The Imperial Boomerang Returns

The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home. – James Madison

House Raids, Murder, and Other Aggression

The war in Iraq has been conducted using “urban warfare” tactics including the raiding of Iraqi homes. On several occasions, those raids have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians, including one horrific attack in which five children (all under age 6) and four women were gunned down after being handcuffed.

Then there was the disturbing helicopter attack launched by U.S. troops against unarmed reporters, which was caught on video.

While most Americans remain ignorant of such events, those who are better informed often seem comforted by distance. Miles of separation make atrocities seem less atrocious. An internal monologue buffers the conscience, albeit with pretty thin excuses — we are at war, we are fighting to protect America, perhaps there’s more to the story that we don’t know, surely it was an “accident,” and so on.

Yes, Americans seem to possess advanced abilities in self-delusion. At least such violent raids do not happen in America. Citizens aren’t victimized here, right?

In 2007, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston of the Atlanta area was killed in a police raid. Acting on bad information, the officers began prying her windows open and ramming down her door. She got her .38 caliber revolver to defend herself, and when police saw the gun, they fired nearly 40 rounds, killing her in her home.

Last year, Detroit police shot and killed a 7-year-old girl during a raid. The victim was considered  “collateral damage” in an otherwise lawful raid.

In January of this year, police shot and killed 45-year-old Todd Blair in a Utah drug raid. He had a small amount of pot and, come to find out, was not a drug dealer. Trying to defend his home against intruders, Blair had a golf club but was shot three times without even being asked to drop it. The shooting was ruled to be justified.

Also in January, a 68-year-old grandfather of 12 was killed in Massachusetts. Eurie Stamps was not the subject of the SWAT team’s drug raid, but he became the victim nonetheless.

A few months later, in May, former Marine Jose Guerena was shot and killed in his Arizona home by police. The autopsy revealed that he was hit by as many as 23 rounds. SWAT troops stormed Guerena’s house around 9:30 a.m. It was one of four homes raided that day by Pima County, Ariz., police for suspected “marijuana trafficking.” When Guerena tried to protect his family against the intruders, the police unloaded an estimated 70 bullets. Guerena had no drugs.

Of course, American police have also demonstrated their violence toward U.S. citizens in other circumstances. Most recently, Oakland, Calif., police launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets into the crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters. Scott Olsen, 24, suffered a fractured skull as a result. This comes amid other escalations of police aggression toward Occupy protesters, escalations that will likely continue.


When President Obama authorized drone attacks in Yemen that took the lives of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, American citizens and news sources rejoiced. Never mind that the targets were American citizens who were never formally charged with or arrested for a crime; “justice” was done.

About two weeks later, when Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed in a similar attack, many Americans said that people should be more careful about whom they hang out with. One patriotic American noted, “This should serve as a warning to anyone that we will pursue and kill terrorists wherever they are. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may become collateral damage.”

Yes, America will relentlessly hunt down suspected terrorists and kill them and whoever has the gall to eat dinner in their general vicinity. They’re just collateral damage.

Such terms are part of the American Newspeak that allows citizens to see their government’s victims as less than human, consider themselves patriotic, and go about their business. Yes, Americans are masters of self-delusion and have invented a new vocabulary to uphold the trance: “collateral damage,” “insurgent,” and “terror suspect” are just a few of the comforting words.

Once again, U.S. citizens are comforted by distance. Had the drone attacks taken place in New Mexico (home state of the Awlakis) or North Carolina (home state of Samir Khan) and inflicted “collateral damage” there, what would the response have been? Would there be more ignorant comments like, “If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may become collateral damage”?

But why worry about that? At least it’s not happening in America.

A 2008 New York Times report claimed that police departments around the nation were clamoring for new drone technology by Honeywell. Of course, as Miami-Dade Police spokesman Juan Villalba said, “Our intentions are to use it only in tactical situations as an extra set of eyes.” He added, “We intend to use this to benefit us in carrying out our mission.” Yes, of course.

What was a wish in 2008 is becoming the reality of 2011. Last week, a Houston-area police department announced its possession of an armed drone. The drone was purchased for $300,000 with money granted by the Department of Homeland Security.

But not to worry. Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage promised, “We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals.” He also said, “No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody’s going to question it, but we’re going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that.”

Whew! That was close. Luckily for the citizens of Montgomery County, the government does not break promises.

James Madison was right. The tools of “defense” abroad become the tools of tyranny at home. They are here now, and no amount of Newspeak or self-delusion can help when they are at our doorsteps and over our heads. The mileage that insulates Americans against the horrors of our foreign policy has been dramatically shortened.

Author: Dr. Brian Phillips

Dr. Brian Phillips is a history, philosophy, and rhetoric teacher and serves as the pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Concord, N.C. You can read more of his writings at Truth and Culture and may e-mail him at