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Ralph Peters' "Cain at Gettysburg" stands as a classic, reminiscent in its impact of another generation's "Red Badge of Courage". In this treatment of the events of three days in July of 1863 in a southern Pennsylvania tract of farmland and intersecting country roads, Peters follows the hour-by-hour actions, fears, and emotions of a small number of thoroughly exhausted troopers in blue and in grey and the intense interactions of their commanders. When one walks these fields and hillocks surrounding the small town of Gettysburg, one is astonished at the small distances over which 90,000 Union men and 76,000 Confederates raged at each other. The intensity with which the fears and conditioning of these mostly veteran troops surged towards each other has been captured in this book. One is left swept up in the actions and errors of the three days, and cannot help but feel reverence for the bravery that caused one man after the other to sweep up the regimental colors as the butchery thinned the ranks coming across a mile of wheat field. The enormity of the obstacle to the Confederate advance on July 3 presented by two rural fences is captured in the shouts and smells that one feels coming from these pages. The brutal power of period cannister and shot against battle lines of men advancing because there was no where else to go makes one wonder how they mustered the will to continue on three or four hours of interrupted sleep. Peters captures the personalities of his chosen participants in quick descriptions and replaces our static images of numbers and unit names with husbands, sons, brothers caught in the cataclysm initiated by the dominant arguments of their time. We forget that some of the men who clashed there still had aspirations of resuming their life after the hostilities ended, while others had given up on the idea that they would survive the war. Peters snaps the reader's head back when he replaces the statistics of advances and skimishes with images of schoolteachers who would never teach again and immigrants who would never live another day trying to reconcile their life in North America versus their roots in Ireland or Poland. These images will not leave you easily, nor should they. One reads this book, then finds that they must revisit Little Round Top to stand where blunders and bravery spilled over the soil. But, after reading this book, it will be forevermore a terribly haunted hill facing a fiercely human field, paid for with American blood spilled by Americans.
Chances are somewhere in America today, a SWAT team will arrive at a private residence. They'll throw flash-bang grenades and kick in the door; they'll force occupants to the floor at gunpoint and start tearing the place apart. They're will be profanity and screaming. They may kill the family dog, pitbull or poodle. And if they don't find anything, or it turns out they came to the wrong address, too bad. You're not going to get an apology.
This is the state of policing in America in 2013, says Radley Balko in his new book "Rise of the Warrior Cop." Across the country, law enforcement is turning to SWAT team and other specalized units not for their original purpose of providing rapid response to hostage situations and standoffs, but to serve drug warrants, enforce regulatory issues, and quell political dissent. Police are rapidly accumulating military weapons, armored vehicles, military-style uniforms and an "us against them" attitude that has resulted in wrongful arrests, property damage, injuries, and even deaths.
While many people have become aware of the militarization of law enforcement since 2001, Balko shows this process began in earnest about 40 years ago, when Richard Nixon decided to exploit the white, middle-class Silent Majority's fears of increasing drug use and crime. The "drug war' and now the "war on terror" has led to a steady erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and the "Castle Doctrine," the idea that we are safe from government intrusion in our homes without serious cause.
Balko traces this history from the roots of the Castle Doctrine in British common law right up into the present day. He looks at the shift in mentality from the community policing model to the military model, where the very citizens the police are sworn to protect become potential threats to be approached with lethal force. He also shows the reality of "mission creep," where there very fact that you have SWAT team - or a tank - means you really want to use them, even in situations where it shouldn't be used. He ends with some commonsense recommendations for change - even as he admits none of them are likely to come to pass in the current political climate.
It's enlightening, it's frightening, and it's something every American should take the time to read.