President Trump said the U.S. Soldiers he’s sending to the border should shoot those who might throw rocks at him. Then, after a lot of push back from the military, he backed off and said he didn’t say that. He said they would arrest them.
I thought of that wintry day in Boston, 1770, when a group of British redcoats opened fire on civilians who were throwing snowballs and rocks at them. John Adams mounted a largely successful legal defense that resulted in acquittals for six and manslaughter convictions for two. But it was a propaganda victory for the patriots, as Paul Revere’s incendiary print of the “Boston Massacre” (as it came to be known) stirred up anti-British feeling.
I thought also of the day two hundred years later, in May 1970, when National Guard Soldiers opened fire on students at Kent State University, killing four.
The President was wrong.
Just War theory includes the criteria of Discrimination and Proportionality. Discrimination means you have to make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants; proportionality means you have to respond appropriately. So even in war you don’t open fire on civilians throwing rocks. And this isn’t war.
Further, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 makes it illegal to use federal troops for law enforcement.
These are dangerous times, when powerful people could make emotional decisions with serious consequences. These are times for careful thought and wise counsel.