Policing Is Not Soldiering.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I posted this bon mot on Twitter the other day:

But since Twitter is where nuance goes to die, I wanted to expand on that a little bit.
One of the major delusions that conservatives have is that a guy in a military uniform can do anything.  A soldier can win a war and win hearts.  And they really can’t, but that’s not their fault.
Which is to say that winning a war is a pretty brutal process.  Teaching a guy to kill is actually a really difficult process – only somewhere along the lines of 15-20% of people will, without training, shoot someone even if their life is on the line.  A major problem in past battles is that a large number of those regimented rifles went unfired, because most humans are not prepared for the trauma of what is, essentially, sanctioned murder.  Almost every time you hear the story of “These barbarians routed a much larger unit!” it’s because the barbarians were composed of 80% people who would kill to achieve their task, and the larger unit had, maybe, 20% of people who could do the job.
Result: terror.
So when you’re training a soldier, a lot of that is suppressing human instincts.  And then, when you go to battle, your idea is to conserve your forces and maximize power.  The loss of every soldier weakens your unit, so your goal is not to lose anyone.  You’re extremely conservative, using whatever tactics there are to kill the other guy and protecting your own.  You try not to kill innocents, depending on the morality of your superiors, but the horror of war is that you don’t pull punches.  In war, civilians get killed by mistake, because the goal of war is to destroy the opposition until they’re not a threat.
And that is necessary.  Sometimes, for all the peace-love in the world, you have to punch a guy in the face.  Not everyone’s reasonable.  Not everyone’s got resources they can split evenly.  Soldiers are high-value things for any civilization.
Policing is different.
In policing, you’re not trying to exterminate the enemy, you’re trying to get them to work with you.  Casualties are bad.  In many ways, policing is braver than being a soldier, because you’re not trying to preserve your life, you’re trying to preserve the life of the citizenry.
And your goal as a policeman is to settle disputes, to keep order, to dispense justice.  That sometimes involves some very complex negotiations between disputing factions, whether that’s two gangs fighting or between a tavern and its drunken customers.  You have to deal with ambiguity a lot, sometimes not enforcing every rule, sometimes being harsher on people you see as a danger, not just carrying out this single arrest but thinking of it in terms of the greater good of everyone around you.
You have to make the community a community.  And that’s radically different from capturing territory on the ground.
And like soldiers have to be trained to kill effectively, policemen must be trained to police effectively.
They are two entirely different, and in many ways completely opposed, skillsets.
“But Ferrett,” you say.  “You’re just picking on the conservatives again!”  Except the conservatives – real, long-term, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives – were the ones who sent soldiers into Iraq and then acted as if soldiers were equipped to keep the peace.  They weren’t.  They made a lot of mistakes that weren’t their fault, because “navigating the complex web of local alliances and hatreds to bind people together into a functioning unity through shared trust” is very different from “kill Saddam’s soldiers.”  And it wasn’t until General Petraeus came in and started making some organizational changes to acknowledge that difference that things started to get better, but by then it was too late.
In Iraq, you had soldiers who thought they were cops.  And what you see in Ferguson is the flip side of that, where you have cops who think they’re soldiers, and every thing they do to protect their forces – a smart move, when you’re in an invading force – actually distances them from the community and makes it harder to keep control over the people who fucking live there.
Look.  I like cops.  I like soldiers.  Both can do some great jobs.  But they do great jobs only so long as that distinction is made between these two different skill sets, and what we’re doing right now is the equivalent of “Oh, you’re a vet?  Great, do open-heart surgery on this man, you’re qualified.”  Because there’s some overlap, but hoo boy not nearly enough to entrust the lives of thousands to people who sorta have the skills.

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