Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
What a Christmas little Bastrop had!
It's still a mystery how Santa Clause got it down the chimney, but Bastrop got a present boys dream about: A big honkin', steel-clad, war toy called MRAP.
But Bastrop is not a 6-year-old boy, and an MRAP is not a toy. Bastrop is a Texas county of some 75,000 people, and MRAP stands for "Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected." It's a heavily-armored military vehicle -- one of several versions of war tanks that have become the hot, must-have playthings of police departments all across the country.
Are the good people of Bastrop facing some imminent terrorist threat that warrants military equipment? No, it's a very pleasant, laid-back place. And while the county is named for a 19th century land developer from the Netherlands who was wanted for embezzlement in his home country, the relatively few crimes in Bastrop today don't rise above the level of routine police work.
Even the Sheriff's department, which is the proud owner of the MRAP, says it doesn't have a particular use for the war machine, but "It's here if we need it." Well, yeah... but that same feeble rational would apply if the county decided to get an atom bomb -- you just never know when a big mushroom cloud might come in handy! The Pentagon, which gave the MRAP to Bastrop, and our sprawling Department of Homeland Security, are haphazardly spreading war equipment, war techniques, and a war mentality to what are supposed to be our communities' peacekeepers and crime solvers.
Having the technology and mind-set for military actions, local authorities will find excuses to substitute them for honest police work, turning common citizens into suspects and enemies. As a spokesman for the Bastrop sheriff's department said of the MRAP, "With today's society... there's no way the thing won't be used." How comforting is that?
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Photo: Flickr user Hellraiser Media, creative commons licensed.