terrorist blowback from U.S. imperialism in the Middle East excused a massive swelling of the “homeland” security state, as well as an imperialist double-down in the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. These foreign wars, in turn, engorged our police state even further, as a torrent of surplus military gear streamed into our local police and sheriff’s departments, ramping up an already long-running militarization of the police in America.

Chief Ken Geddes poses with the Preston, Idaho police department’s new MRAP.

This militarization has been largely under the radar, in spite of efforts to publicize it by prolific libertarian writers like Will Grigg and Radley Balko. The issue has finally broken into public consciousness and mainstream media coverage after police responded to protests and unrest (over the police shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown) in Ferguson, Missouri with militarized full-spectrum dominance, putting all their new toys from the Pentagon to use and on display.

And yet, even with their news and social media feeds bombarded by images of an American town that are indistinguishable from images of occupied Iraq, many conservatives are still clinging to a “Support Your Local Police” attitude toward the matter. They don’t see the images as indicative of the tyranny of empire “coming home.”

Wall of high beams facing anyone approaching Ferguson, Missouri.

This in part is due to identity politics, which currently dominates judgments concerning public affairs, at the expense of principled concerns for justice and individual rights. These generally non-black, middle-class “law and order” conservatives identify with “black neighborhood” blacks in Ferguson about as little as they identify with Arab townsfolk or bedouins. To many of them, it is not a truly American town that is being militarily occupied, or true Americans being tear gassed. In X-men argot, they’re not “baseline humans,” so it is deemed okay if the “Sentinels” get rough with them.