I suppose it’s only natural that people would freak out when word of the U.S. Army’s imminent Jade Helm training exercises started making the rounds. Hell, if you’re going to assume the worst whenever some part of the government announces — well, anything — I can certainly understand the impulse.
The whole affair began with a slideshow put together by the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) called “Request To Conduct Realistic Military Training (RMT) JADE HELM 15.” [PDF] Although this document would be of little interest to most Americans, it immediately set off red flags among internet conspiracy theorists and those who love them. That’s because the terms “training” and “drill” mean “the opposite of training” and “martial law” in conspiracy-talk. For instance, one popular conspiracy theory posits that the Boston Marathon bombing never happened, that it was a hoax, some sort of drill conducted in order to justify the continued expansion of the nation’s “police state infrastructure.” The same has been said about the Oklahoma City Bombing, the civil unrest in Ferguson, and the 9/11 attacks on New York, the Pentagon, and a field outside of Pittsburgh. This rush towards enslavement, it is claimed, will culminate later this month with the Jade Helm plot to establish martial law in the southwest.
(And it’s not just the government that’s in on it. Apparently, Walmart is somehow involved.)
The Army, of course, contends that this is all bullshit. But none of the conspiracists are inclined to believe the military much, not just because of documents that (if you’re not really paying attention) sorta-kinda look like the American southwest is being divided into zones that are either “hostile” or “friendly” to the new American Gestapo.
When I spoke with the military analyst/author/journalist (and all-around nice guy) William M. Arkin for The Kernel recently, I asked him about Jade Helm. Since that portion of the interview got left on the proverbial cutting room floor, I thought I’d share it here:
I’m curious to know what interests you about Jade Helm. Why does it matter?
Jade Helm is an unconventional warfare exercise series, in which the use of rural America, urban America, Southwest America, the landscape is important, because the objective of the exercise is to operate over large areas, somewhat clandestinely. Think Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and North Africa.
It represents this erosion of the distinction between military and civilian. I know [that] my readers have responded to me, saying, “you know, we’ve been conducting exercises outside of military bases for decades,” and that’s true. But to conduct a whole series of exercises that are about operating clandestinely in civilian populations, and the civilian population that we’re going to be operating on clandestinely is America, is new. The preparations of the kinds of operations that they’re going to be conducting — let’s call it whatever you want, but basically it’s assassination — is new.
What do you make of all the flack that Texas Governor Abbott is taking over his plans to use the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise?
If the American people, in their wisdom, want to have this [Jade Helm] going on, that’s great. As for the Texas governor, I have no idea how big of an idiot he is or he isn’t, but I will say this: when the governor of a state says “I want to know what’s going on in my state, and I’m not satisfied that I know the truth,” we should respect that. Instead, liberal America has said: “ha ha, stupid idiot governor.” Well, let me tell you, if they wanted to do something in New York state and the governor spoke up, I’m sure that those same people would be crying havoc: “How dare they do this in our state?”
Arkin (who has pursued the topic on his must-read Phase Zero blog) continues by saying that the controversy around the exercise “reveals a lot of the contradictions and certainly a lot of the ignorance” surrounding what the military is doing, the intelligence community is doing, and what their roles are when it comes to homeland security.
As Arkin points out, the divide between the military and the rest of us is social, as well as geographic. According to the LA Times, five states — California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia — are home to 49% of America’s active-duty service members. A warrior class, separate and distinct from the mainstream is developing in this country, a process that will only continue if the military continues to shrink and its operations become more opaque. Or, at the very least, if mainstream America remains oblivious. The furor over Jade Helm is really just a symptom of this divide. But it raises an important issue, one that won’t go away just because Jon Stewart turned it into a joke.