Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Operation Arkansas and the Little Rock 9 (Originally published January 2008)

I'm conflicted about Eisenhower's sending the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to enforce racial integration at Little Rock Central High School. I'm hard-pressed to find a legal justification for sending the army into US cities, barring natural disaster, of course. Is "the ends justify the means" the only legitimate justification here?

I don't object to the outcome. Far from it--it would have been better for all concerned if this response had never, ever, been needed in the first place. But using the army to enforce the law? I'm going to paraphrase/steal the following from a tv show I watch:

The military is used to fight the enemies of the state. Police are used to protect the citizens of the state. When the military is used as a police force, it's very easy for citizens to become the enemies of the state. That leads to tyranny.

Was the army the only federal force big enough to take on the forces arrayed in Arkansas? Was this potential tyranny justified by the tyranny already in place, that which kept black students from attending the local high school?

What a mess.

To commemorate 50 years of integration, the army has a slideshow of what was called Operation Arkansas. It's fairly innocuous, and doesn't show the same pictures of hatred that we've all seen in history books and documentaries. What caught my eye, though, was the title of slide #11--evidence of the potential for tyranny of which I spoke.

I'm glad this is America, where it's only potential.

Update, 1/8/08: I was directed to the Eisenhower Archives, and reading the documents there one gets a sense of what it must have been like in those turbulent days.

The legal justification can be found in the document called Press Release Proclamation 3204. Page 2 shows the relevant law citations. (Other sources indicate these laws were passed in 1861, another turbulent time in American history.)

The moral justification can be found in the document called Telegraph Mann To President 9 24 57.

Based only on reading Mayor Mann's telegraphs to President Eisenhower, I've come to the conclusion that the mayor was a brave and noble man. President Eisenhower's correspondence shows great poise and wisdom. We are lucky to have had such men in that time.

The communication between "the parents of nine Negro children enrolled at Little Rock Central High School" and the President should be enough to renew anyone's faith in our system of laws and governance.

Update, 1/19/09: It looks like the documents linked above can now be found here.

Update, 3/13/18:  As I look at the slideshow today, it's slide #10, not #11, that gives me concern.  It outlines the plans for the Battle of Little Rock.  I'm glad that didn't come to pass.

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